I remember standing in a line for hours. The hot summer Florida sun competed with our beloved humidity to see which could make us sweat more. Why were there in the sun, standing in line, sweating through our “Have a Nice Day” T-shirts, you may ask? Because the greatest movie of our lifetimes was about to open, and we needed to be the first one’s to see it!
That was the feeling I had back in 1977 when “Star Wars” first made its appearance. I remember watching the images on the screen and thinking to myself that this movie was different than other I had seen. It wasn’t just because the special effects, but also because the movie recognized an absolute good in the universe, a power greater than our own. These kinds of ideas just weren’t seen in movies anymore.
Gospel According to George?
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who saw religious themes in the movie. Soon there were all sorts of theories like George Lucas was rewriting the Gospels in Sci-Fi form, or even that he was trying to create his own New Age religion and using the movie to get into people’s lives.
Neither idea turned to be true, thank goodness. But it hasn’t stopped people from trying to read more into the “Star Wars” movie franchise than there necessarily is. It’s true that the “Star Wars” episodes are about what every religion are about. Namely, the contest between good and evil and how a particular individual, and by extension, all people, can triumph over evil in the end.
Yet, unlike some other fantasy stories that have come before, like “The Chronicles of Narnia” or even “The Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars” should not be understood as solely a Christian point of view.
Understanding the Inspiration for Star Wars
Let me try to explain, if you look at the influences of George Lucas you’ll see that they are very different from C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien, who were both inspired by Christian themes. Lucas has stated that one of his greatest influences were the writings of Joseph Campbell.
Professor Campbell was a philosopher of religion and mythology, an accomplished writer, being the author of such works as, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, a book that focuses on the many tales of heroes who had overcome great odds to perform impossible tasks. George Lucas has on occasion called Joseph Campbell, “my Yoda.” “If it hadn’t been for him,” Lucas acknowledges, “it’s possible I would still be trying to write ‘Star Wars’ today.”
Now, truth be told, Joseph Campbell was a brilliant man, but he also had a problem, he didn’t believe in an individual God, and certainly didn’t hold to the teachings of our Judeo-Christian heritage. You see Professor Campbell taught that all religions and their faith stories (such as those found in the Bible) followed a consistent pattern:
- The hero is called to an adventure, which he would accept.
- He would be given charms or magical weapons by a protective figure who is older and wiser.
- Afterwards, the hero journeys into the unknown land where he meets demons and undergoes great suffering.
- The hero would triumph over the menace and is reborn in the process.
- He would then return to his homeland enriched with new insights that will benefit his people.
But all of this doesn’t have to include any faith expression. This ideal of good versus evil is the foundation of “Star Wars.”
I don’t want it to seem that I think the “Star Wars” movies are without any Christian redeeming qualities. In fact, I think that there are many Christian-like symbols you should be able to find in the films. Some of the ideas found in the movies, like the “Force”, tend more toward the Eastern views of God, particularly Buddhist, as a vast reservoir of energy that is the ground of all of our being.
Let’s look at some of these Christian symbols and thoughts for a while, shall we?
Luke Skywalker: We’ll start with some of the characters, like Luke Skywalker who must fight the temptations from the “dark side” in order to save himself and all of humanity from the clutches of the Emperor, Dark Vader, and evil figures like Jabba the Hutt. Throughout Episodes IV to VI, Luke is constantly tempted to unleash his anger and hate. He almost fails in “The Empire Strikes Back”, but in the final showdown against evil, Luke rejects the “dark side,” prompting even the coldest of hearts, like Darth Vader’s, to warm to the virtues of goodness and to seek reconciliation.
If one where to really read into the Skywalker character one could likely find parallels with Christian thought. For example, Jesus was tempted by evil, but rejected it, choosing the right path even though it meant for a difficult conclusion. The Christian belief that salvation is always possible is evident in the spiritual saving of Darth Vader. It almost reminds us of when Jesus forgave the repentant thief being crucified beside him on the cross. Like Darth Vader, the thief was assured that he was going to heaven, even though his life had been spotted by evil deeds. As long as you repent, you can be saved, in this truth is seems that the Bible and “Star Wars” are in agreement.
Qui-Gon Jinn: Some of the other characters can also have Christian themes placed upon them. Like Qui-Gon Jinn in Episode I, who seems to be shown as a prophetic image of a bearded and robed teacher who sacrifices his life that the Messiah can be saved. His enemy, Darth Maul, was clearly meant to be seen as a hellish figure complete with red skin and horns to make the parallel complete, their first confrontation took place in the desert which should remind us of some of the conflicts of the Prophets in the Old Testament.
Senator Palpatine: Then there is Senator Palpatine (the Emperor) who is most definitely a representation of Satan. He cares about nothing and anyone other than myself, and only wants power.
Yoda: Yoda represents an Isaiah like figure, where he begins as the most powerful of the Jedi, but like Isaiah, finds himself in a time when the exile is about to begin and his true goodness will be seen in his faithful expectation of the coming Messiah.
The Jedi themselves can represent faithful Christians. They are told to avoid anger and hate and fear and such, much like Christ teaches His followers. As far as Anakin (Darth Vader), many have tried to draw a connection with Christ… I’m not going to go there. True his beginning seem to follow, like having a miraculous birth and being intimately connected with the source of life, but then he falls, he becomes corrupt and it takes the love of his son, Luke, to actually bring about his salvation. That doesn’t feel very Christ-like to me.
Now, I could go on and on about the imagery of “Star Wars” (And in checking out some the web sites out there on this subject, it seems many people have gone on and on… way too much free time out there), but in the end the whole series should be seen as George Lucas himself once said:
“I would hate to find ourselves in a completely secular world where entertainment was passing for some kind of religious experience.”
In saying this, Mr. Lucas reminds us that he never meant for his movies to be viewed through a religious lens, they’re meant to be entertainment. “Star Wars” contrasts with similar films because of the strong sense of morality and an absolute goodness and evil. But those ideas aren’t intended to get us cracking open Bibles and to find all the scriptures verses that parallel the lines in the movie.
So when Episode III opens, go and see it, enjoy every minute of it and stay up late at night talking about it and how much better or worse it is than the other films in the series. But as you finally head off to sleep, remember its not a “Force” that will be with you, its Christ.
See ya at the movies.