What Does Star Wars Have To Do With Scripture?
Star Wars Episode VII is the movie that I’ve been waiting for since roughly 1997, or whenever it was that I saw Return of the Jedi for the first time and wondered when the next installment would arrive. Star Wars completely enthralled me from the very first moment that I saw that epic narrative text scroll up the screen against the backdrop of the stars of a galaxy far, far away. I would go so far as to say that these films gave form to my imagination and were therefore a significant influence on the person that I have become. They filled me with such a wonder and excitement that has never truly left me and I think still serves as one of the inspirations for my better instincts and thoughts. No, I’ll go even further than that and claim that Star Wars appealed to me precisely because at its deepest level it exists in reference to the greatest story ever told and it therefore helped fuel my love for, and fascination with, that story we call Salvation History.
That said, I am not here to give a review of this new film because: a) that has already been competently done by others, and b) because in my opinion you just need to go see it. Rather, this is a reflection that I had based on some criticisms of the movie that I heard after I had the great joy of seeing it this week. To get right to the point, the criticism that I heard was that the film doesn’t really do much that’s new, but rather seems to be a reprise of the plot of earlier films, in particular Episode IV, A New Hope. Without spoiling much for you if you haven’t yet seen it, I will say that the factual claims that this criticism makes are completely true. For example, the new film begins on a desert planet, with stormtroopers descending on the locale in search of a hidden droid that carries with it secret information. This droid finds its way to heroic figure who possesses force-powers of which they are, as yet, unaware. Sound familiar? There are many other parallels that I won’t mention to avoid spoilers, but almost the entire movie has direct reference points in the original film that can be seen by any attentive viewer.
When I realized what was happening, that I was witnessing a reprise of everything I loved about the old movies with a compelling bridge towards new characters, new heroes, and new worlds that would tell the same story again but in a new way, I was utterly thrilled. Why is this not only not a failure in presenting the newest installment in the Skywalker Saga, but a reflection of how all good story-telling works precisely because it’s how God has chosen to tell His own story? We were made for God. It makes sense that we would try to imitate Him in the stories that we tell each other.
St. Augustine taught us that while men must use words to signify what they want to say, words that signify thoughts, which in turn, reference realities that exist outside the mind, God is not so bound. God who created and orders all things, is able to order even things, events, and places to his purposes and thereby signify whatever He chooses. Therefore, history, specifically salvation history as recorded in Sacred Scripture, is itself typological. That is, the things that happen in the scriptural narrative are not by accident but by providential design. This is why we have four senses of Scripture that we must use when we read it:
“The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.
1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism.
2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written “for our instruction”.
3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.” (CCC 117)
Oceans of ink have been spilled on this topic, but just to give one simple example based on one location in scripture, it matters in a very big way that Israel, led by Joshua crosses the Jordan River when it enters the promised land to conquer the enemies of the Lord, which Jesus (whose name is a variant of Joshua, by the way) begins his ministry by being baptized in the Jordan river, where, by the way, a man dressing and acting like Elijah hands over his ministry to Jesus just like Elijah did to Elisha at -you guessed it- the Jordan River. God has chosen the place of the Jordan river as part of the Word He speaks to us in Scripture, and has ordered events by His providence such that we could see the connections between these events in Salvation History. Men obviously don’t have such power, with the one exception of the imaginary worlds that we create when we tell stories.
What does it mean to the story that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan chose to use this method of typological matching to continue the saga of Star Wars? To quote Obi-Wan to the, at the time, unbelieving Han Solo, “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.” Without going overboard to divinize the vague concept of “The Force” in the films, it means that Star Wars communicates at the very least that there is order in the universe. Things happen for a reason, and the ordering principle, the Logos of this world, is capable of making it such that things, events, and even places exist in a way to communicate the existence of that order. The co-incidence of the things, people, events, and locales of this new film are certainly parallel to the old ones by the design of its creators and not by accident. I find that beautiful, and I think it gets at the heart of great story-telling which is, I think, to incorporate the elements of the story that was already told into a story that is also new. This is the story of the Church through the ages isn’t it? It’s the story of every saint; somehow the same as all the others and yet somehow completely new and unique.
I have one last reflection to leave you with. This movie is released at Christmas time and my thoughts are full of the infancy narrative of the Savior. Star Wars is about the grace of being chosen by forces beyond you, being called out of your nothingness to be a part of the salvation of the World. In the trailer for this film, the new heroine, Rey, is asked “Who are you?” and she answers, “I’m no one.” My thoughts turn immediately to our Blessed Mother who, as she sat in Nazareth was, in the eyes of all the world, no one. Yet she was chosen to be our tainted nature’s solitary boast and to bear the One who would restore our world against the virtual certainty of the victory of darkness.