The Star Wars juggernaut is back, crushing all other box office contenders in its path, and much to the relief of fans, this one is pretty good.
From the very beginning The Force Awakens echoes the original trilogy in tone, theme, and even plot. That’s not a bad thing; as one generation of devotees overdoses on nostalgia, another discovers the franchise and its rich universe for the first time.
The sheer cultural impact of Star Wars has been shaping the way we view the world since the release of the first film in 1977. What is the nature of good and evil? Is power inherently corrupting? Are living things really all connected? What is the divine? And can someone truly evil ever be redeemed?
Of course, good and evil function differently in Star Wars compared to Christian belief, as does the concept of the divine—anyone writing their next “faith in film” sermon inspired by Star Wars needs to tread carefully. It would be easy to accidentally promote Gnostic dualism and offend a super fan’s finer understanding of the light and dark sides of the Force all at the same time. Still, the ideas and themes in these films are worth drawing from, if only because they make for such handy cultural shorthand.
Redemption is the central theme of all the Star Wars films (except the prequel trilogy which was about, uh, trade disputes or something). The Force Awakens indicates this new trilogy will continue to explore who can turn from their old ways and follow a new path, even after seemingly selling their soul.
It’s worth remembering that Star Wars takes place in a universe where religion plays an active, integral role. The Jedi are monastic and overtly spiritual—unusual characteristics for such undeniably cool characters. That’s not to say Uniting Church ministers should start wearing robes and carrying around lightsabers (honestly, please don’t), but the Jedi’s wisdom and service to others obviously goes down well with audiences who aren’t put off by the mysticism and unusual language either.
The Force Awakens, like the rest of the series, both reflects and shapes the ideas and beliefs of our time, and according to Disney’s production schedule, will continue to do so until at least the year 2020. May the Force be with you.