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Archive for the ‘Star Wars’ Category

Dear Readers,

After writing more than 70 columns about films, faith and family, I’ve decided to take a break.

I would like to tell you that I am flying to New Zealand for a small part in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit.”

But the simple truth is that I have a number of writing projects I would like to complete in the next twelve months. Discontinuing my monthly Reel Life Journeys column will free up the time I need for these new projects.

However, I did not make this decision quickly. Only after much thought and prayer did I see that this was the best road to take at this point in my writing career.

“My writing career”… I like the sound of that. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and thanks in large part to the interest and support shared by Rick Musacchio and Andy Telli of The Tennessee Register, I have a great start.

Looking back over these past six years of writing this column, I learned a number of important lessons:

~ Writing is hard work. I can remember only a few magical moments when whole paragraphs flowed through my fingertips. For the most part, I wrote my 850-word columns after purposefully sitting down at my laptop many times to write.

The editors asked that I e-mail my column to them on the Tuesday before the newspaper is published on Friday. That means during the previous week I would ponder the column’s topic, what movie to feature and other quotes or song lyrics I could use to illustrate the topic.

The columns I like the most had a rough draft done by Sunday, extra quotes added by Monday and a final edit before e-mailing the text to Andy on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, too many of my columns, either through procrastination, family duties, my daytime job or other diversions (the Chicago Cubs, pizza, Notre Dame football) did not see a rough draft until Monday, some updates on Tuesday and a final edit early Wednesday morning. I know that most newspapers have a hard print deadline and I know it’s best to get things done sooner rather than later. I just hope I didn’t cause too many late nights for the TR staff.

~ Live each day to its fullest. Unless you are Phil Connors, the weatherman reporting from Puxsatawney, Pennsylvania in Groundhog Day, you can never repeat today. As many others have tweeted or posted on Facebook, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.

~ Show respect to everyone. A simple school project of collecting one paper clip for every life lost during the Holocaust continues to teach valuable lessons of respect and tolerance to the students, parents and community of Whitwell, TN Middle School. We should remember that lesson and stop judging people because of their looks, their wealth (or lack thereof) or their religion and show them respect. We would all hope to receive the same.

~ There’s no crying in baseball.

~ Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. As Master Yoda so eloquently states, fear is often the root of many evils. But when we sing John Michael Talbot’s lyrics “Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest,” we know that our God is ever before us, guiding us in love.

~ Even the smallest person can change the course of the future. This theme from The Lord of the Rings is much more than supporting a three-foot, seven-inch hobbit on his quest to destroy the One Ring of Power. One individual, standing upon this rock in space we call Earth, is a minuscule part of the world’s population of 7 billion people. Yet that one individual, by his or her acts of kindness and love for other people, can start a chain reaction that will transform this world into a better place to live. You are just one person, but you have a very important role to play.

~ All you need is love.

~ The richness of life is not found in a large bank account. The first Reel Life Journeys column I wrote centered on the song “If I Were a Rich Man” sung by Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof. In this column I imagined what I would do if I won the Powerball lottery. I realized that the things I wanted to do most (write, talk to Grandma more often, spend time with family and friends) were things I could do now without the winnings. Carpe diem!

So thank you, dear readers, for your interest and encouragement through the years. It has been a pleasure and an honor to write this monthly column. I may yet show up on these pages again in the future. “God only knows when we will see each other again,” Hodel says to her father Tevye before boarding the train to Siberia. “Then we will leave it in His hands,” he replies.

The von Trapp family said it best in The Sound of Music when they sang: “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.”

CF

Christopher Fenoglio is grateful for the loving support of his wife and family, to whom these columns are dedicated.

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Based upon the Gospel for February 3, 2008 Matthew 5:1-12a

The journeys continue in the new year, looking for Light in all the right places: the quiet corners of prayer, next Sunday’s readings, and the faces of our children.

Yet inspiration is also found onscreen in celluloid characters who embody the values we long for, search for, try to emulate. Fictional or factual, they strike a chord that resonates in our lives. Oh, that I could be more like them.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land – like Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hobbits by nature are quiet, peace loving beings. They shy away from Big People like us, preferring instead to till the earth, enjoy a hearty meal and savor a cold pint. They usually avoid adventures, yet are surprisingly resilient when adventure is thrust upon them.

FrodoWhile mortal men argue over power and who should be in charge, it’s the meek hobbit who speaks up and volunteers for the most dangerous task of all. He willingly accepts the burden of bearing the great One Ring, for he knows that he alone must destroy the evil at hand.

