When it comes to Christians and culture, it’s really easy to generalize, to place things into buckets of “good” and “eeeeeeeviiiiiiiiiil”. But this kind of thinking is just plain lazy. We’re living in God’s world and so there will be some good in most everything (and everyone); but since we also live in a fallen world, the opposite is also true. The role of a thoughtful Christian is to see things for what they are, to “rightly divide” the good from the bad. The redeemable from irredeemable.
Even though I’m a huge fan, I won’t pretend that the Star Wars Saga is perfect (Jar Jar Binks, midichlorians, basically the entire prequel trilogy). Every fan has approached this new movie with both excitement and fear: excitement because NEW STAR WARS!!! and fear because DON’T RUIN SOMETHING I LOVE!!! (again, the prequels). However, I don’t intend this to be a typical review but instead to examine The Force Awakens (TFA), as well as the rest of the saga, through the lens of a Christian worldview. While I don’t have time and space for a complete analysis, I’ll just focus on just a few general categories that Star Wars gets right that Christians can (and should) celebrate.
If you removed all of the space opera stuff from Star Wars, you’d be left with a messy family drama. In the original trilogy, Luke and Leia each tragically lose their adopted family. They discover they are long-lost siblings but also that their father is the most feared villain of the galaxy. Luke does end up redeeming Vader (more on that later), only to lose him shortly after.
And somehow, the newest film turns up the drama even more with a main theme of the tragedy of lost family. We find that the original band has broken up, with Han reverting back to his smuggling ways, Luke going MIA, and Leia losing all of the men of her life. This all occurs because of Han and Leia’s son (Luke’s nephew) being seduced to the dark side. The new characters are also family-less, with Finn being taken from his family and Rey apparently being abandoned by hers.
So how exactly does a Christian celebrate so much family drama? Because it highlights the fact that family matters. The loss or gain of a loved one is not something to be take lightly, even in a fictitious world. In fact, it is love that causes many of our heroes to abandon their own plans and become heroes. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke rushes to Cloud City to save his friends from a trap, only to lose a hand in the process. In TFA, Finn desires to run as far as he can from the First Order until his new friend, Rey, is captured. Han’s primary mission was to destroy the newer, bigger, more powerful version of the Death Star (Death Planet?) but he calls an audible to try to save his son, at the cost of his own life. Why? Because family matters. And the fact that Han even tried to bring his son home is an illustration of…
Redemption is the key theme of Christianity and it is central to the Star Wars Saga as well. In the original trilogy, Luke was insistent that Vader was redeemable, with Luke constantly telling his father that he knows there is good in him. And in the end, he finds out that he was correct. The latest movie brings this idea front and center with new-Vader, Kylo Ren, visibly wrestling with the fact that the light side of the Force calls out to him. And his parents, Han and Leia, both believe that he can be brought home and saved. Is there anything more Christian than this, the notion that any sinner can be saved, no matter how far they have fallen? (Will Kylo Ren be saved?! I guess we’ll find out by episode nine!)
There’s Something Else Out There
Han’s main problem in A New Hope is that, for an intergalactic smuggler, his world is too small. He is the center of his universe. He denies the Force and “hokey religion”. But it isn’t until he comes face-to-face with something larger than himself (as well as a pretty princess) that he snaps out of his self-centeredness and becomes the hero that we love. Meanwhile, from the very beginning, Luke is looking out at the suns of Tatooine dreaming of being part of something larger than himself. But more than that, he knows there is something more out there. The same is true of Rey in the newest movie. It is the acknowledgement that “it’s true, all of it” from an older Han that turns Rey from mopey and somber to giddy and hopeful.
No, Star Wars is not fanciful escapism. It speaks to the truth that there is something larger out there. There is a whole world beyond the Shire or on the other side of the wardrobe door. This is what we Christians live for. It’s how Obi Wan can face Vader’s lightsaber fearlessly. How Han can confront his psycho son on a narrow, rail-less walkway above a vast chasm (seriously, what do Star Wars villains have against guard rails?), because the possibility of saving his son is worth more than his own life. How Paul can call his sufferings “light momentary afflictions” because his sights are set on the “weight of glory” that awaits him (2 Corinthians 4:17). That’s not escapism; that’s not wishful thinking; that’s reality for the Christian.
Yes, there will always be the detractors that will focus on Star Wars’ dualistic view of morality, that there is both a light and dark side and both seem equally powerful, as well as the obviously panentheistic Force. But you cannot deny the grand themes of heroism and sacrifice, the desire for family and redemption. It’s the job of the Christian to recognize the good wherever it can be found. To think about whatever is excellent and noble (Philippians 4:8). And Star Wars is full of it.