certain christian point of view. (Part 1 of 9).
This is part 1 of 9 in a series where I will look into how the Star Wars trilogies view the Force and then compare it with religions in our own galaxy. Part 4-6 will be the same but with the prequels and part 7-9 the sequel movies.
This analys will only be about the movies and not any of the expanded materials. Nothing from the canon series, spin-off movies, books or comics. Nor will I use any Legend material. It is the three trilogies. Plain and simple. The views I express here are mine and mine alone. They may not be representative for what the creators or writers actually meant. I will however do my best to honor and represent their thoughts and beliefs as best as I can.
Also. English is not my primary language so some misspellings and grammatical errors can occur.
Let’s begin. And may the Force be with us.
A New Hope.
In the original trilogy the Force could be viewed best as a coin with two sides. You have the good side and the bad. The dark and the light. We also see a lot of classic fairy tale elements. Darth Vader is the evil wizard who holds a princess captive in his tower. Ben is the old and wise mentor that possess the knowledge on how to defeat the dark forces. Luke is a classic example of a simple farm boy who finds himself drawn into a much bigger world and must learn new skills so he can conquer the evil empire. Han Solo is a swashbuckler, a pirate with a heart of gold, with his strong sidekick. Yoda is the frog by the side of the road that seems to be insignificant but is in truth more than first meets the eye.
These storytelling narratives and tropes are almost as old as writing itself. To learn more about Lukes journey I would recommend Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. But let’s go back to the Force.
The first glimpse we get about something supernatural is through Ben Kenobi when he teaches Luke about the Jedi and ways of the Force. It could be argued that Vader’s feat of lifting a man off the ground with a single hand could be sign of supernatural skills but it could just as easy be a testimony to his pure strength (he is after all a cyborg of sorts even if we as an audience doesn’t know that yet). Likewise can uncle Owen’s dismissal of Ben as crazy old wizard be seen as a hint of supernatural beings existing in this galaxy but it could just be a derogatory term that he uses to describe the strange hermit.
When Luke meets Ben, who he now learns also goes by the name Obi-Wan, the elderly man tells him about the Jedi knights and how they guarded the Republic. He gives Luke a lightsaber, a sword made out of blue energy, that he tells was given to him by Lukes father. He then goes on to talk about the Force and how it gives the Jedi their power. We also learn that there is a Dark side of the Force. He then continues to explain it in more detail.
“It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” he says. He also urges Luke to come with him and learn more about the Force.
Here we learn many things. The Force is omnipresent. It exist everywhere. Around us. In us. It is also created by us but at the same time holds non living materia together. It’s fascinating to say the least. The thought about an omnipresent force or God exist in most mayor religions. It’s not unique to any specific religion even it is more of a cornerstone in the abrahamic religions (judaism, christianity and islam). Here we must take s short break from the galaxy far, far away and look at the creator of the Force mythology. George Lucas was born in Modesto, California. He was raised methodist but explains that he also was influenced by the buddhist faith. That we can see clearly here. The Force is more like a force of nature like gravity but it most certainly has a strong supernatural aspect to it. We will soon experience just that in the next seen.
Just after Obi-Wan has explained the basics of the Force we move scenery to the Death Star, the metallic fortress of the evil Darth Vader. The dark lord tells a military council that no matter how powerful the Death Star is it is nothing compared to Force. The Imperial navy admiral Motti rebukes Vader’s claims. “Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel’s hidden..” His bold statement is cut short by a silent Vader who now shows the first true supernatural powers in the movie. He starts to strangle the cocky admiral from a distance by just pinching his index finger and thumb together as if he was holding something invisible between them. Motti starts to choke and probably would have been killed if not the council leader Grand Moff Tarkin steps in and tells Lord Vader to release the poor man. We do however learn a great deal about the beliefs about the Force from the dismissive admiral. The Force is seen as an ancient religion that does not have a mayor presence in todays society. He also dismisses that the Force could help them with finding the plans that the Rebels stole from the Empire. Motti uses the word clairvoyance. If you google clairvoyance it is explained as ‘the supposed faculty of perceiving things or events in the future or beyond normal sensory contact’.
