The Theology of Star Wars vs. The Gospel
A side-by-side comparison of two spiritual perspectives with the intention of finding hope.
Where do we find hope?
Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope
The Star Wars canon has had a global impact. The popular space opera has changed economies, revolutionized technology, and influenced culture in ways George Lucas probably never imagined. That’s not surprising given the impact stories have on our society.
But, why does Star Wars resonate with hardcore and casual fans alike? For many, the saga showcases elements of truth—truth about the human experience, the cosmos, the character of a hero, and the nature of life itself. One could go so far to say that it parallels the greatest collection of stories ever told—the Bible. And, if the Gospel message is truly good news, would it be all that surprising to see similar ideas pop up in the Star Wars saga?
Let’s explore the similarities, and perhaps more importantly, the differences between Star Wars and the biblical narrative. In doing so, we create space for spiritual conversations that will hopefully lead us all to—as Star Wars so often espouses—hope.
The power that binds everything together
In A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that, “[The Force is] an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Similarly, the Apostle Paul declares that there’s “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all,” and that Jesus Christ holds all things together. In both narratives, the implication is staggering: from the smallest particle to the expanse of space, this power is all-consuming and arguably unfathomable.
The channel for the supernatural
In the Star Wars saga, Force users “become one with the Force” and let it “flow through them.” Throughout Exodus, God performs many signs and wonders through Moses. He transforms a rod into a snake (twice), changes all the water in Egypt to blood, and more. And Moses isn’t alone; many of the Bible’s characters participate in works of the Spirit (e.g., the many signs and wonders of the apostles, the destruction of the wall at Jericho, etc.). Both spiritual perspectives hold that supernatural acts aren’t performed by people, but rather that the supernatural manifests through people.
Frame grab from Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The importance of meditation and prayer
Qui-Gon Jinn meditates during the lightsaber duel with Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. In Rogue One, Chirrut and Baze offer audible prayers. And, during his training on Degobah (and throughout his journey as an apprentice), Luke learns the power of serenity and prayer. Likewise, meditation and prayer are core spiritual practices for Christ-followers. David used meditation and prayer throughout his life, becoming known as a man after God’s own heart. The Star Wars saga and the Bible encourage us to spend time in quiet, spiritual reflection, especially in the midst of trial or tribulation.
The institution can impede the movement
Movements require organization, but institutions can draw the focus away from spiritual prompts. In the prequel trilogy, the Jedi Council has become a key player in galactic politics. But, as the trilogy unfolds, the Council appears to value institutional preservation over the promptings of the Force. Qui-Gon Jinn tries to buck this trend, but to no avail. Similarly, the church has also, on occasion, placed institutional preservation above spiritual prompting. The Catholic church became a political powerhouse after the Middle Ages, and the evangelical church flexed its own political power in the United States in the 50s, 60s, and 80s. In both the Star Wars saga and our own history books, the result of putting the institution above the personal spiritual relationship is ultimately that people turn away from the institutions or the institutions crumble.
The miracle of the virgin birth
Jesus was born to Mary without Mary ever having sexual intercourse. The Holy Spirit worked in Mary’s body to produce the baby Jesus. In The Phantom Menace, the Force works through the midi-chlorians in Shmi Skywalker’s body to produce Anakin Skywalker. While neither the biblical account nor the Star Wars saga describes this miraculous event in detail, both stories tell of significant figures who are born out of supernatural, spiritual intervention.
The problem of fear
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering,” Yoda says to a young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. Fear is the path that leads to the dark side. The biblical narrative states that perfect love casts out fear, and there are many verses about the negative impact of fear. Fear, according to Star Wars and the Bible, prevents us from experiencing healthy spirituality.
The spiritual powers available to disciples
Jedi and Sith disciples have access to numerous Force powers. Light side powers tend to have altruistic applications while dark side powers are intended to harm or control. The biblical narrative doesn’t contain as many parallels with the dark side, but several light side powers are very similar to the power of the Holy Spirit referenced in the New Testament. Both Star Wars and the Bible show examples of supernatural powers, like: healing (Force Healing), concealment (Force Concealment), possession (Transfer Essence), perception (Force Sight), and at least three or four others supernatural powers. The Bible even goes so far as to say that the Holy Spirit will display these powers through Christ-followers today, though this is open to some interpretation.
