Back in 1977, George Lucas set the film industry on its head with Star Wars, which combined rousing action, boffo special effects, and pop religion into a box-office monster. The mystical Star Wars franchise has made Lucas a very rich man, generating nearly $3.4 billion in global box office receipts and $9 billion in retail sales since 1977. With the release of the sixth installment, Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, set for May 19, interest is peaking again. In his new book, Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters, faith and culture commentator Dick Staub uses the Star Wars mythos as a vehicle to share Christian truth with a generation searching for authentic spirituality. Staub also wrote Too Christian, Too Pagan.
Which is your favorite Star Wars movie, and why?
The Empire Strikes Back, because it reveals such essential elements of the Luke/Leia/Vader relationship and introduces us to Yoda, through whom we learn the sad tale of the Jedi decline. At the same time, we begin to see the Jedi comeback as Yoda comes out of retirement to train Luke. We see Luke begin his transformation from clueless young man to Jedi Knight. In Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters, I show how Luke’s development is analogous to a serious Christian’s progression as a follower of Jesus.
How do you explain America’s enduring fascination with all things Star Wars?
George Lucas created an epic tale that taps into the universal themes of good versus evil, and did it in what was at the time a next-edge use of technology and special effects. The alienation of parents and children and allusions to the spiritual and unseen connected at a deep level with a generation seeking something more. A great story and an advancement of filmmaking combined for a memorable and enduring series.
In the book, you call both Star Wars and Christianity “mythology.” What do you mean?
A myth is a story that confronts us with the “big picture,” something transcendent and eternal, and in so doing, explains the worldview of a civilization. Given that definition, Christianity is the prevailing myth of Western culture and Star Wars is a prevailing myth of our popular culture. However one of these myths is actually true and historically based, and that is Christianity. Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien loved great myths, but each believed beneath all well-crafted myths there was the one true myth, Christianity.
Many observers have viewed the impersonal Force of Star Wars as a popular presentation of dualism or Hinduism, with both sides locked in a perpetual struggle, and neither one ultimate. In Christianity, light and dark are locked in a similar struggle, but good—being grounded in a personal God—is ultimate, while evil is merely a perversion of the good. Why then have you chosen the George Lucas mythology as a vehicle to convey Christian truth?
Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters was born after a conversation with a young Microsoft guy. We had seen one of the prequels, and over coffee afterwards he commented that he wanted to go deeper in his faith, but wouldn’t ask most guys my age for advice, because we were all idealists in the `60s and then sold out and never really did the radical Christian deal. I said, “Oh, so you want to be a Jedi Christian and my generation didn’t produce a Yoda!” As I thought more about the themes of Star Wars, the connection to helping the next generation become “Jedi Christians” just started falling into place.
My book is not a theology of Star Wars, but rather is a look at Luke’s development from a directionless young man who discovered his life purpose after encountering Obi-wan and Yoda and learning from them about the “unseen Force.” Today, many young people are seeking meaning, and my generation has failed to pass on the authentic and radical adventure offered by Jesus. This book is written for the next generation and those who love them. I hope it inspires people my age to step up and become the kind of followers of Jesus who inspire the next generation by example. I also hope the younger generation will desire a deeper, authentic faith, and as they seek out more mature Yoda’s to help them on the path they will find them.
George Lucas, to my knowledge, has never made explicitly Christian claims for Star Wars. How would you compare his fantasy world with those of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien?
As you mentioned, the Lucas story is more theologically attuned with Hinduism. In Jedi mythology, the highest good is achieved by balancing light and dark, whereas Jedi Christians believe the highest good is achieved when darkness is defeated. In Jedi Christian lore, the dark side is not just the opposite of light, but is an unequal opponent of God, who, in Star Wars terms, is the Lord over the Force.
In Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” there is a ring over the other rings and then there is a Lord of the Rings. The wizards Sauron and Gandalf represent the dark and light sides, but Tolkien’s title reveals his Christian belief that above all the rings and all manner of powerful wizardry, there is a Lord of the Rings who rules over all, and who will bring history to a just and good conclusion. Tolkien said of his work, “’The Lord of the Rings’ is a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; it is about God, and his sole right to divine honor.”
Lewis also recognized the ultimate rule and authority of God over the “forces of good and evil.” As Lewis put it, we must ultimately decide whether Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or who he said he is, the Lord.” The first chapter of Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters draws this important distinction between the Star War’s Hindu, monistic worldview and Christianity, which teaches that there is one who is wholly other and Lord over all.
What are some key insights we can learn from the Jedi masters?
The progression of the aspiring Jedi involves recognizing the existence of the force, then seeking, understanding and using the force against the dark side. The progression in Christian discipleship involves recognizing that there is a Lord, then seeking, understanding, and serving the Lord, which involves a battle against the dark side.
Each chapter in Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters starts with a quote from Star Wars and then a quote from Scripture. For example, when Luke tries and fails to lift the X-wing starfighter from the swamp he says in exasperation, “I’m trying.” Yoda replies, “Do or do not. There is no try.” In the same way, Jesus challenged his followers to be doers of the word and not hearers only. The serious disciple understands that following Jesus is not something you “try.” Jesus is one you pursue without reservation, and with no turning back. In the book, I expand on 41 of these parallel truths.
Why did you present Christian teaching in this way?
At Mars Hill, [the apostle] Paul quoted pagan poets and used the cultural icons of Greek culture to build a bridge to Christian truth. I came to faith in the ‘60s in San Francisco. Since that time, I’ve been trying to understand faith and culture and interpret each to the other. In preparation for this book, I reread each Star Wars script as well as a number of Star Wars resource books. I think correlation of faith with a popular cultural icon requires appreciating and respecting both. Because Star Wars is the prevailing epic filmic myth of our era and Christianity is the prevailing faith tradition in the West, I think relating them to each other can help us understand both more fully.
Sometimes in our important quest for propositional truth, we lose sight of the importance of imagination and metaphor. C.S. Lewis believed that “reason is the organ of truth and imagination is the organ of meaning.” Metaphor helps us understand underlying truth, and my book explores the analogous metaphors of Star Wars and biblical truth.
Which is the bigger danger for Christians today—embracing the world and losing our distinctives, or rejecting it and losing our ability to communicate with our neighbors?
This is not an either-or. Throughout history, Christians have wavered between equal and opposite errors. We have either cocooned ourselves from the world, which means we lose the ability to relate, or we conform to the world and lose the ability to transform. Like Jesus, we are called to be a loving, transforming presence. This is the way of the Jedi Christian and the path I lay out in Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters.