Strap yourselves in, we’re about to make the jump back into deep Star Wars territory. But it’s really, really, really interesting stuff to consider.
If you’re a geek.
Not so long ago, I tossed out a random thought that prequel haters who reject Anakin’s divine birth while at the same time accepting the concept of the Force are somewhat hypocritical. Jar Jar Hater in specific jumped into the fray, stating
JJH: “Having faith is not tied to one religion.”
kj: Nor is the concept of divine birth/lineage.
Let me further clarify my own response: I do understand that the Virgin Birth is very much related to Jesus Christ/Christianity. As someone who subscribes to that faith, it was also the first thought that popped in my head. I remember the collective gasp at the midnight showing when Qui–Gon received that explanation from Shmi.
Naturally, like ripples in a pond, the impact of this plot point was felt on every shore of fandom. Lucas had brought in religious notes to the Most Revered Original Trilogy, and we all spent the majority of our lives pretending we were intellectually versed on the Heroic Monomyth because he kept referencing Campbell’s seminal work in interviews about the conception points for Star Wars concepts.
But a Virgin Birth wasn’t some fuzzy concept drawn from Eastern beliefs for which we had no proper context as children of Western culture. So I want to examine this question: Why would Lucas tie it, in the eyes of people like Jar Jar Hater, to such an easily–identifiable point of belief for a substantial portion of the planet’s population?
Or Did He?
In the words of my younger cousin, Lucas is the Buddhist Methodist who ruined Christmas the year the Star Wars Holiday Special debuted. More famously, he’s given numerous interviews wherein he copped to being spiritual without being religious.
Now, unless he was trying to go against that basic personality trait and proselytize to the entire fanbase, we’re left to puzzle why he used such an easily–recognizable plot point.
My own conclusion is that that it was an easy way to communicate to the audience (using the presumption that they know the connotations of a virgin birth, which is safe). So it’s not so much tying to one religion as it is using a story shortcut. He wanted to communicate the idea that this kid was a child whose birth was foretold by a prophecy, and divine birth is a really, really easy way to do that.
So yes, he used an easy shortcut and relied on that shortcut to reinforce to the audience why this child was special. Is it possible that he placed it in there to shore up the idea of prophesied birth since midichlorians would be such a foreign concept to all but Scientologists?
Heck, it’s even possible he came up with the idea of midichlorians after the virgin birth part in order to try to divorce the plot point from the Christian connotations. Arguably, if this is the case (and I have no idea if it is), he did not succeed.
It’s Not a Virgin Birth Per Se
Lucas himself has said that it’s more a matter of a god/gods interacting at a base level with a human, the way Zeus used to run around knocking up Vestals all over the place. Considering the fact that there is a very strong allusion to the culture of Ancient Greece in how Anakin is raised, this would be consistent with the other elements.
In other words, some midichlorians got drunk one night and took advantage of Shmi when she was feeling a little lonesome.
Lucas himself opens up the interpretation of the truth of Shmi’s story in Revenge of the Sith when Palpatine makes reference to Darth Plagueis’s ability to create life by influencing the midichlorians. So even thought Shmi did not know explicitly that she had been manipulated into carrying a vessel of the Dark Side, there’s a sort of “Rosemary’s Baby” situation happening.
Of course, this relies on whether Palpatine is telling the truth. But even if he is, you’re left to wonder if Anakin was specifically conceived with the help of Darth Plagueis or if Palpatine is using a little bit of truth to get inside Anakin’s head. He would full well know Anakin’s supposed origins, and so he could tell the truth about Darth Plagueis’ abilities, even if Plagueis didn’t create Anakin on purpose.
In the book Star Wars: Darth Plagueis, James Luceno does a really terrific job of exploring the possibility while still leaving it open for people to read it how they want to read it. It’s that rare type of gem in the Star Wars Expanded Universe: worth reading, well written and leaves things open for your own interpretation without violating the text of the films.
Another interpretation is that Shmi was fibbing. This had popular support among the fanboys until Revenge of the Sith came around.
So really, this all goes toward saying that “I get it” about Jar Jar Hater’s complaint, I just don’t give it much weight. Lucas’ intent certainly wasn’t to make a clearly Christian reference. The worst you could accuse him of is using a lazy way to communicate Anakin’s importance. I know full well who’ll jump all over that comment, but whatever.
If Peter Jackson turns The Hobbit into a trilogy, you can all focus your hatred on him for a change.