What does we learn from this? We can understand that Vader, or other Force sensitive people, have claimed that the Force can be used in such supernatural ways. We can also learn that very few people actually believes, or rather practice a belief, in the Force any more. It is a thing of the past. No one seems to be surprised by Vader’s ability to actually use it to stop his air flow from across the room. Either they have all seen it happen before or it is still widely accepted that Force does exist and can do supernatural things but very few people can wield it. My personal guess is the former. The generals have more than probably seen one or two people get chocked before. In the Empire Strikes back we learn that Vader has a habit of strangling people that he dislikes or fails him left and right.
Another piece of information is how the Force stands in contrast to machinery and computers. Even the fierce Lord if the Sith recognise the Force as a living thing while the ‘technological terror’, as he refers to the Death Star is, no matter how impressive, insignificant compared to the Force. Here we are presented with a somewhat gnostic worldview where spiritual things are more true or better than the material world. It is possible to interpret that the Force is just much more powerful than even the most destructive weapon ever built but in the the second movie, The Empire Strikes back, the distinction between spirit and body, Force and matter, will be clearer and more gnostic. But more about that later.
After discovering his adoptive parents murdered by the Empire Luke decides to follow Obi-Wan on his mission and they soon enter the small town and space port Mos Eisley. Here we get the first taste of how Kenobi can use the Force in of the cinemas most quoted scenes. When a Stormtrooper asks for their identification Obi-Wan makes a small hand guest and says “You don’t need to see his identification.” The border control guard then echos this to his fellow troopers: “We don’t need to see his identification.”. Obi-Wan then continues “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. “These aren’t the droids we are looking for.” “He can go about his business.” “You can go about your business.” “Move along.” “Move along. Move along.” The poor Stormtrooper repeats the crafty old mans words like a parrot, much to to the audience amusement.
A baffled Luke, who for the first time has now seen the Force in action, wonders how they could get through the road block. His new mentor answers with “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded.”
Although it isn’t said out load it is implied that only a strong mind can use the Force. At least in a controlled manner. Those of lesser minds can only be controlled, or affected, by the Force. Not use it themselves.
Just a few minutes later, when Luke is harassed by two thugs in the cantina, Obi-Wan seems to use both his mind controlling ability and diplomacy to defuse the situation. “This little one’s not worth the effort. Come, let me get you something.”. Or rather he tries to. What can be learned here is that the Force doesn’t work like magic every time. We don’t know it doesn’t work this time. The man that threatened Luke could have been in greater control of his mind or maybe he was intoxicated with something that blocks out the control Obi-Wan tries to use on him. We simply don’t know why. The important thing is that it doesn’t work every time. The situation quickly turns ugly and both the bar brawlers are quickly disposed of by the lightsaber that Obi-Wan carries. Note that both lightsabers we have seen so far in the movie are blue. Ben’s lightsaber is same light blue as the one he presented to Luke earlier in the movie. That white blue will later be in stark contrast to Vader’s red saber.
Back on the Death Star Vader tells Grand Moff Tarkin that the prisoner Leia can resist the mind probe that they used while trying to extract information about the secret rebel base from her. By this time in the story Leia was not the sister of Luke (and therefore also the daughter to the very man who tortures her) no matter what George Lucas tries to tell us now. It wasn’t until the production of the third movie, The Return of the Jedi, that this was decided.
No matter. What we do learn is that Leia has a strong mind and can resist certain mind manipulation. It is never said but we can guess that Vader has tried to use the Force on her to extract information. The important thing is that we as an audience understand that different people have different tolerance depending on their state av mind.
Grand Moff Tarkin then suggest a different kind of method to try to convince her to give up the information. Genocide. He orders the destruction of her home planet Alderaan. All Leia can do is to watch in horror as the Death Star unleashes its deadly power upon her world. In an instant the whole planet is disintegrated.
