As part of our ongoing Summer Blockbuster series at HollywoodJesus.com, I signed up to write on Star Wars. But my exploration exceeded the length we were to write, and I ended up with a longer ‘dissertation’ that I share with you brave souls now.
I will always consider Star Wars: A New Hope and Return of the Jedi as (the?) movies that were the first building blocks of what I do now, write on faith in films and preach. I remember playing as Luke Skywalker on the playground, with friends who were Han, Leia (also the name of my first grade school crush), Chewie, Lando, and many others. (You can keep G.I. Joe, I’ll take Star Wars anyway.) I was Luke (he was blonde as was I), and thought he was the coolest. It wasn’t until much later that I realized Luke was good, but Han was actually cool. The stories of these characters were foundational to my belief in bravery in the face of danger, friendship in the face of adversity, selflessness in the face of greed, and faith in the face of doubt.
You know by now that Episode VII will unveil next year, thanks to Lucasfilm’s sale to Walt Disney and the success of one J.J. Abrams. But rewatching the original Star Wars film, that is A New Hope, I’m not sure that the film can be topped or that there should be sequels. [Disclaimer here: I will see them, irregardless of whether they should be made or not.] Watching the film with a seven-year-old who’d never seen the film, but who had played every video game, read every comic book, and seen every animated adaptation, I was struck by the joy of experiencing the film (and how it’s actually PG, not some strange stretching of the boundaries). And I was reminded of the wisdom of one George Lucas, who wrote the script for my childhood playing, ripe with the nuggets of wisdom that struck me decades later.
First, there’s a boundless flow of courage and naiveté in Luke on Tattoine. It’s the sense that the world is bigger than he ever imagined but that it is innately good. He doesn’t know that Old Ben is Obi Won Kenobi, or who his father is yet; he doesn’t realize that there are forces at play that will one day challenge for his soul. He’s just a kid dreaming of something bigger, knowing he could be doing more. And when the opportunity rises, he’s the moral compass that makes grand, stupid, amazing gestures, like charging deeper into the Imperial Cruiser to save the captive Princess Leia Organa. What would the world look like if we actually dreamed like that, if we actually believed that the world was good when it was made and worked to help be part of making it better?
Second, there are issues that Lucas touches on that I didn’t see at first but I recognize are still impacting society today. It struck me that when the bartender at the Mos Eisley Cantina says, “we don’t serve their kind here” (about the droids R2D2 and C3PO), that we’re also talking about the Civil Rights movement, and the reaction to people from the Middle East after 9/11. And then I realize we’re also talking about the way that some churches respond to people who are addicts, remarried, alcoholics, or gay, just to name a few. And I think that maybe this galaxy isn’t so far away. I also recognize that there are plenty of people who see those injustices and fight them; we call them anything from Freedom Riders to Jedi Knights.
Third, and theologically (if the other two don’t ring that bell for you), I am practically CHEERING when Obi Won gets that look in his eyes (right before he closes them) and Darth Vader slices through him. And we’re not clear if Obi Won was there when the lightsaber came through and then disappeared or not (and I realize it doesn’t matter if Greedo shot first or not), but we remember that before he died/passed/disappeared/was taken up to heaven, Obi Won said, “If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” It’s then that I realize all of my Star Wars love is deeper, broader, and wider than one element, one aspect of faith, but that we can see that Obi Won represents the image of Jesus, who said they’d kill him and that he’d rise three days later, that there is love, courage, power, gospel, Spirit in the world that cannot, will not allow life to be won by the dark side.
[Watching this with my seven-year-old, he asks, “Why did he do that? Why didn’t he fight back?” And I sat there, theologically educated, movie-loving, and Christ-focused, and I said, “um, well,… you’re just going to have to see the story.” It doesn’t make sense but it’s the beauty of the gospel. There has never been a movie that I’ve seen that reflects a version of the gospel story where a person doesn’t make a move that’s suicide or fight back that they die… because they just need to. For the record, Edge of Tomorrow does make a stab at it, but this is one of those moments where Star Wars makes me go, “ohhhhhhh.” Go rewatch that scene.]
Fourth, now some of you will say, “you’re full of it, it’s just a movie,” and I will reply, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” That’s something I never would’ve done as a second grader, quoting Vader, because as a kid, I didn’t understand how both Darth Vader (or Dark Vader as my three-year-old calls him) and Obi Won could believe they were serving the Force. That the Force was a power beyond and above both of them, that as an image for the Holy Spirit or the empowerment of God, we can use our force for good or bad. We all are aware that the church sometimes gives itself a bad name because the church is made of people who get confused, deceived, twisted by those who advise them and their own desires. But we know that Obi Won rebukes Han Solo’s disbelief because he’s never seen, and we know that Darth Vader ‘rebukes’ the Imperialist who belittles the “old, dead religion.” We know that real faith and truth win the day, and we know (cheating a little here to Return of the Jedi) that in the end, the old dead religion grants second chances, redemption, and opportunities for ‘resurrection’ to all who would believe.
The original Star Wars, not the Jar-Jar derivative or what still appears to be MoneyGrab2015 to me, is one of the best movies of all time because it brings beautiful tones to what we could be. It helps us dream, hope, love, think, and move. It’s not just imagination, it’s parable. (And we didn’t even get to Yoda yet!)
So, yeah, I cheered Obi Won’s ‘death,’ “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). I cheered because Star Wars taught me, even in the midst of a one-handed man hanging from the underground (overground?) spires of Cloud City at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, that in the long run, the good guys win.