25May '11

The Star Wars Bible Tapes

I saw this comment on Reddit (contains swearing) in which a guy tries to explain different Bible translations and versions by using Star Wars.  As Roy Walker would have said, “It’s good, but it’s not right” and so I wrote a detailed response which I’ve reproduced here.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it :-)



Let’s talk about whether Han shot first.  Imagine an archaeologist – let’s call her Marjorie Texas – from the distant future, where Star Wars is long-forgotten.  She discovers an archive of old VHS tapes and lovingly restores them to playable condition.  There are several copies of the 1997 release of Star Wars.  Marjorie sees Greedo fire the first shot.  She finds some comments about an earlier version, but she’s under pressure from her boss to get her work finished, so she goes with what she has, since there’s so many copies of this one.  There’s still a few frames missing, but she fills in the gaps with a rather Vulgar thing called the Star Wars Holiday Special.

A future filmmaker, Keith Jones, takes Marjorie Texas’ work (the MT) and translates it into the language of his time, and re-films it.  He makes a few mistakes in his translation but it’s mostly alright – and for years the Lucasians (split off from the Georgites in the Great Explosion, or Reinformation, depending on your point of view) base all their belief and practice from the Keith Jones Version (KJV).  It’s beautiful renderings of classic lines – “I findeth thine lack of faithe, dithturbing” – shape the fabric of society.

Centuries pass.

Then, a group of other archaeologists – let’s call them the Nest of Archaeologists (trust me) – are concerned about the massive caches of old tapes that have been found since the MT was created.  Most are beyond salvage, but some fragments can be restored.  By and large they’re identical to the MT, but in a few places, they’re different.  One is particularly puzzling – a scene where Han shoots first.  After painstaking study they prove that these tapes are older than the MT and the NA people conclude that in fact Han did shoot first.  They apply the same processes to every frame of every source available to them, producing ever-improved representations of what The Lucas originally intended.  Eventually they’re able to declare this process to be effectively complete – after 27 revisions, they release a (untranslated) work they call NA27, complete with detailed notes they call an “apparatus” that indicates which tape they used for each frame, and why they chose it.  They weren’t the very first to do this – groups like the Westfield Horticulturalists for example had done so almost a hundred years before – but scholars conclude that the NA27 improves on the WH version of the tapes.

A committee of filmmakers, the New Internationalists, decide to create a new translation, mainly because most of the words used in the KJV don’t make much sense to modern readers, so people aren’t as interested in Star Wars as they used to be.  They naturally decide to base their work on the same “eclectic” approach as the NA group, using the best tapes available to them.  Their “NIV” takes the GL world (both the Georite and Lucasian branches) by storm.

Other groups and committees do the same thing – the Gould Nose version, for example is noted for its artistic illustrations beside the main tapes more than its stilted translation.  One man, Youjean Petrison, takes the original tapes and reinterprets them in a way that makes the Message of the Tapes come alive to many people – but often it’s hard to match dialogue to the original.

Splinter Groups – like the Joda’s Witnesses – create their own translations, picking-and-choosing which tapes support their views, and then making them say what they like, and the Church of Luke Skywalker of Latter-Day Midi-chlorians use other films as well as The Original Trilogies… they’re also quite fond of Battlestar Galactica, but that’s for another post…

The NA people keep working (they’re almost up to 28 now) and another group, the Society for Bespin Literature, repeat the entire process and give it away for free.

Meanwhile new translations come and go, and modern Lucas-followers have a massive choice about which versions of the film to watch.   Some insist that only the KJV is right, and argue that since George obviously wanted us to have his film, he’d make sure that the version we had was correct – but most people just pick the version they like, or the one they first watched.

And so, a long time ago… in a land far, far away… an epic story of Fall and Redemption shapes a society; and it still changes lives today.


Marjorie Texas = Majority Text

Keith Jones = King James Version

Westfield Horticulturalists = Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort

Nest of Archaeologists = Nestle Aland – Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland, inter alia

New Internationalists = New International Version

Gould Nose = Good News Bible – also see illustrations

Youjean Petrison = Eugene Peterson – The Message

Society for Bespin Literature = Society for Biblical Literature

my original reddit reply

Image credit with thanks

epic story of Fall and Redemption = a presentation of the real good news about Jesus from a contemporary Church



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