Star Wars: The Religion

Getty Images

Star Wars: The Religion

From the August 1999 Trumpet Print Edition

Some laud the theology of Star Wars. But does Star Wars reflect a true religion?

Undoubtedly the Star Wars epic films made in the ’70s and ’80s and the latest episode, The Phantom Menace, are among the best science-fiction films of all time. The American Film Institute placed Star Wars: A New Hope, the first movie made in the series, 15th on its list of the best 100 films of this century. Film experts recognize that George Lucas’ technical and special effects achievements are without parallel. And the technology keeps getting better. (Lucas delayed making Phantom Menace until the capability was available to create on film the underwater world of the Gungans and the realism of the character Watoo, a greedy little blue-winged creature that hovers like a hummingbird.)

The Star Wars trilogy has become a global cultural icon. Who today does not know about a light saber? Who has never heard of the Force? Who does not know about the comic antics of R2-D2 and C-3P0? Go to any country in this world and you will find people who readily recognize the characters: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Obi Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader and Yoda. These characters and their stories have sunk deep roots into our imaginations. These films show how powerfully films can impact our entire world.

But do we stop to analyze the effect?

The worldwide popularity of the films is without question. One Star Wars enthusiast claimed that he has seen the trilogy 79 times. Men in suits with briefcases, women with small children, teens—multiple thousands of people—waited in lines, some even camped out on sidewalks for three days, to be the first to purchase tickets for the Phantom Menace release on May 19.

This obsession was not just some American thing. The whole world was waiting for the release of this film. Some people traveled internationally to attend the movie’s opening on the U.S. West Coast. Others planned to attend multiple openings in London and Paris. By early July, “Episode I” had grossed over $375 million, making it the fourth-most popular film of recent times. Why have these films become so popular? It is far more than just the special effects.

Many admit that they are drawn to the spiritual themes woven into the rich fabric of the epic. Religious subjects such as mysteries, human destiny, prophecy, trials, overcoming, greed, compassion, temptation and redemption are clearly debated in the films. Although George Lucas may have not intended it so, many who watch these films hope to gain some kind of religious experience—especially young people. This is more a statement about religion in our society than about movies. However, because of the wide popularity of the films, the manner in which some spiritual themes are handled should cause us concern. Let’s examine why.

Galactic Theology

Don’t scoff. You must understand that the Star Wars epic involves more than just great storytelling. George Lucas invested a great deal of thought, research and planning into the films. He specifically intended to deal with religious issues. In fact, Star Wars promotes its own theology.

PBS recently aired a televised interview between Bill Moyers and George Lucas titled “The Mythology of Star Wars.” The program uncovered the underlying spiritual messages behind the movies.

Recognizing that many see Star Wars for a religious experience, Moyers asked, “What do you make of the fact that so many people have interpreted Star Wars as being profoundly religious?”

Lucas responded, “I don’t see Star Wars as being profoundly religious. I see Star Wars as taking all of the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and more easily accessible construct that people can grab onto to accept the fact that there is a greater mystery out there. When I was ten years old I asked my mother, I said, Well, if there is only one God, why are there so many religions? And over the years I have been pondering that question ever since. And it would seem to me that the conclusion I have come to is that all of the religions are true; they just see a different part of the elephant. Religion is basically a container for faith. Faith is the glue that holds us together as a society. Faith in our culture, our world—whatever it is we are trying to hang onto. It is a very important part allowing us to remain stable—remain balanced.”

Lucas admits he never intended the films to replace worship or be worshiped. But he certainly injected religion into his films. And since he believes that all religions have some aspect of truth, he copied ideas from many different sources. Please notice that he wanted to distill and modernize current religious issues in the films to make them more accessible, appealing and something people could grab on to! In the Star Wars epic, Lucas captured and made vivid what he thought were the common threads in all religions.

Traditional Christian, Buddhist and Hindu motifs are brought to light and given life in the films. Darth Vader and Darth Maul are clear types of Satan the devil. Luke Skywalker endures severe temptation and trial. Luke and Leia eventually help redeem their father. There is no doubt that Yoda is a Zen master. The Jedi knights follow the meditative life found in both Hinduism and Buddhism. The Jedi knights even dress like Eastern monks.

This blend of religion is what gives the films their cross-cultural appeal. A traditional Christian can leave the movie feeling he saw a Christian film; a Buddhist, a Buddhist film. Lucas would have us believe this is all very acceptable. Yet, this homogenization of religions gives the films a spiritual ambiguity.

Isn’t it fair to ask the question: Are all religions true? Lucas’ view of religion is typical of many Americans, Britons and others. Basically, he captured in his films what most people already believe. In America, since the ’60s and ’70s, there has been an overt shift in religious interest from traditional Christianity to Eastern mysticism.

