Star Wars "R" Us?

It is almost time for the full wave of Star Wars coverage to hit.

So far, I think that religion-beat specialist Jeffrey Weiss at The Dallas Morning News has asked the most serious questions about the content of the movies themselves — at least without seeing the new film.

The big question: What if the religion in the Star Wars canon was totally and utterly screwed up, a mixmaster blend of everything that is out there filtered through the Baby Boomer perspective of a man who has no idea what he believes?

And what if this aspect of the film is, along with special effects, at the heart of its popularity in postmodern America? What if it makes no sense whatsoever and that is a good thing? Would anyone in mainstream American religion have the courage to say that?

The lead, in this case, should have been the headline: “Like it or not, the Force is with us.” Here is a big chunk of the Weiss report, which contains the big idea:

America’s median age is about 36. That means about half the country has little or no memory of a time before Star Wars was part of the cultural landscape. George Lucas released the first Star Wars movie in 1977.

Not coincidentally, some experts say, younger generations of Americans have been turning away from institutional religion in record numbers. There may be some link, they say, between the fuzzy “theology” of the Force and the powerful but fuzzy spiritual longings of this group.

Most of those who check “none of the above” when pollsters ask about their religious preference aren’t atheists or agnostics. They believe in a Higher Power and a Higher Purpose to their lives, in a transcendent order to the universe and in the immortality of their souls: Life and love carry eternal values.

Sound familiar? Star Wars fans might say all you need to do is listen to your feelings.

As Yoda explained it: “Luminous beings are we.”

So here is my question: Will the Culture Wars — accurately defined — show up in the new movie? At some point, will Sith and a Jedi superstars point fingers at one another and say that the other is on the side of George W. Bush and the Religious Right?

Will the big word — ABSOLUTES — show up, as in “absolute truths”?

Watch for it. Will Lucas be able to resist? Or will he yield at last to the political side?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Carl

    Quote A O Scott of the NYTimes:

    At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” Obi-Wan’s response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: “Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.”


    Shouldn’t that be, “The Sith are a group with a strong tendency to think in absolutes, far more so than other groups…”?

    Oh well, inconsistency is strength. Live long and light saber!

  • Tim Drake

    Linked from Drudge is this story from Japan Today, in which Lucas takes a shot at Bush’s “Empire”.

    The article draws parallels to the film’s fabricated war, and the war in Iraq.

    It goes on to quote Lucas…

    “Lucas, speaking to reporters, emphasised that the original “Star Wars” was written at the end of the Vietnam war, when Richard Nixon was U.S. president, but that the issue being explored was still very much alive today.

    “The issue was, how does a democracy turn itself into a dictatorship?” he said.

    “When I wrote it, Iraq (the U.S.-led war) didn’t exist… but the parallels of what we did in Vietnam and Iraq are unbelievable.”

    He acknowledged an uncomfortable feeling that the United States was in danger of losing its democratic ideals, like in the movie.

    “I didn’t think it was going to get this close. I hope this doesn’t come true in our country.”

    You can find the link here:

  • Jordan

    Here’s another take on this:
    “No Star Wars for Oil”

    “But something else is disturbingly — and rather awkwardly – evident: a recurring anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war message. Forget about the merits of the argument in question. This stuff has no place in a Star Wars flick.”

  • Larry Rasczak


    This is NOT theology!! This is not even politics! This is a marketing vehicle to sell plastic toys and stale popcorn!! It is a fun way to watch Natilie Portman and some huge special effects for two hours, nothing more.

    I plan to see the movie, I plan to enjoy the movie. I’ll probably be seeing it a second time with my son. I will not be letting it dominate my life for the next three weeks. Neither do I think I will find “deep” or “serious” statments in it. I do not seek theological or political insight from muppets; and I find it rather hard to respect the intelect of those that (apparently) do.

    George Lucas is a fabuliously sucessful filmaker, and his movies make more money than most smaller African nations do. None the less he is not Aquinas, or Locke, or Augustine, or Bentham, or even Dickens. Can we please keep some perspective here?

  • Jack

    I agree with the poster above. While sophmoric political messages worked into a movie do cause my eyes to roll, I don’t worry too much about the religious or political (pseudo-)thoughts of boomers. In terms of religion, Lucas went from vague and amorphous (the ‘force’) to simply goofy (the force is microbes? MORAL microbes??) Just be happy that he is (finally) getting back to his original formula for movie magic: Remaking Japanese movies about the feudal era, but with lasers and whooshing. Damn entertaining.

    PS: Rent The Hidden Fortress and enjoy. Mifune is incredible.

  • Will Linden

    Scott also characterized Palpatine’s machinations as showing the dangers of “Manichaean ideology”.
    Even if “Manichaean” meant “dualistic”,as he thinks it does… surely the whole series has been PROMOTING a “dualistic ideology”, with the pure good Jedi vs the Sith in black helmets?
    Meanwhile, I see some commenters claim to have been inspired by photos of Pope Benedict to compare him with Palpatine. “….The Pope is not as forgiving as I am.”

  • Marion R.

    We have met the Higher Power and We is It.

  • Stephen A.

    I agree with the sentiments above.

    The attempt to insert some political messages into these films is sophomoric, but it’s also inevitable. It’s Hollywood, after all.

    I harken back to the “Noot Gunray” character in a previous S.W. episode (“Newt Gingrich” – a play on words. Get it?)

    Still, I will also see the movie, since overall they are good films that are very well made.

    For the record, we are no where NEAR a dictatorship in the U.S. politically, religiously or socially. That’s not even debatable, though I’m sure some hysterical people will debate it. They are the same folks who think their party losing so many elections translates into “we’re turning away from democracy.”

    Demagoguery like that can be made to sound appropriate in the movies, but it’s scary to think that it’s made the jump to real life.

  • Stephen A.

    Let’s read that again:
    “At one point, Darth Vader, already deep in the thrall of the dark side and echoing the words of George W. Bush, hisses at Obi-Wan, “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.” Obi-Wan’s response is likely to surface as a bumper sticker during the next election campaign: “Only a Sith thinks in absolutes.”

    Only the Sith….and Jesus Christ (coincidentally Pres. Bush’s “favorite philosopher,”) who said:

    “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” (Matt. 12:30)

    Hmm. Guess this movie IS theology after all.

    George Lucas, a self-described “Buddhist Methodist”* seems to have relied so heavily on the Buddhist concept of non-attachment to underpin all the films that he forgot his Christian upbringing.

    I saw the film and it was fantastic. But the attempt to politicize it and make it “relevant” to today (at least from the warped leftist viewpoint) are rather sad, and as we see from this one quote, it backfires somewhat.

    *Check out this interesting “religious bio” of Lucas, a self-described “Buddhist Methodist”: