You’d have to be from a galaxy far, far away to not know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters this week—and opens everywhere in the United States tonight. Based on every projection, the latest in the sci-fi saga promises to become one of the highest grossing motion pictures of all-time.
Despite the epic amount of hype though, many of moviegoers might not be aware of Star Wars’ Gospel implications. And given its massive popularity and epic story, the movies warrant both our admiration and analysis.
The Real Story Runs Deep
From a Christian perspective, the films’ story and worldview offer plenty both to commend and critique. And that means, as is almost always the case, neither uncritical acceptance nor wholesale rejection is the right path.
We shouldn’t just avoid the franchise because of its deeply embedded pantheism—essentially the view that the Universe itself is God—as long as we recognize it for what it is. Star Wars‘ mystical Force that binds all things together does not equate with the personal triune God of Scripture who is intimately involved with His creation (while also remaining definitively distinct from it). Still, those of us who firmly believe in the supernatural shouldn’t dismiss or discourage the proclivity to see life as divinely charged.
Embracing the Cosmic Drama
Star Wars is a cosmic drama. And that by itself creates a connection to our faith, considering that our mission is to proclaim a cosmic drama. Our dramatic message just so happens to be about how a special boy from an obscure desert locale emerges as the hope of the universe. The son in the Star Wars story is willing to die to redeem his fallen father; the Son in the Gospel story, sent by His loving Father, gives His life to redeem those who are fallen in their father Adam.
Even as all stories echo the Gospel story, these echoes are not the reality but a lesser, imperfect (often distorted) reflection of the reality.
This is how art works, it reflects and interprets life. We love stories because on some level we as human beings realize that we are part of one. As a result of our being God’s image-bearers, we have a sense of purpose, that history is going somewhere and that our lives matter (e.g., Romans 2:15-16). Star Wars helps to awaken this sense that we participate in something greater than ourselves.
The Story Is Familiar
As with any movie, Star Wars is an opportunity to better understand our neighbors as well as ourselves. For good and bad, we are what we watch, and we watch what we are. Most great stories, regardless of their creators’ intentions, mimic the Creator’s story and will on some level fit the template of creation, fall, redemption and new creation.
Drama, of course, predicates on conflict and resolution, and God was the first to think up such a concept. Good versus evil. The hero against the villain. The light overcoming the darkness. There’s a reason these dynamics are repeated and yet never get old or go out of style.
They are strangely familiar because they belong to the original story—God’s story, our story. Eliminating these fundamental elements of storytelling is akin to a person’s image in a mirror striking him down with a lightsaber. It’s just impossible.
“There was stories about what happened,” says Daisy Ridley’s Rey character in the newest installment The Force Awakens.
“It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi, they’re real,” replies Harrison Ford’s Han Solo.
So often we fail to see how true and how real the stories that we see on-screen really are. They’re not true because they necessarily took place in history, but because they point to what did. They point to the experience of the story of all stories: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands…” (1 John 1:1ff).
So while you fill theaters tonight to watch the continued story of Han, Leia and Luke, remember the older but nearer Gospel of Luke to which the story at the heart of Star Wars is pointing. And that it’s true.
All of it.
Josh Hayes is an editor for 'The Gospel Project' and a Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He lives in the Nashville area with his wife, Sara, and their two children.