The Allegories of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By Kersley Fitzgerald

There once was a family that lived in the outreaches of a caliphate. The parents had been involved in an uprising that led to the country becoming more moderate, but the tide turned, and they had to lie low. They saw a lot of potential in their young son, so they sent him to the madrassa run by his uncle. His uncle is devout, but fully dedicated to peace.

It's unclear how, exactly, the young son was radicalized. He spent much time away from his parents, and although his uncle cared for him, their relationship was built more on education and discipline than love. It could be that the boy saw the rise of the caliphate and realized that his uncle's brand of religion would lead to nothing but struggle and sacrifice. That a life of real power and position was only with the caliphate. The Caliph singled him out and eventually drew him out of his uncle's madrassa. The boy went willingly, although he was still somewhat torn. It was rumored that as a show of loyalty, the boy bombed the madrassa, killing the young students. His parents were heartbroken to the point that his father abandoned his mother. His uncle was so devastated he shut down his school and disappeared.

This caliphate is known for taking children from their parents and raising them to serve the Caliph. One such young man was promoted from laborer to soldier. On his first mission, when he was ordered to kill everyone in a small village, he realized he didn't have the stomach for it. His supervisor noticed his hesitancy, but before he could be sent for reconditioning he found a prisoner — a resistance soldier — scheduled for execution. He rescued the prisoner who in turn agreed to help him escape.

The deserter knew only two things: the caliphate was evil, and he needed to get as far away as possible. He would not kill for them, and he would not be taken prisoner. He didn't care where he went or how much he had to lie, he just needed to get away. The soldier and the deserter became separated, and the deserter escaped the caliphate's reach only with the help of a young woman.

The young woman was a bit of an enigma. Like most in her village, she was a secularist and had no love for the caliphate. Her family had left her in relative safety when she was a child, promising to return when they could. She still held out hope, and left only when the deserter told her he needed her to get information to the resistance — information that could lead to the destruction of the caliphate. Through a sequence of events, the young woman not only got the information to the right hands, her acceptance turned the heart of the deserter. He became a willing participant in the resistance against the caliphate as his fear was replaced with a deeper sense of purpose.

I don't know if the writers of Star Wars: The Force Awakens intended for the plot to be an allegory of personal struggles of the Middle East, but it certainly came out that way. The radicalized son of a moderate family, unable to accept that a peaceful life is good enough. A political asylum-seeker, fleeing for his life, willing to do anything to get away, not necessarily thinking about where he's going or caring what he'll have to do to stay safe. And a young woman, waiting for something better, who has to decide whether to hold onto that dream or give it all up to do what's right and help the people in her path.

I could talk about how the movie seemed like bits and pieces of Episodes IV-VI mixed together. How has the same characters (Big Bad Guy, smaller bad guy, old good guy, young Padawan...). Yet another Death Star. (Sorry — Starkiller.) The smaller bad guy killing his father/father-figure. How much the Storm Trooper helmets look like ducks. And/or how much I liked it anyway. It was the situations and the choices of the three younger characters that really got to me.

In the office, we've been having discussions about how much people like standards. We like to have a set of rules to follow that will ensure we're doing it right and will earn us a pat on the head at the end of the day. Some turn to radical Islam; others turn to radical homeschooling. What was it that drew Kylo Ren — not only to the dark side, but to a hyper-legalistic lifestyle? Was it the structure? What pull did Snoke have that Luke and Han didn't? What is it that draws kids from moderate Islamic — or even secular — families into ISIS? How do we reach them before it's too late? Before they metaphorically kill their fathers and dedicate themselves to law and hate?

The biggest arguments in recent weeks have been about the "Finns" of the world. We won't get too many Finns in America; he is a fugitive migrant, not a fully-vetted refugee. But I wonder how many of us would have the courage to be like Finn. To escape a decent life working for a horrific regime, knowing that to leave is to put a price on your head. How many young men have fled Syria when they realized they'd be forced to fight? How desperate are they? In a way, the Rebels had it easier, because Finn is a fictional character and can prove his loyalty in a few hours. But how do real people escape such circumstances and learn to adapt to a new way of life?