And while there are friends and wise counsel to guide him on his journey, he alone must decide what to do with the time that is given to him. He does not shy away from the new and difficult, though he prefers the familiar and the comfortable. His response to this treacherous task is simply “What must I do?”

When his deeds are over and evil is vanquished, he sets his affairs in order and says goodbye. To leave his middle-earth, he boards the ship that sails to the horizon. “The grey rain-curtain of this world will roll back to see…white shores, and beyond a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

An inheritance worth living for.

Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God – like Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump. While his intellect may be below average, his instincts are deeply rooted love.

GumpHe loves his mama, who raised him to believe that no one was any better than anyone else. We are all God’s children, loved by the Father, saved by the Son, inspired by the Spirit. We each have our unique talents and tastes, which we use when we open the box of chocolates called life.

He loves his wife, navigating the twists and turns of their separate roads until they merge into one loving freeway. Together they produce a family that will live on in future generations.

At times Forrest is floating like a feather on the wind, intersecting with the lives of the famous and the faithful. Other times he looks back and believes he was destined to follow the path he’s on, though he doesn’t know where it is going.

Yet on his journey, he takes time to recognize God in his surroundings. “In the desert, when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began.”

A vision of God worth living for.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – like Anakin Skywalker at the end of Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi.

AnakinHis life started with so much promise. He was the promised one, heralded to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

He had a special sense of the world around him and learned that his gifts solved big problems. He focused his youthful ambition first on helping people, even if it meant leaving his mother and his home. He fought through his fear of separation and joined the righteous warriors.

But as he grew older, he allowed Fear to creep back into his life, along with its cousins Doubt, Greed and Anger. Under the influence of a powerful dark force, he turned away from the righteous path. He encased his humanity in a machine and became an instrument of evil.

Yet his humanity and sense of righteousness remained inside, dormant until kindled by the love of his own son. In his son, he saw the look of steadfast faith and unconditional love.

At journey’s end, when faced with the finality of evil’s triumph, Anakin regained his humanity and destroyed the evil, even though it proved fatal to him. But with his sacrifice, he fulfilled his destiny, succeeding to bring peace and order to the galaxy.

A righteous cause worth dying for.

So now there are no more auditions, you’ve got the part. You are the lead actor in a film that is still in development. While it is sometimes tempting to go on strike, you have to keep writing, keep living, keep creating the next scene in your film.

There are times when you are adapting someone else’s screenplay to fit into your own life, but the best screenplays are true originals.

Produced by family and directed by God, it’s up to you to create a film that resonates in the lives of others.

Quiet on the set. Action!

CF

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First published in the January 25, 2008 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2008 Christopher Fenoglio

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Ever since the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres in France was completed in the early 13th century, sunlight streams through its windows and bathes the worshippers at Mass in glorious technicolor.

Each of the three stained glass rose windows tells a different story. The one on the north transept shows the Glorification of the Virgin. The one on the south portrays the Glorification of Christ, while the one on the west front depicts The Last Judgment.

For the first visitors to the Cathedral, the windows were an artistic portrayal of inspirational stories, whose messages of sacrifice, good works, repentance and love enriched their lives outside of the church.

These windows (and the beautiful examples in our local churches) continue to inspire us to this day.

But thanks to modern technology, we have many more media formats in the 21st century through which inspiration touches our lives. Readers of this column know that one of our favorite formats is film.

Robert K. Johnston writes in his book Reel Spirituality that “film has the power to disturb and to enlighten, to make us more aware of both who we are and what our relationship with others could be. It can even usher us into the presence of the holy.”

Some films were created specifically to be inspirational stories of faith:

> A young French shepherd girl holds fast to what she saw, heard and believes, despite the ridicule of her family and the townspeople. (Song of Bernadette)

> An Olympic runner refuses to run on Sunday, but runs on another day, saying “I believe God made me for a purpose…but he also made me fast. When I run, I feel his pleasure. (Chariots of Fire)

> A non-Italian cardinal is elected pope and takes drastic measures to feed the starving people of the world and diffuse the growing threat of nuclear war between two superpowers (The Shoes of the Fisherman)

> A widow and her son offer gentle help and heartfelt words to a recovering alcoholic country music singer, helping him reclaim his life and advance his career. (Tender Mercies)

Other films, while not specifically stories of faith, have scenes that mirror the choices we have to make every day.

