Did watching Star Wars as a kid make me want to become a priest? Yes it did, at least indirectly.
Of course, watching Star Wars made me want to try lots of things. For example, I once attempted to “use the Force” to telekinetically lift an object in the back yard – just to be sure it wouldn’t work. I used to watch the original trilogy (Ep. IV – VI) with almost Disney-like frequency, memorizing every line and spending every dollar I could get my hands on to buy toy space-ships to fly around in the yard. Star Wars books and movies enriched my seven-year-old vocabulary, with lines like,
“Mos Eisley spaceport: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
Naturally, the greatest movie villain of all time – Darth Vader – was a big part of what made Star Wars so cool. He wasn’t just evil; he was majestic. (And terrifying!) But was he majestic because he was evil? No! It’s because – like a fallen angel – he was almost good!
My grandmother, who had helped to introduce me to Star Wars, once made a comment about the increasing level of violence in movies and what a harmful effect it was having on children. “But Nana,” I said, “Star Wars is pretty violent too, right?” She agreed that it was, but went on to make a distinction which helped me to think about the issue more critically. “Yes it is,” she said, “but in Star Wars the fighting is between good and evil, and evil is not portrayed as good. Many films today glorify violence with characters and situations that are morally ambiguous, and that confusion is never resolved.”
Good point! But wait – isn’t Darth Vader interesting precisely because he is morally ambiguous – because he is conflicted? All of the best scenes in the trilogy revolve around – in some sense – the struggle for Darth Vader’s (Anakin’s) soul. But although this character changes morally over time, the audience – like his son Luke who wants to “save” him spiritually – is able to see that a choice to become good again is possible and needs to be made. Anakin, having lived many years of hate and brutality as the apprentice and weapon of an evil Emperor, begins to rediscover his true self when he is challenged by his son. In Luke, Anakin sees and remembers the person – the Jedi – he once hoped to become, a person whose life is governed by love for others and not by slavery to ambition, power, and hatred. The choice between good and evil for Anakin is clear in the end, because Luke confronts him with it; but the choice for self-sacrifice and redemption is no less difficult for having been made clear. Of course, it is not Anakin / Darth Vader who inspired me to want to become a priest, but Luke Skywalker!
The climax of the whole saga, and the scene that made the most lasting impression on me, is the lightsaber duel and spiritual confrontation between Luke and his father in the Emperor’s throne room. Luke has chosen to sacrifice – not merely to risk, I would argue, but to sacrifice – his life in order to win his father’s conversion from “the Dark Side” back to the light. Luke hands himself over to Vader and is brought before the Emperor, who wants to make Luke his second apprentice and spiritual slave. All of this occurs aboard the Emperor’s space-station, the Second Death Star, during a battle which Luke’s friends can only survive by destroying it – with or without Luke on board! Luke willingly puts – and keeps – himself in harm’s way, even enduring physical torture at the hands of the Emperor, to redeem his father from the evil that binds him.
I don’t know if I realized it as a young child, but watching and loving this example of a true hero – Luke Skywalker – had a profound effect on me spiritually and intellectually. Luke’s spiritual training under Yoda gave him the self-discipline and virtue necessary to confront evil in the world, in his own heart, and even in the hearts of others. He is absolutely committed to doing the right thing, whatever the cost. Whereas Anakin (Ep. 3) fell to the Dark Side when he chose to do evil rather than to endure suffering, Luke makes the opposite choice and lays down his life to reverse his father’s fate. He goes beyond the requirements of justice and even the advice of his mentor Obi-Wan in order to extend mercy and redemption to a dying and corrupt man.
LUKE: There is still good in him.
OBI-WAN: He’s more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil.
LUKE: I can’t do it, Ben … I can’t kill my own father.
OBI-WAN: Then the Emperor has already won. You were our only hope.
At this point in the conversation, Luke might as well have borrowed a retort from his friend Han Solo: “Never tell me the odds!” By his indomitable fortitude, Luke taught me that nothing – no obstacles, no excuses, no opinions or threats – should ever be able to stop me from acting in love and truth to help others. No one is beyond help, and no one is beyond love. Truth, mercy, sacrifice, conversion, redemption. These Jedi values are gospel values, and they will always inspire me in my walk with Christ, my one true “Master”.
As for priesthood, the connection to Star Wars is less explicit. I don’t think I had any notion of entering seminary when I watched these movies as a kid. Yet when I consider the similarities between Luke Skywalker, whom I essentially wanted to become, and the sort of priest I would one day hope to be, the similarities run much deeper than the black suit. Luke is not afraid to stand apart from his friends, to take time for his spiritual development, or to accept the guidance and wisdom of his superiors. He wants to liberate a galaxy held in bondage to darkness, not by punishing his enemies but by committing himself to the good. I would be hard-pressed to find a better fictional example of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5) than Luke Skywalker throwing down his lightsaber in Return of the Jedi. I can think of no greater love than to lay down one’s life to save one’s enemy, as Luke does for his father. On top of all this, Luke is a hero in all the usual senses of the word: courageous, skilled, wise, successful in defending those who are oppressed and downtrodden. If I can be half of those things, I should count myself fortunate.
But of course, I have one huge advantage over Luke Skywalker: I live in a different metaphysical universe. The source of my power and righteousness is not an impersonal “Force”, but the God who loves me and makes me his own. I do not actually have to be a “hero”; I only have to love him with my whole heart. This is not ultimately something I can learn from Star Wars, and to be honest – after the rather disappointing prequel trilogy – it’s just as well. But in ways that I will never fully be able to account for, I was deeply formed as a young person by the time I spent living in the Star Wars universe, and it’s the only fictional universe that I ever have or ever will explore in such depth. (Pokemon, unfortunately, is a close second.) There is a new Star Wars trilogy beginning in 2015, and I only hope that they will try to live up to the soul of the originals. Kids need to have good role models who inspire them to be the best people they can be. We become what we love, and I am thankful that I loved Star Wars.Tags » beatitudes, evil, father and son, fatherhood, fiction, good and evil, Jedi, mercy, morality, Movies, pop culture, priesthood, redemption, sacrifice, salvation, seminary, slavery, Star Wars, violence