The Gospel According to Star Wars

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The Gospel According to Star Wars

Notes/Questions on STAR WARS and Theology….2015


Session 1: May The Force Be With You

An exploration of Lucas’ concept of the Force as it relates to contemporary ideas of religion and philosophy



  1. INTRODUCTION: Is there any question that “Star Wars” has had an indelible impact on our modern culture?

  • In the 2001 census in the UK, when questioned about religion, over 390,000 respondents entered their religion as “Jedi.”

  • In television commercials, public interest group who were critics of the Reagan administration's Strategic Defense Initiative program referred to the orbital missile defense project as "Star Wars" directly referring to the Lucas movie. Interestingly, Lucasfilm sued to try to enjoin this usage of its trademark, and lost. Explaining its decision, the court said,

When politicians, newspapers, and the public generally use the phrase star wars for their convenience, in parody or descriptively to further a communication of their views on SDI, plaintiff has no rights as owner of the mark to prevent this use of STAR WARS. ... Since Jonathan Swift's time, creators of fictional worlds have seen their vocabulary for fantasy appropriated to describe reality. Trademark laws regulate unfair competition, not the parallel development of new dictionary meanings in the everyday give and take of human discourse.”

  • People all over the world now celebrate the 4th of May with the expression “May the 4th be with you.”

Clearly, George Lucas has impacted us all. The question for us to explore today is:


  1. Has the influence of STAR WARS been a benefit or a detriment to Christianity and traditional religion?

George Lucas has said about Star Wars and Religion that “Star Wars takes issues that religion represents and distills them into something more accessible” And that he wanted “to give his audience another way of thinking about spirituality” which he feels is important:



  1. Does Star Wars promote a spirituality that is consistent with your understanding of Christianity or does it seem to be an anti-Christian approach?




  1. Do you agree with this statement: “In many ways, the Force combines the basic principles of several different major religions yet it most embodies what all of them have in common: an unerring faith in a spiritual power.”?




  1. There a variety of comments about the Force posted around the room. Look around. Now, Lets VIEW a MOVIE EXERPT that captures a lot of the basic ideas about the Force in Star Wars (from episode V --scene with Yoda and Luke in the swamp when tiny Yoda explains the nature of the Force and ultimately amazes Luke by lifting the X-wing fighter from the swamp after Luke fails in his effort. Luke exclaims: "I don't believe it!" Yoda says, "That, is why you fail!") :



  1. How does "the Force" of the Star Wars universe compare with your idea of religion, or your idea of God?





  1. Do you see any connection between the Jedi philosophy of the Force and ancient Greek philosophies like Platonism or Stoicism? Do the Jedi remind you of Samurai’s? It the Jedi philosophy of the Force more “Eastern” than “Greek”?




  1. Is the Force more than a “power that binds all living things together” as described in several of the movies? Does this seem consistent with the reference in episode 1 (The phantom Menace) by Qui-Gon opinion that finding little Anakin “was the will of the force?”



  1. Let’s talk about how people relate to the Force:




  1. What is the connection between the Force and our feelings? Is there a parallel to Christianity?




  1. What can we learn from the way Star Wars describes the presence in the world of an unknown power (the Force / God) and the need to give up control to it? Does this apply to our relationship with God?




  1. Is there a Faith component to the Force?




  1. In what ways does the Force remind you of the Holy Spirit?




  1. Does the Jedi sense of peace and contentment remind you of Jesus or what the Christian life should be?



  1. Yielding to the Force is a common point of advice from the older Jedi advisers (Yoda and Obi-wan). How does this parallel our understanding of our Faith? (What Biblical passages speak to our need to give up control to God both in terms of obedience and commitment?)





  1. Does the concept of the Force emphasize more individualism or community as compared to Christianity?




  1. Is there a similarity in the belief in / and religion of “the Force” that parallels Christianity regarding the pervasiveness of the Force existing in all things that encourages us to see that our responsibilities must go beyond just our family, tribe, and nation? (the Jedi’s teach that to be a servant of the Force is to be a servant of all human kind / all living beings)




  1. When you think about the conflict between good and evil in Star Wars with the dramatized “light and dark” imagery depicting the different sides of the Force, do you see parallels in the Bible?




