I don’t remember my first viewing of Star Wars. It’s become so ingrained into my memory, into brain, that I can’t place an exact date on my first viewing of the original trilogy. I do recall specific moments. The trench run, the ‘I am your father’ of Empire and the final fitting conclusion to Jedi. To me these films looked like they could’ve been made tomorrow and yet I was a little tyke growing up in the nineties. To my misfortune I ended up growing into the prequel trilogy too but, really, upon reflection, they never had the same impact that the original films had.
I’ve seen them, each of them, probably tens of times each. Empire Strikes Back is still one of the greatest films ever made, and that’s not even an opinion. That’s a fact. What’s striking about these films, however, is their effect on people. There’s raving fans, entire religions and thousands upon thousands of arguments about lore and whatnot. Star Wars, to a lot of people, has fit the place that faith should sit. As a person of some ‘faith’ myself I think it’s interesting to take a filmic chisel to how A New Hope explicitly deals with issues of faith and religion.
From the beginning of the story we’re shown a Rebel force that is, in one word hopeless. We’re shown them absolutely massacred in the face of the sweeping fist of the empire and (suddenly) then thrown into a smaller story. The story of this farmboy with big ambition, with big hopes and dreams. Hope is the central pillar of ‘faith’ in A New Hope, as the title implies, and it moves beyond the spiritual content to become one of the film’s more profound themes.
“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi you’re my only hope.” Luke’s entire journey begins with a grain of faith in old uncle Ben, that he’s more than just a mad man in the mountains. He’s told stories about the Clone Wars, about the mysterious rise of Vader and he’s, quite naively, drawn into it. There’s a quality to it all, that there’s a force beyond himself. This entire one leap of faith launches Luke’s journey from farmerboy to jedi; a slow to rise to ability so that he can eventually kick his dad in the shins.
Kenobi is a figure of faith, an image of hope for Leia. He is a relic of the old age in which the Jedi ruled, and he himself says that the battle against the empire would be an “Idealistic crusade.” Interesting to note the point of references used in the language throughout the film. Grand Moff Tarkin and other Empire high-commanders all refer to Jedi as an “ancient religion” filled with “sorcery” and Vader violently harms Admiral Motti when he calls Vader’s devotion “sad”, that it too has been fruitless towards the empire. Vader’s infamous reply, “I find your lack of faith disturbing”, cements the two views of the ‘force’. It is a tool to both Jedi and Sith but, crucially, the ‘force’ can also be a weapon for good and for evil.
Does Vader represent a certain type of religious extremism, reliant on violence rather than rhetoric? I don’t think that’s a good line of questioning for a film about space lasers and whatnot, but it does put into question the ‘level’ of faith that exists throughout the film. With ‘the force’ we’re given some vague information on how it exists and how it moves, forget all that midichlorian bullshit, and the rest is left to ‘feelings’; “search your feelings, you know it to be true”.
With A New Hope we’re introduced to various viewpoints on faith. Han Solo’s view, that he hasn’t “seen anything to make him believe” in the “all-powerful force” comes from somewhat of a realist view. He does however believe in ‘luck’ which is, itself, still quite an irrational position. Obi-Wan’s use of the sight-blocking visor to teach Luke gives it all something of a Samurai quality to it. Luke has to harness a spiritual, hidden quality in order to attain Jedi-dom.
After Obi-Wan’s death things get a bit more weird. It’s kind of odd how we accept some bits of film logic but disregard others; namely that of Luke hearing voices in his head. For the rest of the film Luke hears old uncle Ben and even takes his advice at one of the most crucial moments; the Death Star trench run. Luke pushes away advanced technology and instead turns to a leap of faith. It’s a powerful moment and one that might have a slight didactic twist. Faith, belief, is sometimes the first step to proving something right. Although that often doesn’t mean blowing up a Death Star but the method still stands; “Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them.”
The battle of feelings and faith (‘the force’, the irrational) and the senses and logic (the rational) draws the mainlines of spiritual argument throughout the film. There is definitely a lean towards the irrational, faith-based beliefs rather than the logical take. It’s interesting to see that this super steroid science-fiction fantasy is injected with a grand thematic drive, that over-rides all other themes, that is essentially ideas of faith no different than, some might say, our own.