Everyone is talking about Star Wars: the Last Jedi. The movie grossed over $793 million worldwide, making it the 10th highest-grossing film of 2017. The franchise began in 1977 and produced several films in the series: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Force Awakens and the Last Jedi. The Phantom Menace became the most anticipated motion picture of all time because people were anxiously waiting for the movie for over sixteen years.
The total value of the Star Wars franchise was estimated at around US $42 billion dollars, making it the most successful film merchandising franchise. The films captured the imagination of our generation. Millions of fans popped up all over the world. It pervaded our pop culture, our language, our entertainment, our psychology, our education, and even our religion. The religion of Jedi was born. Four hundred thousand people in the United Kingdom, 70,000 in Australia, and 53,000 in New Zealand declared themselves as followers of the Jedi faith.
What is the message presented through these science fiction movies? You pick up some popcorn and pepsi, sit back and enjoy an imaginary tale. Aren’t these movies just for entertainment?. In reality, these movies are more than entertainment. They have been sending a powerful metaphysical message to our generation.
These movies were originally created by George Lucas. Lucas wanted to create a universal myth that would resonate with audiences around the world. Let me give you some background story. Lucas was influenced by Joseph Campbell. The Star Wars movies borrowed their main ideas from Campbell’s work on world mythology. Joseph Campbell was born in 1904 in White Plains, New York and died in 1987 in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1924, Campbell was traveling to Europe in a ship called S.S.Lotus. He was just 20 years old. During this trip he met Jiddu Krishnamurti, a Hindu guru and an Indian philosopher. Joseph Campbell and Jiddu Krishnamurti became friends immediately. Krishnamurti introduced Campbell to Eastern mysticism and Hinduism. Campbell voraciously read religious texts of India and absorbed their stories. He analyzed the myths of other ancient cultures and came to the conclusion that all myths were different faces of the same primordial myth. He called this idea, the Hero’s journey. In 1949, Campbell published his groundbreaking book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Campbell also added some psychology to his Eastern mysticism. How could different cultures which never interacted arrive at the same Hero? Campbell adopted Carl Jung’s view that all human brains shared universal archetypes. Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist who collaborated with Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. The Hero’s journey is also called the monomyth. The term monomyth was borrowed from James Joyce (1882 – 1941), the Irish novelist who wrote the famous novel, Ulysses. Campbell was also influenced by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860). Schopenhauer adopted many elements of Hinduism into his own philosophy. Anthropologist Franz Boas also influenced Campbell with his ideas like cultural relativism.
So, Joseph campbell made his Hero with thousand faces with elements borrowed from Hinduism, Buddhism, psychology, anthropology, literature and philosophy. The basic storyline is the hero goes through trials and temptations, makes atonement, then undergoes death and rebirth. He moves from ignorance to enlightenment. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth repeats. We can see the Hinduism’s concept of karma and rebirth in this cycle. Christianity presents us with a linear view of history. History has a definite beginning and a definite end. This is just one life. You are not coming back. But Hinduism presents a cyclical view. You die and then you reincarnate like Campbell’s Hero.
George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars series, was deeply influenced by the Hero with a Thousand Faces. Lucas invited Joseph Campbell to his Skywalker Ranch Studios in the San Francisco Bay area. They viewed the first three Star Wars films, all in one day. After watching these movies, Campbell said, “I saw things from my books being rendered in modern terms. I admire what he’s done immensely. He opened a vista, knew how to follow it and it was totally fresh. It seems to me that he carried the thing through very well”
The Force: The mystical and spiritual reality in the Star Wars galaxy is known as the Force. Princess Leia says, ‘May the Force be with you’. Thanks to the Star Wars; we used to say, ‘May God be with you’, now it is, ‘May the Force be with you’. People describe their faith as, ‘spiritual, not religious’. They are identifying with this abstract force, not the personal God of Christianity. Luke Skywalker, one of the heroes of the movies, saves the Rebel Alliance from the evil Galactic Empire by destroying the Death Star. Death Star is going through nirvana through its explosion. Luke destroyed the Death Star using the Force. This force is the mystic power that unites the cosmos. What destroyed the Death Star? the Force. Not Luke’s great qualities like courage and determination. The point is, there is a greater Force at work in this universe than you and me. In one scene, Han Solo returns from helping Luke, then Princess Leia praises him for leaving his crude materialism: “I knew there was more to you than money”. Han and Luke were romantically competing for Leia. But now they got the realization. Now they knew that everything is under the control of the Force. As they realize that fact, they stop quarreling and start loving each other. This realization is like removing the maya, the illusion that covers us and hinders us from understanding the reality.