> When it is clear that Lord Voldemort has returned, Professor Dumbledore tells Harry that “dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must make the choice between what is right and what is easy.” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)

> In the heat of battle, Luke Skywalker realizes that his anger serves the wrong purpose. He regains his peaceful composure, throws away his light saber, and tells the Emperor “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side…I’m a Jedi, like my father.” (Star Wars VI – Return of the Jedi)

Movies can also be metaphors for classic themes (good vs. evil, individual vs. establishment) or for contemporary issues. Consider a film currently in theaters Evan Almighty, starring Steve Carrell.

In this film, Carrell reprises his weatherman role from Bruce Almighty and wins election to Congress. But his wife and three sons recognize Congressman Evan as the same old Dad, who brings work home and never has time for them. Late one night, Evan learns that his wife has prayed that they grow closer as a family. Evan also decides to pray, asking God for help to fulfill his campaign promise to “change the world.”

God listens and asks Evan to build an ark in the middle of his subdivision. God makes the clear distinction that he is not answering Evan’s prayer by changing the world, but that he is giving Evan the opportunity (along with a large supply of gopher wood and the necessary hand tools) to change the world himself.

evan-almighty.gifStill, it’s up to Evan to make the right choice and do what is necessary, even at the risk of losing his job, his family and the respect of his community.

The film becomes a metaphor for the internal conflicts we experience when making a choice in our lives. Do we follow God’s way or the path we want? Evan Almighty also explores the themes of man’s improper use of the Earth’s resources, the misuse of legislative power for personal financial gain, and the influence that Biblical stories should have on our lives and the operations of our government.

Films can inspire us to lead better lives, to respect others and make good choices that affect the lives of our family, friends and even our planet.

In The Lord of the Rings films, we see Frodo’s courage and hear from Galadriel that “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Imagine what we could do for our planet if we combine that sentiment with the suggested energy-saving measures in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

We truly could change the world.

CF
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First published in the July 13, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio
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Purchase from Amazon.com:
> The Song of Bernadette

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Analysis

Movies can transport us to another time and space – the wild West, the streets of Casablanca, or even another galaxy, far, far away. In the genre of fantasy / science fiction movies, the original Star Wars trilogy was huge, both in ideas and ticket sales. It captured the imagination of a worldwide audience with a story that resonated on a personal level while also touching on a deep history of fantastic cultures and creatures.

Star Wars was once the king of fantasy movies, but no longer. The new king is The Lord of the Rings, which ends on a resounding high note with this week’s release of The Return of the King.

Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King reaches the grand heights that every movie studio dreams about, but rarely achieves. His visualizations of Middle-earth, using a combination of the natural New Zealand landscapes and state-of-the-art computer effects, sets a beautiful stage for the many story lines that converge in this final film of the video trilogy.

AragornCBut while the panoramic vistas and special effects are well worth the ticket price (Legolas’ battle action is really cool!), the personal stories make the movie soar to the heights of eagles. The movie explores many individual themes: living up to one’s potential, keeping hope alive amidst overwhelming evil, and the tragic sacrifices of a few for the good of all. Under Jackson’s direction, the ensemble of well-known and unknown actors delivers heartfelt performances that amaze, delight and endear the audience to these characters.

When we last saw our heroes in The Two Towers, Gollum was leading Frodo and Sam to a secret entrance into Mordor. Into this barren and desolate land, filled with grey ash and volcanic rock, the little hobbits must find a way to Mount Doom where they will try to destroy the evil One Ring of Sauron. They do not realize the full extent of Gollum’s treachery and his plan to lead them into a trap, from which he hopes to get back “his precious.”

After the Battle of Helm’s Deep, Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli and the Rohan must decide how best to fight the overwhelming forces of Sauron. Though they defeated Saruman’s 10,000 Uruk-hai orcs, they must find a way to rally the men of Gondor and fight more than 100,000 orcs, evil men, massive elephant-like mumakil, and catapults in Sauron’s army. But the good guys must fight more than a huge army. They must also battle against the fear and terror that travels with the general of Sauron’s army, the Witch-king of Angmar, the top Nazgul that stabbed Frodo on Weathertop in Fellowship of the Ring. It is said that no living man can defeat him in battle.

Leading the forces of good is Aragorn, a descendant of Isildur and the rightful heir to the throne of Gondor. But as the Rohirrim troops gather to answer Gondor’s call for aid, Aragorn leaves the army on another mission. He is presented with a challenge that tests his courage and resolve, a task in which only the true King of Gondor can succeed where many others failed.

There are no thoughts of failure with Merry and Pippin, the two young hobbits who are feasting on the spoils of Isengard, now flooded after destruction by the Ents. With war quickly approaching, even these two hobbits must learn how to leave their friends behind and take different paths into the final battle at Pelennor Fields.

