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“Faith in the headlines” is an occasional column highlighting headlines in the world of religion — as we endeavor to inform readers about significant current events and trends.
Han: “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”
Luke: “You don’t believe in the Force, do you?”
Han: “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. Anyway, it’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.”
For many of us who grew up in the 1970s and early 80s, those words need no explanation. They’re from the first “Star Wars” movie, spoken as the Millennium Falcon hurdles through hyperspace. Han Solo, the ship’s world-weary captain (or “worlds-weary,” in this case) shares his jaded cynicism with Luke Skywalker, a callow youth from a backwater desert planet. At issue: The Force, a mystical energy field that gives Jedi knights their powers.
Fast forward 38 years to a conversation between Solo and another young desert dweller named Rey.
Rey: There are stories about what happened.
Han: It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side, the Jedi. They’re real.
That’s a snippet of dialogue from the trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh film in the “Star Wars” franchise. (Here’s the line in a nicely recut fan video.)
As someone who’s counting down the days until Dec. 18, when the film debuts in cinemas, I was moved nearly to tears by Han Solo’s testimony. In the original trilogy he was everybody’s favorite scoundrel — a man who lived by his own rules. Dragged against his will into an intergalactic conflict between the noble Rebellion and the evil Empire, he continually tries to put himself first and others second.
But something inside him keeps pushing him to do the right thing.
Han Solo’s immersion — in carbonite (LUCASFILM)
He even undergoes immersion — not in the water of baptism but in a block of frozen carbonite. When his friends rescue him, he’s temporarily blind. From then on, there is no question of his loyalty. He becomes a general in the Rebellion, fighting on the side of good.
Now, 30 years after his last appearance in “Return of the Jedi,” Han Solo is back, playing the role of the wizened Obi-Wan Kenobi to a new generation that has lost its faith.
Christian symbolism and the language of belief permeate the six “Star Wars” films to date. Series creator George Lucas has addressed the film’s underlying theology in multiple interviews, including this clip from and interview with Bill Moyers in 2012. Here he talks about his mentors, including Joseph Campbell (no relation to Alexander Campbell, of course). Joseph Campbell, a comparative religion scholar, influenced Lucas’ thinking on spiritual matters. “Star Wars” draws heavily from the archetypes in Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”
Here’s an excerpt from a more in-depth discussion between Moyers and Lucas on of the “Star Wars” films and faith:
BILL MOYERS: The central epic of our culture has — has been the Bible. And it’s about fall, wondering, redemption, return. But the Bible no longer occupies that central place in our culture today. More and more people today are — young people, in particular, are turning to the movies for their inspiration, not to organized religion.
GEORGE LUCAS: Uh-huh. Well, I hope that doesn’t end up being the — the course that this whole thing takes because I think there’s definitely a place for organized religion and it’s a very important part of the social fabric. And I would hate to find ourselves in a completely secular world, where, you know, entertainment was passing for some kind of religious experience.
BILL MOYERS: One reason when critics said that “Star Wars” has been so popular with young people, it’s religion without strings attached, that it becomes a very thin base for theology. In fact…
GEORGE LUCAS: Well, it is a thin base for theology, that’s why I would hesitate to call the Force God. When the film came out, almost every single religion took “Star Wars” and used it as an example of their religion and — and were able to relate it to young people and saying, ‘This is what’ — and relate the stories specifically to the Bible and relate stories to the Koran and, you know, the Torah and things. And so it’s like, you know — if it’s a tool that can be used to make old stories be new and relate to younger people, that’s what the whole point was.
Read the full interview.
It’s important to note that Lucas, who sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012 for $4 billion, is not involved in “The Force Awakens” and the films that are sure to follow. So it’s anybody’s guess as to the role faith will play in the future of the “Star Wars” universe.
But if the trailer and the latest movie’s title are any indication, the Force remains strong in that galaxy far, far away.
Share your thoughts on “Star Wars.” Do you find the films faith-affirming or detrimental because of their somewhat-universalist approach to belief? How have stories from science fiction informed or influenced your Christian walk?
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