Heavy Eastern Influence

Even though some Christian-like religious concepts are in the Lucas films, Eastern religion provides the dominant story thread for the movies. Moyers easily recognized this. He asked Lucas, “Have you been influenced by Buddhism? Because Star Wars came along just about the time there was this growing interest in America in Eastern religions. I notice in The Phantom Menace, the new Episode I, that they discover this slave child who has an aura about him, and it reminded me of how the Buddhists go out and look for the next Dalai Lama.”

Hedging the question somewhat, Lucas answered, “Uh, uh. Well, there is again a mixture of all kinds of mythology and religious beliefs that have been amalgamated into the movie. I have tried to take the ideas that seem to cut across the most cultures because I am fascinated by that. And I think that is one of the things I really got from Joe Campbell. What he was trying to do was find the common threads through the various mythologies, through the various religions.” Lucas is obviously fascinated by many religions, but especially Eastern religion, and he has made it very appealing in his movies.

Star Wars teaches religion. Lucas readily admits this fact. Moyers asked Lucas: “A professor I know said he recently asked his freshman class how many of them had seen all three of the trilogy. And everyone in the class raised his hand. And he said to me, ‘I hope Lucas knows he’s mentoring an entire generation of young Americans.’” Lucas responded clearly, “I have a philosophy that we all teach. And we all teach every day of our lives. And it’s not necessarily what we lectured. I have discovered that kids don’t like lectures at all. But it is

really the way we live our lives and what we do with our lives and the way we conduct ourselves. And once in a while they listen to the lectures. So when I make the films I am very aware of the fact that I am teaching on a much larger scale than I would just as a parent or somebody walking through life, because I have this megaphone. Anybody in the media has a very large megaphone that they can reach a lot of different people. And so whatever they say, whatever they do, however they conduct themselves, whatever they produce, has an influence and is teaching somebody something. I try to be aware of what it is I am saying.”

Undoubtedly, Lucas understands the teaching power of his films. He considers them a large megaphone that can reach a lot of different people. Because of the film art form combining visuals with music, a message can be driven home with great impact. But what if the message is wrong or false? Recognize, Lucas purposely set out to teach or speak out on religious issues in these films. Star Wars popularizes the Eastern mystic way of life. We must understand that this is at cross-purposes with the way of life taught in the Bible.

Teaching Ancient Mythology

What else do the Lucas films teach? Moyers opened his interview with Lucas by asking, “Joseph Campbell once said all the great myths, the ancient stories, have to be regenerated in every generation. He said that’s what you are doing with Star Wars. You are taking these old stories and putting them into the most modern of idioms, the cinema. Are you conscious of doing that? Or are you just setting out to make a good action-movie adventure?”

Lucas answered excitedly, “With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and the classic mythological motifs. I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues that exist today. The more research I did, the more I realized that the issues are the same ones that existed 3,000 years ago—that we haven’t come very far emotionally.” Lucas consulted with Joseph Campbell, a mythology expert, while developing the storyline of the saga. Of course some will ask, why be concerned with re-creating or modernizing mythological tales? Even though mythology does deal with heros and superheros and elements of character development, have we forgotten that mythology is rooted in paganism and often deals with a distorted view of the supernatural?

We must also remember that myths are not fact; they are fiction. They deal with fantasy. Lucas created Star Wars just after the Vietnam War. This sad era forced Americans to recognize it had lost any real heros in whom to believe. Can a Luke Skywalker, Han Solo or Obi Wan Kenobi really inspire us to overcome odds or give us the deep understanding we need to solve our current crisis? Hardly.

Well-written biographies of real people offer a much better means of inspiring human beings to overcome, develop and achieve their potential. Real people deal with the real world. Myths and fantasy cannot sustain a people or a nation. Shouldn’t our top filmmakers take on the challenge to make powerful and truthful films about real heros like Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln?

Weakness in the Force

Religious critics feel the Star Wars movies offer a thin basis for theology. Lucas agrees wholeheartedly. Moyers asked, “Where does God fit into this concept of the universe, in this cosmos you have created? Is the Force God?” Lucas quickly answered, “I put the Force into the movies in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people—more a belief in God than in a belief in any particular religious system.” Lucas states that he created the concept of the Force to draw young people to God. But can the Force really give young people the correct concept of God?

In the second produced film, The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda, the little green 900-year-old Jedi master, describes the Force to a troubled, weak-in-faith Luke Skywalker. He explains, “For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it and makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. You—between you and me—the tree—the rock—everywhere. Yes, even between the land and the ship.” If the Force represents God, then the Star Wars God is very impersonal!