Bill Moyers once asked George Lucas in an interview, “Is this what Ben Kenobi urges upon Luke Skywalker when he says, “Trust your feelings?” Lucas replied, ‘Ultimately the Force is the larger mystery of the universe. And to trust your feelings is your way into that’. So, it’s about the Force and the feelings. The larger mystery of the universe is the Force.
The Force has two faces. It is wielded by both good guys and bad guys. The Jedi, uses the light side of the force and the Sith uses the dark side of the Force through hate and violence.
We saw Yoda in Star Wars movies starting from the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda trains Luke Skywalker to fight against the Galactic Empire. He is the Grand Master of the Jedi order. George Lucas created Yoda based on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a Hindu guru who founded Transcendental Meditation.
Yoda is the high priest of the Force. Like a Guru who can communicate with the divine using transcendental meditation, Yoda and Jedi can communicate with the Force using their unique abilities. Yoda tells Luke Skywalker that we should not see ourselves in terms of our outward appearance but in terms of the spiritual spark with in. There is that divine light in every one of us. Every one of us is divine. This is also from Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of Hinduism, says, ‘That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul’ (2.17). ‘As the sun alone illuminates the entire universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness’ (13.34)
So, the Force is influencing both good guys and bad guys, it is everywhere and it is accessible through special communication. We can see pantheism staring in our faces in this Force. Pantheism says everything is god. You are god, I am god, your water bottle is god, your pen is god, your computer is god, your smartphone is god. Hinduism says that Brahman is the all-pervasive force in the universe. Everything in the universe is under the force of the Brahman. Bhagavad Gita says that this Force is the source of all power in the universe. The Force is impersonal. It reminds us the Brahman, the ultimate reality. The Force has light side and dark side, just like the Brahman or the ultimate reality has light (prakash) and dark (andhakar) sides. This force manifested as several forces in the nature in the form of several gods. Dyaus Pitar, the sky god; Agni, the fire god; Yama, the death god; and Indra, the warrior god. Hinduism describes this force as ‘nirguna’, without attributes. This force takes on many forms in different gods of the pantheon.
Cosmic Battle: The Star Wars is a cosmic battle. Carrie Fisher recently died. She played Princess Leia in Star Wars movies. This beautiful princess Leia is kidnapped by a powerful warlord, Darth Vader. Luke Skywalker receives the message. With the aid of his humanoid assistants, he will fight with Darth Vader and rescues the Princess Leia. That is also Hinduism 101. It comes from Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic poem. The beautiful princess Sita is kidnapped by Ravana, an evil warlord. Rama receives the message. With the aid of his half-human, half-animal assistants, he fights with Ravana and rescues princess Sita.
Mahabharata is another ancient Indian epic poem. Many of its themes also made their way into Star Wars movies. Arjuna is fighting in the great battle called Kurukshetra. The battle is between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and Pandavas. Arjuna is not sure whether he is battling for the right reasons. He goes through an intense period of questioning. He drops his sword and laments, ‘Krishna, I will not fight’. He is uncertain, unbelief took over him. But Krishna, the divine being came to encourage Arjuna.
Krishna instructs Arjuna that this is a battle between dharma and adharma, righteousness and unrighteousness. Arjuna’s duty is to kill anyone who is on the side of unrighteousness. Krishna comes and enforces him to go into the battle.
We can see Arjuna in Luke Skywalker. Luke is not sure whether he is battling for the right reasons. He flails his lightsaber blindly around him. He is confused. He is uncertain, unbelief took over him. Like Krishna, Obi-Wan comes to encourage Luke. Obi-Wan instructs Luke that the path to victory is to join hands with Jedi and to believe in the Force.
Search for Big Story: Let me give you three final points. The Star Wars movies start with a grand background. There is ‘a vast sea of stars’ with drums ‘echoing through the heavens’, and words disappearing into ‘infinity’. There is a big story beckoning us for spiritual awakening. This is a cosmic story, ‘ A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’. As this big story unfolds, you will discover big wonders. There is Force everywhere in the universe. There is divinity in every being. There is no personal, distinct God outside the universe. There is only the Force. George Lucas once said, ‘I am telling an old myth in a new way’. Please note those words, ‘I am telling an old myth in a new way’. This myth is as old as Adam and Eve. In the Garden of Eden, Satan told Adam and Eve, ‘If you eat this fruit, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3:5). The Star Wars is about moving from ignorance to knowledge and realizing the unity with the Force. That is Satan’s message from the beginning: You shall be like gods, you can be your own god, there is no God outside the universe, apart from nature.
