I would like to start by assuring any readers that may be wondering, “Is it a good idea to shoehorn pop culture references into a Bible study proposal?” It is not. I do not want to “share a Coke with the Apostle Paul” or purchase myself a copy of the Bible: TikTok Edition (and neither does anyone else in the world, Grandma!). I have even heard my lion’s share of sermons from well-meaning, educated, professional Army chaplains about how Jesus is my battle buddy, or how Jesus uses the Troop Leading Procedures. In reality, these kind-hearted attempts to shoehorn modernity into ancient texts with timeless wisdom often push young people away from the church, sending them the message that what is being offered cannot be sacred if it can be distilled into quippy catch-phrases or pithy references.
It is still worthwhile to discover God in places that humans had not initially imagined or intended for Him to be.
While eisegesis might be inappropriate, it is still worthwhile to discover God in places that humans had not initially imagined or intended for Him to be, especially in a multi-billion dollar intellectual property now owned by the largest entertainment corporation to ever exist. I would like to think that God Himself might find it joyfully humorous when we spot His majesty in our daily world as though He were a holy Where’s Waldo? character. While we cannot box God into a specific figure, He takes many forms — a burning bush, a pillar of fire and cloud, a physical man — and it would be a tragedy to miss His truth in the everyday. George Lucas likely never intended for his story to be an overtly Christian one. And yet, what is more Christian than to co-opt pagan holidays and concepts into the tradition of our faith?
The story opens with God calling His chosen people, the Skywalkers, to greatness. Anakin Skywalker is born to the slave woman, Shmi. Now, it would likely be blasphemous to liken Anakin’s fatherless immaculate conception to Jesus considering when Jesus sought out children, it was for far less malicious purposes than when Anakin murdered young Jedi padawans. Perhaps a better analogy for Anakin would be to Isaac, son of Abraham. Isaac’s birth is both miraculous and involves God’s promise to bring about His covenant through him, akin to the ancient Jedi prophecy that foretells Anakin’s bringing balance to the Force. While this specific character connection only serves as a light toe-dip into establishing ties between the science fiction world of the Skywalker family and our story as Christians within our broader world, that toe-dip punctures a barrier that can quickly provide a further map.
To further establish a biblical/galactic analog, it’s worthwhile to explore the story of Luke Skywalker. Growing up on the emergent desert planet Tatooine as a moisture farmer, Luke is an orphan who desperately wants nothing more than to become a pilot for the Empire like his friend Biggs. When the evil stormtroopers murder his uncle and aunt in desperate search for the crucial superweapon plans that Luke is now unwittingly in possession of, Luke follows the mysterious Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi to take on the evil Empire. Despite never having flown a real ship before, Luke is able to fire the killing shot into the Death Star superweapon’s hidden exhaust port through the guidance of the Force, the mystical energy source that the Jedi are able to commune with, rejecting his high-tech targeting computer. Having saved millions, Luke is hailed as a hero. He goes on to win his evil father back to the man he once was by adamantly refusing to kill him when given the opportunity, thereby restoring the galaxy to peace and prosperity forever. Who does this sound like?
David, the runt of Jesse’s litter, is plucked from obscurity by the prophet Samuel. After facing adversity, David slays the dreaded giant Goliath, not by wearing the armor of the king, but by the grace of God and a well-placed stone. After being hailed as a hero, David is chased into exile by the mad King Saul. (I’m cutting a bit of the story for brevity.) But rather than kill the unarmed king when given the opportunity, David spares his would-be murderer. David later becomes king himself, and he lived happily ever after.
Except, he didn’t. And neither did Luke, for that matter. Despite having been the reigning heroes of their stories for a time and following the classic hero’s journey, both fall short. David lusts after Bathsheba and has her husband murdered so that he can have her as his wife. Talk about a man after God’s own heart. After Luke founded his own new Jedi academy following the fall of the Empire, he discovers that his own nephew was in communication with the dark side. Luke very nearly murders his own nephew out of fear, but instead succeeds in pushing the young Ben firmly into the dark side of the Force and destroying the academy Luke had worked so hard to build. Ridden with guilt, Luke hides away on a remote planet. Hiding from engaging with the broader world, he hopes he will do no further harm and is unwilling to do further good. Their stories are human ones; compelling from the inspiration of great deeds, but convicting of our own darkness within.
If God can bring about His plan using a real figure like David, son of Jesse, a living, breathing human, then God can certainly establish His story by utilizing a created character. God no doubt granted artist-creators like George Lucas and Mark Hamill their ability to create things. While David certainly dedicated his life to God’s work more overtly and directly, remember that God does not bind Himself to only act when and how we permit. God had a purpose for David as he created songs for King Saul, and it is entirely feasible to suppose that God played a role in the artistic creation of Star Wars, a story that captures the human imagination precisely because it contains nuggets of God’s truth and parallels to His story.
