I grew up on TV, and as a child had a particular interest in science fiction. What interested me was not who the actors or actresses were, but what the film was about, how it related to real life, what it meant.
I often analysed the films I watched and discussed the characters with my friends. By the time I went to college in my teens, I was well-versed in films, going to the cinema pretty much every Saturday night.
I embarked on communication studies at A level, which meant I immersed myself in sociology, psychology and the media. I got an A-grade in exams and went on to do a degree in Film, Media and Culture, which involved, in part, studying films from all over the world and learning more about the societies that produced them.
At university I did my dissertation on the Star Wars trilogy. At the time there were only three films in existence: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but the fourth film was in production. I decided to research what the films were all about, and what people thought of them, particularly what they made of ‘The Force’. After all, The Force is the unifying text in the Star Wars trilogy and all the main characters come into contact with it, one way or another.
The British Film Institute in London holds a vast amount of material on Star Wars and I read everything I could get my hands on during my time there. I was surprised to find that George Lucas was interested in Buddhism. He directed A New Hope, but enlisted the help of Richard Marquand and Irvin Kershner for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, both of whom were sympathetic to Buddhism.
From all that I read, the biggest surprise was to read what some Christians thought of Star Wars. One article read, ‘It’s a fight of good against evil in outer space’. I find this hard to believe, given The Force is with those who practice good and evil, and this does not accord with the Bible. We know that good and evil do not come from the same source. The Bible says that God is good; he hates evil.
Episode VIII, The Last Jedi makes it clear that the way of the Jedi is a religion. Luke Skywalker has been protecting some religious Jedi books on a remote planet where he has been hiding. Luke takes some time during the film to teach Ray to meditate, draw strength from within and control her feelings.
Other characters and iconography in the film resemble something similar to the ying and yang symbols. Yoda re-appears, though dead, as a ghostly adviser; and Luke himself is absorbed into The Force at the end of the film, possibly moving to a higher state of consciousness, as his cloak drifts to the ground following an intense battle with Ben, the potential successor to Vadar and former son of Han Solo.
The film is fiction, but the message is not. The Force bears a remarkable resemblance to the energy associated with New Age teaching that people claim to tap into. But the Bible clearly states God is a person not a force (John 17:1-3; 2 Corinthians 13:14). He is outside creation. He is our Creator (Isaiah 40:28) and personally, our sustainer (Psalm 55:22).
Given the contradictory teaching of Star Wars to the Bible, should Christians be watching such things? This can be a hard question for both film-watchers and those who may not give films or TV a second thought. To answer it, it is helpful to consider the stance Christians have taken in times past.
I remember several years ago working on a voluntary basis for Lambeth Archive in London. In that archive there are some fascinating books, one of which is called Evangelicals and culture. It’s a yellow, hardback book with typewriter print — I say this so you get some idea of when the book was written. The truths contained in it accord with the timeless truths of the Bible.
There were Christians in times past who boycotted the cinema. They used to give out leaflets outside cinema doors, encouraging people to think about Christ and to look away from the culture of their time to a Christian counter-culture that seeks to feed on better things.
Today’s films seem to be largely at variance with the Bible, which causes a problem for the Christian conscience and raises the question of whether we should again boycott the silver screen.
Next time you think of going to the cinema, please consider what it is you’re going to see, and find out, if you can, what was in the director’s, producer’s or writer’s mind. This will help you decide if it’s really something good for you, something that will honour God, and something you should watch. ‘All things are permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are permissible for me, but not all things edify’ (1 Corinthians 10:23).