The tremendous success of the Star Wars franchise reveals the fact that we love myths. We are constantly drawn to myths. C.S.Lewis said, Christianity is a myth come true. J.R.R.Tolkien was writing great mythological stories. Lewis convinced Tolkien that Christ is the true myth.
God came down to this world, born through a virgin, sounds like a myth, but it is a myth came true.
God came down to this world as a baby boy, sounds like a myth, but it is a myth came true.
A fully God and fully human being walked on this planet, sounds like a myth, but it is a myth came true.
A Divine-human being did miracles like walking on the water, sounds like a myth, but it is a myth came true.
A Divine-human being walked in Israel, some time disrupting funerals, calling people out of their graves, sounds like a myth, but it is a myth came true.
A Divine-human being died for the sins of the whole world, sounds like a myth, but it it is a myth came true.
A Divine-human being raised from the dead three days after his burial, sounds like a myth, but it is a myth came true.
Search for Meaning: I need someone to show me my place in all this
Then, let us see the underlying theme of finding meaning. There is a cosmic story with every individual struggling to find his or her meaning, purpose and significance in life. Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker found no meaning in the materialistic things around him. He found no meaning in the luxuries of life. He was unfulfilled by his existence. He is searching for meaning and significance. He is searching for something deeper and greater. Like Buddha, Anakin leaves in search for meaning. Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker also enters into the existential dilemma: He asks himself, ‘Who am I?’, ‘What is my place in the universe?’, ‘What is life really all about?’, ‘What should I do with my existence?’ The search for these answers propels his journeys through the galaxies.
The female Jedi Rey painfully asks in Last Jedi, ‘I need someone to show me my place in all this’. That is the cry of every human heart, ‘I need someone to show me my place in all this’. We cry out, ‘In this cosmic story, what is my place? I need someone to show me my place in all this’. That is where Jesus enters the scene. In John 3:16, Jesus said, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”
God loved you so much that He sent His Son to this world as Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus told us the big story. The Star Wars say you can become a Jedi and fight this battle on your own using the Force. In other words, this is the classic ‘a religion of works’. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, in fact, all religions are the religions of works. But Christian gospel says you can not fight this cosmic battle. You can not save yourself based on your works. God fought it for you. Christ defeated the enemy.
Search for Relationship: God is not a force, God is a person. A loving person who sacrificed His son for you and for me. Since God is a person, we can have a personal relationship with God. It is a cosmic story but there is meaning, significance and fulfillment offered to every single individual.
The Star Wars movies end with a message that there is a heavenly wonder beyond. That is what we are waiting for: a heavenly wonder. We read in John 3:16, That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
There is hope. The hope of eternal life. The very first Star Wars movie was titled Episode IV: A New Hope. In Christ, God offered humanity a new hope.
Tim LaHaye wrote many books, best known for the Left Behind series. He died last year (2016). His father, Frank LaHaye died when Tim was just nine years old. During the funeral, Tim was crying and crying. No one could console the little boy. Finally, the minister looked at him and said, ‘‘Tim, this is not the end of Frank LaHaye; because he accepted Jesus Christ, the day will come when the Lord will shout from heaven and descend, and the dead in Christ will rise first and then we’ll be caught up together to meet him in the air’. That is the hope only God can give us.
So, in Star Wars movies, we see the old myth presented in the new way. The big screens, IMAX, animatronics, CGI, droids, clones, Ewoks, all sorts of modern technology is refined to encourage us to ask ourselves, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ ‘What is my place in the universe?’ ‘Is there any hope?’
In Lord Jesus Christ, God gave us the perfect answers to those questions. We pray that you come to Jesus and find the true meaning, significance and fulfillment to your life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are the God-Incarnate. As our Creator and Savior, we find the true meaning, significance and purpose to our lives when we put our faith in you and establish a relationship with you. We thank you for your great sacrifice on the cross for our sins. We praise you for the great hope you’ve given us through your resurrection from the dead. In your precious name, we pray. Amen.
The Jedi in the Lotus: Star Wars and the Hindu Tradition, By Steven Rosen