Catechetical Movie Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Spoilers—including the major one—for this movie are present below so only read if you have seen the movie

The seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise is smashing box office records and overwhelmingly pleasing critics. It has returned the franchise to its roots while establishing a future trajectory for the saga that promises more intrigue and hope. More than any other movie franchise, Star Wars expresses the hopes and desires of the people throughout the planet. It has been described as the myth of our era and it does not appear that it will diminish in the near future. All good myths tap into the meaning of human existence and our desire to be in contact with the mysterious supernatural world that instills this meaning in our lives. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, like all good myths, has the power to captivate us with its transcendent elements and yet these qualities are also found in the greatest story ever told: our hope in God’s promise and accomplishment of our salvation.

The protagonist of the movie, Rey, is found on the desolate desert planet of Jakku working hard for what little food she can acquire and waiting for her family who left her on the planet when she was a little girl for unknown reasons. Rey’s abandonment by her family is similar to the psalmists declaration, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up.” (Psa 27:10 RSVCE) and Jesus’s exclamation on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46)  Feeling abandoned by the ones we love, over small or large issues, is part of human existence. However, the psalmist and Jesus respond to their sense of abandonment with an act of confidence in God’s love and saving will for them. By contrast, Rey spends well over a decade wishing that her family will come back for her. In fact, when she is forced to leave Jakku in order to preserve her life and the lives of her new friends, she continually seeks a way to return to Jakku because of this false hope that someone will come back for her.

Rey’s fear of being abandoned by her family forever is what strands her on the desert planet of Jakku and does not enable her to serve her friends or the galaxy as a whole because her sense of dignity is dependent upon her family coming back for her. Rather than keeping her from discouragement, Rey lives in it and thinks that this discouragement can be overturned in the future. Christian hope is not a hope that there will not be discouragement in the future but that they will find the courage to to endure whatever joys and trials may come. For most of her life, Rey has been unable to move on from the pain that her loved ones left her.

She later comes across Anakin’s/Luke’s blue lightsaber and hears a calling from the Force that gives her a vision beyond space and time. Maz Kanata attempts to assist her in accepting this call and tries to give her direction for her life. “The belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead,” says Maz. However, the terror of this experience solidifies her decision to return to Jakku on her own because she wants no part of this destiny. She is running away from her own vocational role in the galaxy generated from her low self-esteem as a result of being separated from her parents.

One of the villains of the movie, Kylo Ren, also has parental wounds but he  chose to channel these wounds into acts of rage as he journeys to embrace the dark side. He was once a student of his uncle, Luke Skywalker, but later killed some of his fellow pupils in going over the dark side. Upon confronting his estranged father, Han Solo, Ren appears to take Solo’s invitation to come home by taking off his mask and offering his lightsaber to his father. However, as his father moves to take the lightsaber, Ren takes advantage of his father’s love and trust to slay him unconscionably. Ren then pursues Rey and fails to seduce her to dark side.

At the end of the movie when the battle is over, Rey is physically free to return to Jakku but she does not. Instead, she goes to the other side of the galaxy to meet Luke Skywalker. She begins at the bottom of an mountainous island and climbs the long high steps. This poetic ascent from the depths to the heights illustrates Rey’s journey throughout the film showing that she is finally ready to move from the traumatic events of her past to the future that beckons her. She has let go of her strong desire of belonging that was chaining her to Jakku and has taken the arduous task of the “narrow path” to her destiny. Upon meeting Luke, she offers his old blue lightsaber to him just like Kylo Ren offered his lightsaber to Han. The sign of the offering of the lightsaber is one of hope for which Han died and now Luke, who has also been harmed from his former nephew and pupil, must respond to Rey’s offer and give his life in hope or make a choice that would close him off to others as the dark side teaches.

The saga of Star Wars is about many things: goodness, evil, power, friendship, and redemption. However, what the franchise is at its core—especially as a myth of pop culture—is hope. Christian hope is the theological virtue that

responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity. (CCC 1818)

Rey slowly grew to let go of her fear and actually hope for a beautiful future that calls to her. This hope inspired her to seek out Luke to bring proper order to the galaxy just like a Christian is to be inspired to act in this world knowing that they are called to live as children of God who are free in Christ and order this world to the kingdom of God. Rather than being paralyzed by the pain of abandonment, hope gives strength through such an ordeal and does not allow the Christian to dwell in it. Hope directs one to love others in charity and through such acts to find their own vocation and happiness to which God calls them.

Most importantly, Christians are to become living signs of hope to the rest of the world. Luke is obviously pained by what happened with his nephew but Rey presents herself as a sign of hope willing to follow him as her teacher. We have to wait until the next installment to see Luke’s response but Rey is literally placing herself on the line on whether Luke will accept her or not. This vulnerability has consequences: either you and your message will be accepted or you will be rejected as Han was rejected by his son. There is no middle ground. Christian hope is intimately connected with the cross and it is only in dying to oneself that one can take up their cross to allow Jesus to offer hope to the world through His followers today.

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