"Wake up! Wake up! You’ve GOT to see this movie!"
Startled out of the deepest of sleeps, my bleary eyes slid open to see the intensely excited face of my next oldest brother, not 10 inches from my face. He was pulling me up off the bed by the lapel of my pajamas and kept imploring me to put on some clothes so we could go to the local theater to see some “space movie.”
After a trans-Atlantic flight the day before arriving in the early morning, the last thing I wanted to do was get out of bed, but I’d never seen my brother this excited about anything in my life. Having spent the last six months living on the Greek island of Cyprus, at a time when there was no internet, no VCRs, DVD players, or streaming services of any kind, I had zero knowledge of the phenomenon called Star Wars that was sweeping North America (and eventually the world).
After some more convincing, a short car drive downtown, and securing a seat with a box of popcorn on my lap, I sat back and waited for the movie to start. And what I witnessed during the next 121 minutes absolutely blew my mind, and like many others, brought me back to revisit it time and time again.
Okay so why am I discussing Star Wars (SW)? Well, after my last BLOG (Science? Or Science Fiction?), I received feedback expressing disappointment that I hadn’t addressed SW in more detail as a cultural influence shaping worldviews in the West. And it’s true that even though I mentioned it, I didn’t delve into it to any degree. Why? Well, what more can really be said after it has been scrutinized, canonized, criticized, and glorified for so many years now? SW was a complete game-changer. I know, you’re shocked, right?
I suppose the most original thing I could say is how it affected me personally. In terms of worldview impact, I guess the three biggest concepts that SW conveyed to me was the normalization of the idea that there was some kind of impersonal, amorphous spiritual force that people could somehow tap into (very eastern in its depiction), that there was definable good and evil in the world (universe?), and that there were definitely aliens “out there” somewhere.
Understand, like the majority of children in Canada, I did not come from a Christian home, did not go to church, and had never read the Bible. Educated in state-run schools, I was firmly in the evolutionary camp by the time I saw SW at age 11 and could cite the common naturalistic arguments and jargon to anyone willing to listen. I understood that the implications of the story of evolution meant that God wasn’t really a requirement for life, whether in the physical or metaphysical sense. So SW fit quite well into my worldview “frame” immediately upon seeing it.
What I realize now, of course, is that layered beneath the incredibly attractive entertainment value of this action/adventure spectacle, deep down, there were themes in SW that definitely appealed to my sin nature and false worldview.
Although resistant to God, I was not opposed to the idea that there was perhaps some kind of mystical force within me that I could perhaps harness should I be “worthy” or clever enough to master it, and the concept of alien life seemed like a given to me with my evolutionary understanding. And because Canada was not as far down the post-Christian path it is now, I was still raised agreeable to the concept of absolute “right and wrong,” and didn’t recognize that within an evolutionary framework, absolute morality is impossible.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who shared this attraction, as although not an official religion, “Jediism” has become a popular choice for millions around the world when asked to identify their religious persuasion. The Jedi census phenomenon garnered news attention after 2001, when residents of a number of English-speaking countries recorded their religion as “Jedi” or “Jedi Knight” based on the semi-spiritual order of Jedi Knights in the SW universe on the national census.
The Wikipedia entry on Jediism states,
Although followers of Jediism acknowledge the influence of Star Wars on their religion, by following the moral and spiritual codes demonstrated by the fictional Jedi, they also insist their path is different from that of the fictional characters and that Jediism does not focus on the myth and fiction found in Star Wars. While there is some variation in teaching, the Jedi of the Temple of the Jedi Order follows the “16 teachings” based on the presentation of the fictional Jedi, such as “Jedi are mindful of the negative emotions which lead to the Dark Side” and “Jedi are guardians of peace and justice.”1
Although most people identifying this way are doing so tongue-in-cheek, it likely highlights increasing numbers of people in Western countries who abandon Christianity rather than truly embrace serious religious practices.
I can honestly say the “glow” of SW has seriously diminished since my introduction to it in 1977, largely due to coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ and gaining a biblical understanding of the world but also seeing its creator, George Lucas, seemingly increasing his embracing of naturalism and its resulting moral and ethical dilemmas.
Whereas in the original trilogy, “the Force” was represented as a spiritual entity, and the demarcation between good and evil was literally represented by the “bad guy” dressing in black and the “good guy” in white, the next round of sequels parted ways with those ideals sharply. Here we saw the Force repackaged in a more scientific understanding and the Jedi as more dubious in their ethical stance. As one successful pop culture website article explains,
One small detail we know about the story of the later Lucas trilogy is that it would have focused on diving into the “microbiotic world,” where viewers would learn more about the Force and the way it works. Lucas planned to dig deeper into the science of midi-chlorians, the biological explanation for the Force that was first mentioned (and contended with by fans) in The Phantom Menace.2
I also distinctly remember a specific comment from Obi-Wan Kenobi (personified as good in the first SW movie in priestly white robes, etc.) in the final battle against the evil Anakin Skywalker (soon to be Darth Vader) in the third sequel movie sticking out like a sore thumb. It was the final disconnect from the franchise for me.
Anakin, now converted to the “dark side,” mimics Jesus comment in Mathew 12:30 (Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. [ESV]) when he says, “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.” To this Obi-Wan (supposedly representing the forces of good) replies, “Only a Sith (Dark Lord) deals in absolutes.”
Of course, there can be no true “right or wrong” without moral absolutes, destroying the whole concept of the Jedi standing for good within the entire mythos.
So, as I ponder the good and the bad of my own personal experience with the monolithic entertainment brand that is Star Wars, as with all things, I simply apply the old adage: “Eat the meat and spit out the bones.” Or as the Scriptures say truthfully and far more eloquently,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)