This is a big year for Catholics: the year of mercy. It is also a big year for fans of Star Wars. J.J. Abrams has brought out the first of the final three installments of the series, and it is really good. I saw it yesterday with a lot of my family and we all thought it was a worthy treatment–on the level of the original movies.
But do these two events have anything to do with each other? In a way, they do. The Force Awakens is not a bad movie for the year of mercy.
There is a very obvious sense in which the theology of Star Wars is not consistent at all with Christianity. For Christians, God is the supreme being. The devil is only a creature, made by God. Satan is a very powerful creature, and having gone fundamentally wrong he is a very dangerous creature. But there is no comparison between him and God in power or being, which is why he is going to lose in the end.
In contrast, Star Wars has a kind of dualism at work in its theology. It makes a clear distinction between good and evil, but it suggests that good does not have any privileged ontological status. The fundamental spiritual reality seems to be The Force, and it has a light side and a dark side. This is nothing like Christianity.
But there is something somewhat Christian about the morality of Star Wars, something that relates to the year of mercy. The moral weight of the original series rested not just on its depiction of a cosmic fight between good and evil, but also on its concern with the redemption of Darth Vader, who had put himself at the service of evil for a long, long time. The Return of the Jedi seems to teach that it is worth it putting yourself at risk to win back an evildoer. After all, Luke certainly could have been destroyed in trying to get his father back.
The Force Awakens brings this theme back and is therefore consistent with Star Wars at its best. It is also consistent with what Pope Francis wants to teach us, since he has often emphasized that we should want not only to keep ourselves pure, but also take the risk of going out after the lost sheep.