Is there anyone on the planet who doesn't know that a new episode in the Star Wars saga opens in thousands of theaters across the whole world on May 19?
Revenge of the Sith is the sixth and final in the series, and it's estimated that many millions of people will see the new movie the opening weekend. Many will even skip work to see it!
The new movie continues where Attack of the Clones left off– with Anakin Skywalker taking his steady journey down the dark path until he becomes Darth Vader, perhaps the most famous villain in cinema history.
Whatever one thinks about the Star Wars movies, they have certainly been a cultural phenomenon– not just with young people or Generation X, but across all age groups.
There are nearly 1000 sites on the Internet devoted to Star Wars, as well as hundreds of articles and books– many of which deal with the spirituality or religious themes of the films.
Since I am a minister, I find that aspect especially interesting. I realize that some Christians dismiss the films because of perceived New Age elements or see them in no way related to their faith. Others find modern images to use in teaching and preaching– seeing the films as vehicles to share their faith in ways people can identify with and understand.
In 1977, Star Wars had just come out, and every student in my Bible classes was familiar with it. I found the movie a wonderful hook for helping them understand, for example, the Book of Revelation. Star Wars is very much about the classic and eternal battle between good and evil, portraying the faith and hope that good will win out in the end.
These movies also are about loyalty, discipline, sacrifice, faith, love, overcoming temptation, and much more. To my knowledge, there is no nudity or profanity in any of the movies. There is old-fashioned romance.
The Star Wars movies seek to help us realize that evil is real in the world, that we have choices and freedom. We can use our lives for the good or for the dark side. Emotions like anger, hatred, and revenge are evil and are to be rejected. Service, sacrifice, justice, peace, truth– these are the values that the movies uphold.
Director George Lucas, who sees himself as a storyteller, admits that he created the concept of the "Force" to encourage everyone, especially young people, to seek mystery and spiritual dimensions in life. He does not tell them how to do it, only that it's important. Indeed, Lucas freely expresses his own belief in God and urges faith to create balance and stability in life.
Lucas describes "The Force" as some kind of mystical, mysterious power that surrounds all things. It's a power, in other words, that's close to us, that we cannot see, but we can tap.
We are not alone. There is help for us in choosing to do what is right and in fighting evil. Of course, as a Christian, I would refer to this as God, or as the Holy Spirit. In the Star Wars films, the Force can be felt and used only by the Jedi Knights, but the Spirit, we believe, the very presence of God, is available to everyone.
So, yes, there are many religious themes in Star Wars that I find helpful to connect with a modern audience, that I can use as a springboard for sharing what I believe about God. I am thankful to Lucas, who has helped me share my faith in new ways with new generations.
In all the hype and excitement leading up to the new Star Wars movie, another pretty significant event is happening this weekend. May 15 is Pentecost Sunday for Christians. Pentecost was originally a Jewish festival, attracting pilgrims from many nations to Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest of crops and the giving of the Mosaic Law (the first five books of the Bible). But for Christians, Pentecost is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the true Force, to empower us to share God's love in all the world.
May the Force be with us. Always.
Bass Mitchell, a United Methodist minister in Charlottesville, is author of three books and many articles and is an avid fan of good movies.