I think most of us would identify more with Rey. She's living day-to-day, waiting for something better, not really willing to go out of her way to make a splash if it requires disrupting her life too much. Even after she makes the sacrifice to help Finn, she wants to go back. I see that in myself quite a bit. I'm willing to help others if I can still go home at night, return to the familiar, and wait for the good life that I have planned. I may even help someone who was once an enemy. But only for a while. What would it take for me to give up everything for the right thing?

Star Wars isn't the only series dipping its toes into the refugee allegory. In an earlier Doctor Who episode, a treaty was struck wherein Zygons — shape-shifting aliens — were allowed to settle in Great Britain if they agreed to appear like humans and live quiet human lives. In this year's "The Zygon Invasion" and "The Zygon Inversion," a new generation of refugees has been hatched, and they don't want to play by the agreements their parents made. They want to be able to express themselves and live in a world that reflects their identity and beliefs.

The two-parter was interesting because although it did sufficiently show the dilemma faced by the host nation, the script was mostly a message to the refugees. The Doctor spent a great deal of time talking to the rebel Zygon, explaining the horrors that follow after the first shot is fired. He also emphasized the value of forgiveness, explaining that it was powerful enough to avert war.

I know that everyone has their own opinion about refugees, and that many of those opinions are half-formed. But the episode asks some questions that we as Christians need to answer. Refugees will come; refugees are already here. It is unlikely that older adults will be involved in terrorist attacks. They know what they left, and they appreciate the opportunity they have. But we have seen that their kids sometimes are susceptible to radicalization.

The question is, what is our response? Whether we're teachers or counselors or neighbors or we just happen to be in the same store as a refugee — what is our heart attitude?

Han's was love. Maybe he was foolish for walking so close to his son. Maybe he should have asked Ben/Kylo Ren to drop the light saber first. But those are peripheral logistics. What came first was love. If our core motivation isn't love, we're doing it wrong. Are we, like Han, truly willing to do anything to save someone who has been seduced by evil?

I'm not sure what Rey's motivation was when she let Kylo Ren live, whether it was pity or hope. Despite her short time with Han, she had become extremely attached, and it was horrifying for her to see his son kill him. But she also knew Kylo's internal struggle — that he wasn't completely dedicated to the dark side, perhaps even after killing Han. Hope stayed Luke's hand against Vader, and it paid off with Anakin's deathbed conversion. Without hope, there is zero chance we will have peace with refugees. And peace with anyone is only possible with hope in God.

When we meet Finn, he understands justice, and he even has enough courage to escape, but his courage hasn't developed yet into self-sacrifice. It is reasonable to want to flee from evil. In some cases it requires that we give up the comforts we have. But it takes even more to willingly turn around and fight that evil to protect others and because it's the right thing to do. Rey understands a little that their battle is not against the flesh and blood Ben Solo, but the authorities, the powers of the dark, the spiritual forces of the evil Kylo Ren (Ephesians 6:12). We need courage and self-sacrifice, but we also need to remember who the enemy is.

Switching series, the Doctor's core attitude was forgiveness. The Zygon rebellion, though just starting, had already killed several humans. Would the humans forgive them? Would the newly hatched Zygons forgive their parents for forcing them into a life where they couldn't live as they wished? The Doctor was the first to forgive, not only because he could see the big picture (that unforgiveness leads to war) but because he recalled the horrible mistakes he had made in war. The wrong he had caused and all the times he needed forgiveness. It shouldn't be too far of a leap to see ourselves in that. Every time we hate or fear or refuse to hope, we need forgiveness as well.

That's a lot of biblical truth for a movie based on eastern mysticism and a humanist TV show. But the source doesn't make it less true. What we need to do with the refugee situation is complicated. There are political, social, and practical implications that will require years to unpack. God gives us quite a bit of leeway in that. But He requires us to start with love (1 Corinthians 13:1), hope (1 Corinthians 13:7), courage (2 Timothy 1:7), self-sacrifice (Romans 12:1), and forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15). These are not suggestions. They are not ideals. Nor are they best-case-scenario options. They are middle-of-the-war-surrounded-by-enemies requisites for those who claim to follow Christ.

Are we willing to accept that?

Published 12-21-2015