We’ve established some parallels between characters both biblical and galactic, but why does this matter? Why engage in frivolous line-drawing for reasons other than thinking to oneself, “Huh, neat!”? Lucas’s space opera is directly applicable to the world in which we live, not only by drawing from the moral and historical core of the Bible, but utilizing that foundation to serve as a cautionary tale for the church and our nation. If we swap out the Galactic Republic for the United States, the Jedi Order for the American church, and Jar Jar Binks for Moses’s brother Aaron (well, maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch…), we get a potential vision of what could befall us all should the church become blind to evil.
At the beginning of Attack of the Clones, Jedi Master Mace Windu reminds Chancellor Palpatine that the Jedi are “keepers of the peace, not soldiers.” But by the end of that same movie, Master Windu leads an army of Jedi in a full-on assault of the mysterious Sith Count Dooku’s battle droid factory, Master Yoda calls clone troopers to concentrate their fires like he’s an artillery officer, and the Jedi are minted as generals of the Grand Army of the Republic. With the Galactic Republic focusing their war efforts against their Separatist enemies, the Jedi remain convinced that their enemy cannot be in their own midst, even allowing Chancellor Palpatine (secretly the Sith mastermind Darth Sidious) to appoint Anakin to the Jedi council despite Palpatine being in a governmental position and the Jedi council being a religious institution. The erosion of the separation between church and state does not harm the state from being taken over by religion, but rather, the church from being corrupted by political manipulation.
It is too simple to claim that Palpatine is a specific individual within American politics. Rather, he is a symbol representing the importance of fighting to protect our civic and religious institutions from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. Yoda acknowledges that the dark side clouds everything, and yet does not see the corrupting power of his ability to call in air strikes, even if for a supposedly good reason.
In America, we see religion and politics inextricably linked at every turn, from that one annoying person we have all met that claims that if Jesus were alive today (which He is, by the way), He would be a capitalist/socialist/communist/Trump supporter, to the pledge of allegiance being recited at churches around the country, to inferences that the vaccine for COVID-19 is the mark of the beast described in Revelation. No doubt, it is very good to have a public faith that guides one’s morals when voting or otherwise participating in politics. In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln aptly acknowledged the competing claims that God was on both sides of the war, but that that couldn’t stop the Union from claiming it to be so and continuing the fight in the name of God. But it is important to recognize that the loyalty must belong to God, not to the Union, a political party, or the Galactic Republic.
Eventually, the Jedi's fervor for destroying the enemy plainly visible left them vulnerable to invasion by evil within. The Jedi Order is destroyed, with the remaining few survivors sent into hiding. The Republic, tired of having just fought a brutal war, welcomes a change into the brutal Galactic Empire we know from the original trilogy as it promises order and peace. Now the good guys are the scrappy rebel alliance. Their convictions come not from some sense that they have military dominance or cultural influence, but through the understanding that tyranny and oppression are simply wrong, even if they are done by the team that once was on the right side of the war. Inspired by the prodigious Luke Skywalker and his reliance on the Force for guidance, the rebellion boldly strikes back against evil wherever it may be.
What, then, do we do with this story? How does this space opera fit into our daily earth-bound theology? (For any astronauts reading this, I hope you can understand what I am trying to get at with the previous rhetorical question.)
The funny thing about God, however, is that He is quite good at asserting His glory wherever and whenever He pleases.
When Pharisees and Jews alike posed difficult questions to Jesus, he rarely if ever gave a straight answer on their terms. Instead, He understood the necessity to get at the heart of their question through story. He did not say, “Your neighbor is this person, but not that person.” He responded instead with, “Once upon a time, there was a Samaritan.” While I cannot faithfully say that Star Wars was divinely inspired, we can still recognize when stories hold timeless truths, intended or not. George Lucas almost certainly did not seek to write a genuine work to the glory of God or as a tool to convert its fanbase to Christianity. The funny thing about God, however, is that He is quite good at asserting His glory wherever and whenever He pleases. Our efforts do not prevent God from ultimately accomplishing His goals, and often He asserts Himself precisely in spite of our best efforts against. Make no mistake, the Star Wars series is chock-full of bad acting, bad writing, and bad CGI. The Bible is chock-full of bad people, a most wretched hive of scum and villainy. Our lives are chock-full of absolute garbage. No doubt, my editor for this very piece has graciously put up with my laziness and poor communication on deadlines for the words you are reading now. Isn’t it funny indeed how God can work in my life, in yours, in the stranger’s on the street? In the nonsense we create? In the children that we create, whom we try to parent well, but inevitably we slip back into the murky habits of our own parents’ worst tendencies, who then grow to be flawed parents and artists and movie directors and writers and friends themselves, and on it goes?
Star Wars, along with every other scrap of effort, creation and desire in our universe, would be absolutely worthless if it were not imbued with meaning by our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Thank God for His inescapability and sense of humor.