It’s famously said that one reason J.R.R. Tolkien built Middle Earth was to create a “mythology for England.” In a letter to Milton Waldman, Tolkien complained of the "poverty of my country: it had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil)."
While it may seem a tortured comparison between the two creative minds, there’s evidence George Lucas had the same bug in his head when he produced Star Wars in 1977. A new myth, for a new age, for a new frontier – space.
Lucas once said that “the story being told in Star Wars is a classic one. Every few hundred years, the story is retold because we have a tendency to do the same things over and over again.”
With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker out this month, we now have the official end to an epic three-part saga that includes a staggering nine films.
And at the end of the Skywalker saga, there can be no doubt that it is rooted in one of the greatest three-part stories ever told – the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
The Christian Bible can be further broken down into three grand narratives: the fall, salvation, and restoration. It’s these three grand themes that are now infused in each of the three Star Wars trilogies.
In the prequels, we have the fall. We enter a galaxy where a perceived “balance” exists. There has been peace for a thousand years in the Republic. It is the ancient walled garden, Paradise. But as in that ancient garden of Eden, a serpent, a great deceiver, a “phantom menace”, has broken in and is set to throw the galaxy into chaos. The great battle, symbolically being fought in the galactic conflict of the Clone Wars, is really about the conflict in Anakin Skywalker between good and evil.
The great deceiver tells him that he can have the power of the gods, to both give and take life. Palpatine, Darth Sidious, nurses Anakin’s desire to want more. Anakin decides to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and move beyond the “narrow, dogmatic views of the Jedi”.
But giving into temptation does not pan out the way Anakin had hoped or believed it would. Through selfishness, he gains the world to “make things the way [he] wants them to be” but loses everything. His wife. His children. His friends. His faith. His punishment is banishment from the garden, and he is sentenced to a lifetime of suffering, trapped in the machine as Darth Vader.
The New Testament writer Paul spoke of the first man Adam in relation to Christ. Anakin is that figure in the Star Wars universe. He is the fallen Jedi that corrupts the galaxy and brings it into darkness. Anakin is the representation of us, which makes his fall that much more disturbing to watch in Revenge of the Sith.
But part two brings us his son, the direct line of his inheritance, Luke Skywalker, and the chapter of redemption. In the final conflict in The Return of the Jedi, it’s impossible to ignore the mythological embodiment of the story of Christ in the figure of Luke. He willingly turns himself over to the authorities as he faces his final temptation. Like his father, he too is offered ultimate power by the great deceiver, but he refuses. He instead chooses that path of non-violence, of love, to redeem the galaxy and his father. He tosses away his weapon and power and succumbs to Palpatine’s torture. In doing so, he saves his father – the line of Adam in our biblical metaphor – who dethrones Palpatine.
And finally, we enter part three of the great story, the last battle between good and evil, between the Jedi and the Sith.
As in Biblical storytelling, the Kingdom of God is here and yet still to come. Salvation is here, but the final restoration and sanctification of creation is promised at an hour we do not know. But the Biblical texts are clear that the Earth will still be corrupt. There will be times of war and famine, of greed, and “brutal haters of good.” That’s no doubt the state of the galaxy when we enter it in this new trilogy.
It has allowed the power of the evil one to once again gain control in the First Order, now evolved into the Final Order in The Rise of Skywalker. Like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia stories, the Jedi now have all but disappeared with Luke in exile.
And as in the last book of the Bible, the evil one rises again in the person of Palpatine. Revelation speaks of how a dragon looks to “devour the child of Israel” – just as he seeks to devour his own grandchild’s soul, the last embodiment and hope of the Jedi – Rey.
Here the great final battle in the story of Skywalker takes place. There are riders on horses in the heavens, a call back to Revelation that has been used by storytellers for generations. There is the final defeat of the Sith as, quite literally, the heavenly forces of the Jedi definitively defeat evil. Director J.J. Abrams then takes us to shots of the evil remnants of the First Order being purged across the galaxy. The universe is now fully restored. The Jedi have won. There are no more tears at the end of this story.
While Lucas was not the architect of this final trilogy, it’s impossible not to commend the master stroke of storytelling that his creation of the Star Wars universe has been for the modern age. Through lightsabers, x-wings, clones, Jedi, Sith, and scruffy nerf herders, it has reminded new audiences of the most important lessons we have learned from our most ancient of stories. We are warned about our dark sides, of spiritual decay, of selfishness, anger, and fear. But in those warnings, we rediscover ancient virtues of nobility, heroism, faith, hope, and love. And those are the stories we’ll never tire of being told.