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By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics

Several Things that Star Wars took from the Bible

Star Wars is a mashup of ideas from many sources. Among the many are the Bible and Christianity.

Lucas has described himself as a Buddhist Methodist. Clearly, he is not a hardcore Christian believer.

But, nostalgia is a key element in many of George Lucas's movies. Perhaps, Lucas was nostalgic for an earlier era of film making when Hollywood was willing to be a Judeo-Christian cheerleader. Perhaps, Lucas rejected the modern Hollywood attitude which is anti-Christian or the idea that Hollywood needs to reform the backward religious faith of its audience.

I like to think that Lucas and the old Hollywood realized that much of their audience understood faith, religion, and spirituality far better than the movie makers did and that any role beyond cheerleader was inappropriate. Of course, like Star Wars itself this maybe nothing more than a pleasant fantasy.

My Fantasy

My pleasant fantasy is that George Lucas or the people currently in charge of Star Wars, and more generally all of Hollywood will realize that their relationship to religion is that of cheerleader and not football coach. I believe this humility would greatly help them deal with criticism from excessively picky religious people.

They should answer those religious critics by saying, "No one should see us as religious gurus or teachers. You understand God better than we do, our expertise and talent are in making movies. We are not fit to be anything more than cheerleaders who encourage you to go out and search for spiritual truth." If they would do this it would make them millions, and here I am giving the advice away for free. I am so generous.

Christianity and Commerce

It also seems likely that Lucas realized that the Christian elements would sell tickets. The Christians were likely to see them and appreciate them, the non-believers were more likely to miss them. In politics this is called a dog whistle.

Furthermore, in America, the Christians were far more numerous, than the dedicated anti-religious who might resent the Christian references. So perhaps Lucas was simply being commercial.

Lucas certainly used Christian and Jewish references in his other movies. In his first feature film, THX 1138, the central character does a science fiction version of a Christian confession. This is one of the most famous, probably the most famous, scene from the movie.

The first movie in his Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, concerns the search for the lost Ark of the Covenant, the chest described in the Old Testament that contained the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. The third movie in the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, concerns the search for the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper. The middle movie in the trilogy Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is about a religion cult, Thuggees, but a very negative one.

For what ever reason or combination of reasons, commercial, nostalgic, spiritual, or artistic Lucas frequently used Judeo-Christian themes, and more generally religious themes.

The Phantom Menace

In The Phantom Menace we are introduced to Anakin Skywalker who has many things in common with Christ. The major thing is his virgin birth. The midi-chlorins and/or the Force had enabled Anakin's mother to bear him without a man, a virgin birth. As the Force plays a role somewhat similar to God in the Star Wars universe this looks like a clear reference to the virgin birth of Christ.

One reason for thinking this is a reference to Christianity is that the story would work the same if Anakin Skywalker simply had the highest midi-chlorian count for some unknown reason. After all, there has to be a tallest person and a fastest runner, so if there was such a thing as a midi-chlorian count someone would have to have the highest count. Furthermore, this is space fantasy not hard science fiction, you do not really need explanations.

Skeptics might object that there are many virgin births in various mythologies. Fine, but Lucas is not trying to sell movie tickets to peasants living several thousand years ago. There is one virgin birth that is widely accepted today. The virgin birth of Jesus is a doctrine of both Christianity and Islam. Christians and Muslims combined are the majority of the human race worldwide.

Other Similarities to the Nativity

Another important similarity is that both Christ and Anakin Skywalker are thought to be the fulfillment of a prophecy. Anakin Skywalker was supposed to be the chosen one who would bring balance to the Force. Similarly, in Christian and Muslim theology Jesus is the fulfillment of the Messiah prophecy. Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Messiah, which means the anointed one.

Anakin Skywalker was a child prodigy much like the Christ. Of course, Anakin Skywalker was a prodigy as a mechanic and a pod racer, while Christ amazed the scholars at the temple with the intelligence of his questions. Granted this is different, and you could reasonably say I am stretching it.

