As the days drew closer and closer to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the hype and excitement online grew palpable. As more and more people talked about it on Facebook, I noticed that a great deal of the excitement was coming from my fellow Christian authors. Sure, you’d expect the sci-fi geeks among us to get all excited, but why would Christian authors be talking about it so much? In fact, I think I saw more posts about it from my Christian author friends than my sci-fi geek friends.
So why? What about Star Wars has so many Christian authors fangirling over it?
I’ll start with some of the generic reasons and then move on to the more explicitly Christian reasons.
1. Authors love a good hero story. At its heart, Star Wars is more than a sci-fi adventure flick. It’s a hero story. George Lucas has admitted he used Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth (the idea that all hero stories throughout all time and all cultures are essentially the same) in order to craft his story. If you need more information on this, check out my three-part blog series on the monomyth, complete with comparisons to Star Wars and Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz.
2. Authors love good characters. This is one of the reasons that the original trilogy is superior to the prequel trilogy. The characters in the original movies complemented each other so well. We had all the great story archetypes:
- a beautiful, brave, and feisty princess who may appear to be a damsel in distress at first but can really fend for herself, thank you very much
- a young man ready to make the transition from lost soul into hero, all while desperately missing the family he lost
- the rogue good guy who doesn’t really want to be a good guy, but he just can’t seem to help himself–and it doesn’t hurt that he’s terribly good looking and the princess is falling for him
- humorous sidekicks in the forms of robots and a Wookie
- an evil villain who looks scary, sounds scary, and acts scary–and to make it even better, has an interesting backstory!!!
- an elderly mentor to help guide our young hero and who demonstrates what it means to sacrifice yourself for a cause worth fighting for
3. Authors love imaginative world building. This is probably especially true for all the speculative fiction authors among us, whether we right dystopian, fantasy, steampunk, or supernatural. We enjoy the fact that Lucas built a whole world out there, filled with knights, lightsabers, alien creatures, all sorts of droids, various planets with different climates, and a plethora of space ships. And we feel as if we could step right into that world and be a part of it.
4. Authors, Christian authors in particular, love a story about good versus evil. Again, at its heart, Star Wars is a hero story, but even deeper than that, it’s a story of good versus evil, sin versus redemption. Christian authors are always writing stories about people dealing with faith issues and/or finding God, and at its essence that is what Star Wars is about, too. The characters are struggling to find the good in the galaxy. The Jedi knights in particular are fighting for the good side of the Force to win out over the dark side.
There are lots of ways “The Force” can be interpreted within a Christian worldview. Lucas himself admitted that he put the Force into his movie because he wanted people to at least question whether or not there is a God (which he does believe in, but doesn’t have a particular religion he’s promoting in his movies). According to the 2000 documentary The Mythology of Star Wars, Lucas said this when asked if the Force represented God: “I put The Force into the movies in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people. More a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system.”
Yet for those of us who are Christian, it’s easy to see how the Force may represent God, or at least one part of the Holy Trinity, that is the Holy Spirit. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi described the Force to young Luke Skywalker by saying, “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” In a way isn’t that what we believe about the Holy Spirit? In John 14:16-17, Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” You can’t see the Force, but those who “know” it are considered “strong” in the Force. It lives inside them, just like the Spirit lives in Jesus’s followers.
When you have the Force, you can do amazing things that you can’t do on your own. Likewise, when we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, we can do amazing things. In the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-13, the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then they are able to go out and make bold proclamations in every language even though they hadn’t spoken these languages before! We saw similar “miracles” happen in the original Star Wars trilogy when Luke starts training in the ways of the Force, and in the new Star Wars movie, Rey finds out she’s an even better pilot than she expected and that she can wield a lightsaber and fight off a trained member of the dark side–okay, he’s been injured at this point, but still . . . these are probably not things she could have done before figuring out she may just be strong in the Force.
Jedi knights have training periods where they go away to prepare for battle. Luke has to travel to the distant Degobah system in order to train with the Jedi Master Yoda who tells him that “a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force.” Before Jesus begins his ministry, he heads out to the desert. We are told in Luke 4:1-2 that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, then returned from the Jordan and was conducted by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by the devil.” Fans of Star Wars will remember that when Luke was training with Yoda he was “tempted” by the dark side when he faced a vision of Darth Vader in a cave. In both cases here, we have someone preparing for the ordeals they will face ahead, both are filled with the Spirit/Force, and both are tempted by evil.
Speaking of evil, just as there are fallen angels who have taken God’s gifts and tossed them aside in order to wreck havoc in this world, so are there “fallen” members of the Jedi order. Ones who left the good side in order to join the “dark side.” We see this imagery of light versus dark often in the Star Wars series. In the new Star Wars movie (major SPOILER here, people), Leia tells Han she believes there is still “light” in their son who has turned to the dark side. In Return of the Jedi, Luke tells Leia that he has to go save their father because there is still good/light in him.
Dark and light imagery is prevalent in the Bible many, many times. In 1 John 1:5, the evangelist tells us that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” And in John 8:12, we hear “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”
So important is this theme of the light versus the dark in both scripture and Star Wars that one of my Christian author friends, Pepper Basham, dressed up her kids as Star Wars characters for her Christmas card and then included the quote “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.–John 1:5.” You can see it on her author Facebook page here.
Then, of course, we have the common themes of self-sacrifice and redemption. Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross. In Star Wars, we see many characters sacrificing themselves. Obi-Wan sacrifices himself at the end of the A New Hope. Vader sacrifices himself in order to destroy the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi, and (SPOILER AGAIN!), Han’s actions at the end of The Force Awakens are quite sacrificial as well. He knew he was putting his life at risk to go save his son, but he did it anyway.
As for redemption, we have the ultimate redemption story in Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. In Episode 1, we are told that Anakin comes from a Virgin birth. He is believed to be the one who will restore order to the galaxy and balance to the Force which has fallen to the dark side. However, he falls to the dark side himself in Episode 3, but in a move that is very Christian in nature, he is redeemed (by his son, of course!) at the end of Return of the Jedi when he turns back to the good side and throws the Emperor down that chute. (Yeah, I know, I’m really technical with my space station terms. 🙂 ) And of course, we’re all hoping Han and Leia’s son will find redemption by the end of this new trilogy.
And if all that isn’t enough to convince you of the Christian themes within Star Wars, check out this Buzz Feed article on the 5 Reasons Ignatius of Loyola was the First Jedi Master. Apparently, Lucas may have purposely based his Jedi Knights on the Jesuit Order of priests. As you’ll read in the article, they do have a lot in common: service and humility, self-awareness and self-mastery, spiritual direction, detachment, and finding God in all things.
Does this mean all Christians, or even just all Christian authors, will love Star Wars? No. Some may like their Christian messages to be more explicit and less allegorical. Some may simply not like sci-fi. And that’s okay. But as the Jesuits would say, “God meets us where we are.” And for some of us Christian authors, that’s in the movie theater.