I have a confession, I like Star Wars. Embarrassing I know for a grown man but I’ve noticed plenty of other grown-ups who will gladly admit it too.
So when it came to my viewing the latest Star Wars instalment, The Last Jedi, there was never a question of my not seeing it. Which got me thinking, why are we so obsessed with Star Wars?
What is it that causes men and women, boys and girls of all ages and cultures to return year after year to the cinema and splash out on an endless array of Star Wars themed merchandise?
(The whole Star Wars franchise, by the way, is now valued at just under $10bn, according to Forbes).
What I found should be of interest to all Christians and anyone seeking some answers to life, the universe and everything else.
Now the obvious answer to why we’re obsessed with Star Wars is nostalgia. I know a little about that because I was a first-generation Star Wars boy.
Being born in 1974 meant the first Star Wars movie (Episode IV A New Hope) was released when I was just three. Of course, I was way too young to see the movie but by age four I was happily playing with the toys.
By then, the Lucasfilm empire had reached a little boy in a local toy shop, far far away in suburban Auckland. When the Star Wars sequels came around, I was hooked, just like every other kid in the neighbourhood.
But nostalgia is only a part of the answer to the Star Wars obsession. The other, as I’ve discovered, is the power of Story Archetypes.
The Star Wars Secret
Star Wars connects with us because it is our own mythology. It is our modern version of the Odyssey or Beowulf. I believe we all have a deep psychological need to read, hear or view stories. We have them to help make meaning of our lives, whether we consciously realise it or not.
Don’t believe me? It’s a fact that the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, had a long-standing friendship with renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell and Lucas attributes the influence of Cambell’s writings on the development of Star Wars as a story.
Star Wars is what Campbell would describe as a monomyth, or Hero’s Journey, which is an ancient story common to all cultures and times around the world.
The hero’s journey typically involves a central character called to discover who he or she really is by venturing out into a dangerous world to discover their destiny. The hero in the original Star Wars is, of course, the young, Luke Skywalker.
In every Hero’s Journey story there is an initiation (Luke into ways of the Jedi), the need for mentors (Obi-Wan Kenobi), a villain to defeat (Darth Vader) as well as magic (the Force) and jesters (R2D2) along the way.
All of these (and many other mythologic strands) pop up in all the Star Wars movies.
Why do I focus on this? Because every person is hard-wired to respond to these stories. They touch our hearts in ways that are primal and I believe a core part of our collective psyche. A brave claim perhaps but I’m convinced of it.
Somehow these archetypes and stories are instinctive and appealing even as children. We just seem to ‘get it’.
What the Stars Wars story tells us
Now for Christians, this is what the power of the Star Wars stories can tell us; we have a sacred text we acknowledge as the word of God, the Bible. But do we really recognise the power of the hundreds of stories contained within it?
Many of these stories speak to our deeper psychological need for meaning, purpose and union with God.
I believe God, in giving us his word and understanding his creation revealed himself to us in story form because that’s how we respond best. It’s obvious when we think about it.
The whole Bible is one big story pointing toward one person, Jesus Christ. Who we discover in a collection of stories called the Gospels and within those Gospels we find Jesus, talking about God through parables, again a form of storytelling!
We can’t escape it, folks. God loves stories. As Christians, we need to be better at communicating and explaining the relevance of these stories to our culture because they change lives and provide humanity with hope and meaning. It’s that clear and that important.
The Story Archetypes
So where do story archetypes and the Bible fit? There are certain stories that fit into this category in the Bible (for example Jonah and whale) but does that make the Bible ‘mythological’?
As someone who also affirms the historicity of the Bible (where it’s meant to be read as history), this is not a cause for doubt but for wonder.
Wonder because the more we discover about what makes us tick as humans, our psychology and needs, God was already there reaching out to help us with stories that still guide us today.
After all, Biblical accounts go deeper than just historical events, they offer meaning to those events.
And that is the big difference between the mythology in movies like Star Wars, fun though they are, and a sacred story that inspires us by pointing to the greatest Storyteller of them all.
We just have to tell His stories too because that really is the ‘new hope.’
© Not Only Sundays, December 2017.
Images sourced on www.pixabay.com image under a creative commons licence CC.