One might also compare the visit of two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the visit of the wise men, and Darth Maul's attack while Anakin and the others are trying to escape Tatooine might be compared to Herod's slaughter of the male babies in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Christ. The quick escape from Tatooine could also be compared to the flight to Egypt.

When Anakin faces the Jedi Council this could be compared to Christ meeting with the scholars in the temple at a similar age. Sure, all of this is really stretching it. One reason why I doubt these connections is that many elements are a natural and fairly necessary development of the story.

Finally, Darth Maul obviously looks like a devil. This is how many, perhaps most people see him. As Radio Moscow used to say during the Cold War, this is no coincidence. I also believe that it is no coincidence that Darth Maul's initials D and M are the same as Devil, or Demon, and Metephisto or Metastopolies. I argue that all the Sith Lords have initials that give credit to the source of that Sith Lord in this web page.

The Revenge of the Sith

As Star Wars fans know there are two Sith Lords, a master and an apprentice. Darth Plagueis was the master of Darth Sidious, who later became the emperor Palpatine.

Darth Plagueis learned the secret to "cheat death." I am not exactly sure what that means. But it seems that Darth Plagueis had in some amazing way been able to cheat death and thus save people.

Jesus did this several times, he brought Lazarus and several others back from the dead.

Darth Sidious, says of Darth Plagueis, "...could save others from death, he could not save himself." This maybe a reference to Matthew 27:42 where the temple priests and scribes mock Christ at his Crucifixion by saying, "He saved others, but he cannot save himself." Darth Plagueis could save others from death through the power of the force, Christ brought people back from the dead through the power of God.

Darth Sidious, who points out the irony, was directly responsible for the death of Darth Plagueis, Sidious killed Plagueis in his sleep. Similarly the temple priests and scribes who were considered most responsible for the death of Christ because they had arranged for the crucifixion were the one's who mocked Christ by saying "He saved others, but he cannot save himself." Given the similarity of the context, I think it likely that the writer was making a reference to Matthew 27:42.

I am of course aware that many people, particularly Jewish people, believe that the cruel Roman governor, Pilot, killed Jesus because he was a revolutionary. However, this is not how the Bible discribes Jesus. When asked if it was permissible to pay taxes Jesus says, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" Mathew 22:21. Read in context Jesus is clearly saying pay the Roman taxes. Jesus says that if a Roman citizen tells you to carry his burden one mile, which Roman citizen's were legally able to do, carry it two miles, Matthew 5:41. Far from being a revolutionary, Jesus was from the Jewish point of view an Uncle Tom. It seems reasonable to think that Pilot had his spies and knew this. He had every reason to want to keep Jesus alive. And indeed in the Gospels Pilot tries very hard to keep Jesus alive, but is finally pressured into killing him by the temple priests.

For Christians Jesus had to be killed by the Jewish priests because they were the priests of the true religion and therefore qualified to carry out sacrifices. Jesus was the true Passover lamb and therefore had to be killed by the Jewish temple priests. Because they were the priests of the true religion they were the ones who were qualified to carry out the sacrifice.

Returning to "Star Wars" when Darth Sidious and Darth Vader wipe out the Jedi in the revenge of the Sith a special point is made that children in training are slaughtered. It seems likely that this is a reference to the death of the Holy Innocents. The Holy Innocents were the boy babies up to two years old in Bethlehem that were slaughtered by Herod in his attempt to eliminate Jesus. Killing the Jedi children looks unnecessary, if their teachers and the rest of the Jedi Knights were killed who would train these children. If they were untrained how could they endanger Sidious and Vader. Furthermore, this is a movie, normally we would expect the writer or director to simply focus on the slaughter on the adults and not mention the children who were being trained.

As mentioned above some plot points are necessary to advance the story, this makes me think it is less likely that these are references to the Bible, or any other source. But the killing of the Jedi in training is totally unnecessary so I believe it is likely to be a reference to the Bible.

