About five minutes into the new Star Wars episode, I said to myself, “This is fun!” It was a pleasure to return to such an interesting world after so long. I loved the writing (not by George Lucas, thanks be to God!) and the music. I loved that this movie passes the Bechdel Test. I loved that the character who took Yoda’s place (functionally) in the story was a non-Jedi woman.
As usual, I watch my media with a theologian’s eye most of the time. There were three things that struck me in The Force Awakens that I found theologically interesting and even profound. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’ll be pondering this new installment for a while yet, I suspect.
(There are spoilers from this point forward.)
- Those who resist the Dark Side of the Force are not pacifists, but they do work for “just peace.” I was particularly impressed that Rey never seemed to use more force than necessary to accomplish her aims. It remains to be seen whether or not the new trilogy re-capitulates the myth of “redemptive violence.”
- Forgiveness wins over vengeance. Han Solo’s son, a First Order trainee, kills his father to try to purge himself of the Light. But even as he was dying, Solo reached out to caress his son’s face, gazing into his eyes with forgiving love. Even though some people might say, “Han should not have been willing to help his son!” I remember that Scripture says love “believes all things.” That scene was the emotional core of the movie for me, the moment when I saw the Gospel most clearly.
- Lay people have equal access to the Spirit. Of course, the Force is not the same as the Holy Spirit. But what I found remarkable is that uninitiated people demonstrate powerful and effective action grounded in the Force. When Rey is challenged, “You need a teacher! I can show you the ways of the Force!” all she needs to do is recall that the Light is already around her in order to resist decisively in that moment. To my eye, the Jedi and First Order are institutional forms of priestcraft. (I remember thinking, the first time Finn and Rey used a lightsabre, “I didn’t know that was allowed, or possible!”) But those “in Orders” do not have extra access to the Force. Training is important, but it is clearly not necessary–having an open and sensitive heart is. (In making comments like these, discerning readers might understand that I don’t have a strongly institutionally Anglo-Catholic view of the priesthood. I might even be cheeky enough to suggest that The Force Awakens might be interpreted as a protestant or even pentecostal view of sacramentality.)
Theology from Star Wars? Well, why not?