Not so long ago, in a town not so far away…
A child joined his parents at the front of the sanctuary while they served communion during a Christian worship service. Dad gave recipients pieces of bread with the words "the body of Christ broken for you." Mom offered the communion cup, saying, "Jesus' blood shed for you." Wanting a job, the boy parked himself next to his parents and blessed each recipient before they went back to their seats, saying, "And may the Force be with you!"
It's possible no one really noticed. "May the Force be with you" is so well integrated into our cultural mindset that the phrase doesn't stand out, even when uttered in strange circumstances.
Some of us feel a sense of connection between the world of Star Wars and the world of our religious tradition. For many, there's a reflexive urge to respond "and also with you!" every time we hear "May the Force be with you." It could be that the words are simply similar to words we often hear in a Christian worship service. OR, it could be that the stories and themes told in Star Wars so closely resemble some stories and themes in our religious tradition that we feel an innate connection between the two. Perhaps the stories of Star Wars could even be illustrations of themes present in religion. Perhaps it's all of the above.
How does the Star Wars saga illustrate Christian faith? Read on, young Padawan, for a peek at Christian themes laced into the stories of Star Wars …
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. [Jesus in Matthew 5:10]
The first six Star Wars films (episodes I through VI) are, essentially, the stories of the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Anakin's life started with much promise. He was the Chosen One, heralded to bring peace and order to the galaxy.
Anakin had a special sense of the world around him and learned that his gifts solved big problems. He focused his youthful ambition first on helping people, even if it meant leaving his mother and his home. He fought through his fear of separation and joined the Jedi, an order of righteous warriors.
But as he grew older, he allowed fear to creep into his life, along with its cousins: doubt, greed and anger. Under the influence of a powerful dark force, Anakin turned away from the righteous path. He encased his humanity in a machine and became an instrument of evil.
Yet his humanity and sense of righteousness remained inside, dormant until kindled by the love of his own son. In his son, he saw the look of steadfast faith and unconditional love.
At journey's end, when faced with the finality of evil's triumph, Anakin regained his humanity and destroyed the evil, even though it proved fatal to him. But with his sacrifice, he fulfilled his destiny, succeeding to bring peace and order to the galaxy.
A righteous cause worth dying for.
And speaking of dying for causes …
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. [Jesus in John 15:13]
This quote is one of the final teachings Jesus delivers to his disciples before his death on the cross. He was predicting several things. First, he's laying down his life to save his group of friends from further trouble with the authorities who are out to get them. Secondly, he is stepping aside, in a sense, so the Holy Spirit could come to them (John 16:7). He is also offering himself as a witness to his friends — and all of us — showing the extent of God's love. The witness is that, although we reject and deny God's love, God's love overcomes.
Such sacrifices are witnessed throughout the Star Wars saga. In the first movie — or the fourth episode, depending on how you want to line up the chronology — Obi-Wan Kenobi sacrifices his life to allow the escape of his friends. The sacrifice of his terrestrial body allows him to communicate spiritually, through the Force, to Luke Skywalker. Obi-Wan becomes an analogy of the Holy Spirit, offering counsel, prompts and courage.
There's a powerful scene in The Force Awakens (episode VII), in which Han Solo confronts his son, Ben (a.k.a. Kylo Ren). Han offers himself to Ben, saying he would do anything to help his son out of the dire situation he has fallen into — that being a tortured soul corrupted in darkness. Ben takes full advantage of his dad's offer, momentarily alleviating some of his internal conflict by (literally) sticking it to his dad. This situation is not yet fully resolved, though, as one gets a hunch that Han's sacrifice will somehow lead to a form of redemption for Ben.
The newest Star Wars film, Rogue One, is a story of sacrifice. The storyline follows a group of rebels who make one sacrifice after another for the sake of freedom for the galaxy. The monk, Chirrut Imwe, exemplifies the willingness to sacrifice as he steps into the line of fire during a climactic battle scene in order to throw a power switch that will allow the rebels to broadcast the secret plans for the Death Star. Chirrut was willing to lay down his life for his friends.
And speaking of Rogue One …
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. [Jesus in John 12:24]
This is the process we watch in Rogue One: the seed of old Jyn Erso falling away to sprout up as a new Jyn Erso. Upon her introduction in the movie, Jyn is a bit self-centered. She is not interested in helping others, let alone saving the galaxy. She just wants to survive. When she was challenged with a question on how she could accept the banner of the evil Galactic Empire flying over the galaxy, her response was "it's easy if you never look up."
But that Jyn passes away. The events of the film lead her into becoming a person who is no longer interested solely in self-preservation, rather she is interested in giving hope and freedom to her friends and the galaxy beyond. She is no longer concerned with surviving. She has been reborn as a person willing to die for others.
And since speaking of rebirth you are …
I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God. [Jesus in John 3:3, New Living Translation]
The Star Wars saga is a library of rebirth stories. It tells of the rebirth of Darth Vader as Anakin. It portrays the rebirth of Luke Skywalker from a lost farmboy to a focused Jedi. There is the rebirth of Han Solo from scoundrel to hero. We witness the rebirth of FN-2187 to Finn. We could go on …
Perhaps the big rebirth story — the one that drives and feeds all the other stories of rebirth within Star Wars — is the rebirth of the galaxy. The story arc of the Star Wars movies moves the galaxy from a broken, corrupt existence (episodes I through III) to a time of darkness and struggle (episodes IV through VI) to a hopeful rebirth into a more idealistic existence (the new trilogy).
If that story arc sounds familiar, it might just be because it is the narrative arc of the Christian Bible, which tells the story of the fall of creation (Genesis), creation's dark struggle (contained in much of the Old Testament), and the beginning of its rebirth through Jesus Christ. Remember this the next time you settle in for a Star Wars movie marathon.
Maybe this is all coincidence. Maybe it's luck for people like us to see our faith story in Star Wars. But may you also remember the words of a wise man: "In my experience, there's no such thing as luck."
May we continue to find ways in which holy messages intertwine in our daily lives. May we continue to imagine ways in which we envision the rebirth of creation. And, remember, may the Force be with you, always … to the very end of the age.
This article is a collaborative effort of love from Ryan Dunn and Chris Fenoglio, who both spend their free time geeking out to Chicago Cubs baseball, Star Wars and Jesus-y things … and work for The United Methodist Church in the moments in between.