A New Hope

In a New Hope the heroes escape the Death Star. After Luke, Hann, the Princess, and the robots get to their space ship, the Millennium Falcon, Obi-Wan Kenobi who has been battling Darth Vader turns off his light saber thereby allowing Darth Vader to kill him. However, when Vader strikes Obi-Wan just disappears leaving an empty cloak and a light-saber laying on the deck of the Death Star. Earlier in the fight, Obi-Wan says, "You can't win. Strike me down and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

All of this points to Christ's sacrificial death on the Cross. Christ has the power to stop the Crucifixion but allows it to happen. As Obi-Wan is having difficulty in the fight it is not so clear that he could prevent Darth Vader from killing him. Still, his final action, turning off his light saber means he allowed it to happen. His earlier claim that in death he will become powerful reflects how Christ's death redeems humanity through his death on the cross according to Christian theology. I am a Christian now but I was not when I first saw Star Wars. Nevertheless, I had been raised by an agnostic, but church going family, so the connection between the death of Christ and Obi-Wan seemed obvioius to me.

A couple of details in the death of Obi-Wan maybe references to the crucifixion of Christ. First Obi-Wan's cloak remains and it seems to be whole, not ripped in two by Vader's light saber as you would expect. At the crucifixion the Roman soldiers do not want to rip the cloak of Christ so instead they cast lots for it. There was a famous Bible movie, "The Robe." This was a movie about the undivided cloak of Christ and Lucus may have been making a reference to this movie.

Furthermore, Obi-Wan's body simply disappeared instead of being cut in two. Lucas may have done this to make the film more family friendly, but perhaps this was a reference to crucifixion which was very bloody, but not a bone in Christ's body was broken. Of course, Lucas may have been both making the movie more family friendly and making a reference to the Crucifixion.

Another possiblity, perhaps a more likely one, is that the disappearing body is a reference to the disapperance of Christ's body from the tomb.

If this is the reference that Lucas is after the Obi-Wan's cloak laying on the deck of the Death Star may have been a reference to John 20:7 "Simon Peter arrived just after him. He entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. The face cloth that had been around Jesus' head was rolled up, lying separate from the linen cloths." In both cases the body had disappeared and all that was left was cloth.

The Voice of Obi-Wan

Obi-Wan trains Luke and then allows himself to be killed, but he does not abandon Luke, he speaks to Luke from beyond the grave, particularly in the crucial moment of the battle against the death star where he says, "Use the force, Luke." and then, "Let go." and finally, "Luke trust me."

Jesus trains his disciples and then allows himself to be killed, but he does not abandon them. In Matthew 28:20 he says, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Jesus also promises his disiples that he will send to Holy Spirit to lead them. "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you." John 14:26.

The relationship between Luke and Obi-Wan after the death of Obi-Wan is a reference to the Christian idea of Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, leading the Church, the apostles, or Christians more generally.

The Return of the Jedi

The Return of the Jedi ends with the redemption of Darth Vader just before he dies. Salvation through death bed conversion is a favorite Christian theme. The movie ends when we and the heroes, Hann, Luke, and Princess Leia, see a vision of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin Skywalker united in the afterlife. The good guys are in heaven or some Star Wars equivalent. This is very much a Christian theme, though I suppose it could fit in with other religions. As Lucas is trying to sell tickets to the believers of other religions this maybe part of his plan.

May the Force be With You

Through out Star Wars we hear the catch phrase, "May the Force be with you." This is very similar to the common Christian phrase, "May God be with you."

Am I Making Connections That Are Not There?

This web page has proven quite popular. So naturally I thought what about the other three great commercial universes, DC (Superman, Batman, etc.), Marvel, and Star Trek. I found the results disappointing.

I noted that the story of Superman being sent off by his Kryptonian parents, and then being discovered by the Kents of Smallville, bears some resemblance to the story of Moses placed in a basket and being discovered by the Egyptian princess. As the creators of Superman were Jewish the story of Moses might have inspired them.

But after some effort I found that this was about the only thing from the famous old DC stories I could come up with. Furthermore, I was not finding much in Marvel superheroes, or Star Trek. This contrasts with Star Wars where the connections kept jumping out at me.

