Why we love Star Wars
Star Wars frenzy has begun again with the release of the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One. While not part of the main saga, this movie is still sure to get people dusting off their Hasbro lightsabers and Darth Vader coffee mugs. But it also gives us an opportunity to ponder the question again: why do we love Star Wars so much?
No doubt it has something to do with the pure length of time over which the saga has been released – someone who watched the first movie in 1977 as a teenager is now able to enjoy the ongoing story with their grandchildren… making Star Wars a modern legend that is passed down from one generation to the next. (But where our ancestors did that around the campfire, we do that in 3D IMAX with 7.1 Surround Sound).
And yet I think there’s something more to its success than just its cross-generational appeal. The story of Star Wars itself, with its mysterious supernatural elements at work behind a technologically-advanced world, is one that resonates with something deep inside all of us who live in a scientific world largely devoid of the mysterious. It awakens us to our awareness of the supernatural. It gives us a grand narrative of light at war with darkness, good at war with evil, great battles and ancient prophecies – a story not only that we yearn to be a part of, but one that we know we already are somehow. It’s no secret that George Lucas drew from many existing belief systems in creating the Star Wars universe. The mysterious and all-embracing “Force” that provides the supernatural backdrop is closely reminiscent of Eastern mystic beliefs such as Buddhism. Jedi Knights are almost certainly inspired from the Samurai of the Japanese “Jidaigeki” films of which Lucas was a student.
Yet with the strong Eastern parallels, there are also clear elements of Judeo-Christianity too: the concept of good and evil represented by light and darkness echoes the apostle John’s teaching, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie… but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:5-7). The way that people are tempted to the dark side in Star Wars is closely parallel to the temptations of Satan in the Garden of Eden. The prophecy of a “chosen one” (who, incidentally, is born of a virgin mother) is a strong reference to the Messiah prophecies fulfilled in Christ. The common greeting “May the Force be with you” echoes the old Christian blessing “May God be with you” while Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi’s encouragement to Luke Skywalker before they part company, “Remember, the Force will be with you always” bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus’ final statement to his disciples before his own departure, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).
There is in Star Wars, however, one prominent point in contrast to the bible – which I think gives the legend it’s great appeal. The Force, the underlying supernatural element of the Star Wars universe, is impersonal and makes no demands. Indeed, it can be manipulated to carry out the will of the one who wields it. In this it strongly represents the type of mysticism becoming very popular today – one in which the supernatural is recognized and yet it exists for the purpose of the beholder. It exists within the creation, not over it. Thus it provides us with a worldview that gives us a “god” we want, but one to whom we don’t need to listen nor be held accountable – and it makes a ton of money doing it. Thus Star Wars is not just great entertainment. It also gives us a framework for thinking about the supernatural without any of the accountability which comes with believing in a Creator.
The real world, however, is not like that. Creation reveals a Creator beyond itself, and that Creator has revealed his will in Scripture. He cannot be manipulated to serve our needs, instead we need to listen to and obey his will if we’re ever going to be the people we should be.
Despite this major difference, there is an aspect of Star Wars which does reflect a vital point of reality – namely the constant temptation to join the “dark side” or (in the bible’s terms) to live against the “light”, being the word and will of God. The bad news, though, is that we’ve already given in to that temptation. That’s why we’re now so desperate for a god to whom we don’t need to answer.
But we need to answer to the real God.
So what we really need is a Saviour – a hero who can do what we fail to do, on our behalf. And that’s precisely who God gives us in Jesus. The hero of the true Legend that we’re all part of. A look around in our world is enough to show us we’ve already given in to the dark side. But if we acknowledge what our Creator has told us then we come to find, in his Son, the “True light that… shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4-5)