A True Hope: Jedi Perils and the Way of Jesus by Joshua Hays
The new Star Wars film is just days away and the excitement is palpable. Star Wars memorabilia is everywhere you look. With Disney now at the helm of the Star Wars universe, and J.J. Abrams directing the new film, there is no shortage of buzz about characters and storylines and Disney’s treatment of the Lucas legacy.
When discussing the cultural impact of Star Wars, there are many characteristics to consider besides simply the films themselves and the paraphernalia we see clustered in the toy sections at Target and Wal-Mart. In fact, there are many philosophical and theological facets to the films. This may be because George Lucas was a fan of Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who studied the ancient myth and asserted that all great stories follow a particular pattern – what Campbell termed the “monomyth” (also called “The Hero’s Journey”). Essentially, Campbell argues that all great stories echo this pattern, even the mythology of major religions.
Graph courtesy of Lisa A. Paltz Spindler at http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu
That is where Joshua Hays begins his premise of A True Hope: Jedi Perils and the Way of Jesus. Hays writes that Star Wars has such a wide appeal that people are beginning to embrace it as a religion called “Jediism.” A recent article in the Telegraph cites that the “Church of Jedi” has grown rapidly and continues to develop as the films are released. According to Hays, “In the 2001 UK census, 127 people wrote in ‘Jedi’ as their religious preference…The emergence of Jediism as a new religious movement is not unique to the UK: 2001 census results identify 9,000 Jedi in Canada, more than 15.000 in the Czech Republic, and 65,000 in Australia” (5).
Thanks to the new film, those numbers have increased since the printing of this book, according to The Independent.
Courtesy of AdventureAmigos.net
Certainly, there are similarities between major world religions and Star Wars, because Star Wars is essentially modeled after these religions (hence the monomyth). Hays’s book, however, is not about how Star Wars echoes all religions, but specifically how the Jedi and the tenets of Christianity have similar strands of beliefs. Hays further advances his argument by discussing how Christian doctrine and broader philosophical worldviews mingle in the making of our contemporary culture. Young generations have been accused of being “agnostic” or “atheistic” but are, in truth, seeking a diverse and more welcoming spirituality and dismissing more established religions. Hays asserts:
A disdain for totalizing systems makes perfect sense in light of the twentieth century’s shameful legacy of totalitarian abuse and suffering. Having seen how ideologues seize and manipulate political, clerical, and academic power, wary postmoderns remain aloof not only from ideologies but also from government, churches, and schools. Distancing from these traditional institutions provides fresh opportunities for the gospel, because postmodern men and women are open to spirituality (18)
There are so many things that I love about this book. For one, it doesn’t unravel into a generic sermon in a weak attempt to “Christianize” a pop culture phenomenon. Hays is a bonafide Star Wars fan who delves deep into many philosophical discussions. Secular scientists and sociologists are explained with as much depth and attention as Christian leaders. With names like Nietzsche, Einstein, Kant, and Isaac Newton planted within the same text as St. Augustine, Soren Kierkegaard, and Jonathan Edwards, this book gives equal attention to many philosophical perspectives in the stories. Hayes pulls quotes and situations from the films and traces the history of thought from modern to postmodern interpretations, illustrating how the films align with many aspects of religion, but particularly Christianity. Take a glance at the Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes
Chapter 2: Death Is a Natural Part of Life
Chapter 3: An Energy Field Created by All Living Things
Chapter 4: Anger…Fear…Aggression
Chapter 5: The Dark Path
Chapter 6: Luminous Beings
Chapter 7: From a Certain Point of View
Chapter 8: There Is Good in Him; I Can Save Him
These chapters are replete with the inherent wisdom of Biblical truths as reflected in the Star Wars franchise. For example, in chapter four, Hays discusses the “Myth of Intrinsic Goodness”, the “Myth of Stoic Idealism”, as well as fear and aggression as recorded in the Gospels. Hays presents a healthy mix of secular and spiritual approaches for the reader to consider. Although Hays is a Christian and writes with a Christian worldview, those who hold differing religious opinions will still find great insight in this book.
Joshua Hayes at a recent book signing
Another thing I admire about this work is Hays superb writing skill. Hays’s book hosts a nice mix of academic thought with casual and readable text, making complex concepts easier to read and understand. He doesn’t shy away from difficult aspects, rather he approaches them head-on while proving to be a trustworthy guide through the thorny thickets of misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and spiritual ambiguity. Throughout the book, Hays draws strong parallels between Star Wars and contemporary culture and also provides helpful advice on avoiding the characters’ pitfalls.
Story, as C.S. Lewis and Tolkien knew well, can be vehicles for connection and (in their case) spiritual reconciliation. More recently, the power of story has been explored by cognitive scientists and sociologists. Hays argues that the same emotion derived from spiritual mythology is fully utilized in Star Wars. He writes of the popularity and effectiveness of “narrative theology”:
The dramatic rise of narrative theology has become a second important trend in postmodern biblical study…These stories, whether in history, literature, or Scripture, captivate humans through their appeal to emotion. This emotional appeal does not mean that these stories circumvent thought; rather, they invite us to think more deeply by investing ourselves more fully. The emotional power of story is precisely what makes Star Wars so compelling to millions of people. It presents readily identifiable characters transplanted into an unfamiliar setting, inviting audiences to image how they would respond to the issues of love, justice, and freedom that the characters confront.
This book is a perfect blend of philosophy, sociology, and theology. I have read many articles describing the Star Wars phenomenon and religious culture, but none has been as strong or thorough as this book. It was a completely satisfying read which introduced new and intriguing parallels. If you are like me, you are exhausted of books which try to “cash in” on cultural phenomenon while sporting a Christian worldview. More often than not, the writers of these books have little knowledge of pop culture phenomenon (other than the fact that it is popular), and thus focus strictly on Christian teachings without much exploration into the phenomenon itself. These books often lack a good balance (not in the Force, of course) of perspectives. This, I believe, is reductive and rather restrictive. What Hays does differently is that he substantially widens the lens, seeing the films through a larger worldview but noting the Christian elements specifically. For those who enjoy a good philosophical discussion about Star Wars and Christianity, this is the book for you. Every page is burgeoning with insight.
Do you have Star Wars fans to buy for this holiday? A True Hope would make a great Christmas gift. I highly, highly recommend this book for any Jedi fans who wish to explore the philosophical and theological features of the films.
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