Star Wars and the eternal struggle between light and darkness

Aaron Lambert

Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy far, far away, it’s nigh impossible to have not caught onto the newly reawakened Star Wars craze, and even then, it’s likely to have reached your corner of the universe. It’s been nearly 40 years since the first entry in the epic space drama was released, and as J.J. Abrams kicks off this new “sequel trilogy” with The Force Awakens, the Han Solo cosplayers and Ewok sympathizers aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.

I’ll admit it: I’m a huge Star Wars nerd. I became hooked on the series as a kid and haven’t looked back since, so in case you’re wondering, yes: I braved the bitter cold and ravenous crowds and went to see The Force Awakens opening night. It was brilliant; I loved the dazzling effects and great throwbacks to the original films. While watching it though, another, deeper thought dawned on me: namely, the close link between the epic tale of Star Wars and that of our salvation through Christ.

Without spoiling too much, The Force Awakens centers around a search. With the evil First Order rising to power in the galaxy, led by the Sith lord Kylo Ren, protagonists new and old are desperate to find Luke Skywalker, the last remaining member of the Jedi order. They feel that Skywalker is their last hope in overcoming the evil spreading through the galaxy and thus restoring the good; in other words, Skywalker is viewed as a savior of sorts.

We also mustn’t forget the Force, the invisible energy which flows through and binds all living things. As Han Solo points out in the film, the Force is thought by many to be nothing more than a fairy tale, but he assures the audience, “It’s real. All of it.” Only certain people are able to use the Force, and a sense of morality comes into play. A disposition to do good works with the Force makes one a Jedi; this is referred to as the “light side” of the Force. To use to the Force for evil, however, sends one down a blackened path to the “dark side” of the Force.

This where the conflict lies in Star Wars, and as a follower of Christ, it sounds awfully familiar. Just as the characters in Star Wars are caught in the midst of a battle between the light and dark sides of the Force, Christians often find themselves entrenched in a similar struggle in the day-to-day task of being an authentic disciple of Christ and choosing between love and sin.

The code of the Jedi order bears some very distinct similarities to the teachings of Christ. Jedi are rigorously trained to be patient in their approach to situations, to never act out of anger or spite, and of course, to use their powers for the benefit of others. The code of the Sith, however, is the absence of all of these things. The Sith act brashly, harbor grudges toward their enemies and use their powers for personal gain. In the Christian’s world, the Sith stand for all that the evil one stands for.

From a human standpoint, becoming a Jedi is a difficult task. We are not naturally patient, but we are naturally selfish. Just as Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Mt. 7:14), the path to being a Jedi is a narrow one. As we saw happen with Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy, it is much easier to succumb to the temptations of the dark side. To fall into sin is a much simpler undertaking; it feels good, it feels natural.

But still, we fight. We are called to fight those urges that sin brings about. Temptation, lust, jealousy…these things lead to the dark side. These lead to a path of temporary fulfillment, lack of self-control, and ultimately, a very deep longing for something greater. Christ is that something greater. To choose the light side means to choose life, and to choose life means to choose Christ, who is love. To be a Christian is to be a Jedi.

And so, my fellow Jedi, turn from the ways of the dark side, go forth into battle with your trusty lightsaber, and please, try not to cut off your hand.

Star Wars and the eternal struggle between light and darkness

Aaron Lambert

Unless you’ve been living in a galaxy far, far away, it’s nigh impossible to have not caught onto the newly reawakened Star Wars craze, and even then, it’s likely to have reached your corner of the universe. It’s been nearly 40 years since the first entry in the epic space drama was released, and as J.J. Abrams kicks off this new “sequel trilogy” with The Force Awakens, the Han Solo cosplayers and Ewok sympathizers aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.

I’ll admit it: I’m a huge Star Wars nerd. I became hooked on the series as a kid and haven’t looked back since, so in case you’re wondering, yes: I braved the bitter cold and ravenous crowds and went to see The Force Awakens opening night. As a film, I thought it was brilliant: dazzling effects, great throwbacks to the original films and one of the most complex villains of any Star Wars film. While watching it though, another, deeper thought dawned on me: namely, the close link between the epic tale of Star Wars and that of our salvation through Christ.

Without spoiling too much, The Force Awakens centers around a search. With the evil First Order rising to power in the galaxy, led by the Sith lord Kylo Ren, protagonists new and old are desperate to find Luke Skywalker, the last remaining member of the Jedi order. They feel that Skywalker is their last hope in overcoming the evil spreading through the galaxy and thus restoring the good; in other words, Skywalker is viewed as a savior of sorts.

We also mustn’t forget the Force, the invisible energy which flows through and binds all living things. As Han Solo points out in the film, the Force is thought by many to be nothing more than a fairy tale, but he assures the audience, “It’s real. All of it.” You see, only certain people are able to use the Force, and a sense of morality comes into play. A disposition to do good works with the Force makes one a Jedi; this is referred to as the “light side” of the Force. To use to the Force for evil, however, sends one down a blackened path to the “dark side” of the Force.

This where the conflict lies in Star Wars, and as a follower of Christ, it sounds awfully familiar. Just as the characters in Star Wars are caught in the midst of a battle between the light and dark sides of the Force, Christians often find themselves entrenched in a similar struggle in the day-to-day task of being an authentic disciple of Christ. Those with the Force must choose between the light or dark side, and Christians must make a choice between love and sin.

The code of the Jedi order bears some very distinct similarities to the teachings of Christ; Jedi are rigorously trained to be patient in their approach to situations, to never act out of anger or spite, and of course, to use their powers for the benefit of others. The code of the Sith, however, is the absence of all of these things. The Sith act brashly, harbor grudges toward their enemies and use their powers for personal gain. In the Christian’s world, the Sith stand for all that the evil one stands for.

