A Fragile Hope: Good and Evil in Star Wars

How can Christians make sense of Star Wars?

Plenty of religions have analysed the movies, often noting similarities between the sci-fi fantasy films and elements of their religion, traditions and beliefs.

Instead of doing that again, we have explored the Star Wars series to see what kind of person you would be if you lived according to its messages. Is this ‘galaxy far, far away’ one worth living in?

1. May the Force be with you

The Star Wars universe is built upon the Force, a potent and impersonal energy that, basically, binds everything together.

The Force has a “light” side and a “dark” side which operate a bit like the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang (opposite but complementary and apparently equal sides of a universal power). These sides tend to be framed in terms of the tussle between good and bad, best depicted by battles between the masters of each side – Jedis and Siths.

Star Wars scene

2. Leaders of the pack

We all hate it when people spoil something about a movie we haven’t seen. But even if you’ve not watched a single Star Wars movie, every single person alive knows that a guy called Anakin Skywalker grows up up to be Darth Vader – the galaxy’s biggest baddie.

Actually, it’s a pretty big deal because when Anakin was a child he really seemed like he could be a mighty leader in fighting the good fight. Plenty of things pointed to his being something of a prophetic hero, including the strong indication he was the product of a “virgin birth”.

Luke Skywalker becomes a saviour figure within a cosmic warzone.

But the prequels (Episodes I–III) showed Anakin’s gradual progress to embracing the dark side.

Boo! Hiss!

Good thing he had a son: Luke Skywalker. Yes, by now, everyone knows Darth turns out to Luke’s dad. And Luke’s own journey in Star Wars Episodes IV–VI is largely dedicated to his progress in becoming a saviour figure within a cosmic warzone.

Anakin (left) and Luke (right) Skywalker

3. Fight the power

Other stuff happens in the Stars Wars franchise which doesn’t directly involve Jedis. But, really, the whole shebang hinges on these heroes of the light side of the Force, who take on the intimidating thwack of the evil Empire. Sure, they do have help, as Rogue One is devoted to (good on ya, Rebel Alliance!).

The inescapable reality of life in Star Wars times, though, has us biting our nails in anticipation of whether the Jedis will gain the upper hand against The Dark Siders. What a power struggle!

At the core of the war in the stars is Luke Skywalker, and witnessing his development from Force novice to Jedi Master helps us to understand the extent of power available to him (and others).

4. Step into the light

Weirdly, Luke Skywalker is often lied to by his mentor figures (such as Obi-Wan Kenobi who, otherwise, seems like a pretty nice bloke).

The Light Side of the Force is hardly the dictionary definition of good.

Not until legendary moments in the Star Wars franchise does Luke find out crucial information about his dad and his sister.

The ways of Jedi mind tricks and carrying Yoda around in a backpack are all part of getting Luke to increasingly tap into the Force. As he does, Yoda instructs his padawan that “anger, fear, aggression; the Dark Side of the Force are they.”

Star Wars IV: A new hope

Sure, the Dark Side is all those things but the Light Side of the Force is hardly the dictionary definition of good. Jedis do everything from manipulate people’s minds, to maim and kill, as they go about their business. But we’re still told it’s playing for the good team while the baddies are steadily positioned as flat-out evil.

5. Come to the Dark Side

With the Light Side claiming to be about peace and enlightenment, the Dark Side feeds on selfishness and promotes conquest and control.

The Dark Side is bad to the bone but the way it selfishly uses the Force is tempting. From Nazi symbolism (Stormtroopers!) to a fondness for black outfits and capes, the Dark Side might be upfront about its self-centred ambitions – but it’s clearly the side we’re not supposed to support.

The dark side is bad to the bone but the way it selfishly uses the Force is tempting … Is our hero strong enough to resist?

The allure of the Dark Side, though, is a terrific nod to how humans love the temptation of not doing the right thing. One of cinema’s most iconic sequences involves Darth Vader tempting Luke Skywalker to the tantalising power of the Dark Side. Is our hero strong enough to resist?

6. Father and Son

As Star Wars presents it, the galaxy far away seems to boil down to what will happen when a “bad” dad (Darth) tries to steer his “good” son (Luke) to the Dark Side.

The fate of the universe boils down to what side of the Force is chosen by one father and one son.

The Force hangs in the balance when Darth offers Luke a father-son business proposition. If Luke chose to team up with his old man on the Dark Side, the Star Wars franchise would presumably have to show that the scales of the Force had tipped away from the Light Side.

Star Wars VI Return of the Jedi

Good would be down for the count; evil would be on the rise.

Quite the scary place to live, where the choices of one human/cyborg father and one mortal son can upset whether the entire universe is a good or bad place to be.

7. A new hope

While the entire universe can be steered by whatever a father and his son choose to do, there’s always hope in Star Wars that things will work out well.

Star Wars is big on hope; the first Episode released in 1977 has been since known as A New HopeRogue One trailers are loaded with references to hope. The question for us is this: Are we satisfied with just hoping that the universe will work itself out?

Hoping in what? As the opposing sides of the Force go at it throughout the Star Wars series, hope is anchored in the light side coming out on top.

Star Wars Return of the Jedi

Aside from Jedis beating Siths, the hopeful victory of the light over the dark tends to also rest with a union of “good” against evil forces (such as the Rebel Alliance against the Empire).

But all that talk of hope is no guarantee of success. It’s just putting faith in an outcome that, actually, might not happen.

Are we satisfied with just hoping that the universe will work itself out?

Sure, the Star Wars movies have a habit of going the way of the light side. But according to the how the Force is presented throughout the franchise, the Dark Side could win. So, believing in the hope in Star Wars is appealing but it’s not anchored in any certainty.

Good thing, then, we don’t live in that galaxy far away. Instead, we live in a galaxy offering a “living hope” for future joy that will never spoil, fade or perish (1 Peter 1:3-4).

A slightly longer version of this article was published by Eternity in 2016.

Ben McEachen is a content producer for Hope 103.2 with a theology degree from Sydney’s Moore Theological College.

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