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: John Paul II, youth minister

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Pole that he was, Karol Wojtyla had a well-developed sense of historical irony. So from his present position in the Communion of Saints, he might be struck by the ironic fact that the Synod on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” currently underway in Rome, coincides with the 40th anniversary of his election as Pope John Paul II on October 16, 1978. What’s the irony? The irony is that the most successful papal youth minister in modern history, and perhaps all history, was largely ignored in Synod-2018’s working document. And the Synod leadership under Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri seems strangely reluctant to invoke either his teaching or his example.

But let’s get beyond irony. What are some lessons the Synod might draw from John Paul II, pied piper of the young, on this ruby anniversary of his election?

1. The big questions remain the same.

Several bishops at Synod-2018 have remarked that today’s young people are living in a completely different world than when the bishops in question grew up. There’s obviously an element of truth here, but there’s also a confusion between ephemera and the permanent things.

When Cardinal Adam Sapieha assigned young Father Wojtyla to St. Florian’s parish in 1948, in order to start a ministry to the university students who lived nearby, things in Cracow were certainly different than they were when Wojtyla was a student at the Jagiellonian University in 1938-39. In 1948, Poland was in the deep freeze of Stalinism and organized Catholic youth work was banned. The freewheeling social and cultural life in which Wojtyla had reveled before the Nazis shut down the Jagiellonian was no more, and atheistic propaganda was on tap in many classrooms. But Wojtyla knew that the Big Questions that engage young adults — What’s my purpose in life? How do I form lasting friendships? What is noble and what is base? How do I navigate the rocks and shoals of life without making fatal compromises? What makes for true happiness? — are always the same. They always have been, and they always will be.

To tell today’s young adults that they’re completely different is pandering, and it’s a form of disrespect. To help maturing adults ask the big questions and wrestle with the permanent things is to pay them the compliment of taking them seriously. Wojtyla knew that, and so should the bishops of Synod-2018.

2. Walking with young adults should lead somewhere.

Some of the Wojtyla kids from that university ministry at St. Florian’s have become friends of mine, and when I ask them what he was like as a companion, spiritual director, and confessor, they always stress two points: masterful listening that led to penetrating conversations, and an insistence on personal responsibility. As one of them once put it to me, “We’d talk for hours and he’d shed light on a question, but I never heard him say ‘You should do this.’ What he’d always say was, ‘You must choose’.” For Karol Wojtyla, youth minister, gently but persistently compelling serious moral decisions was the real meaning of “accompaniment” (a Synod-2018 buzzword).

3. Heroism is never out of fashion.

When, as pope, John Paul II proposed launching what became World Youth Day, most of the Roman Curia thought he had taken leave of his senses: young adults in the late-20th century just weren’t interested in an international festival involving catechesis, the Way of the Cross, confession, and the Eucharist. John Paul, by contrast, understood that the adventure of leading a life of heroic virtue was just as compelling in late modernity as it had been in his day, and he had confidence that future leaders of the third millennium of Christian history would answer that call to adventure.

That didn’t mean they’d be perfect. But as he said to young people on so many occasions, “Never, ever settle for anything less than the spiritual and moral grandeur that God’s grace makes possible in your life. You’ll fail; we all do. But don’t lower the bar of expectation. Get up, dust yourself off, seek reconciliation. But never, ever settle for anything less than the heroism for which you were born.”

That challenge — that confidence that young adults really yearn to live with an undivided heart — began a renaissance in young adult and campus ministry in the living parts of the world Church. Synod-2018 should ponder this experience and take it very, very seriously.