As I mentioned in a previous article, when Star Wars came out in 1977, it was a “breath of fresh air in that cynical era.” Although many are convinced that America (and the world at large) has gone to “hell in a handbasket” in the past thirty-eight years, it could be argued there is actually more openness to spiritual things today than there was in the early 1970s. Although many are rejecting “religion,” I would argue that rejection is often based on high moral ideals. Organized religion has a history which is often less than stellar, and many millennials are having a hard time reconciling their sense of right and wrong with what is happening in their local religious assembly – and in Christianity as a whole.
[Author’s note: During the remainder of this year, I plan to review one episode in the Star Wars saga each month in anticipation of the December release of Episode VII, The Force Awakens. The reviews will be based on the September 2011 Blu-ray edition of the films. If you somehow are one of the very few who have never seen the movies, I recommend you watch them before reading the reviews, as there will definitely be spoilers. I also recommend novices watch the films in the order they were released (IV-VI, I-III), rather than in “chronological” order.]
In Star Wars: A New Hope, Governor Tarkin tells Darth Vader:
“The Jedi are extinct, their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion.”
Tarkin is not entirely correct, of course. And Vader is not exactly representative of the Jedi religion.
Or is he?
Admiral Motti questions the value of Vader’s beliefs in a debate which is somewhat reminiscent of the Science-versus-Religion debates of today.
General Tagge: “What of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical reading of this station, it is possible, however unlikely, they might find a weakness and exploit it.”
Darth Vader: “The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.”
Admiral Motti: “Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they have obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe! I suggest we use it!”
Darth Vader: “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”
Admiral Motti: “Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you enough clairvoyance to find the rebels’ hidden fortress…”
[Vader makes a pinching motion and Motti starts choking.]
Darth Vader: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
Vader’s response to criticism of his “religion” is to squelch the argument. When you have an “all-powerful Force,” which Obi-Wan Kenobi says not only controls you, but “obeys your commands,” that is definitely an option. A very dangerous option.
As Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem with his disciples, the Samaritans refused to provide a place for them to stay. James and John ask, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did” (Luke 9:54 NKJV)? Their new-found authority as the Apostles of Christ had gone to their heads, and was becoming dangerous. Jesus had to rebuke them: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of (9:55).
Our religion becomes dangerous when we use it to control and destroy. The purpose of our authority in Christ is not so we can force others to our point of view, but to be able to serve others. Jesus put it this way (Luke 22: 25-27 NIV):
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
As we will learn in The Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader thinks of himself as a ‘benefactor’. His dream of spreading peace and stability through the Empire is what motivates him… and what excuses his use of power to control and destroy.
Obi-Wan takes an opposite tack. He gives up his life in order to become, as he tells Vader, “more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” But the old Jedi was not talking about a power to control and dominate, but to help. His death would not only lead to the escape of his friends, but would allow him to help Luke become the Jedi he was meant to be. The parallel with what Jesus Christ did is striking (John 16:7 NKJV):
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”
The disciples were grieved when Jesus told them He was going away. But it was for their benefit, because Jesus would send them the Holy Spirit. God was about to do something new. Luke was grieved, shocked, and confused when Obi-Wan was struck down. But now Obi-Wan’s spirit would be able to help Luke in a way the old man couldn’t have.
Most of us will probably not need to give up our physical lives for the cause of Christ. But Jesus did talk about “taking up our cross” and following Him. Yes, many disciples were martyred, but there is another meaning Jesus had in mind with His words. It involves giving up what we want for the benefit of others.
While the concept can sometimes be abused, “dying to self” is an integral part of what it means to be a Christ follower. It’s not about becoming a doormat, but it is about serving others instead of lording over them—using force to get them to come to our side.
What we need is not a religion that gives us power to direct the world as we see fit, but an attitude of allowing God to use us to help others. As we think about and view these movies this year, I hope we will keep this in mind, and that people will have A New Hope as they see us love rather than domineer.