[su_note note_color=”#d5d5d5″ text_color=”#91201f”]It’s Star Wars Week here at Christ and Pop Culture! To celebrate we are posting early reprints of each feature from the recently published “Star Wars Special Tribute Edition” of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine! You can subscribe to Christ and Pop Culture Magazine by becoming a member and you’ll receive a host of other benefits as well.[/su_note]
Rise to Fandom
During our first Christmas as a married couple, my husband received the Blu-ray collector’s edition of Star Wars: The Complete Saga. I remember being happy for him—and a little sad for myself. My only other experience with Star Wars until that point was in 1999, when I begged my mom to bring me to Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I didn’t understand any of the plot points and fell asleep within the first 30 minutes.
To be honest, I had very little desire to attempt the saga again when my husband asked me to watch with him, but his excitement was contagious—nearly palpable—and if I wasn’t intrigued by the raspy voice of Luke’s apparent father (I wasn’t), I was at least intrigued by my husband’s enthusiasm. By the time we worked our way through the original films, I understood the appeal. It was much easier to understand the intricacies of George Lucas’s world when I could press pause and ask things like, “So what is a sith?” and “Can we have an ewok?”
By the time we were ready to delve into the prequels, I was nearly as excited as my husband was. I disregarded the inevitable disclaimers Star Wars fans gave of the prequels and began The Phantom Menace with renewed excitement. I was thrilled that Lucas saw fit to dedicate time developing the character arc of the franchise’s villain. Too often a story’s villain seems more of a placeholder—a necessary evil to make the plot function—than a holistic, vibrant character. I was eager to learn more about Anakin Skywalker, and I had faith that Lucas would deliver.In Episode III, Anakin begins to struggle in a way so uniquely human that I cannot help but relate.
Episodes I and II fell flat. When I began watching, I teetered on the edge of bona fide Star Wars fandom, nearly ready to depart something more akin to secondhand enjoyment. I understood my husband’s enthusiasm. I was glad to understand the references he sometimes made. But I didn’t feel a similar compulsion to participate in this Star Wars community. The prequels could have sold me and didn’t, and so it was with an attitude of resignation that I settled in to watch Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Ironically, this is the only episode I felt personally connected to.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
I had no problem disliking Anakin Skywalker. Almost from the onset of Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Anakin bothered me so much that I was mostly okay with the fact that his character would inevitably turn into a villain. Perhaps it was the poorly done, overly angsty love story between Anakin and Padme Amidala that did me in, but by the end of Attack of the Clones, I begged for Darth Vader’s return.
It is ironic, then, that Anakin Skywalker is the character I ended up empathizing with most throughout Revenge of the Sith. He’s graduated from angsty teenager to conflicted husband and father-to-be. The love story that seemed necessary but silly in Attack of the Clones finally serves the purpose it was always meant to serve. And, more than anything else, Anakin begins to struggle in a way so uniquely human that I cannot help but relate.
Though the plot features many more intricacies than this, the central point is both plainly simple and wonderfully complex; Anakin must release his fear of loss or attempt to control it via immoral means. That is not a speculative dilemma unique to space operas—that is a resonant, universally human experience—one that has plagued me my whole life, but most specifically shortly after I began my journey through the Star Wars saga.
When Anakin approaches Yoda for counsel after having visions of his wife dying in childbirth, Yoda says this: “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed that is.” While profound and abstractly honest, Anakin understandably struggles to reconcile this truth with his urgent need to save his wife.
Like Anakin, I, too, have struggled to accept loss. I, too, have bristled at the trite encouragement to peacefully accept sorrow—even in death. I have scornfully bit my tongue to keep from lashing out at such counsel, usually delivered by well-meaning Christians who unintentionally undermine suffering with what feels like clichéd, vague, and maybe even condescending advice. Yoda goes on to say this: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
Everything I Fear to Lose
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple… So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” —Jesus (Matthew 14:26, 33)
When I began watching the Star Wars saga in December 2011, I’d just found out that I was pregnant with my son. Though I did not consider myself to be an anxious person, I began struggling with profound anxiety after several complications with my pregnancy arose. I became plagued with irrational fears—mostly fears of loss—that were so intense I would often go days at a time with only a few hours of sleep. Though most of these anxieties were assuaged shortly after the birth of our healthy son, I still experience moments of sudden, intense panic in which I feel the weight of a loss that hasn’t even occurred.
I can relate to a man—even a Jedi—who feels burdened with the task of saving his loved ones. Anakin oscillates from his commitment to the Jedi Way to his commitment to his immediate, concrete needs. He seeks Yoda plagued with an urgent dilemma, and the counsel he’s given seems too abstract to feel applicable.
This is where Anakin fails. This is where I, too, often fail. In the face of urgency abstract advice seems to serve no concrete purpose, so instead of attempting to reconcile the two things, I seek out my own methods of controlling fear. Anakin falls prey to this temptation too, and, ironically, his attempt to control the loss he fears is what causes his loss in the first place. Darth Sidious chips away at Anakin’s commitment to the Jedi Way by playing into his pride, by conflating morality with immorality, and, ultimately, by leveraging his fear of loss.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 14:26, 33 sometimes feel a lot to me like I imagine Yoda’s words felt to Anakin. They feel threatening and unobtainable and, if I’m being honest, something unworthy of being obtained. When I approach this command to forsake everything I hold most dear with an attitude of fear, my instinct is to cling tightly to the things I only imagine I control anyway. And when I approach this command in that way, I miss the freeing, beautiful truth in Jesus’ words: There is no fulfillment in loving other things if I love them before God. There is nothing righteous or good in that, and, ultimately, it is a counterfeit way to love those around me—something that cannot be sustained.
A New Anakin
To me, the most poignant scene in all of the Star Wars films was the final battle between Anakin and Obi-wan Kenobi. The words he screams to Anakin, maybe even to himself, end the prequels—which had fallen flat in many ways—in a truly powerful way: “You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them. You were to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.”
The refrain is bitter-sweet, and most viewers enjoy the scene with an advantage Obi-wan did not have: foreknowledge of Luke Skywalker—of a new hope, born of the despair Anakin’s fear wrought on the galaxy.
In much the same way, Christians are privy to foreknowledge of Christ and His coming. It casts a sheen of hope on dark times, and it makes phrases like “train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose” more palatable than they could ever be otherwise. Because, though we are not promised good things here, we absorb them with the knowledge that there is reconciliation to come. We are able to absorb otherwise trite comments to have peace in suffering because we serve a God who has given us a way to make that abstract admonishment a literal solution. Yes, there is temporal pain, but there is eventual reconciliation that will carry us into eternity.
That, more than anything else, is what I have found accessible, worthwhile, and holistically good about the Star Wars saga.