The Meek shall Inherit the… Galaxy?

Spiritual Thoughts on the Original Star Wars Trilogy

Throughout the original trilogy of the Star Wars, the small and weak defeat the large and powerful. Similarly, Jesus taught his followers, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) But how? Through force of arms, just like powerful oppressors? Let’s see how Jesus Christ and Luke Skywalker approach evil, and how they win.

“Judge me by my size, do you?”

Before we see how the small and good prevail, let us first examine the nature of the opposition. In Star Wars, an evil emperor rules the galaxy. Although the movies do not provide many examples of his tyranny, blowing up a planet with a moon-size space station called the Death Star would certainly make the list.

We see the underlying assumption of evil: power prevails. Seems straightforward. So, if evil is big and powerful, how does good win? How does a small little rebellion, fighting to restore freedom to the galaxy, have any hope of defeating a weapon like the Death Star and the Empire that wields it?

Starfighers approach the Death Star
Starfighters approach the Death Star. © Twentieth Century Fox.

Nevertheless, the heroes of the story destroy not one, but two Death Stars. In the case of the first Death Star, the Imperial commanders have such pride in their ship, they underestimate the starfighters or “stunt fighters” of the rebellion. Referring to the Death Star, a pilot asks…

Rebel Pilot: “What good are stunt fighters going to be against that?”

Rebel Commander: “The Empire doesn’t think our fighters will be any threat or they would have a tighter defense.”

Consequently, a small starfighter with a single torpedo exploits a weakness that starts a chain reaction which destroys the space station.

In Return of the Jedi, the second Death Star also explodes due to the power of the small and the weak. The Emperor lures the “insignificant rebellion”1 into a trap2, in which the Imperial fleet surrounds the rebel ships, and they are unable to attack the space station due to an energy shield emitted from a nearby moon. To make matters worse, the rebel soldiers on the moon have been captured because they too entered a trap.

Thankfully, they previously befriended the small teddy-bear-like Ewoks, who tip the battle, allowing for the destruction of the shield generator and the Death Star. Many think that the Ewoks ruined the movie, but in fact, they brought this central theme of the movie into focus. The victory does not go to those who are large and powerful, but to those who make friends and allies.

So the small and good defeat the large and evil again. This theme is in scripture too, most notably in the story of David, a shepherd boy who defeats Goliath, a seasoned warrior, with a sling and bold faith in God.  

In the above examples, the small and weak defeat the large and powerful through violence. But is this what Jesus meant when he said the “meek shall inherit the earth”? I tend not to think so. The larger message in scripture is not that the weak overpower the strong through strength, but through love. Thankfully, this is not lost in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi either.

A Different Kind of Victory

As the battle mounts outside of Death Star II, the Emperor and his right hand man, Darth Vader confront the latter’s son, Luke Skywalker, hoping to turn him to the Dark Side. After Luke unexpectedly defeats his father in a lightsaber duel, the Emperor tells him to kill his father. Luke says “no” and casts his lightsaber aside, choosing a loving death over life itself.

As the Emperor begins to torture him to death, Luke pleads to his father, the murderer of untold numbers, for help. To the Emperor’s surprise, Vader not only comes to Luke’s rescue, but also joins in Luke’s sacrifice as he gives his life in order to protect his son, killing the Emperor. Power can defeat your enemies, but love can redeem them and make them your allies.

Evil is defeated. Family is reunited.
Redemption defeats evil and reunites a family. © Twentieth Century Fox

See, no one but Luke thought Vader could turn to the Light side again. Even the other “good guys” assumed Vader would have to be killed in battle. It is so easy for us to embrace the mentality of evil, believing that power prevails and rejecting the possibility of redemption.

But, this message is not unique to Star Wars. The story of redemption is the story of scripture! It is the story of God and humanity. God created us to share in His love for Him and for one another. But with selfishness and pride, we did not follow God. Although God could justly overpower and punish us, He has a different plan.

Instead, He came to Earth as a baby in a small province, oppressed by the Roman empire. Rather than overpower Rome or even Satan, Jesus teaches disciples how to love, and then he died a criminal’s death on a cross. One wonders if Satan understood what was happening or if he was as caught off guard as the Emperor?

For in this death, Jesus paid the punishment that we deserve for the wrongs we have done. Having been raised from the dead, He offers to forgive and transform us. He made it possible for all people to experience God’s love during their lives and for eternity. As Paul, an early Christian, wrote:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8,10).