Skye (played by Marianne Haaland) uses Force Push in Star Wars: Rivals, a fan film produced by the Reclamation Society.
The definition of evil
Star Wars characterizes evil as the pursuit of selfish desire. Each example of evil, from the Imperial leadership to the Sith Lords and acolytes, is exemplified by the pursuit of power born out of self-ambition. In the Bible, evil exists prior to sin in the form of Lucifer and the other fallen angels who selfishly seek power apart from God. After sin enters the world, evil is generally defined as a focus on self as opposed to loving God and loving others.
The origin of evil
While Star Wars and the Bible both teach that selfish ambition is the root of evil, they disagree on the origin of evil. In Star Wars, the light side and the dark side maintain balance with one another, perhaps even complementing one another (similar to the concept of yin and yang). While the Star Wars saga has yet to explain the origin of the Force, we know that the dark side represents evil and that it exists in the spiritual fabric of the galaxy. In the biblical narrative, evil arises when Lucifer defies God. God doesn’t create evil, nor does he want evil to persist, but He does allow for His created beings to choose evil (i.e., selfish ambition).
The experience of life after death
Here is where we start to see key differences between Star Wars and the Gospel. While both worldviews allow for life after death, Christ-followers believe in a more personal experience. In the Star Wars universe, sentient beings either become “one with the Force” or become a Force ghost. The former means being assimilated into the Force itself, whereas the latter refers to Jedi masters who have discovered how to live on as ghostly apparitions. But, in the biblical narrative, the spirit of the individual lives on in heaven in communion with God and others, or in hell eternally separated from the Creator. The significance of this difference rests in our choice of faith. Whereas all beings are assimilated into the Force regardless their spiritual pursuits during life, the Bible declares that there are separate paths for Christ-followers and nonbelievers.
Frame grab from Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope.
The goal of a spiritual life
Perhaps the biggest divergence between the Gospel and the Force lies within each perspective’s spiritual objective. In Star Wars, the overarching spiritual goal is balance. While this concept is not well defined, it appears to be the most sought-after outcome. Balance can perhaps be best understood by exploring the contrasts found within the Jedi and Sith Codes. While Jedi pursue peace, knowledge, serenity, and harmony, Sith acolytes seek freedom by chasing passion, strength, power, and victory.
In the biblical narrative, love is the spiritual objective. God is love. God created us in love and wants us to love Him, so much so that the greatest commandment for Christ-followers (our “Code,” if you will) is to love God and love others. The basic message of the Gospel is that God loved humanity so much that He sent Jesus to Earth to pay the penalty for our sins, resurrect, and now advocate on our behalf. The goal isn’t to balance evil and good, but rather to overcome evil with good and connect every human being to God through love.
Balance cannot rectify the injustices we experience in life. Balance will not make life meaningful. The love of God, however, attributes immeasurable value to humanity, giving purpose to and hope for our existence.
The Importance of Spiritual Conversations and Exploring Hope
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the topic; it is meant to be a starting point for deeper conversations.
In a world overwhelmed with information and burdened by complexity, meaningful conversations can get lost in the litany of distractions we encounter each day. But, as we reflect on the true desires of our hearts and purposes for our lives, we must come to terms with deep spiritual matters: What is the objective of spirituality? What, if anything, can we put our hope in? Will we become one with the Force, or will we join God in heaven? And do we seek balance or love?
Star Wars and stories like it allow us to explore these questions and reflect on what we truly believe about the universe and humanity’s role in it. Consider starting a meaningful conversation and ask someone, where are you placing your hope today?
Author’s Note: It is with deep sadness that we mourn the passing of Carrie Fisher—Princess Leia, and later, General Organa. My hope is that Carrie knew a hope beyond The Force and that Jesus has welcomed her into heaven with open arms. May the Force be with you, Carrie, and may your soul rest in peace with our Lord and Savior.
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