I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since its beginning. I’m enough of a fan to know my depth of knowledge, nuanced understanding, and level of involvement are considered casual (at best) in the scheme of things. I’ve never been to a Star Wars Celebration or gone down the rabbit hole of The Clone Wars but I have seen each movie in the theater on its release (yes, I’m old enough!). I have made Star Wars-themed birthday cakes for my nephew Luke (yes, that is his name and his favorite cake was the severed arm of a wampa he could cut with a lightsaber). Though, according to him, I’ve taken my time to finally subscribe to Disney Plus in order to watch The Mandolorian and The Book of Boba Fett.
While my street credentials can be scrutinized by more enraptured enthusiasts, it hasn’t kept me from enjoying the new episodes on the Disney streaming service. Still, I think I am safe to say, Star Wars continues to entertain with its host of new, enigmatic characters, compelling music scores, and high production values we’ve come to expect from Disney and Lucasfilm. And, even within all the escapism that a science fiction space western has to offer, Star Wars manages to explore religious themes that can help us think through aspects of the Christian life.
Religious themes and motifs are not foreign to Star Wars. They’ve been baked into its DNA from the beginning. Probably no line from the movies is more suffused with religious overtones than “May the Force be with you.” The degree to which George Lucas’s Methodist upbringing and familiarity with communion liturgies can only be guessed at. But that it meets beat for beat, the eucharistic greeting “May the Lord be with you” (the dominus vobiscum in Latin) cannot be debated. Both are blessings, though the one intoned by a Jedi-master is more of a benediction and does not require a congregational response. The new series has not dropped the proverbial lightsaber in providing its own contribution of the iconic line, “This is the way.”
On a liturgical level, “This is the way” functions as an “Amen.” It is a statement of affirmation of how things are or are meant to be. But what is the way of the Mandalore? Unsurprisingly, we’ve come to learn there are several sects of Mandalorians. All ascribe to a common creed, but with differing understandings of how to live out their belief—not entirely unlike the various Christian traditions and denominations that make up the whole of the Christian church. Inasmuch as “the Way” echoes early church adherents in the book of Acts, the reality is that there was no single way all Christians live out their faith, except to be faithful disciples of Jesus in their own particular context.
Of course, Christian themes aren’t always center stage in Star Wars mythology. Eastern thought is evident—and prevails—in the Jedi’s need for detachment. Christian teaching on detachment is quite different. Eastern ideas teach that detachment leads to freedom from pain and suffering. In contrast, Christian detachment from the world is meant for attachment to God, which includes the self-sacrificing love of Christ, the suffering servant. Christian wholeness is made possible when we learn to love as Christ loved us—with relationship at its center.
What has me intrigued is whether future storylines will explore what becomes necessary when two, assumed rival philosophies are reconciled. Does strict adherence to orthodoxy prevent Mando from properly wielding the dark saber? How might he continue to learn and grow as a Mandalorian as he pals around the galaxy with his sidekick Grogu? Is it possible to hold onto both the tenets of the Jedi code and the Mandalorian creed? Why are they portrayed as mutually exclusive and where is there a creative, generative middle ground to be lived? To what extent might that way be like a Wesleyan third alternative—a both/and that defies the either/or options that force one to forsake one for the other? How does that way—loving both God and neighbor—allow me to live a fully orbed faith? What kind of life does that look like?
Even if the show does explore these possible storylines, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll get the models of faithful discipleship I’m looking for. It’s okay to be a fan of these shows. Being a fan is fun, but at the end of the day, it is a story meant to entertain. It is Christ who walked the way of the radical center, who offers guidance to navigate the tension to the polarities that seek to divide. This is the way I am interested in living as a faithful Christian.