The Gospel of Star Wars
By Joe Boyd
Star Wars was everything to me growing up as a child of the 1980s. It was more than just a series of three movies. It was an alternative world that consumed me. I spent hours alone and with friends playing with the action figures—creating new stories to add to the adventure and mythos of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and Han Solo.
I grew up but never outgrew the stories George Lucas created. I was more than excited to see three new “prequel” movies in the early 2000s. While the films fell short of my expectations, it was nice to be invited back into the world.
Star Wars came roaring back last year on the heels of Disney’s acquisition of Lucas Films. My excitement for The Force Awakens, the seventh movie in the franchise, was tempered until it was announced J.J. Abrams would be writing and directing. As a huge fan of Lost, Abrams’s TV series, I had a hunch that The Force Awakens would be great. And it was. For the first time in three decades, I felt as though I was ushered back into the dynamic universe of my childhood.
This winter—and every year for the foreseeable future—a new Star Wars movie will hit the screens. I’ve come to believe the Star Wars saga can serve as a useful metaphor for the Christian faith. Consider the following:
• Star Wars invites us into an ancient narrative.
Though it is a science fiction film series, Star Wars doesn’t take place in the future. Its setting is “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Lucas desired to create a world that was technologically advanced, but rooted in antiquity. For the Christian, this can serve to remind us that we live within the ancient story of God, Israel, Jesus, and the church.
While Star Wars shows us this truth in fiction, we live out our greater truth in reality. Yesterday matters. Our stories shape us today. When we don’t know what to do, we look back to our history recorded in the Scriptures to see a God who delivers us.
• Star Wars shows us the rebels are actually the good guys.
Upon first viewing it may not be obvious that the heroes we are rooting for in Star Wars are actually rebels—rogue revolutionaries. (Note the next movie coming out is titled Rogue One.) The “normal” order of things is represented in the Empire and Darth Vader, the original villain.
This, I believe, is the story of Jesus and his followers. Jesus was a rogue, rebel, revolutionary rabbi from a nowhere mountain town. His followers were from equally unimpressive backgrounds. Yet, they launched a revolution of love, grace, and peace against the Roman and Jewish states.
As Christians, we see our primary identity here. We are most accurately seen as the rebels, waging war against the “normal” forces of hate, violence, and greed.
• Star Wars shows us the force is real.
What if there is more to the world than meets the eye? More than the material things we can see, hear, touch, and smell? Could there be a mysterious Force in the universe that pulls all things together? The answer in the Star Wars canon is an empathic yes.
And Christians agree. Our “Force,” of course, is none other than the power of the Living God at work in the lives and hearts of those who believe. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to comfort, convict, and empower. We lull ourselves into a false belief that this perceived world is all there is, but it is not. God is active in unexplainable, mysterious ways that we can never fully grasp.
• Star Wars shows us redemption is possible.
Ultimately, Star Wars is really the story of one man: Anakin Skywalker. Anakin was destined for greatness, but gave into the dark side. He became Darth Vader—more machine than human. However, before his life ends, Anakin defeats Vader by rescuing his own son (Luke) from the evil grasp of the evil Emperor. Anakin dies, but not before Vader does. And at the end of Return of the Jedi, we see that in some fantastical way, Anakin lives even though he has died.
This is the hope of Jesus and his gospel. That though we die, we will live. Nobody is beyond his grace. Redemption is available for all of us. We are all Vader. And we are all Anakin. Through Jesus we can die to our false self and be reborn into the woman or man we were always meant to be.
Ultimately I love Star Wars not just because of mere nostalgia. I love it because it reminds me of Jesus. All art mirrors truth. This franchise, for me, just does it better than most.
May the force be with you.
Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.