Rest assured, this post contains no Force Awakens spoilers. I haven’t seen it yet. It does contain spoilers for episodes I-III. So, if you are Amish, you may not want to read this post.
The Star Wars films shaped my childhood imagination. They nurtured in me a sense of right and wrong. They gave me a meaningful vocabulary for good and evil. Lucas’s images of the light side and the dark side opened my eyes to a battle being waged daily in the world that I could see on the evening news, in the playground, and even in my own heart and mind. This imaginative world gave me a sense of responsiblity and the hope that I could overcome the darkness within in me, that I could choose. Eventually, these films gave me my first glimpse of grace and redemption.
Yet, the Christians in my life missed this opportunity to speak to me and who knows how many others. They failed to speak to me in my language. They failed to translate the Gospel, to use my vocabulary. They did not see the Spirit of Christ already at work. The Spirit went before them like the pillar of fire in the darkness. But all they could say to me was “The Spirit of God is not like the force in Star Wars.”
My family did not attend church regularly. Nevertheless, it seems like every time I entered a church for the next decade or so. I was told that God was not like the force in Star Wars. In the instant they got my attention, they lost it. If your god, is not like the force in Star Wars, then that’s too bad for your god. The force is awesome!
What if one preacher, or one individual Christian, had said, “Hey, you know what, the force in Star Wars is a little like the Spirit and Jesus is like a Jedi.” What if Christians were on the look out for where the Spirit is already speaking to people in a language that they can understand? Isn’t this way of speaking the biblical model, anyway?
God is like a rock. God is like light in the darkness. Human beings are like idols. God is like a Father. God is like a warrior. God is like a shepherd. God is like a Jedi (which like the name Yoda seems to come from the Hebrew verb ‘to know’, does it?). What if someone had read Genesis 1 or Colossians 1 to me in this context? What if someone had shown me Jesus mighty deeds? Well, the Spirit found another way with me but let’s not make the same mistake with this generation of viewers. The Spirit is speaking and not just through Star Wars, but through Harry Potter, through Divergent, through Mockingjay, through Frozen, through Marvel, the list could go on.
This assumption that the Spirit is already speaking in other cultures can be found in the early apologists like Justin Martyr and in the writings of Augustine, especially his Confessions.
My Apprenticeship Begins
I was 4 years old when Star Wars arrived in theatres. I remember the night I went to see it. Still in their twenties, my parents threw a party. While the grown-ups drank, talked, and danced, I sat in our sun-room in front of our little black and white TV watching something, already in my pajamas. Then it happened.
The ad for Star Wars appeared on the screen. These cool spaceships were zipping around shooting lasers. Some had these round centers and the other ones looked like futuristic jet fighters with X-shaped wings. Yes, there was a time when I did not know what they were called. Mesmerized by these images on the screen even more than my usual TV gaze would suggest, a friend of my parents entered the room likely he wanted to see the commercial.
“Do you want to go see that movie?” He asked.
“Uh Huh.” I managed nodding my head.
“Let me go ask your parents.” He said and left the room.
A mixture of excitement at the possibility and sadness because I was prepared for my parents to say no. I was already in my pajamas. My parents never went to movies.
He (I can’t remember his name. My mom remembers but it never sticks.) came back with my mom and said, “Get dressed and we’ll go.” You didn’t have to tell me twice. I charged upstairs and changed. I remember lining up around the block. Before multiplexes, this movie was literally a blockbuster.
From the title screen and the huge Star Destroyer filling my visual world, I was hooked. To this day, the 20th Century Fox movie is associated with Star Wars. This movie had everything. It was the ultimate modern fairy tale and I was all in. Over the next few weeks, I talked about it so much that my parents agreed to take me again. Did I mention that my parents never went to movies? So, I got to see Star Wars twice in the theatre when I was 4 years old. Who knew there would be a sequel? VCRs were just beginning to arrive on the scene. So, that was it. Yet, the story was kept alive through play. I had few toys but mostly it was on the playground with friends.
My generation did not play cops and robbers. We played Rebellion and Empire. Some of us preferred being Han Solo and others wanted to be Luke. Even girls could join in and be something more than the damsel in distress. Leia was a tough princess.
I saw Empire Strikes Back in the drive-in. Then, my friends and I had to wait years while Han was frozen in carbonite. Finally, Return of the Jedi arrived. Han could be rescued and Luke could kill Darth Vader and the Emperor and bring peace to the galaxy and balance to the force.
I almost missed seeing Jedi in the theatre. After all, my parent still rarely went to movies. I was old enough now to walk downtown to the theatre with a friend. But Chuck wanted to see Krull. Which was another studios attempt to compete with Star Wars. Nice try. Kids are impressionable and Krull did have a cool ninja star boomerang type weapon but I convinced Chuck to see Return of the Jedi. I needed closure.
The movie was everything I hoped it would be (I too wish Lucas had not downgraded the original with unnecessary CGI, what is up with Jabba’s band being turned into cartoons. Where is the gravitas?). But Lucas surprised me with something I had never seen before. Grace and Redemption.
The Wicked Witch of the West is always doused with water and dies in the end. But Luke lays down his lightsaber and surrenders himself to Darth Vader. He appeals to his goodness, to any flicker of light that might still smolder deep down inside him. For more than half my life, I was Luke Skywalker. I battling the darkness within me. It was my battle to win or lose. Suddenly, Lucas switched my perspective. Now, I was Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker. No matter how far down the dark path I had gone. I could still choose. There was still hope. It might mean life or death for me but death was better than the dark side. As the lightning flashed in Darth Vader’s normally vacant and dark eyes, I longed for him to make the right choice. Was it possible?
“Hey, you know what? The force in Star Wars is a little like the Spirit and Jesus is like the ultimate Jedi master.”
I will likely take my son to see The Force Awakens this week. I will have my eyes open for the truth, the analogies, all that good stuff that is the light in the darkness.
Colossians 1:11-23 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.