'Star Wars' story a parallel to 'what the Christian God is after,' prof says

by Michael Foust, Guest Reviewer |
Star Wars

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Christian Examiner) – The "Star Wars" saga has parallels to the Gospel and can be used to communicate spiritual truths with friends, family and children, says a Christian university professor who has written a book about "God in the movies."

Roy Anker, professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., told the Christian Examiner that central themes within the series -- such as the redemption of Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) – are solid examples of "what the Christian God is after," even if the "Star Wars" universe doesn't have a complete biblical worldview.

Anker is the author of "Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies."

With "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" breaking box office records, the Christian Examiner asked Anker how believers should view the "Star Wars" story. Following is a transcript:

Christian Examiner: Christians sometimes are divided over stories such as Star Wars that have themes borrowed from other religions. How should Christians approach the Star Wars saga?

Anker: No piece of art or fantasy (or person or institution) is perfect and "pure." We live in a messy place, inside and out, and it is a place where we all, even the likes of Jesus and St. Paul, see through a glass darkly. C. S. Lewis' "Narnia" tales are packed with witches and figures and themes of myth. Moreover, Lewis did not think of his stories as particularly Christian or evangelistic, and he certainly never dreamed that anything in those novels would subvert belief or contaminate. The better question is to ask how and what does this or that "mean" within the tale. In the original "Star Wars"trilogy, for example, the values and goals of the Jedi, and even their reliance on a supernatural power, are very specifically Christian, and in a very good way, and one could argue they display the core of the Gospels far better than most "safe" popular Christian art. The whole saga ends with the fulfillment of Luke's Jedi "calling" and the full-blown redemption of Darth Vader. When Luke tells Vader that he has to save him from death on the soon-to-explode Death Star, Anakin Skywalker, who has given his life to save his son, tells him "you already have." Sound familiar?

CE: Why do you think our society is so captivated by "Star Wars"? In other words, do you think there is there a spiritual reason it attracts us -- such as the God-shaped vacuum theologians often describe?

Anker: I think the lasting appeal of the first three films, and all the anticipation of the new batch, lies in its "cloaked" retelling of religious stories. The allure lies in everything from music to costuming and certainly the fates of the characters. Some mysterious but grand and wonderful reality shows up, more or less, to give us hope, the "feel" of a supernatural beauty and holiness, and a map on how to care for one another and this world. And its vast, and pretty secular, audiences for a little while glimpse what it's like to live in a God-infused world. For the curious, read the best book ever on these matters, Frederick Buechner's classic, "Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale."

CE: From a Christian perspective, what should we tell our children, who can be impressionable, about the Force?

Anker: First off, it is fiction, and one attempt to portray the way the world is deep-down, meaning the way people are and what motives and forces shape this world, good and bad alike. Stories are basically metaphors and parables, and it is important to remember that Jesus was more story-teller than theologian or even preacher (the Sermon on the Mount was not too shabby, however). And there was reason that He spoke so, even though it greatly puzzled His audiences who didn't quite get it and no doubt thought He was some sort of kooky heretic because He's not making things as clear and familiar as we'd like. The important thing to do is not to pick up a rock for stoning the story-teller but to ask what sort of god the story-teller sets forth.

The Force itself? In the first three films, IV through VI, the Force is indeed mysterious, and it takes three films for its actual true character to emerge. And clearly evil is also a spiritual power that seeks to usurp the powers of the good or bright side of the Force. The best instance of the deviousness of the dark side is fascist Germany in its effort of seeing Hitler as a surrogate god (and Hitler talked a lot about God, and just about the entire German church went for his line). What makes the Force itself good is what we see in the closing scene of "The Return of the Jedi" -- first, a festive dance of reunion and celebration among all sorts of creatures, human and otherwise, for the Force has defeated darkness, and, two, Luke Skywalker's private vision of the three figures who have most shaped his life: Yoda, Obi-Wan, and a healed and whole Anakin Skywalker, who is Vader no longer but saved and "re-newed" by the power of the Force. There is hardly a better scenario anywhere of how good happens and of how and what the Christian God is after.