  1. Is there a “dark” side to God?




  1. Is it better to understand the Force as something other than the Divine? For example, if you think of the Force as “intelligence” or “creativity” or “power” or “influence”, is that helpful?



  1. ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS THAT COULD ALSO BE USED IN FUTURE SESSIONS:



  1. There appears to be an emphasis on seeing and vision in the way that Jedi interact with the force: In episode IV, “our sight deceives us” is spoken by Obi-won. In episode 1, we hear “your focus determines your reality.” In the final episode (VI), the Emperor says to Luke, “You must pay the price for your own lack of vision” Does this remind you of any Biblical passages? (1 Corinthians 13- “now I see only in part…..”; John –“Blessed is the one who believes but does not see…”)





  1. How would you characterize the conflict between good and evil / light and dark sides of the Force in Star Wars? How does the relationship between good and evil in Star Wars similar or different from good and evil in the Bible?




  1. The difference in dark and light side of the force appears to boil down to the decisions and motivations of the Jedi and is often manifest in their resistance to pride and anger. In the second movie (episode V), Yoda again reminds Luke that the Dark Side of the Force is not equal in strength, or greater, than the Light Side. Luke asks "is the Dark Side stronger". Yoda: "No, no. Quicker, easy." Again, evil is easy, doing the right thing is difficult. Is the dark side easier in reality?




  1. What are some Biblical references to this relationship between good and evil? (examples of Biblical references: Garden of Eden: Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil, the development of Satan as a cosmic rival to God during period of apocalyptic literature, …




  1. How does the Star Wars concept of the Force compare with concepts from our religion / the Bible? Are there specific passages in the Bible that come to mind? (Biblical examples: Ex.




  • Mark 9: father seeking Jesus help to save his son “help my unbelief”
  • Jesus teachings to the rich man seeking advice in the Gospels who is advised to commit / focus on is faith and give up his possessions, Luke 18:18-23





  1. Do or do not, no try” Is this a proverb worthy of the Bible?


  1. CONCLUDE DISCUSSION WITH ACKNOWLEDGEMENT THAT IT WOULD BE GOOD TO HEAR WHAT GEORGE LUCAS ACTUALLY HAS TO SAY ABOUT THE TOPIC:


http://billmoyers.com/2012/08/09/moyers-moment-1999-george-lucas-on-mentors-and-faith/
Session 2: Star Wars Symbolism

A discussion of the variety and meaning of the symbols of the great hero story

INTODUCTION: Have everyone go around and introduce themselves again and answer this question: What was your favorite character and least favorite character from the Star Wars series and why?
Review last week big points and then show video clip of interview between Charlie Rose and George Lucas: http://www.feelguide.com/2014/10/25/george-lucas-talks-to-charlie-rose-about-religion-the-psychological-motifs-embedded-in-star-wars/
Reactions? Does Star Wars have the universal appeal that Lucas suggests?

The Stages of the Journey of a Hero

(Star Wars as “Mono-myth” / Hero story: as per Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces) as adapted by Christopher Vogler

EB Taylor (1871) “Primitive Culture”……Otto Rank (1909) “Myth of Birth of the Hero”…..Vladmir Propp….and the Influence of Sigmund Freud and Carl Yung (Hero’s adventures interpreted in Psychological terms…..archetypes and collective unconscious


  1. Ordinary World:  "The Hero's home, the safe haven upon which the Special World and the Journey's outcome must be compared."  The Journey begins in the Ordinary World, travels to the Special World, and returns to the Ordinary World.

  2. Call to Adventure:  The Call to Adventure sets the story rolling by disrupting the comfort of the Hero's Ordinary World, presenting a challenge or quest that must be undertaken.

  3. Refusal of the Call:  "A Hero often refuses [or is reluctant] to take on the Journey because of fears and insecurities that have surfaced from the Call to Adventure.  The Hero may not be willing to make changes, preferring the safe haven of the Ordinary World.  This becomes an essential stage that communicates the risks involved in the Journey that lies ahead.  Without risks and danger or the likelihood of failure, the audience will not be compelled to be a part of the Hero's Journey."

  4. Meeting with the Mentor:  "The Hero meets a Mentor to gain confidence, insight, advice, training, or magical gifts to overcome the initial fears and face the Threshold of the adventure.  The Mentor may be a physical person, or an object such as a map, a logbook, or other writing."