Somewhere else, on route to that very world, Obi-Wan is teaching his new pupil Luke how to block laser shots with a lightsaber. He grasps his chest as if out of breath and sits down on a chair. He then tells a worried Luke that he felt a great disturbance in the Force “… as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”
Just like he said earlier all living things are connected and if you are strong in the Force you can feel what others feel. Even across great distances, light years away. This again tells us that this spiritual connection is faster than light or even faster than warp travel. It is omnipresent. This is key to understand the nature of the Force.
This is the Star Wars worlds version of omnipresence or omniscience. A deity that is everywhere and know everything. The Force can tell, or let the Jedi master feel, something that happened light years away. In a similar fashion God can give knowledge of something that a person should not be able to know.
He then tells Luke to continue his training with the lightsaber. “Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.” he tells Luke who repsonds with a question. “You mean it controls your actions?” “Partially. But it also obeys your commands”.
The Force is on control of you but you can also control it. This makes the Force more of a power than a sentient being or God. In the abrahamic religions a human could never exercise control over God. Not even the angels. But humans can be used as a medium, or a vessel, for Gods power to heal a person for example. But that healing could never be against the will of God.
In the Book of Acts we are presented to the sorcerer Simon who uses some kind of power for his own gain and fame. He is bending spiritual things according to his own will and not the will of God. The apostles Simon and John rebukes him for this and even shows greater miracles than Simon could.
In a similar matter the Light side of the Force is used for good when our will and the Forces will are the same, while it seems like the Dark side of the Force is more of bending of the Force while not letting the Force control you. It is a domination and not an equal relationship between the wielder and the source.
It is also fairly close to the buddhist thought that even though spirits and gods exists they are beneath the human mind and can even be controlled. In buddhism the meaning of life is enlightenment and it is through the practice of meditation, moral and wisdom that can achieved. This is very close to the view of the Force that is presented by George in the original trilogy.
In the same scene where Luke is training we are also introduced to the series first true sceptic. Han Solo scoffs at Lukes failed attempt to block the training probes shots and proclaims that “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side kid.” When Luke challenges this Han answers he has flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. “…I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny! It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense”
To this Obi-Wan only smiles and suggest that Luke tries again. This time with his eyes shut. Or rather shielded with a blast shield. He says that “Your eyes can deceive yo. Don’t trust them”. Again this is slightly gnostic. Instinct and feelings trumps what we actually can see in the galaxy far, far away.
When the young student successfully blocks all shots, after a first failed attempt, from the probe Solo just brushes it off and calls it luck. Obi-Wan however dismissed this telling him that there is no such thing.
The Jedi Master then tells his young student ”You’ve taken your first step into a larger world”. This very much like a young man or woman taking their first stumbling steps in their confirmation. Often it is here we first truly learn, both intellectually and in practice what it means to be a Christian. Just like Luke had his first experience in being guided by the Force we can under the tutelage of a teacher learn how to pray, listen to the Holy Spirit and study our Christian history.
We are shown much about the Force in this short scene. Obi-Wan’s ability to sense things across great distances. Lukes ability to block objects approaching him even if he cannot see them. But also skepticism.
The list thing might seem trivial but it is not only an important part of Han Solos character but it is also another evidence that shows us that not everyone believes in the Force. It might even be the scepticism is the dominant world view in his galaxy far, far away. Luke just learned about it for the first time so we can assume that his adoptive parents didn’t taught him anything about it. Also. With Grand Moff Tarkins words that Vader is the last of that old religion. Even if not said in words or shown in pictures we can deduct that since the Jedis haven’t been gone for more than one generation there seems to have been a shift in the public view of the the Force. If this is due to propaganda from the Empire or a loss of faith in most people since the Jedi Knights fall is up for debate.
Today, when scepticism or agnosticism, is one of the most growing world views it is very important to understand that this is a common thing even in a world where supernatural abilities can be proven in a very direct way.
Faith, or the lack of faith, is in most cases not about evidence. It is a state of mind. Just like being in love is nothing you prove with science. It is something that you feel and show. So is it with faith. It comes from within and it shows in your actions.
