As the mother of a 5-year-old boy, I think that I can safely say that Star Wars has overtaken my life. Battle sequences are acted out; masses of Star Wars books come home
from the library after each visit; and tiny Chewbacca, C-3PO, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Storm Trooper figurines can be found in every nook and cranny of the house. Yet, despite being a child of the 80s, I had not seen a single Star Wars movie until recently – and watching childhood movies for the first time as an adult can certainly provide an interesting perspective. When I saw my first Star Wars movie a couple of months ago, I was amazed at the predominant religious messages in the movie. Sure, I had previously been aware of the obvious and well-known messages that we are all familiar with – “May the Force be with you,” Jedi mind tricks, and the inherent struggle between good and evil – but Star Warsalso contains a number of multifaceted, religious representations as well.
The most obvious religious metaphor in the Star Wars movies is the Force. According to George Lucas, much of the inspiration for Star Wars was obtained from The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. As such, many speculate that the Force is meant to symbolize a monomythic approach to religion, with the Force acting as an omnipresent energy field that embodies all life in the universe. The Force has been compared to spirituality, intuition, God, and the Holy Spirit; but since the Force is an ambiguous energy force that is created by life, rather than the creator of life, the Force is dissimilar to the Judeo-Christian version of God. In this sense, the Force is more closely analogous to Taoist principles, an eastern religion/philosophy that strives to achieve harmony with the Tao, a force that flows through the whole universe.
Buddhist influences can be found elsewhere in certain characteristics of the Force, such as the impact that both a light and dark side have on the Force. The Force’s light side is exemplified by the Jedi through peace, justice and self-defense, whereas the Force’s dark side is embodied by the Sith, who use anger, violence, and aggression. Buddhism is a religion/philosophy that recognizes the constant struggle between good and evil, and relies on karma to account for corresponding good acts or bad acts. Lessons given by Yoda, a Jedi Master, on the importance of mindfulness are also evocative of Buddhist teachings.
Pantheism, a religion that promotes religious tolerance and ultimate reverence for nature and the universe, is highly evident in the superiority of nature over technology in the Star Wars movies. For instance, the Ewoks are able to defeat the Empire’s Imperial troopers on Endor, despite the fact that the Ewoks’ weapons consist of primitive tools, such as sticks, stones, and arrows, whereas the troopers possess walking tanks and laser blasting weapons. Similarly, reliance on nature and the Force, rather than technology, is recommended when Ben advises Luke to rely on his own intuition (and not his targeting device) to destroy the Death Star.
Despite the common belief that the Force is a metaphor for the Judeo-Christian version of God, the most obvious Christian metaphor is the duality of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker as a representation of Jesus, with Luke representing the purity of Jesus and Anakin representing the humanity of Jesus – that was ultimately susceptible to the dark side of the Force when he became Darth Vader. Some have also suggested Anakin Skywalker is analogous to Jesus Christ since they both appear to be the product of a virgin birth, with Anakin having no known father in any of the movies.
Some believe that Darth Vader is a metaphor for the devil, but more likely candidates may be the powerful and ruthless Sith Lords of Emperor Palpatine or Darth Maul, since after turning to the dark side, Darth Vader eventually saves his son by killing Palpatine.
Through its multi-faceted religious and philosophical messages, Star Wars reminds us of the importance of mindful and intentional positive actions. The Anakin Skywalker-Darth Vader dichotomy shows the importance of self-control and individual free will to the management of the constant struggle between good and evil that we all face in our lives. It is never too late to seize the opportunity to make a good decision, even after making a number of poor decisions. We can all too easily fall into the downward spiral of poor choices or label ourselves with negatively-charged adjectives. Likewise, we too quickly label others accordingly to past actions or isolated incidents. But we must remember that, like Anakin Skywalker, we all carry the Force within us – it is our choice to move toward the light side or the dark side.
The Jedi, as faithful and mindful proponents of peace and justice, represent not just religious leaders, but all advocates for social justice and change. The Jedi demonstrate the importance of deliberate introspection to the health of a person’s body, mind, and spirit. By urging others to trust in the Force, the Jedi promote a respect for the mysteries and inexplicable beauty of the universe. Through spiritual practices, such as meditation, prayer, quiet thoughtfulness, journaling, and any other practice in which we are attentive to our innermost thoughts and yearnings, we too can be a Jedi by obtaining an inner peace that can empower us to facilitate justice.