Vodcast: How The Last Jedi Is a Religious Movie

Vodcast last Jedi

Star Wars has long been a cultural powerhouse, but the saga itself is powered by a strange, supernatural element that undergirds its universe: the Force.

The Force, in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s words, “surrounds us and penetrates us” and “binds the galaxy together.” It’s been a central tenant of every Star Wars movie, and the very concept has filtered into our own galaxy, too. The beliefs of many people—including some Christians—have been influenced by Star Wars’ spiritual world, and some folks have even fully embraced it. In England and Wales in 2001, nearly 400,000 people stated on a national census that their religion was “Jedi.”

And make no mistake, Jedi is a religion: Luke Skywalker says so explicitly in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But what does that mean for us moviegoers? Parents? Children?

Adam Holz and I unpack The Last Jedi’s religious underpinnings in our latest vodcast, and we offer some thoughts on both what’s bad and good about the spirituality in Star Wars’ newest chapter.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

seraph_unsung 24 days ago
Disclaimer: I didn't watch the video and won't comment about it specifically.

As for the religious tones in Star Wars, I think it's helpful to examine those in the context of George Lucas' previously stated religious views, since he has gone on record as identifying as a "Buddhist Methodist" ( http://www.adherents.com/people/pl/George_Lucas.html )—I am NOT looking to defend him doing so or to get involved in a preaching-to-the-choir argument over trying to be Buddhist and Christian at the same time; I'm just sharing information that might help us understand how one man's beliefs most likely influenced his work.  A friend of mine thinks that a lot of the people representing themselves as "Jedi" on censuses are being facetious, but that's beside the point.  But then, the Jedi faith has always been treated as a religion in-universe going back to Han's "hokey religions and ancient weapons" line, along with Vader's criticism of someone else's lack of faith.

Personally I wouldn't want to take young children to see the new Star Wars movies, not because of their religious themes but because of their increased levels of violence (and in some cases profanity) when compared to the older films.  From my own standpoint, I find it more interesting to contemplate the movies' very different approaches to the same subject, from The Phantom Menace's attempts to rationalize a concept previously treated as mystical ("Midichlorians!")—which the new trilogy seems to write off entirely—to The Last Jedi and to a minor extent The Force Awakens experimenting with throwing its central good/evil duality into question.  And yet it's hard for me to think of the Jedi or Sith teachings as being nothing but a personal faith for someone to accept or discard, because in a film series with people blatantly capable of lifting spacecraft or shooting lightning out of their fingers, it's clearly not credible for someone to choose to say, "I don't believe."
Anonymous 28 days ago
Dear Moderator, 
It really perked my interest to hear about black and white worldview. Especially since the last post about "Kylo Ren, isn’t evil." Does that mean that personal decisions are good or evil but people themselves are only conflicted? Is it black and white to say that a person is wrong or right? Instead, would it be correct to say the persons reasoning has some of both but the outcome was correct or incorrect? For example, Kylo Ren had good reasoning about being rid of former things but was ultimately wrong about his decision to be rid of ALL former things. Could you suggest to me a blog or something about black and white worldview vs a biblical worldview or just give me a little more understanding, please? 

Anonymous 28 days ago
The word religion was also used in the very first movie -- Star Wars IV-- When the admiral tells Darth Vader that his "...sad devotion to that ancient religion..." hasn't helped him find the stolen plans for the Death Star etc..  (After which, Darth Vader says,  "I find your lack of faith disturbing")   :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zzs-OvfG8tE

Abraham Lincoln 28 days ago
I would agree that the "good and evil in balance" theme is misaligned with christianity. But I'd also bring up Snoke's line from the film: "Darkness rises, and light to meet it." That seems to me as though they're saying that the stronger evil gets, the good will rise up to fight back even more. That, in my opinion, doesn't conflict with christianity. The battle may have been won at the cross, as you said, but we face sin every day in our lives, and it's an encouraging message that light will grow brighter in response to the darkness.

While I didn't love The Last Jedi purely from a film standpoint, I thought its positive themes and values outweighed most of the negative aspects regarding the Jedi belief system and religion. I feel confident that parents could take their kids to the movie for a fun, exciting adventure, and that the movie could spark some great and meaningful conversation later.
bobed 29 days ago
Some people in real life believe in "the force." They believe that there is no God, and the only supreme being is within all of us, within the plants and trees and rocks and humans and everything. This viewpoint, of course, is not only false but very dangerous. Star Wars may be just a silly movie series, but if its teachings lead just one person away from Christ and into the false darkness, then it is very dangerous indeed.
seraph_unsung 24 days ago
I think the alarmist "just one" conclusion is itself dangerous—how many evil things have people erroneously used the Bible to justify over the years (just the same as how I don't think George Lucas is actually trying to convert people to following a fictional space religion)?  Though I don't know what specific Bible verses they used, I've seen people try to use the Scriptures to justify mistreatment of ethnic groups, for example.  Even the Devil, the Lord rebuke him, quotes Scripture (Matthew 4:6), which shows that even things that are not inherently harmful can be used for harmful purposes.

Also, in the big picture, the religious ideology you're referencing sounds like pantheism and not specifically The Force, so that's an area of conversation whose scope and relevance vastly exceeds that of Star Wars.  As for the series, I don't remember if the films ever really put a big emphasis on how the Force really 'works' or what rules it has to obey, as opposed to using it as an excuse for some fairly straightforward good-versus-evil battles (minus Knights of the Old Republic II, which might not even be canon anymore, and some parts of the new films as previously mentioned).