This is redemption, not defeat, made possible through love.

So, what does this mean for us? First and foremost, it means we can accept Jesus’s offer of forgiveness and transformation. We can join Him as His ally in loving God and others. Furthermore, we learn how we, whether followers of Jesus or not, can respond to evil.

All of us encounter evil a lot. We find it in ourselves, in personal interactions with others, and in larger society. How shall we respond? Will we seek dominance, to overpower, and to force what we know to be good? Jesus Christ and Luke Skywalker respond to evil through love and sacrifice. How can you do the same? Think specifically about the situations in your life. Where have you embraced the fallacies of the Emperor. How could you show love to an enemy? As Paul also wrote, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).  

Footnotes

  1. The Emperor’s words.
  2. “It’s a trap!”

6 thoughts on “The Meek shall Inherit the… Galaxy?”

  1. Well, that’s an interesting analysis. I had never considered the Luke/Vader/Palpatine struggle through the prism of meekness before.

    That being said, the Skywalker/Palpatine showdown was only part in the greater Battle of Endor. Do you see meekness playing a role in either the Endor ground campaign or space campaign?

    And, on the flip side of the analysis, would you say that meekness is, in and of itself, sufficient for good to vanquish evil, or are there times when something more is needed to secure the victory? (I’m personally thinking about the role that violence plays in both the Battle of Endor and the conventional understanding of the apocalypse.)

  2. Thanks for the encouraging comment and great questions!
    The Battle of Endor exhibits the theme of the small defeating the powerful: the Ewoks defeat the stormtroopers, small spacecraft destroy the Death Star. Furthermore, just as Luke survived when Vader came to his rescue, so the Rebel Alliance won because the Ewoks, who originally opposed the rebel soldiers, became their allies. Whether or not we would consider the victory due to meekness, we see that the victory does not go to the strong, but to those who make allies.
    Concerning your second question, Star Wars argues that meekness alone does not secure victory. Darth Vader, or more accurately Anakin Skywalker, kills the Emperor. But, was it (and is it ever) allowable to use violent force? If so, when? And who may do so? Anyone, governments, God? This will be a topic in future blogs. That said, if violence is ever justified, Anakin’s reaction to use force in order to save another from imminent murder would likely make the list.

    1. Thanks for the thought.

      I think your first follow-up, “whether or not we would consider the victory due to meekness…”, opens up a very interesting avenue of inquiry. The quote from the Beatitudes is “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” I had always read this in the context of “the quality of being meek will cause one to inherit the earth”, but as your response suggested, the passage does not actually imply a causal link between meekness and earth-inheriting.

      As a result, there are two different interpretations of this passage. The classical interpretation would be “be meek, because then you’ll inherit the earth (whatever that may mean)”, which in a way translates into the “you catch more flys with honey than vinegar” trope, whereas the alternate interpretation would be “those who happen to be meek now will win in the end”, which seems to fit the classic Hollywood “root for the underdog” trope. Perhaps it’s not all too surprising that the Star Wars story arc seems to fall more in line with the latter.

      (As a sidebar, Richard Beck posted a similar analysis of another portion of the Beatitudes a few days ago. I’m somewhat less convinced of how well this approach works for his passage, though. http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2015/12/can-you-see-kingdom.html)

      1. Can I answer “both”? Meekness can be causal to winning over your enemy, as Luke won over his father. It’s more than inheriting the galaxy, but helping others experience redemption. At the same time, it can be naive to believe that everyone will choose love when given the chance. In this way, we need God to step in. As it says in Psalm 37:9b, “But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.” But whether the other turns or not, our privilege is to be meek and extend love.

        1. Yeah, I see that. I think the key takeaway here is that meekness can lead to good fruit, but that it in-and-of-itself won’t bring total victory (whatever that may mean). In scripture, you still need God to bring about the fullness of redemption and sanctification; in Lucasverse, you’ll need the Dark Side to implode upon itself to clear the way for Good to thrive.

          1. I agree with your conclusion, but with one important emphasis. Although meekness might not secure the victory by itself, neither does violence. The Emperor (and especially Tarkin on Death Star I) foolishly trust in power. One may be naive to think that meekness will always win over your opponent, but it is also naive to think that violence will always defeat your enemy. If neither is certain, I much rather err on the side of love because this has the possibility of redemption.

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