[Note: This is an evaluation of spiritual perspectives in the movie, not a summary of the plot or a critique of the acting. Parents of younger children, keep in mind this is a PG-13 movie and has very violent and scary scenes. Further evaluation of spiritual views in previous Star Wars movies can be found in CANA article on previous Star Wars movie, "Attack of the Clones," and in articles "The Dark Side," and "Yin and Yang: Going With the Flow."]
This movie is mainly a series of battle scenes, with almost no plot except for the Sith plan to make the Jedi warriors look like traitors. Since there is so much fighting, dialogue is not lengthy, so the commentary on this movie is rather brief.
When the movie starts, Obi-Wan Kenobi is dressed in white and his Jedi disciple, Anakin, is dressed in black. Perhaps this is a foreshadowing of Anakin's descent into the dark side, or perhaps it is a representation of the dark and light sides of the Force. The Force does take center stage in this movie and is often referred to. The Force is never really explained in these movies; it just is. Nor do we know exactly how the Jedi wield the Force; we mainly see them use it when fighting. It seems to give them supernormal powers, powers that even resemble what one thinks of as magical abilities.
The Jedi and the Sith are similar, we are told, except that the Jedi use the light side of the Force while the Sith use the dark side. Still, they are both using the Force, just different sides of it. At one point about 45 minutes into the movie, Obi-Wan says, "Isn't Anakin the Chosen One? Is he not the one who will bring balance to the Force?" This balancing of the Force is mentioned several times in the movie.
Balancing the Force means that both the dark and light sides remain intact; it's just that they are balanced. It is never a question of the light side vanquishing the dark side that is impossible, since, in order to exist, the Force must have both a dark and light side. This view is an occult dualistic view that holds that good and evil must co-exist in order for each to exist at all, and is becoming a more commonly accepted view in our culture. [See CANA article, "The Dark Side"]. The Force, like power in the occult and like the Tao in Taoism, is neutral. Keep in mind that George Lucas has studied and admires Eastern religions. In this view, there is no ultimate good, just the Force, or power, or the Tao.
Anakin is told several times by Jedi masters to "Use your feelings" or "Search your Feelings." Yoda also says this to Obi-Wan. This was in other Star Wars movies as well. The emphasis on feelings as superior to thinking or as a special by-product of using the Force, is evident in this movie.
When things begin to go awry after Anakin turns to the dark side, we see Yoda bending over and holding his side at different points as though in pain or anguish, though he cannot see what is happening. This, I assume, reveals Yoda's supersensitivy (i.e., psychic power) developed by his mastery of the Force. It seems the more advanced one is in mastery of the Force, the more one is able to detect things with a supernormal feeling or intuition. This is why this seems to be a supernatural and not a natural ability. At the end of the movie, Obi-Wan and Yoda decide they must hide Padme's twins, Luke and Leia, somewhere where the Sith cannot "sense" their presence.
Anakin has dreams that Padme, who has become pregnant, will die in childbirth. Anguished over this, he consults Yoda. Yoda tells him not to fear losing those he loves, because they go to the Force. He also tells Anakin that he needs to train himself not to be attached to those he loves. This is classic Buddhist philosophy. When I first saw the Star Wars movies, long before I was a Christian, I thought of Yoda as a little Zen Buddhist who had a psychic's paranormal worldview (due to his training of Luke in using his thoughts for power). Buddhism teaches that desire causes suffering, and Zen Buddhism in particular focuses on training to become detached (mainly through meditation) from all desire.
Yoda tells Anakin that death is "natural." In the biblical worldview, death is not natural, but is the result of sin entering the world. Death is natural to a fallen world, but not to the world God created, nor to the age when death will finally be conquered. First Corinthians 15:26 states that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death."
Although Anakin seems to want the power of the dark side so he can save Padme from a future death in childbirth, Anakin is first put in a difficult position by his own Jedi masters. Except for Obi-Wan, the Jedi Council is wary of Anakin, yet they ask him to spy on the Chancellor of the Senate. Anakin tells them that doing this is against the Jedi code. They insist that he do this anyway and, privately away from Anakin, the Jedi masters say that this is a way to test his loyalty. The Jedi Council, who mistrust Anakin, order him to do something against the very code they supposedly uphold. This seems very hypocritical.
Anakin actually sees this hypocrisy twice. The chancellor reveals to Anakin that he (the Chancellor) is a Sith lord after Anakin has already guessed it. The Chancellor offers to teach Anakin the ways of the dark side, and promises Anakin that this is how he can save Padme. Anakin, however, resists, and tells someone from the Jedi Council, Mace Windu (played by Samuel Jackson), who the Chancellor really is. Mace Windu then battles the Chancellor and is about to kill him when Anakin enters the room. Anakin does not want the Chancellor to die, partly, we assume, because he thinks the Chancellor can help him save Padme. But Anakin also tells Mace Windu that it is against the Jedi code to slay the Chancellor this way. Although Anakin had killed someone like this earlier, actually at the request of the Chancellor, Anakin knew it was wrong and did it reluctantly, only because he was ordered to do it. After Anakin expresses that killing the Chancellor is against the Jedi code, Mace Windu says he will do it anyway. At this point, Anakin stops the murder of the Chancellor, and shortly thereafter, swears his allegiance to the Chancellor as a Sith. This is where Anakin is named Darth Vader.
One can only wonder what part the Jedi Council itself plays in the turning of Anakin to the dark side after they have gone against their own code twice.
Anakin is tempted to learn how to use the dark side of the Force by the Chancellor. He is depicted as someone who wants power, and certainly, the use of power from knowing how to use the dark side of the Force is relished by the evil Chancellor. The Chancellor points out to Anakin that the Jedi use power as well, but not to the extent that the Sith do. The Jedi limit their use of the Force, or do not use it the same way.
This points out an interesting theme we are seeing in the culture in recent books and movies. The Harry Potter series depicts Harry learning to use his powers more and more as he is trained and as he practices. The Lord of the Ring books, however, show power itself as corrupting, not just the "dark side" of power (as in "Star Wars") or using the power for wrong purposes (as in Harry Potter). Harry and Voldemort, like the Jedi and the Sith, both use the same power, but are using either a dark or light side. This is in stark contrast to the belief that accessing a power (that is clearly presented as paranormal) is corrupting, no matter what the goal is.
To Christian Parents. The Star Wars movies, if seen by parents as well, can be a good platform for a discussion with older children of these various philosophies as compared to Scripture. The concept of the Force versus the personal nature of God; the dark/light dualism of the Force versus the absolute good of God; and the emphasis on feelings in Star Wars versus the Biblical mandate to use our minds and love God with our minds, are all productive areas for discussion, and a good way to teach your child to be discerning. The worldviews presented in Star Wars movies may be somewhat subtle, but such views exist in our culture and need to be understood and responded to.
There is absolute evil and good: Genesis 3; Isaiah 5:20; John 3:19-21; John 8:44; Ephesians 5:11; 1 John 1:5; 1 John 3:5, 8.
We are to use our reason and rational mind: Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 119:59; Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:3; I Corinthians 14; Philippians 4:8.
Good and light do not need evil or darkness to exist: Isaiah 60: 19,20; Revelation 21:23, 25 and 22:5.
[Copies of or quotes from this article may be made only if proper credit is given, the text is not altered in any way, and no fee is charged.]