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George Lucas is, in many ways, a man to be admired. He’s an entrepreneur and an innovator. When he put together his first Star Wars movie, he used galactic empires, fighter planes and gunslingers in a way that nobody had ever done before, and when people loved it, he used its financial success to escape from Hollywood captivity. When the movie first started, it proclaimed him as a man with a vision, calling itself “Episode IV” and confidently leading an unpredictable audience into episodes five and six without so much as a hint at the first three segments—which, as a man of patience, he released fifteen years later, when he could use the technology he thought best. George Lucas is a man who hasn’t been afraid to start big and stand alone, and, more significantly, he’s never been afraid to bring religion into movie theaters.
When you think about it, it is perhaps a little strange that a story with such a heavy religious theme—where the wisest character is a theologian, the most foolish characters are atheists, and the hero’s only chance of saving the universe is to submit himself wholly to his newfound spirituality—could gain such a following and such… well, such gain. Or, maybe it would have been strange, if Christianity had been the order of the day. As it was, Star Wars had even less to do with the apostles and prophets than it did with John Wesley Hardin and Hamlet’s ghost.
I can understand having an interest in western personalities who, in more romantic centuries, poured lead into everything they didn’t like. They can be interesting as long as you don’t actually like their character, and as long as you know that they’re not the good guys. And since the only real difference between the lawless frontier and the gunfights in Star Wars is that the lead has turned into lasers, I suppose it’s understandable that the interest carries over into the next galaxy, for western antiheroes like Han Solo. Some kinds of characters are just blessed, it seems, with the ability to be reckless, egotistical and annoying, but still an important enough part of the story to hold the audience’s interest. Other characters somehow managed all but the part about being interesting.
Leia may be loyal, brave and self-sacrificing, but she’s also a nails-on-the-chalkboard feminist. She’s a senator, a diplomat and a princess, and yet the minute she comes in contact with anything more fleshy than R2D2, she manages to forget or ignore all three of those offices so completely that we’re less inclined to wonder at her impending execution than we are at the director’s determination to prevent it. Naturally, when you bring together two people as well suited for one another as Leia and Han Solo, they’re bound to fall in love in later episodes, especially if they hate each other now. And Han put it as clearly and succinctly as I've ever heard it: “Wonderful girl. Either I’m going to kill her or I’m beginning to like her.”
While we’re getting weary of the other characters’ defiance and bad manners, we’re also losing esteem for Luke, the protagonist, who spends the first third of the movie complaining about his uncle, an oppressive character who (in accordance with the culture's ideas of what oppression looks like) wants to hold Luke back from college, where “all his friends have gone,” in order to keep him at home—with his family—in the family business—and in an agrarian lifestyle. Luke spends the last third of the movie leading the rebel forces to victory, as the youngest and least experienced pilot in the bunch. In between those two thirds, he meets the mysterious monk, and learns valuable life lessons on manipulating the deity and communicating with the dead.
Enter Obi-Wan Kenobi, a fellow who is a little more suave and a lot more inspirational than the other characters, and quite the theologian. Of course, this is where George Lucas went wrong, and obviously it wasn’t because he somehow went over to “the dark side” of Christian spirituality. Unlike Christianity… well there are a lot of things about Obi-Wan’s religion that are unlike Christianity (and they do call it a religion).
“The Force,” says Obi-Wan, “is… an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” We all know, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that, while God does surround, penetrate and bind us together in a way, he is not an energy field, and he was certainly not created. When Luke asks if the Force controls our actions, Obi-Wan replies, “Partially, but it also obeys your commands.” God doesn’t obey our commands. Neither does God have a “dark side”.”
Also, the Force can be used for good or evil; anything from Obi-Wan’s mind games with the Storm Troopers, in which he changes their thought patterns with a wave of his fingers, to Darth Vader’s super-human strength and across-the-room strangulation powers. You don’t worship the Force; you master it; and yet mastering the Force (for good, anyhow) apparently gets you life after death, which is where Obi-Wan the ghost comes in.
The good part is that Obi-Wan’s death wasn’t at all gory. The bad part is that that was only because his body apparently followed his soul into the next world—kind of like an instantaneous Enoch or Elijah scenario, only without God. The death isn’t really that much of a loss, either, for Obi-Wan or Luke. For the mentor, death was an opportunity to “become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” For the protégé, it was a chance to take his spiritual guide along with him in a one-man cockpit. Somehow it doesn’t seem quite realistic for a young fellow to be flying along, minding his own business, suddenly hear the voice of his recently deceased friend inside his head, and not think there was anything strange about it. The messages tend to be in the “Trust your feelings” strain, and end in a farewell that is uncomfortably reminiscent of the Great Commission: “Remember, the Force will be with you, always.” And we haven’t even met Yoda yet.
There are numerous other little things in George Lucas’ Star Wars that have to be reckoned with, while we’re at it, like the addition of other earth-like planets to the universe, or of other spiritually sensitive, morally responsible creatures to our exclusively human community. Again, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that robots don’t have souls, and neither do any other non-human beings—or that even if there was such a thing as “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” life, sin and death are inseparably connected to this planet and to the first man that ever lived here. And, again, there are no other “earths” and no extraterrestrial life forms.
I put these reminders in, but what happens in a movie like this probably isn’t going to shake the faith the audience has in the uniqueness of earth and the human race, or the divine origin of life. The danger is that it might make the audience forget just how important those things are to the Christian worldview. If we admit to liking the bad worldview in fiction, it’s not too much of a stretch to suppose that we might start ignoring it in real life. And that’s the problem with movies like Star Wars.
There are things about George Lucas that we can appreciate, and the same is true of the movies he’s directed. But when we get through talking about good things like entrepreneurialism or struggles between good and evil, we have to admit that those things are a lot less important than holiness before God and a right concept of God himself. And, conversely, we have to admit that things like the purity of the gospel, a biblical worldview, Christian caution—everything that makes the one true God distinct from the Forces of the world—are a lot more important than special effects, soundtracks and light sabers. For me, there is no question. Star Wars is too explicitly anti-Christian to be worth watching. I suggest we find a different vehicle for our intergalactic excursions—one that isn't designed to corrupt our worldview from the foundation up.