the Dark Side:
Star Wars, Judaism and Church History
by E.W. Wilder
Koenrad Kuiper, writing in the Journal of Popular Culture in the
mid 1980s suggests that "[the] Star Wars trilogy creates and recreates
imperial myths which serve to sustain imperial culture" (77). He
goes on to contend that the Empire of George Lucas’s long ago and far
away world recreate these myths for us now as, essentially, a form of
social control. Since Kuiper was writing, however, we have been
graced with the first in the Star Wars series, The Phantom Menace.
The Phantom Menace has opened to tepid reviews and the expected
box-office success. Its staying-power has been perhaps a bit disappointing
for all at Lucasfilm, but the film has definitely made a cultural impact.
Interesting in light of Kuiper’s thesis is that this latest addition to
the Star Wars mythology concerns itself with two beginnings: the
beginning of the evil Empire of the other three movies, and the beginning
of Anakin Skywalker, father to Luke Skywalker and the future Darth Vader.
The genesis of both the Empire and Darth Vader in one film is more than
coincidence. Rather than Star Wars sustaining an imperial
myth, the new film argues for an interpretation that the series, taken
as a whole, represents an intricate commentary on the history of Christianity,
from its pure beginnings to its ultimate corruption as a quasi-political
entity controlling much of Europe.
The first and most striking suggestion of this is the fact that Anakin
Skywalker’s is a virgin birth. When Qui Gon Jinn, the Jedi master
who trains Obi-Wan Kenobi, asks Anakin’s mother who the young prodigy’s
father is, she responds: "There is no father." Young Skywalker is
later described by Jinn as a "virgence": a virgin birth. The conclusion
that is nearly impossible not to draw from all of this is that Anakin
Skywalker is, at the very least a Christ-like figure. I contend
that Lucas presents us with a symbol of Christ himself: Anakin’s origins
are as a slave on a back-water star, one hostile to the galactic Trade
Federation that will later become the evil Empire. The Federal powers
are governed, much like the Roman Empire, by a senate, one that, at the
time of The Phantom Menace, is largely becoming ineffective. This
is much like the Roman senate at the time of Jesus. Jesus, too,
came from a region far from the center of the roman government, and hostile
to the rule of Rome. He was born into a working-class (although
not slave class) family under inauspicious circumstances.
From his discovery of Anakin, Qui Gon Jinn takes the super-naturally
talented young boy under his wing. He arranges for him to be brought
before the Jedi council, who reluctantly agree to have him trained.
All around, however, the Jedi agree that the "fate of" Anakin Skywalker
is "uncertain." Their feelings about him are clouded, although they
acknowledge his budding power. Jinn himself is described by the
council as being a bit of a rogue. The parallels between Skywalker
and Jinn and the Jedi council, and John the Baptist, Jesus and the Rabbis
of the day becomes apparent. John the Baptist was a radical preacher
of his day. Outside of the normal order of church hierarchy, he posed
both a threat and was an important ally in winning-over the people to
religion in an increasingly secular age. His coming presaged the
coming of a greater one: Jesus. Jinn himself intends to train Skywalker,
but, just like John the Baptist, his career is cut short by his untimely
death. The killer in Christ’s case is both the Roman rulers and
the existing Jewish religio-governmental establishment. Qui Gon
Jinn is killed by a Jedi trained in the Dark Side by Senator Palpatine,
later the emperor of the fledgling Empire of the other three movies.
This evil Jedi, Darth Maul, is, just like Pontious Pilate, a tool of the
existing power structure, used by them to further their ends.
Interesting in terms of the future of Anakin Skywalker (and impossible
to determine until the two films intervening between The Phantom Menace and Star Wars are made) is Anakin Skywalker’s pledge to come back
to Tatooine, the planet of his birth, to free all of the slaves.
His message, just as that of Jesus, is one of liberation. His prospects
as a doer of good are, in the first movie, excellent. Jesus, before
being cast as the foundation of a great church, is a very hopeful figure,
preaching political and spiritual freedom–even going so far as to proclaim
victory over death itself. If slavery can be seen as a symbol of
death, then Anakin Skywalker promises as much.
But this also points out the limitations of my current exploration.