Furthermore, I have read a lot of Star Wars comics, and watched a lot of Star Wars cartoons. I do not remember any references to the Bible in any of them. I have also seen a couple of the post Lucas Star Wars movies, Star Wars:The Force Awakens and Rogue One:A Star Wars Story, and once again I did not notice any references to the Bible or Christianity.

So it seems it is only the Star Wars that Lucas wrote that has these Christian references. This makes me more convinced that the connections were put there by George Lucas.

Christianity in Jack Kirby's Fourth World

While I did not find many references to Christianity in DC and Marvel comics, there is an important exception. Jack Kirby left Marvel and created his famous Fourth World series. Most of Kirby's Fourth World Saga was told in three comics with somewhat religious titles: The New Gods, Mr Miracle and The Forever People. The whole story was built around a God like power, the Source, that I believe was identified as the creative force in the Universe. The heroes lived on a planet, New Genesis, and the villains lived on another planet, Apocalypse. Genesis is the first book in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, Apocalypse is the last book in the Christian scriptures. Jack Kirby by the way was Jewish.

After the Fourth World Kirby's next project was Demon, where he created Etrigan the Demon. This is a clear reference to religion. So references to religion and frequently Christianity were key elements of much of Kirby's work in the early 70s. This is important because Kirby's work was one the key sources for Star Wars. This is particularly true of Kirby's Fourth World saga. So it maybe that Lucas was inspired to weave Christian themes into his movies by Kirby.

Pandering to Christians is Profitable

In the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series Lucas panders to Christians, something that Hollywood seems reluctant to do. Hollywood claims they worship the almighty dollar, but they seem to draw the line when it comes to Christian dollars. For some reason, Christian dollars are not green. Hollywood leaves that Christian money just sitting on the table. Sometimes a guy like Lucas picks it up.

But pandering does not have to be limited to Hollywood and movies. The Christian themes could be used by Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and others who wish to discuss the faith and make it relevant and appealing to our Star Wars obsessed culture. Perhaps they could use this essay as source material.

Part of the message for young people and everyone else is that knowing your Bible helps us to appreciate both popular and higher culture. Both are filled with references to the Bible.

As a school teacher I have heard a student complain that they could not catch the references to Christianity because they are secular and never read the Bible. One sees this all the time. Hamlet's soliloquy is read as poetic musing on life and death, missing the religious significance.

Of course the true value of the Bible and Christianity is not literature appreciation. But the value of the Bible for literature appreciation can provide a motivation for Bible reading when the real reasons fail. We then hope that grace will ignite the real reasons for reading the Bible.

Star Wars-Not Just the Bible

This web page emphasizes the Biblical elements of Star Wars, but of course, the Bible is only one of the many sources Lucas drew upon. He was also influenced by Joseph Campbell, Tolkien, Kurosawa, Jack Kirby, Sergio Leone, and many others. I have written a web page on the influences of Jack Kirby on Star Wars and another on a lesser know Sergio Leone film Once Upon a Time ... The Revolution which was also a source for many elements of Star Wars.

It's a Fairy Tale, Don't Take It Seriously

Finally, should anyone be tempted to take Star Wars too seriously, simply remember the first line of the first movie shown in theaters. "Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away ... Star Wars." This is a reference to the standard first line of fairy tales, "Once upon a time, long, long, ago in a Kingdom far, far away ..."

Sergio Leone directed a classic Western, "Once Upon a Time in the West" which was released in 1968. Lucas and his fellow film students loved this and the other Sergio Leone westerns. The beginning of the title, "Once Upon a Time ..." signals the viewer that the movie is meant to be a fantasy and not a realistic reportorial of the West.

Lucas takes up the classic opening line of fairy tales where Sergio Leone left off, but the meaning is the same, this is not hard science fiction, or meant to be taken literally, this is a fairy tale.

Last edited October 26, 2019

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Index of pages on various cultural and media topics

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