The Window on the World is our weekly exercise in developing a Christian mind. As we think about our culture from the biblical point of view, we are learning how to obey this command: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2a). Gradually, we are discovering what it means that Jesus Christ is Lord of all of life, that “All truth is God's truth, wherever it may be found.”
A mind can only become transformed and renewed when it is engaged. Therefore, the Christian mind is always “on,” even in a darkened movie theater. For the Christian, entertainment is never just entertainment; it always requires careful, biblical thought.
This week I went to see The Phantom Menace, the first episode in the Star Wars series. It is obvious from this film, and from others he has produced, that director George Lucas is on a spiritual quest. Since many other Americans have embarked on the same quest, his films tell us something about where our culture is heading spiritually.
Lucas has been heavily influenced by the philosophy of Joseph Campbell. This means that, like many postmodern Americans, Lucas believes that all the religions of the world are really the same religion. Deep down, the ancient myths are all part of one great mythology. Star Wars is an attempt to reintroduce that mythology to the postmodern world. In a recent interview, Lucas said, “With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and the classic mythological motifs.”
This is part of the Star Wars appeal. To be sure, people go to see the films for many reasons. There are the dazzling special effects, the fascinating characters, and, to some degree, the interesting plot lines. But Star Wars is not just a series of movies, it is a whole world view. And, one might add, a world view that is increasingly popular in postmodern America.
Star Wars theology is essentially New Age theology. There is no personal God, only a mysterious cosmic “Force.” By his own admission, Lucas “put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people—more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system.” In Star Wars theology, emotions are more important than reasons. The way to win life's battles is not to think, but only to feel. But good will not triumph in the end, for good and evil are equipoised in eternal tension. There is a dark side, and a light side, but there is always balance in the Force. These are all major tenets of New Age thought, which does not accept God, reason, heaven, or any other biblical truth.
As far as Lucas is concerned, the universe he has created is as plausible as any other. In a recent interview, he explained his theology like this: “I remember when I was 10 years old, I asked my mother, ‘If there's only one God, why are there so many religions?” I've been pondering that question ever since, and the conclusion I've come to is that all the religions are true.”
The trouble with saying that all religions are equally true, of course, is that it makes all religions equally irrelevant. If they are all the same, then why does it matter what anyone believes? Besides, many religions are incompatible with one another. Christianity contradicts every other religion because it claims that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
In Star Wars theology, however, the claims of Christ are only partially true. One of the most curious scenes in The Phantom Menace involves what can only be described as a virgin birth. Without giving away too much of the plot, it turns out that the young hero Anakin Skywalker (who later becomes Darth Vader) was conceived without a father. When his mother is asked about his parentage, she says, “There was no father. I carried him, gave birth to him, and raised him.”
Later in the story, there are hints that Anakin was conceived in his mother's womb by means of subatomic particles. With this miraculous conception, George Lucas is obviously stealing a page from the New Testament. The Bible teaches that Jesus of Nazareth was conceived in the womb of Mary, his mother, by the supernatural intervention of God's Spirit. Thus he was God as well as Man. The new Star Wars film does not claim that Anakin Skywalker is divine, but it does pervert the biblical doctrine of the Virgin Birth.
Other echoes from Christianity are more subtle, such as the evil character Darth Maul, who seems to be Satan personified. There are even hints of atonement. Early in The Phantom Menace, a Jedi knight named Qui-Gon rescues a silly creature named Jar Jar Binks from certain death. According to the custom of his tribe, Jar Jar owes his rescuer what is called a “life-debt.” From that point on, he is obligated to serve Qui-Gon as his master.
Although this theme is not fully developed, it is not hard to notice connections with the Christian gospel, which teaches that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16b). Jesus saved us by giving his life for ours. Now we owe him a life-debt of service.
These incidents from the film are a reminder that all the best stories are echoes of the One True Story, the story of God sending his Son into the world to save his people from sin and death. Try for a moment to imagine a really great story without love, friendship, rescue, sacrifice, redemption, or victory—in other words, try to imagine a story without any reminders of the good news of the gospel. I doubt whether such a story is even possible in a world God has visited to save.
If you keep your mind engaged while you watch Star Wars, you will see George Lucas trying very hard to deny the exclusive claims of Christianity. But in the end, you will also see that he finds it impossible to produce his film without them.
[Quotations come from Bill Moyers’ interview with George Lucas in TIME, 4/26/99, pp. 91-94]
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