By Jace Schwartz
I purchased Star Wars tickets for the last time a few weeks ago. More spin-offs will come, and with Disney+ in my pocket, I’m sure there will be no shortage of TIE fighters and X-wings in my life, but on December 19th, 2019, I will sit among fellow fans to see the conclusion of the Skywalker saga. Immediately following the premiere, I will join friends around a few microphones where we will record our gushing thoughts on a nerd podcast. The morning of, I will eat breakfast off of my Star Wars plate, lightsaber-fork and knife in hand. I will wear my R2-D2 underwear, don my Star Wars hoodie, and count the glacial minutes as they pass, dodging every trailer, poster, and spoiler along the way as they whiz by like stray bullets (or lasers). I’m twenty-seven years old, but on that day, my eleven-year-old soul will be unleashed, and my wife (bless her) will stand beside me like a saint.
Historically speaking, my indulgence is tame. A galactic standard has been set by Star Wars fans, and their frenetic zeal ripples across the globe in unrivaled fandom, their adoration seen in more than a mere hoodie. No doubt, even now, lines are forming around city blocks for Baby Yoda rock ‘n’ sleep dollies. The whole thing warrants contemplation, I think. In a world divided in countless ways, what is it about Star Wars that finds such universal enjoyment? And how do I find myself among millions in owning underwear with robots on them?
George Lucas’ meticulous study of scholar Joseph Campbell has long since been a fun, back-pocket piece of trivia to whip out at nerd cocktail parties. A party like this might also include debates about “Who shot first?” as well as someone making a toast to the stormtrooper who hit his head on the door in episode IV. But for those of you with better things to do than watch fourteen hours of special features on disc two, it was Joseph Campbell, an expert in global mythic traditions, who asserted that the universal story told around the world in every culture was that of the hero’s journey, a tale of a protagonist, called out of the ordinary, who overcomes the trials, experiences the extraordinary, and against all odds manages to defeat the larger-than-life forces of evil, bringing peace to all. Campbell asserted this to be the universal formula, a paragon of human storytelling, the oldest and most well-worn narrative of all time. As luck would have it, Campbell’s work became doctrine to George Lucas who eventually went on to create what is arguably one of the modern world’s most iconic retellings of the hero’s journey.
In short, George Lucas told us nothing new when he wrote Star Wars. Rather, like an archaeologist, he merely uncovered something that was already there, buried deep in the human heart. He dug up resonant truth, evidenced world-wide by the elaborate cosplay costumes, super-bowl sized conventions, and Target’s latest action-figure display which tempts me more than I care to admit every time I walk by. Something about this story worms its way deep into the fabric of our painfully divided world, and by some miracle, it unifies us.
Since my nerd cards are on the table, I make no apology in quoting J.R.R. Tolkien, who said, “we have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God”. Our stories reflect the story, and who better to make note of that than the author of The Lord of the Rings.
A few days following the premiere, with elegant timing, the sun will rise on Christmas morning, and around the world another story will be told with even greater zeal – a story of an unlikely hero from Nazareth (“You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy” as Nathanael might be translated as having said in John 1:46). This hero passes the test, overcomes the trials, and defeats the evil one in an act of sacrificial love. It is the story, of which all the others reflect in infinitely creative and diverse ways.
Before every Star Wars premiere, my wife and I watch through the saga (we have two more to go!). As always, the journey through this beloved narrative sparks rich conversation between us as we reflect on these characters, because every time we take the plunge, we are inevitably ushered into deeper reflection on a story that has been written into the fabric of our souls. I cherish these moments, and I hope they happen within your circles as well this holiday season.
So it is with great, geeky enthusiasm that I honor the end of an era by pulling my Star Wars sweatshirt over my head and say with pride, “May the force be with you,” because in this statement, filled with error, shines a true reflection of a land far, far away, where a child was born called Immanuel, whose name meant “God with us”. If Yoda celebrated Christmas, I think he would say with great relish, “With us always, he will be.”