Without the two as yet to be finished parts of the story, Skywalker’s
true colors as a young man are impossible to divine. We do know,
however, that Anakin Skywalker later becomes the epitome of evil in the
universe, Darth Vader. Kuiper contends this name to mean "Darth
(death) Vader (father)," and therefore to represent that concept within
a Christian framework (85). Here it could just as easily represent
the Dark Father: Jesus as corrupted by its association with an evil Empire.
This Empire, I suggest, is the church itself, becoming corrupt as
it falls away from its Rabbinical (Jeddinical) roots to build its own
corrupt European power-structure. This church helps to create and
sustain feudalism in Europe, subjugates Jews and establishes widespread
anti-Semitism in the name of a savior killed by Jews. The Phantom
Menace therefore implies that Christ as God-the-Father becomes corrupt
and evil as Christianity becomes the established faith.
At one point during the first three Star Wars movies to be released,
Luke Skywalker confronts Obi-Wan Kenobi about his father. Kenobi
has to admit that it is, indeed, Darth Vader, despite the fact that he
has previously told Luke that his father was dead. Obi-Wan explains
that Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker, effectively died when he became
Darth Vader. Presumably, upon becoming Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker
becomes part of the evil Empire. The lesson we can draw is that
it was the imperial nature of the established church in Europe that corrupted
Christianity: as a localized and specifically Jewish liberation movement,
the teachings of Jesus were uncorrupt and pure. By blending them
with the trappings of a great Empire, they became evil. By this
logic, Jesus (Anakin Skywalker) dies when he becomes Christ, the Father
of the Christian church (Darth Vader). We can further extrapolate
this to mean that Christ’s "resurrection" is in fact a re-creation into
the figure of a Dark Lord. By Jedi (Rabbi) standards, he is dead,
as Jedism (Judaism) has no concept of life after death except in the memories
of the living. This is evident when Obi-Wan and the Jedi master
Yoda appear to Luke Skywalker in visions in the second and third films:
his memory of them keeps their spirits living. The defeat over death
proclaimed by Christian mythology is, as presented by Lucas, an evil thing,
unbecoming of the religious traditions from which it sprang, and antithetical
to a more natural Jedi-death which accepts the spirit-world of the living
The influence of the Church on the psyche of Europe cannot be underestimated.
Considering the anti-Semitism Christianity in Europe engendered, one cannot
help but consider the obviously Nazi imagery surrounding the Empire in
the first three films of the series, episodes four through six.
Not even bothering to disguise the name, the Empire’s shock-troops are
referred to as "Stormtroopers," the same name Hitler gave to his elite
fighting force. We can only suspect that Lucas is implying a link
between the establishment of Nazism in Germany and the establishment of
the Church with its Holy Roman Empire, the predominant emperors of which
were German in extraction. This idea would make Nazism the result
of Christianity itself, Christianity’s inevitable offshoot in Europe.
Under this interpretation, the savior of the Jews becomes their Dark Lord;
their liberator becomes the means of their enslavement.
Unfortunately, all of this can only be speculative at this point.
We cannot yet know the role Anakin Skywalker will play in the forthcoming
films. To a certain extent, we can never know the true influences
of Christianity on the social ferment out of which the Nazi party sprang.
But the parallels here are enormous: Star Wars, taken as a series,
is the history of the Church encapsulated, from humble beginnings and
budding Empire, to corruption and ultimate dissolution. One can
only speculate about the revival of traditional Christianity currently
exploding upon America: is there reason to believe that the Religious
Right will become that new Empire? Will the new war for liberation
be right now in a galaxy quite close to home?
It has been brought to my attention by many an astute reader that Darth
Maul should more accurately symbolize King Herod. They are correct, of
course--an oversight I should've caught. I appreciate the input, and should
take the opportunity to note that the Darth Maul/Herod connection still
works symbolically, representing the pathway toward an institutionalized
and therefore corrupt Christianity.
Kuiper, Koenraad. "Star Wars: An Imperial Myth." Journal
of Popular Culture 21.2 (Spring) 1988. 77-86.
Lucas, George. The Empire Strikes Back . Lucasfilm
—The Phantom Menace . Lucas. 1999.
—Return of the Jedi . Lucas. 1983.
—Star Wars . Lucas. 1977.