A Spiritual Analysis of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
With a heavy heart, I write about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you’ve seen the movie, you know why, and if you haven’t, stop reading immediately and go see it. When I find myself grieving over a fictional character, I console myself with the truth that is expressed, and thankfully, a message of redemption comes forth in The Force Awakens.
In a previous Star Wars post, The Meek Shall Inherit the… Galaxy?, I argue that we do not need to be violent or powerful, but through meekness and love, we can be victorious, not by defeating our enemies, but by calling them to change and become our allies. Rather than kill Darth Vader, Luke’s willingness to sacrifice himself for his father causes Vader to turn to the Light, resulting in Luke’s survival and the Emperor’s defeat. It worked! In The Force Awakens, Han Solo sees his son, Ben, who has turned to the Dark Side, now called Kylo Ren. He risks himself, offering Ren complete forgiveness and the opportunity for a fresh start as a family. In the saddest Star Wars scene to date, Kylo Ren kills Han Solo, his own father.
Did Han make a mistake? He could have just left. Ren hadn’t seen him yet. What happened to meekness inheriting the galaxy? Star Wars: The Force Awakens argues that we should offer the opportunity for redemption, even if success is uncertain. We offer forgiveness and reconciliation for the sake of the other person, for ourselves, and for God.
Why did Han offer a second chance?
Because he loves his son. He wanted to see his son’s face again. More than his own survival, Han wanted his son to be free from the Dark Side, free from Supreme Leader Snoke who was manipulating him.
So, did Han fail? We have yet to see. He may have died, but I believe he would count that as a worthy exchange for Ben’s redemption. And there are two more movies to go. Personally, I hope that Ben not only turns to the Light, but that the filmmakers make it clear that his father’s loving touch of his face, even after being attacked, will make the difference. The expressed love of the oppressed for the oppressor can have this effect Stephen, the first Christian martyr, speaks forgiveness to those stoning him, and it is possible that this affected Saul, a persecutor of the faith who later becomes a significant leader to Jesus’ disciples.1 There are countless testimonies throughout the last 2000 years of people deciding to follow Jesus after witnessing the persecuted forgive and love their persecutors.
The Most Important Redemption Story in Star Wars
This act completed Han’s story arc, and his redemption story is the most important one in Star Wars. Most of us are not like Kylo Ren or Darth Vader. We have not conquered planets, killed thousands, or expressed allegiance to anything with the word “Dark” in the name. But, perhaps like Han, we look out for ourselves before others. Let’s remember his conversation with Luke in Episode 4:
Luke: “Come on! Why don’t you take a look around? You know what’s about to happen, what they’re up against. They could use a good pilot like you. You’re turning your back on them.”
Han: “What good’s a reward if you ain’t around to use it? Besides, attacking that battle station ain’t my idea of courage. It’s more like suicide.”
Luke: “All right. Well, take care of yourself, Han. I guess that’s what you’re best at, isn’t it?”2
Perhaps we run from difficult situations. Of course, Han first changed this habit when he returns to help Luke destroy the first Death Star, but it seems that this character flaw catches up with him in the thirty years since Return of the Jedi. When it got difficult dealing with the loss of their son, he ran again, leaving Leia for a life of smuggling. Hence, when he approaches his son, in accordance with his wishes and his wife’s, he makes a decisive stand against selfishness, fear, and passivity. This completes Han’s story arc of redemption, as Harrison Ford hoped would have happened in Return of the Jedi. He explains in an interview with Conan O’Brien, “The best utility of the character would be for him to sacrifice himself to a high ideal and give a little bottom, a little gravitas to the undertaking.”3
God offers redemption not only to the incredibly violent, but the subtly selfish as well. The transformed life is a gift from God. Would we prefer the selfish life of Han the smuggler or the noble life of Han the father, friend, and rebel against tyranny? And what of his death?
Conan O’Brien: “Did you want it to be a noble death then, for Han at the time.”
Harrison Ford: “Preferably. Rather than an accident.”4
The audience laughed after Harrison Ford’s response. Of course, we don’t want our lives or deaths to be accidents, but to make a difference. Han Solo had the privilege of being free from self-preservation, to live and die as the loving person that we all want to be.
Sound great, but let’s face it: he died. “What good is a [changed life] if you ain’t around to use it?” The gift ended. Again, this does not sound like inheriting the galaxy. Before seeing the movie, I was actually emotionally preparing myself for Luke to die, which seemed likely as Obi-Wan dies in Episode 4 and Qui-Gon in Episode 1. It would not have been as sad because Luke would keep re-appearing as a ghost. Hence, what happens to us after we die might play a role in whether or not we should offer redemption.
In the Star Wars universe, when a person dies, their essence becomes one with the Force and their individuality is lost. Only trained Jedi can keep their uniqueness intact.5 Consequently, Han is truly gone. If that feels jarring, unjust, or simply wrong, I think we can find some truth here. Sometimes we find truth in a story, and sometimes we find it in our emotional responses to them. The scene is so sad because the happy ending of Return of the Jedi, in which Han and Leia were together, was now lost. And where did the longing and belief in the happy ending come from? Scripture says that God “set eternity in the human heart.”6 After death and after Jesus’ return, the meek do inherit “a new heaven and a new earth.”7 Even if our offer of redemption is met with violence, we can trust a loving God to give us the happy ending of a joyous eternity with Him and each other.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”8
Lastly, we offer redemption for God’s sake. When Kylo Ren and Rey were dueling with lightsabers, I found myself hoping that Rey would escape, but not kill Kylo Ren. Why? I mean, I don’t like Kylo Ren. After watching the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars, seeing Anakin’s love and loyalty to family, I genuinely cared for Anakin and wanted to see his redemption, but Ren is the whiny, insecure killer of Han Solo. He deserves death! Consequently, I want to see Kylo Ren turn to the Light Side for Han’s sake, because Han loves him and died for him. I do not want Han’s sacrifice to be in vain.
This is a reminder that people do not deserve forgiveness, a fresh start, or a transformed life. I don’t. Other’s don’t. So, we do not have to like a person to extend grace. Since Jesus sacrificed His life for everyone, I can hope and work for another’s redemption, so God would have His children back.
In Star Wars, we learn truths in a cartoonish context when good and evil are blindingly obvious. So how can we relate this message to our lives? If a murderer of the multitudes can change when offered kindness, maybe the rude coworker will too? As we see from The Force Awakens, we learn that they might not, but I hope you are convinced that it’s worth the try.
More so, let’s be honest in the areas that we need transformation. You or I might not be as bad as Darth Vader, but are you as amazing as Han Solo in his final scene? In either case, God offers you and I the gift of a life more selfless and more loving than the one we live now.
All photos Copyright by Twentieth Century Fox and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.
- Acts 7:58-60. ↩
- Lucas, George, dir. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Twentieth Century Fox, 1977. Film. ↩
- Conan. TBS. Dec 2015. Television. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- This might not be that clear from the original series as Anakin Skywalker also appears with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda in the final scene, but this is further established in the prequel series and in the final episodes of the Star Wars The Clone Wars TV series. ↩
- Eccl 3:11, NIV. ↩
- Rev 21:1, NIV. ↩
- Romans 5:8, NIV. ↩