The Force Awakens is going to be the biggest movie of the year, of the decade and, in all likelihood, of all time. Despite details on the plot and new characters being kept deliberately vague (it’s set more than 30 years after the end of Return of the Jedi, most of the main characters are back…and that’s about it), The Force Awakens is the most anticipated release since some Roman soldiers peeked inside the tomb and said, ‘Er… guys…’
After the late 90s prequels to the original trilogy served up three of the most disappointing films ever (Jar Jar Binks being a particularly low point), a lot of expectations are riding on the new films when it comes to Star Wars’ legacy – another flop may see the originals dismissed as a fluke. And of course it looks as if Disney, who now own the rights to the franchise, are intending to milk the space cow for all it’s worth. By the time this magazine appears, you won’t be able to move for Chewbacca masks, Ewok fighting sticks and the new red lightsabre that doubles as a handy device for flaming two creme brûlées at the same time.
THE STAR WARS WORDS WE LOVE TO USE
‘Do or do not, there is no try’
Used in the film as wise words from Yoda, this has been taken over to mean ‘Seriously, do your job properly.’
‘I find your lack of faith disturbing’
Darth Vader’s dismissal of one of his commanders is now used by disgruntled bosses the world over.
’Luke, I am your father’
Now used for any scenario in which a terrifying truth is suddenly revealed.
‘These aren’t the droids you’re looking for’
There’s no social occasion which isn’t improved by hilariously saying this while someone struggles to find the TV remote.
All of which is to say that I am overwhelmingly excited about The Force Awakens. Despite being born after the original trilogy came out, by the time The Phantom Menace was released, my 10-year-old self was shaking with anticipation. I read books that extended the original story 20 years into the future, played the video games, and have even recently spent an evening at Secret Cinema dressed as Han Solo, recreating A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (two of the greatest films of all time).
And it’s not just me that is ludicrously overexcited about the film. It seems the whole planet is. But why? What is it about this almost 40-year-old series that inspires such passion from people of all ages and backgrounds? What is it about this story that means it has stood out in a universe already filled with Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica?
IT’S NOT ABOUT SPACE
The thing about Star Wars, as with all great cultural phenomenons, is that the setting and mechanics of the story are incidental. As much as it’s steeped in space fights, planets and bases the size of moons, Star Wars isn’t really about space. You don’t need to be a sci-fi geek to love Star Wars – you need to be human: it’s a story of friendship, of hope and of love.
Having said all of that – it is also of course about space! It’s a sci-fi film! You’ve got aliens, spaceships, lightsabres…Space films are cool. Space films forever!
THE STORY OF ALL STORIES
1977 was a different time. A British woman won Wimbledon, the Queen was celebrating 25 years on the throne but mainly, nominally, the West was still at (Cold) war with the East. This gradually thawing conflict seemed to frame any cultural story of its time. The idea of a plucky band of rebels taking on the overwhelming force of the ‘Empire’, in a film produced by an American film agency, was quickly used as a neat piece of propaganda. Ronald Reagan even called the USSR the ‘Evil Empire’. That’s one of the joys of the franchise: prequels notwithstanding, they’re a deliciously simple story – it’s about good against evil, an underdog upsetting the odds, a final shot at redemption for a corrupt character…It’s a story we want to inhabit and make real in our lives. And so with this in mind, it does reflect the gospel narrative a little: it defeats evil and we see redemption and hope winning the day.
And then there is a force bigger than the Force – that of Star Wars fandom. It doesn’t matter where you are or who you’re with, if Star Wars comes up as a topic of conversation, you’re immediately among friends.
And perhaps this is because Star Wars is a film series that seems to work for everyone. There’s enough action, intrigue and drama to convince adults that it’s ‘a serious movie well worth your time’ but in reality, it’s a film for the whole family, and for many, watching it together has become something of a rite of passage.
THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF STAR WARS AND THE CHURCH
In countless and unending ways, the history of the Church is almost identical to the history of Star Wars (no, really).
A long time ago in a country far far away something new is building. It’s a daring idea, like nothing ever seen before. Once a few people get hold of it, it spreads like wildfire, changing the face of the world and becoming the most important movement in the history of humankind. The early Church sticks true to the rebellious, radical edge of Jesus and millions are captivated.
It’s 1977 and a new film is released. It’s daring; it’s like nothing ever seen before. Once a few people get hold of it, it spreads like wildfire, changing the face of the world around it and becoming the most important film in the history of humankind. Star Wars is like nothing else and its two sequels stayed true to that idea.
Years later and that edgy way of life is embedded in the mainstream. Whole communities have been built around it and it’s become... stale. Those in charge become obsessed by filthy lucre – they go after the money. They sell out, moving away from the core values of the early Church. They lose their distinctiveness and become lukewarm, selling blessing and heavenly passes for gold and land.
It’s 1999 and The Phantom Menace is about to be released. It’s the film that generations, ever since that initial 1977 explosion, have been waiting for. And when it arrives…it’s disappointing. It lacks the edge of original. It seems to have been designed to sell toys and make money. They’ve diluted the things that made it unique. They’ve sold out, and nothing will ever be the same.
It’s 1517. Something needed to change and Martin Luther saw it. One man changed the face of the Church forever, bringing it back to its roots in a radical Reformation.
The year is 2015, and JJ Abrams hammers his 95 points to the door of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch. Point one reads, ‘No Jar-Jar.’ Star Wars reformation has arrived.
STRONG, THE DARK SIDE IS…
As with almost any piece of culture, the Christian world has managed to find spiritual objections to Star Wars. Central in the Church’s crosshairs has been ‘the Force’, with some suggesting that the idea of a cohesive force that governs the entire universe, binding it all together, was reminiscent of New Age thinking. Here are a few more weird Star Wars concerns…
STEALING OUR PHRASES
Apparently, the fact that ‘May the Force be with you’ shares a couple of noises with ‘May the Lord be with you’, is pretty dangerous.
YES, MY MASTER…
As we are reminded that ‘No one can serve two masters’ (Matthew 6:24), some have got upset that Jedi apprentices cannot be faithful to both God and their Jedi master. This conveniently ignores the fact that there is no God actually mentioned in the Star Wars universe.
In the prequels, Obi-Wan teaches Anakin that ‘Only a Sith deals in absolutes’. But we know that God is absolutely perfect and that Jesus was without sin. Therefore this film was clearly, definitely and unambiguously saying that God isn’t perfect. That’s definitely what the film was saying… As much as I might like to laugh at alarmist-types, a cover of this very magazine from 1999 suggests that we were equally worried about… well, presumably, Darth Maul’s makeup? Or maybe we just saw the dismal prequels coming.
JUST ENJOY IT
Here’s the thing: The Force Awakens isn’t ‘a great opportunity for evangelism’ nor is it ‘an amazing summation of the gospel message’. You can try to force a dodgy church message out of it (see my attempt earlier on) but at its core, The Force Awakens is simply the biggest cultural event for decades. Talk to your friends about it, argue about it, laugh about it and most importantly, enjoy it.