New Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer arrives – with three major Christian themes
You've got to feel a bit sorry for other blockbusters. Nothing comes close in terms of anticipation levels to the release of a new Star Wars movie, and thanks to Disney's cash-maximising handling of the franchise, it looks like the end of every year will bring yet another instalment for a while to come. Which means, around this time of year, the hype machine goes into overload, selling a gazillion pre-order tickets, plastic action figures and Lego bricks in the process.
After a teaser ad earlier in the year which revealed precious little about the direction of the film, the full trailer for Rian Johnson's Episode VIII is now online, and picked up well over 10 million views within the first few hours of release. While they can't always be trusted to give an accurate forecast of the full film to come, trailers do generally contain footage and dialogue from the final film, and the new preview for The Last Jedi certainly seems to indicate some fairly major themes and events to look forward to when it opens in December.
They look like big themes too: as ever Star Wars is concerned between the battle between darkness and light, and the compelling pull from both sides to choose one. Add to that the re-emergence of one major character and the almost-certain death of another, and it's fair to expect that Episode VIII is going to take fans through a full range of emotions. Here are three of the key lines spoken in the trailer, with some thoughts about the deeply theological themes they look set to reveal...
'When I found you I saw war, untamed power... and beyond that, something truly special'
The assumption here is that these words, spoken by super-bad Supreme Leader Snoke, refer to Kylo Ren, left for dead at the end of 2015's The Force Awakens and now back, patched up but apparently no free-er of his post-adolescent rage. Perhaps the darkest theme in the Star Wars universe is that just as we can achieve greatness in doing good, loving and serving others and generally making things better, there is an opposite pole of equally 'special' achievement. For Snoke, greatness is found in becoming the purest version of evil, bringing death and destruction. The line is evocative of Jesus in John 10:10, where before saying that he's come to bring 'life to the full', he reminds us that 'the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy'. There are ultimate forms of good and evil – and we should not be naive about the fact.
'Something inside me has always been there... but now it's awake - and I need help'
The film seems to pick up where its predecessor left off, with the Force-wielding Rey meeting The Last Jedi of the title (Johnson has confirmed this). From this footage it appears that Rey is seeking mentorship and training from Luke... in Christian terms we might call this 'discipleship.' What's especially interesting though is that Rey recognises that there's a spiritual power within her, one that has always been there, and that she now needs help from an elder to truly harness it. We've all sat through Christian youth talks which compare The Force to the Holy Spirit, but as metaphors go it's a pretty good one. The idea that any of us could harness supernatural power within us is compelling and exciting – it's just a shame the church is so much weaker than the makers of Star Wars at explaining all that. And as Rey has understood here, the help of others further along the road is vital as we seek to understand supernatural power. It makes sense that we'd need training to handle something that powerful!
'I need someone to show me my place in all this'
It's not entirely clear what's happening in the final moments of the trailer, as Kylo Ren appears to offer the hand of friendship to Rey. Could she really be turning to the Dark Side? Or is that just a clever bit of cutting and pasting designed to make us gasp in anticipation? Either way, this final line is a resonant nod to the help we all need in working out where we fit in the world. At its best, this is one of the key functions of church: people helping each other to navigate a world where good and evil are in constant conflict, and ultimately enabling them to choose the right side. But there are also plenty of other voices and forces in the world that are looking to push us toward the opposite decision. Given that we're now mid-trilogy, there's every chance that we really are going to find ourselves in the same place as we were at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, with hope almost extinguished and the forces of good completely scattered. It would certainly set things up nicely for the conclusion if so.
Finally, the trailer seems to include one thematic idea which is profoundly un-Christian...
'Let the past die... kill it if you have to... it's the only way to become what you were meant to be'
The other thing left hanging in the trailer is whether Kylo Ren really will go all the way and kill both of his parents, after the shock twist in Episode VII. It certainly seems as if Leia (Carrie Fisher, who tragically died after filming was completed) is in his gunsights as he philosophises about his destiny. The chilling line that accompanies it is the exact opposite of the Christian story, which invites us to become part of a millennia-spanning narrative. Kylo Ren believes you have to kill the past in order to stand on it; Christianity believes that we build upon the unfolding story of our ancestors. Nothing can be certain from watching a trailer, but I have a hunch that the Star Wars saga will eventually side with the faith which it so regularly seems to echo and illustrate.