Though I’ve seen it twice, have included it in pretty much every evangelism talk I’ve given since the full trailer came out in October, and used it to open the sermon I preached yesterday, I’ve managed to not blog about The Force Awakens in the three weeks since it opened. It’s time to fix that. (I’ll still refrain from revealing any spoilers for those of you who have yet to see it.)
First, my fanboy reaction: this is the best Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back, which makes it the second or third best of them all. (Though A New Hope is iconic and archetypal, I think ESB is a better film.) I loved pretty much everything about TFA and my faith in J.J. Abrams—who brought us Lost and the Star Trek reboot—has not been shaken. I agree with the observation that it borrows heavily from ANH—maybe too heavily—but it’s the nature of epics (and real history) to be cyclical and repetitious. Plus, the tweaks and updates to the basic story and characters are interesting and relevant for today’s world. The use of the original characters to bridge the story to a new generation is well done, especially the film’s focus on Han Solo.
Speaking of Han Solo, I was pleased to see that his spiritual evolution, featured in the trailer, was in fact an integral part of the movie itself and a key element in the transition from generation to generation. Even more, the Han Solo plot twists add additional layers of pathos to both his character development and the overall narrative.
Beyond Han, the spiritual aspect of the film that has resonated the most with me involves the titular notion of awakening. My friend Kurt Esslinger, who saw the movie in Korea a day before me, was deeply moved by the theme of call and primed me to pay attention to that element of the story. He has since written a reflection on his experience of the film that is worth reading. I have also been impressed with the film’s more inclusive cast of heroes and have enjoyed this analysis of Rey and this sermon from Layton Williams.
For me, the following lines—featured in the trailer—capture the essence of the film:
There’s been an awakening. Do you feel it?
The Force is calling to you. Just let it in.
Like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in the original series, Rey and Finn find themselves called out of their existing lives into a cosmic struggle between good and evil. (Leia and Poe are already part of the struggle.) Though these characters are all heroic archetypes that in many ways transcend regular experience, in terms of mythology they inspire each of us to find our place in the big picture of universal transformation and redemption. A naive farmhand; a scoundrel; an orphaned scavenger; a cog in the imperial death machine. These are the heroes of Star Wars, each of whom answer the call to an epic cause much bigger than themselves.
Jesus called this big picture vision of transformation and redemption God’s kingdom. As many have pointed out, a new expression of this is emerging in North America. Diana Butler Bass rightly calls it an awakening.
As I watched The Force Awakens, the following story about Jesus came to mind:
Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, her it is! or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
God’s kingdom is already among you—just let it in.
Or, if you prefer to translate the final phase like this: “God’s kingdom is within you”—just let it out.
There is an awakening. Do you feel it?