Like many folks, I dusted off the old Star Wars trilogies in preparation for “The Force Awakens.” Yet fear not in reading this, you should, for in this article no spoilers about newest movie, there are. (OK—I won’t attempt Yoda’s proverbial cadence again.)
I hadn’t seen Star Wars since boyhood, so the plot line was fuzzy to me. But once I began watching the movies, the story felt oddly similar. Before I could say, “May the force be with you,” I was enthralled with the story, and for what they’re worth, here’s some thoughts as to why:
I think many people—whether they recognize it or not—love Star Wars because the movies subtly emulate the macro-narrative of the Bible and its themes. Further, as great art, Star Wars brings glory to God and proves his existence. Supporting this argument, I will first briefly compare parallels between key characters and places in Star Wars with those of Scripture. Second, I will echo the ontological argument Anselm purported in the 12th century to show how Star Wars’ adherence to the biblical story line serves as a case for God’s existence. Third, I will conclude by stating the doxological importance that good art like Star Wars has for Christian living and discipleship. In other words, I’ll explain why movies like Star Wars benefit Christians in general and not just nerds (like me).
To clarify: Mine will be an analysis of the Star Wars movies, not the books (the canon), per se. With that said, let us journey into a galaxy far, far away…at light speed!
Star Wars and Scripture’s Parallels
To see the similarities between Star Wars and Scripture, let’s consider parallels between Adam and Anakin, Palpatine and Satan, and Eden and the Jedi Temple on the planet Coruscant.
In Episode I, we find Anakin a brilliant boy on the desert planet of Tattouine in the galaxy’s Outer Rim. Discovered by Jedi Master Qui Gon Jinn, Anakin shows tremendous potential with The Force—the power that upholds everything in the universe. The Force is an impersonal, dualistic power with a good [Light] side and an evil [Dark] side. Nevertheless, thinking that Anakin is “the chosen one” who will bring balance to The Force, Qui Gon recruits Anakin.
As a Jedi, Anakin is given the task to protect the Galactic Empire, bringing order to it so that it might flourish. Here is where the biblical parallel first struck me; Adam was given a similar task:
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Gen. 2:15)
We’ll return to Eden later because Anakin’s story is far from finished. In Episodes II and III, we find Anakin exponentially turning to the Dark Side of The Force.
Enter Palpatine, the most powerful leader in the Galactic Empire and Sith Lord—one devoted to the Dark Side. Sensing Anakin’s great power, Palpatine manipulates Anakain, wooing him to the Dark Side of The Force, so that his tyrannical reign might endlessly expand.
Palpatine’s preying on Anakin rang of Satan slithering toward Adam. Palpatine promises to give Anakin the greatest knowledge of The Force—a knowledge that will empower Anakin to foil death—a power that Palpatine says Anakin can only achieve through him. Was this offer not what Satan seduced Adam with—great knowledge and immunity from death?
“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
And like Palpatine, Satan made it seem as if he was the only one loving enough and wise enough to lead Adam to such knowledge. Satan broke Adam’s trust in the good, loving leadership of his master, God. Palpatine broke Anakin’s trust in the good leadership of his masters, the Jedi Council. Palpatine attacked Anakin’s identity as a Jedi, promising him a new identity that seemed to meet Anakin’s lusts. Satan offered Adam a new identity—the chance to be what he was not, namely God—appeasing Adam’s lusts.
Both Adam and Anakin fell to lies that their seducers could not fulfill. Adam’s sin would introduce death into the universe for everyone (Gen. 2:19). Anakin’s sins led to death, too. Perhaps Anakin’s darkest act was his slaying of innocent children.And consider where this slaying of the youngling Jedis occurred—in the Jedi temple.
The Jedi Temple was to be a place of order, a place from which goodness and righteousness echoed into the universe. Sounds like Eden, doesn’t it? As God was particularly present in Eden, the Jedi—and the Light Side of The Force that empowered them—were particularly present in their temple. Yet Anakin, after believing a lie and losing himself in a dark identity, failed at his task and defiled the temple, as did Adam!
We could continue with parallels between Star Wars and Scripture. Yet even this brief overview shows that God’s Story inspires many other stories; some of these derived stories (like Star Wars) are so good because they so clearly echo major themes God’s great Story. I think this is partly why Pilgrim’s Progress, after the Bible, is the second best-selling book of all time. Good art rings something of eternity, which we know God has put in man’s hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). As Phil Ryken says in Art for God’s Sake, “At its best, art is able to…satisfy our deep longing for beauty and communicate profound spiritual, intellectual, and emotional truth about the world God has made for his glory.” Perhaps Star Wars or Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t do that for you. But is there no movie, show, or picture that does? Examine that art. See what it speaks to you about God.
