Three things the new Star Wars Episode VII trailer can teach the Church

After the first tempting 88-second teaser trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in November, we now have a more luxurious offering: 110 seconds of new visual treats that virtually anyone who was alive in the 1970s will find delightful.

1. Honour the tradition

As soon as the haunting melodic lines of Luke Skywalker's theme hit our ears, we know we're in for a treat. This is not a remix, a dubstep version of the theme, but the familiar cadences of John William's original score. Both visually and aurally, director JJ Abrams is showing due respect for the Star Wars tradition.

It's strange that I hear many teenagers talking about 'canonicity' at the moment – the word isn't being used in conjunction with the authenticity of the 66 books of the Bible, but rather the relationship between the Marvel comic books and the Marvel media juggernaut of film and television series. In the same way, Star Wars fans want to know what the relationship between Episode VII and the previous body of Star Wars movies, cartoon series and literature will be; what will be considered canon?

The key question is about faithfulness to the tradition. Too often, in a bid to appear relevant to our culture, the Church willfully ditches much of its tradition. In some circles tradition, by its very nature, is suspect. Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan wrote famously that "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." The Church must hold fast to the canonical scriptures, allowing them to shape the life, beliefs and practice of the Church.

2. Icons matter

The brief glimpse we get of the burnt and damaged mask of Darth Vader instantly evokes a whole backstory of the life, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Well, it does to anyone that has seen the films. The iconic value of Vader's mask is only grasped if the story is known. To the uninitiated, it's just an intriguing facial accessory.

In the same way, the evocative power of a piece of Christian art, a stained glass window, the design of a cathedral or even the crucial symbol of the cross, only really makes sense in the context of the biblical storyline. Someone can gasp at the intricacy of the design, the brushwork and artistry of much of the Christian art that adorns the National Gallery in London, but their true power only comes into play when the stories they narrate are understood.

Too many church traditions ignore the significance of religious art, while others divorce them from the biblical narrative. Those of us from newer church movements often miss out on the aesthetic power and beauty of classic Christian art and architecture. We're wary of allowing icons to become idols or of cold historical symbolism, but we risk missing out on the power of imagery to touch and transform our emotions when they are understood as reflections on the biblical story.

3. Intergenerational can be cool

The big reveal at the end of the trailer is that Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (we assume Peter Mayhew) were "Home". Seeing these familiar faces and hearing the unmistakable tones of Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) voice-over mean that the old guard are still around. They haven't been replaced by the next generation but are going to work together. The narration hints at Luke Skywalker handing on the baton/lightsaber to the next generation. At the heart of all good Star Wars movies is the relationship between mentor and apprentice (Jedi and Padawan). The central theme that these intergenerational relationships play in the movies is important as the skills, stories and traditions that are passed on from one generation to the next.

How different it is in the life of the church. So many people I know hate our attempts at intergenerational ministry: the dreaded all-age services. Lots of children struggle with them and many adults too. (There used to be a regular group of exiles from a church near ours that would visit every time their church had an all-age service. It was a funny to welcome them each month, knowing that our church obviously wasn't good enough for them normally but it was not deemed nearly as bad as an all age service!)

Yet the Jedi/Padawan relationship in the Star Wars universe is modelled on Jesus and his disciples. The scriptures contain so many injunctions to pass the faith on to the next generation that it is frightening how badly we seem to be doing it, with record numbers of twenty-somethings still leaving church life. It is fascinating that the hugely successful Star Wars movies depict a culture that craves the nurturing and empowering relationships between the generations but we, the Church, who have been given this role have struggled to find widely accepted models of how to do it.

Dr Krish Kandiah is founding director of the charity Home for Good and President of London School of Theology.