  5. Crossing the Threshold:  "Crossing the threshold signifies that the Hero has finally committed to the Journey.  He is prepared to cross the gateway that separates the Ordinary World from the Special World."
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies:  "Having crossed the threshold, the Hero faces Tests, encounters Allies, confronts Enemies, and learns the rules of this Special World.  The Hero needs to find out who can be trusted.  Allies are earned, a Sidekick may join up, or an entire Hero Team forged.  The Hero must prepare himself for the greater Ordeals yet to come and needs this stage to test his skills and powers, or perhaps seek further training from the Mentor.  This Initiation into this Special World also tests the Hero's commitment to the Journey, and questions whether he can succeed."


  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave:  "The Hero must make the preparations needed to approach the Inmost Cave that leads to the Journey's heart, or central Ordeal.  Maps may be reviewed, attacks planned, a reconnaissance launched, and possibly the enemies forces whittled down before the Hero can face his greatest fear, or the supreme danger lurking in the Special World."  The Approach may be a time for some romance or a few jokes before the battle, or it may signal a ticking clock or a heightening of the stakes.

  8. Ordeal:  "The Hero engages in the Ordeal, the central life-or-death crisis, during which he faces his greatest fear, confronts his most difficult challenge, and experiences "death".  His Journey teeters on the brink of failure.  The Ordeal is the central magical Stage of any Journey.  Only through "death" can the Hero be reborn, experiencing a resurrection that grants greater power or insight to see the Journey to the end."
  9. Reward (Seizing the Sword):  "The Hero has survived death, overcome his greatest fear, slain the dragon, or weathered the crisis of the heart, and now earns the Reward that he has sought.  The Hero's Reward comes in many forms:  a magical sword, an elixir, greater knowledge or insight, reconciliation with a lover.  Whatever the treasure, the Hero has earned the right to celebrate.  The Hero may have earned the Reward outright, or the Hero may have seen no option but to steal it.  The Hero may rationalize this Elixir theft, having paid for it with the tests and ordeals thus far.  But the consequences of the theft must be confronted as the Shadow forces race to reclaim the Elixir that must not see the light of the Ordinary World."


  10. The Road Back:  "The Hero must finally recommit to completing the Journey and accept the Road Back to the Ordinary World.  A Hero's success in the Special World may make it difficult to return.  Like Crossing the Threshold, The Road Back needs an event that will push the Hero through the Threshold, back into the Ordinary World.  The Event should re-establish the Central Dramatic Question, pushing the Hero to action and heightening the stakes.  The Road Back may be a moment when the Hero must choose between the Journey of a Higher Cause verses the personal Journey of the Heart."

  11. Resurrection:  "The Hero faces the Resurrection, his most dangerous meeting with death.  This final life-or-death Ordeal shows that the Hero has maintained and can apply all that he has brought back to the Ordinary World.  This Ordeal and Resurrection can represent a "cleansing" or purification that must occur now that the Hero has emerged from the land of the dead.  The Hero is reborn or transformed with the attributes of the Ordinary self in addition to the lessons and insights from the characters he has met along the road.  The Resurrection may be a physical Ordeal, or final showdown between the Hero and the Shadow.  This battle is for much more than the Hero's life.  Other lives, or an entire world may be at stake and the Hero must now prove that he has achieved Heroic status and willingly accept his sacrifice for the benefit of the Ordinary World.  Other Allies may come to the last minute rescue to lend assistance, but in the end the Hero must rise to the sacrifice at hand.  He must deliver the blow that destroys the Death Star (Star Wars), or offer his hand and accept the "magic" elixir of love."
  12. Return with the Elixir:  "The Return with the Elixir is the final Reward earned on the Hero's Journey.  The Hero has been resurrected, purified and has earned the right to be accepted back into the Ordinary World and share the Elixir of the Journey.  The true Hero returns with an Elixir to share with others or heal a wounded land.  The Elixir can be a great treasure or magic potion.  It could be love, wisdom, or simply the experience of having survived the Special World.  Even the tragic end of a Hero's Journey can yield the best elixir of all, granting the audience greater awareness of us and our world (Citizen Kane)."


