Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thinking about the Theology of "Star Wars" on Christmas Eve

I have seen the new Star Wars movie, and I will write a post that contains no spoilers.  I will also assume that we're familiar with the older movies, and that I'm not spoiling anything if I say that the new movie carries on with the familiar themes of light and dark, of duty, of right and wrong, of forces in the universe that surround us all.

Before I saw the movie, a friend and I were corresponding via Facebook about the themes of the movies.  I wrote, "The Force is always with you, even unto the ends of the earth."  I'm not sure she caught my Biblical allusion.  I was intrigued to see how much the new movie continues the idea of the Force as a variation of God.

I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of God as something humans can channel for our own selfish, or even selfless, gains.  I have been impressed with the way that the movie engages this issue.

This movie paints its view of right and wrong in bold colors with little subtlety.  But there is the acknowledgement that we're all temptable.  The movie, while not subtle, does more with the idea that we're none of us fully formed than past movies have done--as I would expect, these forty years later.

It's  an interesting movie to see as Christmas approaches, with Advent texts ringing in my head.  The movie does interesting things with light and dark--nothing unexpected for me, nothing that surprised me--but it did delight me.

Because I am an English major and an amateur theologian, I found all the symbolic stuff irresistible.  As I always do, I think about the larger message.  Is it a movie about God?  Do we see a Christ figure?  I love the intersections of pop culture and religion.

If you do too, don't miss this series at the Sojourners site.  There's a great piece on Han Solo, the Han Solo of the original movie.  I love this insight:

"The Bible is full of stories of people being given honors and responsibilities they don’t think they deserve (and to our eyes, definitely don’t): The ascendant king David welcomes Mephibosheth, the grandson of his deposed enemy, to dine at his table. Paul, a violent oppressor of the Christian faith, becomes a leader of the oppressed church. And in the Christmas story, an entire planet full of people who have learned to be content living in the dark get shown God’s wondrous light — at great expense to the light-giver himself.

It’s in God’s character to want more for people than they want for themselves. This shows up again and again in the ways God interacts with our world. And we are made in God’s image — when we see this kind of story told well, we respond to it.

The original version of Star Wars tells this kind of story about Han Solo. At the outset, Han is living moment-to-moment with no check on what he is or isn’t willing to do. The only guideposts he lives by are whether the options before him are enjoyable and beneficial to him. When he says he isn’t a freedom fighter, he’s not just saying that he’s too busy to take part in a revolution — he’s also saying that he believes himself to be too much of a scoundrel to be trusted or relied on for anything morally upright. He doesn’t deserve to be part of the club. But over the course of the movie, he is shown grace by the other characters, and offered a seat at their table just as he is. That offer moves him and changes him."

Do we see these elements in the new movie?  I haven't had enough time to process it all yet, and truth be told, I will need another viewing before I can be sure.  As I always tell my students, the first reading/viewing of a text has us all figuring out the basics, like plot and character.  It takes additional readings/viewings to discover the more subtle aspects, like the symbolism and the deeper themes.

That's one way I teach students to determine the difference between works that will stand the test of time and fluff that we don't need to spend much time with.  Good texts bear that revisiting and reward us.

And I suspect that the new Star Wars movie would hold those sorts of rewards.

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