Let’s be honest. The Force represents evolution and nature worship far better than the worship of a personal God. Did you realize that people who practice witchcraft love the concept of the Force? Why? They believe it represents nature worship! Can the Force

really awaken a belief in God in our young people?

One of the most disturbing issues in Phantom Menace is the fact that Anakin Skywalker, the young boy who becomes the evil Darth Vader, was born of a virgin birth. This is revealed in a scene with Qui-Gon Jinn and Yoda. Terry Brooks, working from Lucas’ screenplay, writes:

“Yoda cocked his head questioningly. ‘More to say, have you, Qui-Gon Jinn?’

“‘With your permission, my Master,’ the Jedi replied, gaze steady. ‘I have encountered a vergence in the Force.’

“Yoda’s eyes widened slightly. ‘A vergence, you say?’

“‘Located around a person?’ Mace Windu asked quickly.

“Qui-Gon nodded. ‘A boy. His cells have the highest concentration of midi-chlorians I have ever seen in a life form.’ He paused. ‘It is possible he was conceived by midi-chlorians.’

“There was shocked silence this time. Qui-Gon Jinn was suggesting the impossible, that the boy was conceived not by human contact, but by the essence of all life, by the connectors to the Force itself, the midi-chlorians. Comprising collective consciousness and intelligence, the midi-chlorians formed the link between everything living and the Force” (Star Wars, Episode I, Phantom Menace, p. 216). Think on this. Doesn’t this concept of the Force border on blasphemy?

Could an impersonal life force produce a human child? Doesn’t this scenario seem amazingly close to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ? That birth was not an impossibility. Remember this scripture, “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Jesus Christ’s birth represented a willful act on the part of a very personal God the Father. The Father, not the Force, impregnated the virgin Mary through His own Holy Spirit. Some would like to stretch the analogy that the Force represents God’s Holy Spirit. But it is a weak analogy. To be brutally honest, in the films, the Force is used to move objects. It is telekinesis. Realize, telekinesis is demon-inspired, not God-inspired.

Knowing the Father

Lucas admits openly that he created the Jedi knights to be father figures. Qui-Gon Jinn acts as Obi Wan Kenobi’s father. Obi-Wan becomes Anakin’s father. He also becomes Luke’s father—all in a spiritual context.

Certainly father figures are seriously absent in our present family-damaged society. But a swashbuckling, Eastern monk who works magic like a wizard does not fill the gap. An exciting but shallow religion will never truly educate on how to solve the real problems of real people. There is, however, a personal God who is a perfect Father. Jesus Christ came to reveal the truth about the Father (John 1:18; 17:26). Few know God the Father. Yet, He has all the answers. He reveals all of life’s mysteries.

Herbert Armstrong proved over 50 years ago that the United States and Great Britain are the modern descendants of the ancient nation of Israel. This incredible mystery and prophecy is thoroughly revealed in our booklet The United States and Britain in Prophecy (write for your free copy). God revealed Himself in a very personal way to this slave nation thousands of years ago. Reminding them about what God had done for them, Moses wrote: “Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he showed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire. And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt; To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day. Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else” (Deut. 4:36-39). God showed the nation beyond doubt that He was a very personal being. They heard His voice. They saw firsthand how He defended them and helped them. God showed them they had a destiny—He had plans for them!

One God, One Religion

God clearly taught Israel that there was only one true religion. There was only one God. There was simply no other God or religion that could satisfy. Sadly, Israel never believed God. They sought after the meaningless religions of the nations around them. Unfortunately, Israel’s ancient religious history is also our history. Star Wars’ religious popularity shows how far we have drifted from God.

Our American and British peoples are fulfilling some sad prophecies. The Apostle Paul warned us about our times. He wrote Timothy: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Tim. 4:3-4). The Star Wars saga is chock full of religious fable.

Herbert Armstrong stated that truth was stranger than fiction. He was right. But truth is not as popular as fiction. It is far more appealing for our people to line up for days to buy tickets for a movie than it would be to attend one meeting giving them the truth about ourselves, our God and where we are heading. Bible prophecies reveal great truth, but few are willing to listen.

Unless we get back to our personal God and His religion immediately, we are doomed to suffer ancient Israel’s same fate of war, siege and captivity. God is pleading with our peoples this very minute through this magazine and the Key of David television program. This is the message God is trumpeting: “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11). God sincerely desires our peoples to turn back to Him.

The fervor for the Star Wars epic is just like a religious revival. This incredibly sad state reflects the deep and empty chasm in American religion. Unfortunately this revival will not satisfy. As Jude pleaded, let’s get back to the faith once delivered. When we do, we’ll realize that all that matters and is truly worthwhile is happening here, in our galaxy. Not in some fabled star system far, far away.