Film and Theology: Star Wars the Force Awakens (Part 1)

Over the next few weeks I hope to do a deep dive into “Star Wars the Force Awakens” but before I can do that we need to lay a little groundwork.

All great stories are told in three acts.

In the first act, we are introduced to the cast of characters.

In the second act, we see the protagonist(s) get into the worst predicament possible.

The third act, we see a resolution to that predicament – whether for good or for bad.

Nearly all good stories follow that structure.

I want to spend a couple minutes discussing first acts.

It may often go unnoticed but if we don’t connect with a character then we don’t connect with a story. We may say that a story has good ideas but if the characters have all the charm of a box of Frosted Flakes then the story will crash and burn.

I also tend to believe that the Creator God designed us to resonate with people and their stories. He chose humans to spread his message and do his work.

Characters mattered to God in inspiring his Scriptures otherwise, the Bible would read more like a microwave instruction manual.

Step 1: love me.

Step 2: love people.

Step 3: don’t be a jackass.

Instead, he uses these stories with characters we can connect with:

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance apriest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” ” – Luke 10.25-37 (ESV)

Instead of laying out those three steps above he tells a compelling story that would explain the same thing.

“Love the Lord your God…” (love me)

“You go, and do likewise” (love people)

“when he saw him he passed by on the other side” (don’t be a jackass)

It wasn’t just parables. The entire Scriptures are filled with characters – some good, some bad, some bad who do good, and some good who do really bad. Regardless, God chose people to communicate his story.

The first act and introduction of characters matter.

“Star Wars: the Force Awakens” is a first act movie.

One reason we loved “Star Wars” (“A New Hope” for the non-Star Wars snob) was the way we connected with and fell in love with the characters in the first movie.

We loved Luke’s boyish charm as we saw him move from lonely boy longing for adventure to hero for the Rebellion.

We loved Han’s roguish nature, his rough and tough (yet heroic) qualities and of course, his lovable sidekick, Chewbacca.

We fell in love with the villainous Darth Vader because he fit the part of the classic evil “big bad”. Imposing, strong, invincible and he looked awesome. All things we want in a bad guy. Throw in a curveball that included *30 YEAR OLD SPOILERS* being Luke’s dad and a redemption story? Incredible.

This doesn’t even touch on other great characters like Obi-Wan and Leia who each are endearing in their own right.

It set the stage and I for one would follow those characters on any adventure.

Compare that to “Star Wars: the Phantom Menace”, the second “first act” for a Star Wars trilogy.

The main character is a young boy who we know will become Vader going into the series. Perhaps it is the writing but we never really seem to connect to him despite their best efforts and a somewhat entertaining 10 minute podrace scene. However, whatever attachment anyone may feel for young Jake Lloyd we know he’s not going to carry the series for 2 more films.

We do have a young Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jin (played by Ewan McGreggor and Liam Nesson respectively) and they serve as two of the bright spots in the series.

The other bright spot (character wise) is the new Sith – Darth Maul and his revolutionary dual lightsaber.

The problem here is that they kill off two of these three characters by the end of the movie. We never get to see the true potential of the only Jedi who seems to have great foresight (Qui-Gon) and a Sith who has a skill set with a lightsaber that we’ve yet to see out of the franchise.

The other character we are meant to feel an attachment to is a character so bad that he is all but eliminated from the prequels’ sequels: Jar Jar Binks. It has been catalogued extensively on the internet just how awful a character Jar Jar is so I won’t beat that bad decision down any further.

Character introductions matter.

That’s the thing I think that The Force Awakens did best.

J.J. Abrams and co. focused on introducing us to a new cast that we could attach ourselves to. He understood that character attachment was more important than closing up every plot hole.

He used the old (Han, Chewie, Leia, Vader and eventually Luke) to bridge our trust and love and transfer it to a new group of characters who will eventually stand on their own.

Over the next few weeks I hope to take in at least one more viewing and then cannonball into some theological character breakdown on what I consider to be the three main characters (those who experienced an “awakening” if you will) in this third first act – Finn, Rey, and Han.

I also hope to break down what may be my favorite character in Kylo Ren.

I’m excited to learn more about Poe Dameron, Captain Phasma, Hux, Maz and more but I want to start with those three or four.

Characters matter. I hope you all look forward to taking that character journey with me as we review the film, look at Scripture, and work on our own character.

 

What do you think? Did the characters of Episode VII resonate with you?

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