Franciscan Spirit Blog

Star Wars and Christian Mysticism

Yoda doll

Over the last four decades many have tried to pin down the possible spiritual or religious origins of Star Wars. Often these attempts have been in vain, as if to boost the validity of one’s own religion or belief-system by attaching it to a cultural phenomenon, as if to say, “See, what I believe is popular!” There’s been an influx of these voices once more with the release of The Rise of Skywalker last December and The Mandalorian on Disney+ (Season 2 was released recently). Know that this is not one of those attempts.

Like any good storytelling, the truths that resound in Star Wars are universal, connecting deeply to the human experience—to each person’s journey through conflict and suffering to love and awakening. Though science-fiction, Star Wars does what Richard Rohr says is true of sacred mythology and parables. It taps into something that is truer than true and, in this sense, is deeply spiritual, resonating across religions, belief-systems, and cultures.

These undertones, I believe, are worth exploring because of their sacred resonance. Its themes are so subjectively true to each viewer that it connects to something that is universally true, something that threads through all of reality. Some might call this “God.” 

In my youth, Star Wars, spiritually speaking, was all about the tension between the dark side and the light side of the Force—a saga about morality; choosing love and hope over hate and fear, timeless lessons for anyone but especially when venturing through formative years, able to recognize what is right and wrong for perhaps the first time.

With the Star Wars craze returning this past year, I’ve begun watching the films again, as well as The Mandalorian (which we binged twice because my fiancé is obsessed with Baby Yoda). This time around, the Force took on a more theologically rich meaning that I found to be just as profound as those lessons in my youth. 

Oneness and With-ness

For close to the last decade, I’ve been on a spiritual journey that so many others have also embarked upon: breaking down my previous rigid religious paradigm that was shaped by my ego and reconstructing a new spiritual paradigm that is shaped by my spirit and soul. That journey has involved naming unhealthy theology that cultivates shame, fear, and insecurity and reconstructing a healthier framework—informed by some of the great mystics and contemplatives—that inspires the deepening of love, wonder, and gratitude.

I no longer have the indoctrinated answers that I once had about God. I used to have God all boxed up in Bible verses, objectified, ready to tell you all about God’s plan of salvation and why he acts how he acts. I had made God into a “conceptual idol,” as philosopher Peter Rollins calls it. But after all of the deconstructing and de-objectifying, once my perfectly-constructed City of Religion had crumbled and I was spit out into the open field of mysticism, I was left with a conception of God that had two fundamental ever-expanding traits: oneness and with-ness, two cornerstones of Christian mysticism. God was one with me (John 17), and God was with me (John 1). The infinite mysteries of oneness and with-ness take us deeper into the truth of the incarnation. 

Spirituality, then, under this notion, is all about awakening more and more to this oneness—that which is already true, uncovering what Thomas Merton calls the “true self”—and being liberated by the reality of this divine with-ness. Why? So that we, too, may live out of our oneness with creation, the world, and those around us—and be with people in their suffering, just as Jesus displayed in his ministry, just as Christ has done for us. 

Interestingly, it seems that one-ness and with-ness are two fundamental components of the purest nature of the Force throughout Star Wars.

Of course, the Force can also be used for evil, as the dark side consistently does in the saga—to flex power, to build an oppressive empire, to cause suffering and division in the galaxy. This is what the religious leaders did in Jesus’s day in the name of “God” for the construction of their own empires and what many continue to do today. But any movement that contradicts the inherent oneness and with-ness that is at the ultimate base of things (with the divine, with creation, and with one another) is not good religion; it’s not Christlike religion. It’s just phony empire. With the Rebels, however, we witness the purest animation of the Force—an inner experience in the dedicated Jedis that slowly weeds out fear and hate and cultivates love and hope, a connectedness to the galaxy that inspires fighting for the marginalized and disenfranchised, and an undying drive for justice and equality. 

Storytelling-wise, what I love most about the Force is how the Star Wars writers slowly break it open throughout the saga. We are at first led to believe that only Jedis and Siths can use the Force, but the truth is that they just use it a particular way. We all know, deep down, that the Force is much broader than magic only practiced by wizards. The Rebels understand the Force as more of a thread of love and hope and beauty that connects them—“an energy field created by all living things,” as Obi-wan described to Luke Skywalker—and even began saying to one another, “May the force be with you.” Other Star Wars characters are “force-sensitive” as well, most notably Princess Leia and Finn, the ex-stormtrooper in the final trilogy who talks openly about being able to feel the force, though he cannot use it in the same way as Rey. 

No character epitomizes this theological framework more, though, than Chirrut Ïmwe, a blind warrior in Rogue One who experiences a deep connection to the Force and repeats to himself throughout the movie, “I am one with the force, and the force is with me” as a mantra. In a single line through an unassuming character, the intimacy and experiential nature of the Force is explained. 

At first, it is easy to think that Chirrut is either charismatic in his ignorance or perhaps really lucky or both, as he fights stormtroopers, not with a lightsaber, but with a humble staff, and is sometimes saved by his longtime friend, Baze Malbus. But time and time again throughout the movie, what Chirrut senses through the Force propels him to accomplish unfathomable feats. What he represents thematically breaks open the Star Wars universe and confirms what we already knew to be true. The Force is not just reserved for the elite, just as the rich intimacy of faith is not just for saints or clergy—the inner experience and intimacy of one-ness and with-ness is for everyone! As Jesus said in John 17, “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.” He wasn’t just talking to his apostles. He was speaking to us. 

So, no matter what you believe, no matter your religious practice, consider allowing the divine, magical, intimate, and beautiful one-ness and with-ness that exists at the core level of your being to resonate more deeply today.

We’re never as alone as we sometimes feel. As Yoda mystically says to Rey at the end of The Rise of Skywalker, “Alone, never have you been.” We are one with Love, and Love is with us.

Perhaps consider dwelling upon the reality of one-ness and with-ness the next time you watch a Star Wars film or watch the next season of The Mandalorian. Allow the entertainment to also be a meditation, as loving truth sinks deeper into your heart and mind. 

Maybe even try out Chirrut Ïmwe’s mantra this week or month or remainder of this crazy year. You can substitute “Lord” for “Force” if you’d like. Say it as a prayer throughout the day, as a reminder that you are one with God and that God is with you. Pray it when your anxiety takes over, when you feel as if you are drowning. Or when you feel tempted to think or do something that doesn’t serve you well. Or when you are marveling at the beauty of creation, or perhaps stepping into a brand new day, or gazing into the eyes of a loved one. Or when you think you’re alone. Allow these words to open your heart and mind to the deeper level of all things:

I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.

Stephen Copeland writer

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