Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Movie Discussion
The crazy thing is, the force, the Jedi, all of it. It’s all true. - Han Solo
Twenty years ago, my favorite teacher showed Star Wars in his classrooms and lead rich, unforgettable discussions from the movie about spiritual matters, daddy issues, etc. The movie provided a segue into these topics that he'd struggled to breach as effectively in the classroom setting without the movie. I think this is the power of stories, myths, parables...and maybe even especially science fiction—it allows us a chance to ponder and evaluate some dicey, vulnerable, difficult subjects from what feels like a safe distance. Admittedly, I wasn't a huge fan of the last three Star Wars movies (they felt like bad high school plays, to me), but this one was fantastic. (Thank you, J.J. Abrams!) Not only was it fun to watch, but it touches on so many powerful, dicey, difficult, vulnerable issues of our lives...issues that are easier to approach through the safe distance of a movie discussion...issues that touch on the deepest things of our heart: how we feel about our family, the pull within our hearts towards both light and darkness, rebellion, overcoming our past, to name a few. And behind all of these things, overarching everything, you'll find the story of the Gospel, if you have eyes to see it.
Luke is gone. If we look at it in terms of the Gospel story, essentially, this movie takes place in the time between Jesus' death and his resurrection...and Luke is (in many ways) parallel to Jesus. He is the hope of the Resistance. He is the one who can defeat the evil, but he is gone and the Resistance (similar to the followers of Jesus) are lost without him. They are trying to hope, trying to fight, but they are discouraged. They've lost not only their leader, but also their savior and the symbol of their hope. And, for those who didn't know him personally, they've heard rumors and they aren't sure if it was all true or all a myth—something too good to be true.
Isn't this how it is for us, even today, about Jesus? If we haven't met him personally, we've heard the rumors and we wonder if it's true. Did he really heal people? Did he really work miracles and walk on water? Did he really raise from the dead? Was he really good? Really GOD? Also man? These are the kinds of questions Fin and Rey were wondering when they met Han Solo. Fin says, "You are the Han Solo that fought with the rebellion. You knew him!" What joy! How exciting to meet someone who was there, who knew him, who could tell you what was true and what was made up. If Han Solo was real, then maybe the stories were real, too. Because deep down, we want these things to be true. This story calls to something in us, just as it did to something in them—good versus evil, a supernatural force that empowers you, an epic battle, heroes and villains...and underneath it all, hope. I love what Han Solo says to them: "The crazy thing is, the force, the Jedi, all of it. It’s all true." And for those who are seeking the truth about Jesus, I would say the same to them, "The crazy thing, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Disciples...all of it. It's all true."
This movie ends with Luke's resurrection, you might say, as a young girl, Rey, finds him. (Do I need to remind you that it was a woman who first saw Jesus, as well?) You can see where the movie franchise is (probably) heading with this storyline. Just as Jesus left not long after His resurrection, empowering his disciples to carry on his work (with the help of the Holy Spirit, the "force" if you will), so too, a new generation of Jedi are raising up to do Luke's work, to follow in his steps. And it's going to be alright, because they aren't alone. They, too, they have the force, the same force that flowed through Luke...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
In this movie, in the absence of Luke, we have the stories of several young people whose journeys are much like those of people who come to follow Christ.
Let's start with Fin. He was stolen from his family and raised as a storm trooper. He was raised and trained by the enemy. (Isn't this the story of mankind? When Satan tempted Eve, he stole all of mankind from the hand of God and we have been born into sin, raised by the enemy in so many ways.) When Fin went into his first battle, however, he knew something wasn't right. He hadn't been taught right or wrong, but still he knew, and he vowed he wouldn't kill for them. So he ran. He ran from his past, from his training, from the only "family" he'd ever known...and he searched for something better. He searched for this thing he'd only heard about, the Resistance, hoping they would take a former storm trooper like himself and give him a chance at something better. And yet, he was also afraid. He was afraid they would find out about his past and be rejected. How many of us hasn't been afraid that our past would discredit us? How many of us have also felt the shame of our past, our upbringing, our training?
The beauty of it is this—not only was he accepted by the Resistance, but this past he was so afraid of actually equipped him for the battle at hand. He had insider information. His training equipped him with the knowledge the Resistance needed to take the enemy down. It's this way with God, too. He often uses our pasts, the things we are most ashamed of even, to attack and bring the enemy down. The thing we think has harmed us is often the thing which equips us, when we are willing to submit all things to the command of the Lord.
Rey's story is a little different. She wasn't raised by the enemy. She didn't learn the ways of the dark side. She was an orphan, a scavenger, working hard to survive, trying to do the right thing. She was a good person who was just looking for a chance, but she was an orphan, with nothing. She had no chance...until...destiny found her. She received a message in the form of a droid, and that little "happenstance" launched her into the forefront of the battle and brought her to the Resistance.
The thing is, she was torn. She had spent her whole life looking back to her past, waiting for her family to return, even though, deep down, she knew they never would. Still, she waited because she was searching for something. When the future was calling to her, she kept looking back for something she'd had and lost. The looking back almost cost her dearly. A wise woman came along and challenged her to look forward, to move on to what life had for her. "Whoever you’re waiting for isn’t coming back, but there’s someone who can. The belonging you seek is not behind you, it’s ahead of you. … Feel it. The light, it’s always been there. Let it guide you."