Soon our heroes ship is captures by the Death Star and they hide. Lord Vader, standing just outside of the Millennium Falcon says “I sense something. A presence i haven’t felt since…” Again we learn that other people can be sensed through the Force. The dark lord feels the presence of his former master who hides within the ship.
The story now takes a very adventures turn with a jail break, fire exchange and much more. Obi-Wan takes it on himself to shut down the tractor beam that prevents their ship to take off and it is here we see his first feat of telekinesis.
Telekinesis, or psychokinesis, is the ability to influence an object without touching it or in any other way have physical interaction with it.
Here he simply pushes something so it makes a sound that distracts two Stormtroopers so that he himself can sneak away unnoticed.
Vader and Obi-Wan will soon have a duel that one could write a small novel about but I will just touch upon it briefly. The juxtaposition between them is very clear. One dressed all in black with mechanical breathing and a red energy blade versus a man in earthly colors and a blue sword. Once again it is machine vs life. The unnatural vs the natural.
When Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to Vaders crimson strike his body vanishes. The disappearance of the body is something we meet in many religions. Most famously in christianity when Jesus ascended into heaven. But also in the old testament we have a few examples of this. Both Elijah and Enoch are taken into heaven on a chariot of fire according to the old texts.
Vader seems surprised by this and touches the cloths on the ground with his feet as if to check if Obi-Wan truly is gone.
This is the first evidence of an afterlife in the Star Wars universe. We don’t yet know if this is something unique to the Jedi or what actually happened. In later movies we learn that not all Jedi disappear when the die and in the Clone Wars series this is further explored. But that is a story for another time.
Now. Let’s jump forward to the trench run where Luke and his fellow rebels are trying to launch torpedos into a shaft that leads to the Death Stars reactor. If successful they will destroy the dreaded station. All attempts have failed so far and now only Luke in his X-Wing fighter remains. He then hears a voice from beyond the grave. “Use the Force Luke.” Obi-Wans voice tells him. He first seems dismiss this but again the voice speak to him. “Let go, Luke.”
Vader, just behind the X-Wing in his Tie-Fighter, senses something in Luke. “The Force is strong with this one.” Just as with Leia it was not yet decided that Vader was the father of Luke so all we can say here is that Vader is sensing something. If that is Luke’s potential as a Jedi or if Obi-Wans interaction can somehow can be felt is up for interpretation.
Once more Luke hears the voice “Luke. Trust me.” and he takes a leap of faith and turns of the targeting computer in an attempt to fire with the Force as his guide. With the heroic aid of a returning Han Solo and Chewbacca Luke successfully destroys the battle station. Vader survives buy, what seems to be pure luck, as he tumbles into space away from the destruction when another tie pilot crashes into him. But as we know. There is no such thing as luck. If this is the Force that saves him through some kind of interaction is anybodies guess.
Tales about hearing voices from ‘the other side’ is very common in all religions. In modern spirituality it is a core element to ask for guidance from dead people, spirits and angels. Christianity has a more divided view on the subject. While it is seldom disputed that the dead can talk to us different dominations of christianity teaches different things about if it is a good thing or not. To actively seek to summon a dead person for guidance is however something that is viewed as something bad. At least in protestant churches. In catholicism it could be argued that the Saints serves as something resembling how a dead Jedi can communicate with the living. In the old testament we can read about Saul who asks a witch from Endor (Yes that is a fun connection to the Star Wars universe) to summon the spirit of the prophet Samuel. The spirit then asks “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” and rebukes Samuel for doing this. The medium of Endor describes the spirit as ‘an old man wearing a robe is coming up from earth’. It is not difficult to think that George was drawing from sermons from his childhood when continuing the story of a returning Jedi master in the next movie. I will not dwell upon this now. But we will however come back to these voices (and later: Force spirits) in the next part of this series. But the Endor connection is a fun read for a Star Wars fan.
The last presence of something supernatural in A New Hope is the echoing words of Obi-Wan telling Luke. “Remember. The Force will be with you always.”
And with those comforting words, let us move on to the next chapter in the original trilogy.
/ Samuel Varg