From a human standpoint, becoming a Jedi is a difficult task. We are not naturally patient, but we are naturally selfish. Just as Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” (Mt. 7:14), the path to being a Jedi is a narrow one. As we saw happen with Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy, it is much easier to succumb to the temptations of the dark side. To fall into sin is a much simpler undertaking; it feels good, it feels natural.

But still, we fight. We are called to fight those urges that sin brings about. Temptation, lust, jealousy…these things lead to the dark side. These lead to a path of temporary fulfillment, lack of self-control, and ultimately, a very deep longing for something greater. Christ is that something greater. To choose the light side means to choose life, and to choose life means to choose Christ, who is love. To be a Christian is to be a Jedi.

And so, my fellow Jedi, turn from the ways of the dark side, go forth into battle with your trusty lightsaber, and please, try not to cut off your hand.

COMING UP: For Love of Country: A Catholic Patriotism

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Our country has been through a lot this last year, as we all know. As many people have reacted against the founding and history of the United States, I have found myself drawn towards greater patriotism. By this, I simply mean a deeper appreciation of what I’ve been given by my country and also a growing realization of the duty I have to work for the common good, here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of this duty under the fourth commandment that enjoins honor not only to parents but also to anyone in authority.   

It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community (2239). 

Catholics, and all people of good will, are called to a love and service of country in order to work for the common good.  

Eric Metaxas argues that the future of our country depends precisely upon the active role of Christians in his book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty (Penguin, 2017). He describes something called the Golden Triangle, an idea he borrowed from Os Guinness, but which ultimately comes from the Founding Fathers. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom is, when reduced to its most basic form, that freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; and faith requires freedom. The three go round and round, supporting one another ad infinitum. If any one of the three legs of the triangle is removed, the whole structure ceases to exist” (54). John Adams, for example, related very clearly, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (quoted on 61). Metaxas comments, looking to specific examples around the world, “if you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart. It cannot be otherwise” (48). It cannot be otherwise. That may sound extreme, but we have many examples from Communist and Fascist countries and now even from movements within our country that aggressive secularism parallels a collapse of real freedom.  

The Constitution established an ordered liberty that requires responsibility and a determined effort of preservation. Hence the title of the book, taken from Benjamin Franklin, a republic “if you can keep it.” We are called to actively preserve our country: entering into a deeper understanding of the “idea” of America that undergirds the Republic as well as showing a loving determination to overcome challenges and threats to its continuance. This is not to whitewash the past, as we all know the injustices of our history. Metaxas argues that we can be grateful for the good and unique blessings of our heritage while also working to overcome failures. “To truly love America, one must somehow see both sides simultaneously” (226). Furthermore, by loving our country we are willing her good, drawing our own selves into the work for her good and helping her to be true to herself. “So that in loving America we are embodying her original intentions — we are indeed being America at her best — and in doing so we are calling her to her best, to be focused on doing all she can to fulfill the great promise which God has called her in bringing her into existence and shepherding her through trials and tribulations all these and centuries — and now” (235).  

As Catholics, we have a lot to offer our country by drawing from our rich intellectual and spiritual heritage. Michael Krom, a philosopher at St. Vincent College, provides us with a great resource in his new book, Justice and Charity: An Introduction to Aquinas’s Moral, Economic, and Political Thought (Baker, 2020). In an age of confusion, Catholics can bring greater clarity in our national discourse on the nature of human life, virtue, and politics. “We live in a time of ideological conflicts, in which the citizens of the nations of the modern world seem incapable of agreeing upon even the most basic of moral, economic, or political principles. Civil discourse has been replaced with violent protest, and reasoned dialogue with character assassination” (2). As Catholics, we should be able to look above all of this, literally: “While the Church does not force us to reject political citizenship, she demands that we direct it to the heavenly, and we can do that by heeding her call to engage the world rather than conform to it. I wrote this book out of the conviction that those who want to heed the Church’s call to engage our culture need to look to the past” (ibid.).  

Dr. Krom shows us that St. Thomas Aquinas has much to teach us about living the good life, in pursuit of a genuine freedom and happiness, and that this should inform a Catholic approach to economics and politics. It is hard to work for virtue if you don’t know what virtue really is, and difficult to act justly toward others if you don’t understand the nature of duty. Aquinas can help us to judge the direction of our country, as “a government cannot be called ‘good’ unless it promotes just moral and economic relationships between its citizens” (121). This is precisely the purpose of government — to promote right order and peace. We can’t just dispense with politics because, “the fact that humans find their fulfillment in political community means that situating their own good with the good of the community as a whole is central to happiness” (125). We are not isolated individuals and can’t attain a good and complete life on our own.  

Our ultimate good, however, is God, not the political life. Everything — all of our choices, including economic and political ones — must be directed to our ultimate goal. There are not “two ends to human existence, the earthly and the heavenly … [T]here is only one end, the beatific vision” (162). In this way the Church informs our citizenship. Krom explains “how inadequate this human law is as a teacher in the virtues, for it is limited in scope to the prevention of those vices from which even the wicked can refrain, and thus leaves those who seek after perfect virtue to their own devices … [H]uman law is in need of a higher law to truly bring about a just community” (155). Unfortunately, we’re seeing that our society is no longer even trying to prevent serious vice. Catholics and all believers have an important role to play, because “the lack of religion in the citizenry leads it down the path of totalitarianism. It Is absolutely critical that a people maintain a strong commitment to a transcendent measure of the common good in order to protect the true flourishing of its members” (171). Krom’s important work on justice and charity can teach us how a Catholic can exercise a proper patriotism, a true love of country.