Star Wars as Proof of God’s Existence
I’m suggesting that good art, like Star Wars, testifies to the existence of God. Arts like ballet—or anything that doesn’t employ the medium of words—communicates eternal truths in its own unique ways. Yet for artistic stories, like Star Wars, the fact that man can hardly conceive a higher plot line than God’s story testifies to God’s existence. How many movies, plays, dramas—be they ancient or modern—revolve around a “chosen one” destined to bring peace and redemption to mankind by crushing an evil nemesis? And yet these stories elude banality; we enjoy telling them over and over. Might our constant retelling of the same story prove that we simply think God’s thoughts after him and therefore prove God’s existence?
Anselm, the 12th century scholastic theologian, coupled this line of logic with Psalm 14:1 to argue for God’s existence. Establishing the “ontological argument” for God’s existence, Anselm suggested that man thinks of God rightly when we cannot conceive of something greater than God. Therefore, it is self-contradictory to deny that God exists; if he exists in thought as the greatest being then he must exist in reality as the greatest being. In short, Anselm suggests that it is foolish to deny God. We’re made to know him, enjoy him, and bring glory to Him. And good movies like Star Wars help us do that.
Star Wars: Why Stories Like it Matter
But how can Star Wars help us enjoy the only God, if it doesn’t necessarily point to the Christian God? After all, one might suggest that other religions’ themes compound (even dominate) any supposed Christian themes in the movies. The Force sounds more like the Chinese philosophy of Ying and Yang; Jedi and Sith alike suggest that “‘good’ is a point of view”—emphasizing the heart of post-modern dogma; the Great Yoda himself seemingly denies the goodness of physical matter and the body, employing a Platonic ideal, when he pokes Luke’s fatigued body and says, “Luminous beams are we, not this prude matter.” (I had to sneak in one more Yoda quote!)
Yet the apparent pluralism in the films shouldn’t trouble Christians because Star Wars isn’t the gospel—it can’t be and was never meant to be. Star Wars is fiction; the gospel is fact. We shouldn’t expect Star Wars to change hearts. We have to keep the films in perspective, in their boundaries. As writer Bret Lott suggests, “art transcends its limitations only by staying within them.”
Further, when presented with anything contrary to Scripture, we’re provided the opportunity to learn and rejoice. We can learn about the contrary positions, which our neighbors may hold, and therefore better equip ourselves to understand, evangelize, and love our neighbors—fulfilling the second greatest command (Matt . 22:36). We can learn how to better discern truth from error—becoming as wise as serpents while maintaining our innocence—and so better enjoy things for what they are. What’s more—we can rejoice in the fact that God’s perfect Word sufficiently speaks to any challenge.
I rejoiced as I watched the Star Wars movies and considered how God’s Word declares that God is one and almighty, not a dueling power [e.g. The Force] equal to some nebulous, evil power (Deut. 6:4; Job 9:4). God’s Word declares that He—not The Force—is with us (Matt. 1:23). God’s Word declares that truth and righteousness are absolute (John 17:17). God’s Word emphasizes the goodness of the body and creation (Gen. 1:31). Yoda is not the wisest being in the universe, the Lord of Hosts is (Rom. 11:33)!
Yet at the same time, though Star Wars isn’t an exact replica of God’s story, we can still appreciate the echoes of God’s story we see in it and even its dissonances. Good stories can help us better appreciate the greatest story in its fullness and help us better see, understand, and enjoy creation and the Creator.
Consider how one father experienced these benefits with his son. As I watched Star Wars and tweeted thoughts (which became this post), this dad took these tweets and pointed them out to his son as they watched the old trilogies, discipling his son in Scripture’s narrative.
Given that “The Force Awakens” made 813 million dollars worldwide when it first released, I wonder: how many of those dollars came from fathers and sons and mothers and daughters purchasing tickets? How many of those families long to see more of God?
Of course, we are free to watch movies like Star Wars and take what we will from them. Some would even say Christians too often shoehorn Star Wars into our own theology. Perhaps. But why not strive to see God, his Story, yourself, and your neighbor in these movies where you can? Isn’t that why we like movies like Star Wars? Isn’t that what we want as Christians—Christ in all and as all? But again, these are just some thoughts from a fellow Padawan.