Who are your favorite Star Wars heroes?
In light of the Campbell framework which clearly influenced Lucas, which characters jump out as fitting into these experiences?
In your opinion, who was the hero of the first movie (episode IV)?
Who was the hero of the first trilogy (episodes IV, V, VI)?
Who was the hero of the first six movies (I, II, III, IV, V, VI)?
Which characters do you connect as a personal Hero? Why?
Symbols associated with characters: What symbolism do you associate with the Heroes and their stories? What can this teach us?
Example Symbolism
Messianic Characters: Which characters appear to be potential Christ-figures? Why? Obi-wan, Luke, Qui-gon, Anakin (false messiah?)
Technology vs. Nature: Some have suggested that Lucas always has nature defeating technology. Agree? Nature is more attuned to the force. Examples? Luke turning off targeting computer in the trench and trusting the force. Vader as more machine than human. Primitive Ewoks living in nature defeat the technology of the empire.
Blood: What about the explanation of the midochlorians? How does these physical / meta-physical elements relate? How does the symbolic emphasis on Blood compare with Christianity?

Light and Dark: When you think about the conflict between good and evil in Star Wars with the dramatized “light and dark” imagery depicting the different sides of the Force, do you see parallels in the Bible? How would you characterize the conflict between good and evil / light and dark sides of the Force in Star Wars? How does the relationship between good and evil in Star Wars similar or different from good and evil in the Bible? The difference in dark and light side of the force appears to boil down to the decisions and motivations of the Jedi and is often manifest in their resistance to pride and anger. In the second movie (episode V), Yoda again reminds Luke that the Dark Side of the Force is not equal in strength, or greater, than the Light Side. Luke asks "is the Dark Side stronger". Yoda: "No, no. Quicker, easy." Again, evil is easy, doing the right thing is difficult. Is the dark side easier in reality? What does it mean to bring balance to the force?

Vision/Seeing: There appears to be an emphasis on seeing and vision in the way that Jedi interact with the force: In episode IV, “our sight deceives us” is spoken by Obi-won. In episode 1, we hear “your focus determines your reality.” In the final episode (VI), the Emperor says to Luke, “You must pay the price for your own lack of vision” Does this remind you of any Biblical passages? (1 Corinthians 13- “now I see only in part…..”; John –“Blessed is the one who believes but does not see…”)
Journey-Labyrinth/Death Star: Lucas admitted once that the death-star was designed incorporating the imagery of a labyrinth: what does that say to you?
Father Figures: Anakin refers to Obi-won as father, Luke wants to know what his Father is like, then learns that he was a great Jedi. Being like his father becomes his life ambition; then he learns the truth about Vader. (the same person he encounters in the cave solidifying his destiny)
Right Hand Injuries: Anakin loses right hand in AOTC. It is replaced with artificial one. Luke loses his hand in ESB. It is replaced with artificial one. Luke cuts off Vader’s hand again in final battle and realizes that he and his father are alike. Sometimes artificial hand represents the transformation from human to machine (Vader).

Session 3: Hope, Fear, Destiny, Providence & Grace

An Exploration of the primary religious themes of the Star Wars universe
Introductions

Fear: Watch excerpt from episode I: “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, hatred leads to suffering.” (ch ?) (Alternative excerpt: From episode III, Anakin’s fear of losing Padme)



  • What is the role of fear in relationship to the Force? Does the quote from Yoda make sense? Is the life of the Sith a life filled with fear?

  • Is the dark side easier in reality? The difference in dark and light side of the force appears to boil down to the decisions and motivations of the Jedi and is often manifest in their resistance to pride and anger. In the second movie (episode V), Yoda again reminds Luke that the Dark Side of the Force is not equal in strength, or greater, than the Light Side. Luke asks "is the Dark Side stronger". Yoda: "No, no. Quicker, easy." Again, evil is easy, doing the right thing is difficult.

  • Isn’t it ironic that it’s Anakin’s love for Padme that leads to his possessiveness and ultimate fear of loss that brings about his undoing? Is there a parallel for us? (How does Fear defeat us?) Does this teach us that Christian Love is not about feelings but about Intentions?