Rey had always had a strong connetion with the Force, but it wasn't a relationship she'd developed. When she finally stopped looking back, for her lost parents to return, and instead began to look forward and to look for Luke, in that transition she found the family, the acceptance, the purpose and love she'd been looking for. As she began to move forward into the real calling on her life, her relationship with the Force grew and she became much more powerful.
Some of us don't grow up in a rebellion, in the house of the enemy. The world is full of good people who grow up trying to do the right thing, good, hardworking, honest people. They are near to the heart of God because they love their fellow man and take care of those in need. But, they are still looking for something in their past to fulfill them, and that looking back often hinders them from moving forward to the their destiny. They need to heed Maz Kanata's words and realize that the belonging they seek is not behind them. Whatever it is they are looking for is gone and what they are really seeking is in front of them. Jesus is the light, and He's always been there, guiding them. They need to look for Him (as Rey had to look for Luke), and let Him guide them. When they do that, just like what happened with Rey, the begin to grow stronger in the power of the Holy Spirit, and they find Jesus, develop a relationship with Him, and in His followers they find a family and in His calling they find a purpose.
There is another young person on a journey whose story I would be remiss to neglect. His path is a sadder one. He is Ben, the son of Han Solo and Leia, Luke's nephew, Darth Vader's grandson. While both Rey and Finn were growing up without the light, Ben is more akin to a preacher's kid. He grew up at the center of the force of light. His parents were the leaders of good. He was trained in the Force by Luke himself. When this movie starts, Rey and Fin were hungry for good, for truth, for light. Ben wasn't. He hated it. He'd left home, changed his name to Kylo ren and joined the enemy. Maybe he felt lost in the large shadows of his family's good name, or maybe he felt overwhelmed with the pressure to be good, or afraid he couldn’t measure up...or maybe he saw the imperfections of his family and became resentful, thinking everything was a big lie to the world, a façade. I don't know, but I know this happens often enough we have a well-known term for it: "preacher's kid".
If we were to draw the three youths' lives on a grid, Finn's would start off in the negative but steadily and increasingly arc upward. Rey's would start out neutral or even in the positive, but from there it would also climb upward. Kylo Ren's would be the opposite. He would start high in the positive quadrant and spiral down into the dark negatives. So dark, in fact, that he kills his own father at the end. Not in the way that Luke killed his father, defending his life, fighting against evil—that would be understandable. He killed his father in cold-blooded murder because he wanted to snuff out his own pull towards the light. He wanted to prove his commitment to the darkness. Here's the dialogue between them.
Han Solo: Ben!
Kylo Ren: You son is gone. He was weak and foolish like his father, so I destroyed him. It’s too late.
Han Solo: No it’s not. Leave here with me. Come home. We miss you.
Kylo Ren: I’m tired of being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Help me?
Han Solo: Yes. Anything.
(Kylo Ren kills him with a sword.)
Previously, we'd heard him praying to Darth Vader, wanting to carry on his legacy of darkness and confessing his pull toward light. "Forgive me. I feel it again, the power of the light. Show me again the power of darkness. Show me again, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started." What he forgets is that Darth Vader, in his death, turned towards the light. As of the close of this installment in the franchise, Ben rejects the Light, but this is only chapter one, so there is still time, still hope. If he truly finishes what Vader started, then he'll also return to the light.
The Bible says, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). I have known countless stories of children who were trained up in the way they should go, who did appear to depart from it for a while, but who also returned to it in time. I truly believe that Star Wars is about redemption. No matter what Ben has done, Leia can still feel the light in him and still believes he will return. So, Ben's story is a sad one, but it's not done. And for those who have children who have rebelled, left home, and hated the light, maybe there is some hope in Ben's story for you. Maybe they, too, feel a pull toward the light and their acts of rebellion are desperate acts to quiet the that pull. Maybe those big, heinous acts of rebellion are actually evidence that the light is still calling to them. Maybe not. Either way though, there is still hope. The story isn't over yet. And if we've learned anything from Star Wars in the past, or from the Bible, or from Jesus himself, surely we have learned this: in the end, Light ALWAYS wins.
Questions for Discussion:
- What is your favorite theme in Star Wars? Why?
- Which character in Star Wars do you most relate to? Why?
- Do you see any correlation between Star Wars and Christianity?
- Why do you think Kylo Ren rebelled against his family and his heritage?
- Why do you think Finn rebelled against his training?
- Rey was looking back for something she felt she was missing from her childhood. Is there anything you find yourself looking back for, hoping will return to you? What it is?
- Rey found what she was looking for when she looked forward. Jesus says that you'll find what you're looking for when you seek Him first. Have you ever had a moment like that, where you found what you were looking for in an unexpected place? Do you think finding Jesus might actually help you find what you are looking for?
- Do you have a Kylo Ren in your life, someone who is in deep rebellion against the light? Do you feel that there is hope for them or that they are too far gone to reach? Why?
- Do you know any stories of hope of people who rebelled, seemed lost forever, but then returned to the light?