For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for
harm, to give you a future with hope.
--Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV
In 1999, I was ecstatic! The Star Wars prequels were coming out. I wanted to camp out for movie tickets but couldn’t find anyone to come along with me. I so badly wanted to recapture the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy which had captivated my childhood. Unfortunately, I and millions of other fans were disappointed by these movies which chronologically took place before those in the original trilogy. The fun of the originals had been replaced by byzantine plots and awful dialogue. Even people who enjoyed a return trip to “A galaxy far far away” admitted this trip wasn’t as fun the second time around.
Some have argued my disappointment had to do with nostalgia--things just aren’t as wondrous in adulthood as they were in childhood. Maybe so, but I also think it is remarkably rare to enjoy something great a second time around. I have struggled to think of movie sequels that were better than the original films. Godfather 2, Road Warrior (Mad Max 2) and Lethal Weapon 2 are the only ones on my list. I’m not sure how one considers movies intended from the beginning to be part of a franchise, such as Mission Impossible, Harry Potter or the Marvel/DC films. Mileage varies on those kinds of films. When you consider movies that were originally made to be stand-alone films but which later had sequels, the sequels, however good they may be, never match the original. Think of Jaws, Blade Runner, Toy Story, The Matrix, etc.
What is true for Hollywood seems true for life. We have meaningful experiences but when we try to recreate them, we discover it's near impossible to duplicate the magic. I have found that I may have equally special experiences, say going back to a past vacation spot, but I’m really creating a new memory, just at a place I have been to before. No matter how much we work to prevent it, the world keeps changing and so do we. There really is no way to turn back time and experience the same thing twice, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Our memory is meant to be a gift, but like so many things we can turn it into a curse. We can love things so much from our pasts that we miss out on the wonder in our presents.
I guess I could compile my list of favorite films and never watch a new one, but where’s the fun in that? Think of all the amazing new films I would miss. In the same way, we can return again and again to our favorite memories to the point that they become more wonderful than they ever were in reality. What makes our most meaningful experiences meaningful is precisely that we cannot go back and experience them anew. The moments that matter the most were each a magical and unique event, and the same is true of the most meaningful moments happening in the here and now.
Our past memories are only useful if they serve us in the present. God never intended them to hold us prisoner to a past that can never come again. God is always pulling us forward with the promise that our favorite moments of the past are examples of what is still possible in our presents and futures.
I’ve seen all the Star Wars prequels and sequels, and as much as I have liked some of them, none of them compare to the original in my mind. That being said, I have watched a lot of movies in the decades since that weren’t Star Wars films and I have seen plenty that I loved and return to with joy. I look forward to more favorite movies yet to be discovered. It would be a shame if I refused to ever watch a new movie.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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