  • What are other examples of the emphasis of fear from the movies? “Fear is my ally” –Darth Maul; “Fear will keep the local systems in line” –Grand Moff Tarkin

  • What is the relationship of “fear” and “power”?

  • Fear is a primary means used by the Emperor to control his subjects. What are examples? (like creating a common enemy to promote fear and ultimately establishing the need for emergency powers.) Does politics and government work the same way in our world? “Love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.” -Machiavelli

  • What does the Bible say about fear? “There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast out fear.” John 4:18

  • How about all the Biblical references to “Fear Not”? What does this say about humanity?
  • What are you fearful of? How is fear an issue for us today?




Hope: Watch excerpts from episode VI where Luke argues for the goodness in Vader, and the discussion between Luke and Vader prior to entry onto the death star. (ch ?)


  • If fear and hate characterize the dark side, what characterizes the light side? Is it Love, Faith, or Hope? What is it that allows Luke to declare in episode VI that he knows there is "still good" in his father? Hope?

  • What role does Hope play? Is loss of hope what results in fear (the first step to the dark side)? It seems so tenuous?

  • Why can’t Obi-wan and Yoda see the potential for redemption in Vader?

  • What does Vader do to achieve redemption? What is meant by Darth Vader (fulfilling prophecy and) bringing balance to the force? What role does Luke play?

  • Could Vader’s slavery to the Emperor or the Dark Side be symbolic of sin?

  • Do we see all people as having “good” in them (created in God’s image)? Or do we tend to focus on the idea of original sin and see ourselves as depraved--dependent on God to bring out our “good.”? How does this inform our theology?

  • What Biblical references to redemption come to mind when you think about this story? How does the Bible deal with “hope”?




  1. Paul’s description of faith, hope, and love (I Corinthians 13)

  2. Paul’s description of hope in 2 Thessalonians

  3. “the story of the prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-32)
  4. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:11-12)


  5. Abraham and Isaac

  6. Jesus as God’s ultimate sacrifice to make redemption possible/ theories of atonement, etc.)




  • What are you hopeful for?


Destiny / Providence / Grace: Watch excerpt from episode V where Yoda explains to Luke how once you start down the dark path your destiny changes. (ch ?)


  • What is DESTINY?

  • In the Star Wars series, characters frequently make statements like “it is your destiny” implying that the characters are living lives that are pre-determined and attempts to fight one’s destiny is a waste of energy. Is the concept of Destiny in the Star Wars Universe another name for Determinism?

  • If our fate is established by Destiny, then what does it meant to choose?

  • Could Yoda’s comments to Luke in the excerpt from ESB, be construed to suggest that Luke’s destiny would be shaped by his decisions and could take a different route, depending on his actions? How does this construct relate to our understanding of God’s providence?

  • What does the Bible say about destiny and determinism? (examples: Job, Apocalyptic Lit, Ephesians 1:4-5 [just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will], Romans 8:29 [For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family]

  • How does this theme relate to concepts of free choice and divine election in the bible and in reformed theology? (Romans 9:6-13)
  • How is the Star War’s idea of “Destiny” related to the Christian concept of “Sovereignty and Providence”?


  • Do you get the sense that the Force is working for good? Why or why not? (ex: Anakin’s conception, Droids showing up when needed)

  • Does the Force have a will in the Star Wars universe? Is the force similar to the Christian concept of the Divine will?

  • Does the existence of “evil” in Star Wars? Is there a similar sense of “evil” in our world?

  • Does Star Wars inform our understanding of Theodicy?

  • Can Star Wars teach us anything about God’s involvement in the World?



Other alternative questions

  • How does the relationship between good and evil in Star Wars similar or different from good and evil in the Bible?

  • What are some Biblical references to this relationship between good and evil? (examples of Biblical references: Garden of Eden: Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil, the development of Satan as a cosmic rival to God during period of apocalyptic literature, …

  • How does the depiction of the evil characters show us the nature of fear, hatred, etc? (Vader wears black, is only half human, appears as menacing giant stepping over dead bodies and demonstrating brute strength. This contrasts with the first appearance of Yoda, who is completely underestimated by Luke-much like the Jewish world’s expectation for the Messiah was completely out of sync with Jesus.


Conclusion: Show trailer video and invite predictions


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