So many men going off to war – what about the women? Tolkien’s work is decidedly one-sided towards male main characters, but he reserves one the most complex characters for Eowyn, the niece of Theoden, King of Rohan. She has the heart of a warrior and longs to ride into battle with her countrymen. Yet she is commanded to stay in Edoras and rule the women, children and visiting hobbits until the King returns. Torn by her duty and deep feelings for Aragorn, the embodiment of all the qualities she loves, she makes a fateful decision that affects everyone.

As the advancing war clouds the horizon and darkens the sky, Arwen, the Evenstar of the Elves, becomes weak. She had committed herself to staying on Middle-earth to support Aragorn, but now her father Elrond wants her to leave and spend eternity with the Elves across the water. Through her intercession, a powerful weapon is delivered to help Aragorn in the war.

In the end, it’s not the war, the sacrifices or the treachery that lingers. Jackson’s vision of The Lord of the Rings gives us all hope – a belief that even the smallest person can change the course of the world.

And judging by the movie masterpiece completed by the Peter Jackson, a small New Zealander among Hollywood men, that belief rings loud and clear.

CF

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First published in the December 19, 2003 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2003 Christopher Fenoglio.

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“I won’t lose you like I lost my mother.” Anakin Skywalker to his wife Padmè in Star Wars Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith
When we are faced with losing someone we love, we can respond in many different ways.

Some people freeze, overcome by the fear and unsure what to do next. Some people block it out and avoid the issue. Some people just hope everything works out by itself. Some people try to do everything humanly possible to prevent the loss from occurring.

For Anakin Skywalker in the most recent Star Wars film, the fear drives him down a darker path.

As an only child to a single parent, Anakin was very close to his Mother, calm and happy in her presence. He has the same relationship with his wife Padmè, who gives Anakin the unconditional love he desperately desires.

AnakinBut Anakin is tormented by Darth Sidious with death-filled nightmares, first about his mother and then his wife. These nightmares keep alive the fear in him that he will lose the person he most dearly loves.

This fear proves to be the acid that dissolves Anakin’s Jedi training. Motivated by the belief that he can cheat death and keep Padmè alive, Anakin grows in hate and strength within the Dark Side of the Force.

Anakin rationalizes that this new power was created out of love for Padmè, but his fear of losing her fuels his quest for power and he is sucked into a deepening spiral of anger and hate until he ultimately becomes Darth Vader.

The seductive path of the Dark Side is described by Master Yoda to Luke in Episode V: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering (and the Dark Side). Only when you are at peace can the Force flow through you and give you strength.”

Peace. Pause for a moment and say the word again. Peace. By taking time during our busy days for a few moments of prayer and peace, we can feel God’s presence in our own lives.

But is it possible to be at peace when we are faced with the emotional challenges and our own fears of losing someone we dearly love?

If you are a young Baby Boomer like me, you are also a member of the “Sandwich Generation.” This group of people is in the middle of two big cares: caring for our elderly parents at the end of their lives and caring for our children at the beginning of theirs.

I worry about my parents’ health, often feeling helpless to assist them with their illnesses. There are times when I wish I had enough money or time or living space to take care of them. But how much do I do to help them get well and how much do I put into God’s hands?

On the other end, I worry about my daughter who will leave soon to start college. It’s hard to imagine her away from home for many months. She adds so much goodness and life to our home (plus a good dose of teenage angst and nonsensical arguments!) How will I get through my days without her presence? How will I keep her safe? How much do I put into God’s hands?

It comes down to a matter of faith – faith in others, faith in ourselves, faith in God. Anakin struggled with his faith in the Force and staying true to his Jedi values, but the allure of power was too strong and he was consumed by the Dark Side.

For me, I will encourage my parents to get good health information, but they need to take the real steps themselves. For my daughter, I can help prepare her for the college experience, but she will have to make some of her own decisions. With emails and phone calls, I can be close by.

“Let go Luke, use the Force,” says the spirit of Obi-Wan in Episode IV as he convinces Luke to turn off the targeting computer and use the Force to guide his blasts to destroy the Death Star. He very easily could have said, “Let go Luke, trust in God.”

In the movies, there is usually a happy ending. In real life, it’s not very tidy or certain, and many times we lose the ones we love. First we are afraid and then we are angry. These are natural, human emotions. But if we let go of our fears and trust in God, we will be closer to being at peace and knowing His Way, and can deal with our losses on Earth.

Peace.

CF

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First published in the June 17, 2005 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2005 Christopher Fenoglio.

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