Culture

3 Gospel Truths in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Warning: The following post contains spoilers. So as not to betray the cast and crew members (most notably, Harrison Ford himself) who worked tirelessly to keep the details of the film a surprise, I highly recommend that you see the film for yourself before reading this post!

This blog article is not a traditional movie review. Many reviews have been written in the brief period since the release of Episode VII. If a straight-up, traditional film critique is what you’re looking for, check out the New York TimesCNN or the National Catholic Register

If you’re concerned about the moral and spiritual content of the Star Wars universe and you’re trying to decide if you should see it and/or let your kids see it, you’ll find this article from Decent Films helpful. 

My two cents are simple: See this movie. It’s exciting. It’s nostalgic. It’s funny, in the same vein of humor as the classic films. You will see it, and you will enjoy it. (Did I just Jedi-mind-trick you?) 

With the preliminary mumbo-jumbo out of the way, let’s get to it. 

The Apostle Paul tells us that “[God’s] invisible nature…has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). While it’s unlikely impossible St. Paul was referring to the 21st-century film industry, I like to think that all of creation — even if in the palest of ways — reflects the splendor, glory and truth of God. Today’s Hollywood blockbusters are no exception.

 

So what gospel themes can be found in the latest installment from the Star Wars universe?

 

I’m sure there are more, but here are three: 

1.     Universality. 

In episodes 1 – 6, an understanding of the Force and the use of light sabers are characterized as esoteric knowledge and skills accessible to only a few. The ancient mythology of the Force is open to the Jedi and the Sith — a “chosen people,” if you will — rather than the “common man.” 

With “The Force Awakens,” however, comes a departure from this “exclusivist” idea. Maz Kanata, a diminutive, wise, elderly alien (*cough-YODA-cough*) admits that while she’s no Jedi, she does know the Force. And Han Solo, once a complete skeptic about the Force, tells the new heroes “it’s all true.”

Perhaps the clearest example of inclusivism is the film’s climactic light saber battle scene. Now, we’re not that surprised to see Rey with the light saber — by this point, it’s dawned on us that she’s most likely the next Jedi.

But Finn? The ex-Storm Trooper? His role in the final light saber battle constitutes a significant departure from prior episodes in the Star Wars universe. The line between “Jedi” and “everybody else” just got a little more blurry.

What’s the connection to the gospel? The Church Jesus founded is a Universal Church. Salvation is not earned by membership in some exclusive group or possession of some esoteric knowledge. It’s not gained by lineage or bodily mark (e.g. circumcision).

Rather, the gospel is accessible to all who choose to accept it. Jesus died and rose for all, even the commonest of men — even the “ex-Storm Troopers” among us. The question is this: Are we willing to turn from conformity to the world, reject the “number” we have been given in life (FN-2187?) and take on a “new name” in Christ Jesus? (See what I did there?)

 

2.     Reverence for the Past, Hope for the Future.

Saint Augustine instructs us: “Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.” Simultaneous reverence for the past and hope for the future is a profoundly Christian idea. The saints are to be revered for their actions in the past, but we must not dwell on a time gone by. Rather, the faithful must forge ahead as a people of hope. 

“The Force Awakens” echoes this theme of reverence and hope. The film brings back familiar favorites like Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewy and — oh yeah — Luke Skywalker. Once again, viewers find themselves aboard the iconic Millennium Falcon and enduring enjoying the presence of the (understandably) socially awkward protocol droid C-3PO. In sum: all the nostalgia. 

And yet, “Episode VII” is as much a passing of the baton as it is a trip down memory lane. A new cast of talented youngsters are in town, and as much as we might enjoy looking backward, the message is clear: It’s time to move on. 

This theme is most clear in our new heroes. Finn, for his part, knows it’s time to leave the First Order — even if he has no idea where his new path will lead. And as the sage Maz tells Rey: “The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead.” 

Would that we would all be so wise as to take Maz’s advice. In “The Force Awakens,” as in the Christian walk, we can learn from those stalwart heroes who have come before. We can — and should — listen to their stories. But ultimately, we must find our own place in God’s plan. 

Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

  

3.     Sonship. 

Kylo Ren is a fascinating villain.

In many ways, he’s the anti-Darth Vader. Sure, he wears a mask and wields the powers of the Dark Side, but we learn early on that he’s kind of a pansy. When he receives bad news from his reporting officers, he throws computer-slashing temper tantrums (we all know how Darth Vader would have handled that situation) and he even loses a mind-reading battle with a desert scavenger. Really?

More profoundly, though, Kylo Ren is the anti-Luke Skywalker. He does easily what Luke, while tempted, would never do: 

He kills his own father. 

The theme of sonship recurs throughout the “Star Wars” series, but never as palpably as in this fateful confrontation between Ren and Solo.

This powerful father-son scene — set on a bridge — is reminiscent of the “I am your father” scene from “Episode V.” As did the original scene back in 1980, the present scene is sure to tug on our heartstrings in some way, whether we identify more with child’s feelings of confusion and abandonment or the parent’s feelings of sorrow and regret.

What’s the connection to the gospel? As beloved sons and daughters of the King, we have a loving Father who will never abandon us. By faith and baptism, we enter into His house. We become members of His family.  

As parents, we’re called to have faith in our kids. Leia says to Han: “There is still light in him — I know it.” She believes the father-son bond is even more powerful than the Dark Side. 

Han himself shows his undying love for his son when he calls the villain by name and stands toe-to-toe with him, unarmed and vulnerable. 

There is a profound lesson of sonship here. This is how our Lord meets us in the Incarnation: unarmed and vulnerable, calling us home yet willing to give his life for us.

Are we, as sons and daughters of the King, willing to do the same for one another? 

We can only hope.