George Lucas, the Force and God
by Terry Mattingly
A long time ago, in a movie multiplex not so far away, a
child looked up and asked: "Mom, Dad, is the Force the same thing
Children have been asking that question for 20 years. The
simple answer is "yes." But this raises another question: Which
god or God is at the center of the "Star Wars" universe?
The trilogy's creator was well aware that his work invaded
turf traditionally reserved for parents, priests and preachers.
George Lucas wrote "Star Wars" shortly after the cultural
revolution of the '60s. He sensed a spiritual void.
"I wanted it to be a traditional moral study, to have some
sort of palpable precepts in it that children could understand,"
said Lucas, in a recent New Yorker interview. "There is always a
lesson to be learned. ... Traditionally, we get them from church,
the family, art and in the modern world we get them from the
media -- from movies."
Lucas set out to create a modern mythology to teach right
and wrong. The result was a fusion of "Flash Gordon Conquers the
Universe" and Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces,"
of Arthurian legends and Japanese samurai epics, of Carlos
Castaneda's "Tales of Power" and the Narnia tales of C.S. Lewis.
Along the way, Lucas sold $1.3 billion worth of tickets and "Star
Wars" merchandise sales have topped $4 billion. Now, a revamped
"Star Wars" is back in theaters, to be followed by its sequels,
"The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi." A trilogy
of "prequels" is set to begin in 1999.
The impact of Lucas' work has led some researchers to speak
in terms of a "Star Wars" generation. A modern preacher who wants
to discuss self sacrifice will be understood by more people if he
refers to the death of Jedi knight Obi Wan Kenobi, rather than
that of St. Stephen.
"It was natural that my generation would latch on to these
stories," said Jason Ruspini, webmaster of the unofficial "Star
Wars Home Page," one of nearly 1,000 "Star Wars" Internet sites.
"They were much more attractive and appropriate than the ancient
myths of Judeo-Christian theology. How could these draconian and
antiquated stories possibly compete with the majesty and scope of
the Star Wars universe?"
Lucas grew up in the 1950s in Modesto, Calif., reading
comics, escaping to movies and watching TV. Although he attended
a Methodist church with his family, biographer Dale Pollock notes
that he was turned off by the "self-serving piety" of Sunday
school. Lucas also visited the housekeeper's German Lutheran
congregation, where he was impressed by the elaborate rituals.
Traces of these experiences are woven into his work. "The
message of `Star Wars' is religious: God isn't dead, he's there
if you want him to be," writes Pollock, in his book "Skywalking."
Lucas puts it this way: "The laws really are in yourself."
The faith in "Star Wars" is hard to label. The Force is
defined as "an energy field created by all living things. It
surrounds us and penetrates us." It contains both good and evil.
Jedi master Yoda clearly teaches a form of Buddhism. Yet the
Lucas liturgy also proclaims "May the Force be with you," a
variation on the Christian phrase "May the Lord be with you." The
plot includes other symbols and themes from biblical faith. Lucas
has embraced both "passive Oriental philosophies and the Judeo-
Christian ethic of responsibility and self-sacrifice," according
Thus, some Christians hail "Star Wars" as evidence of a
cultural search for moral absolutes. On the World Wide Web,
others use the films as glowing icons that teach Eastern
philosophy. Welcome to the theological mall.
At the end of Pollock's book, Lucas acknowledges that, by
setting his goals so high, he is asking to be judged by very high
standards. The creator of "Star Wars" explains that one of his
least favorite fantasies is about what will happen when he dies.
Perhaps, he said, he will come face to face with God and hear these
words: "You've had your chance and you blew it. Get out."
Terry Mattingly teaches communications at Milligan College in Tennessee.
He writes a weekly
column for the Scripps Howard News Service. Article used by permission of the author.