I love Star Wars. Other than Harry Potter, it is probably one of the things that has most influenced my young nerdy life. As a young religious girl I loved the idea of the Force and the Jedi and how their faith in the Force gave them power. Then, like many people, I was dismayed over how the Force and the Jedi were portrayed in the prequels. Maybe it was because of my own issues with my faith, but I very much disliked how overly regimented the Jedi were shown to be and how it seemed to take some of the mystery out of the Force. With the most recent movies, like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, all of the things that I loved about the Force and the Jedi in the original movies were back, and I have to say that Chirrut Îmwe is one of the absolute best examples of someone of faith that I have seen in a long time. And more specifically, it was great seeing a beautiful faith expression that was more reflective of Buddhist and Taoist beliefs.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why Star Wars is going to stand the test of time is because it’s the classic hero’s journey. Our plucky hero hears the call to adventure, but needs reassurance before they begin. Once our hero sets out, they meet all kinds of interesting characters and gains knowledge and training and spiffy tools to help them with their mission. Just when they think they’re at their lowest, they’re pulled out from despair and prepared for the final boss battle. Our hero wins, we celebrate, and our hero is a changed person for it. This model worked for the original trilogy, and it looks like it’s working for The Force Awakens, too.
You could probably name dozens of stories that fit this model without much effort. You see shadows of this model all throughout the Bible, too. In the Old and New Testaments we have all kinds of stories of people that follow a similar (or the same) framework. So it’d be easy to say that Star Wars is a Christian story, right? We have a great fight between good and evil, the Jedi are a lot like monks, and even the evil Darth Vader has that gloriously religious line: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Christian groups clamor to ride the hype train by injecting Star Wars themes into religious services. Alissa Wilkinson’s article in Christianity Today shows just how popular a “spirituality of Star Wars” is becoming in all sorts of religious groups, especially among Christians. But does it work? Is Star Wars really a universe compatible with Christian beliefs?
Spoilers abound below.
If you have been on this blog for more than a second you can probably already guess that diversity is something that is important to us. And that is true even when it comes to belief. It is important to have wide representation of people of faith. We need characters who are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, etc in our media. But within those categories we need characters who are devout in their faith, question their faith, are eclectic in their faith, etc. And even beyond that, we need characters who are strongly religious, atheist, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, etc. Basically, we need to show as many varieties of belief as we see in human beings because this is something that really matters to real people.
Firefly has always been one of my favorite shows despite it being tragically canceled, and I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed the show so much is the wide diversity of belief we see with the cast. It’s rare that shows discuss belief, and it’s even rare that a show does it across a decently broad spectrum.
This may surprise you, dear reader, but Jesus, he’s in your house! Wait, don’t freak out. I meant, he’s on your TV and not just on EWTN or the 700 Club—I don’t think Jesus would participate in the 700 Club anyway.
Religion is everywhere. Oh, we might like to fool ourselves into thinking we have our entertainment in a separate sphere from our religion, but any author, director, or actor will tell you that they bring something of themselves and their own beliefs to the story.
Even TV shows, movies, and books that seem like they have no religion in them usually have some sort of philosophy they are trying to impart, and those philosophies often have their roots in some kind of religious tradition. Even books like the Golden Compass which supports atheistic values still says something about religion.
First, let me say something about my own social location. I have a Bachelor’s in theology, particularly Catholic theology, though I also have some background in Protestantism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. I know some things about Islam, Shintoism, and Taoism but have never been formally educated in them. I tend to be a more progressive Catholic and even have certain views that I would not say are very Catholic at all, so I guess I’m still finding my path, but on the way I have learned quite a bit.
Why am I telling you this? Well, to make completely clear as to what I’m most knowledgeable about and where my own notions of spirituality and religion derive.
That being said, a large portion of this series will be focused on the Christian religion, not just because that’s the religion I know the most about, but because it’s the religion that the large majority of Americans follow, so that is the one that shows up the most in pop-culture. However, special consideration is going to be taken to write about other religions as well. No fair leaving anyone out, is there?
So tune in next week and find some religion!