As the first day of December rolled over on the calendar a couple of weeks back I was excited for two reasons; we were now in the same month as the release date of Rogue One, and, December has always been the Christmas month. After taking my son to see the latest instalment of Star Wars last Saturday we left the cinema within our local shopping centre and walked to the food court where their resident Santa awaits children getting a photo taken with him.
I don’t know why, but as I was sitting there having lunch with my child I started to think about how the two things seem to have some similarities, and when I woke up on Sunday morning, the Sabbath, the holiest day of the Christian week, I started to explore the idea a little more. Here’s what I came up with…
1. Good Versus Evil
Star Wars is famously known for it’s Light Side/Dark Side rivalry. Whilst not spelled out in movie canon until The Force Awakens, the Light Side has always been the good side, the side of the battle that the Jedis are on, while the Dark Side, is the side of evil, with a power only used by the Sith.
Throughout the original trilogy, and born within the prequel trilogy, the characters of The Emperor and his right-hand-man Darth Vader versus the Jedis and the Rebels (plus those sympathetic to the Alliance) is very much on par with God and His right-hand-man/self in human form Jesus versus Satan and his Demons.
2. Reboot Introduces a Saviour
Speaking of both Jesus and the prequel trilogy of Star Wars, both are their respective franchise’s reboots. And in both reboots, the idea of a saviour or someone who will bring balance to the world/Force is something that was introduce after the proverbial book had been closed.
For the Christians, the Old Testament based upon the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, is the complete writings which includes all textural religious canon of Judaism. End story. Famously, within the Old Testament we find a jealous, angry and vengeful God who, based on some of the rules he gives expects the world to respect He and He alone. There are no other gods before me, or something like that.
In the New Testament, the reboot series introduces Jesus; a boy born under unusual circumstances who to a mother who was told by an angel that the son she would give birth to is the Messiah, or chosen one. Famously, Jesus sacrificed Himself for the good of all mankind.
In Star Wars, the original trilogy was the complete display of Star Wars canon. End Story. Without including the Expanded Universe (I’ll mention that later), the three movies were it. famously, within the original trilogy, we met a menacing figure in Darth Vader, and although it turned out that he wasn’t actually the driving force on the side of darkness, one could describe him as a jealous, angry and vengeful Sith Lord who, based on some of the rules he gives expects the galaxy to respect he and he alone.
In the prequel trilogy, the reboot of the series, although it was back in time explaining a back story rather than being added onto the end, as is the relationship of the New to the Old Testament, the prequel introduces the ideology of Anakin being the chosen one to bring balance to the Force. Unlike Jesus, this chosen one turns to the Dark Side, but like the Christ, he sacrifices himself for the greater good of, well more than humankind (I mean, those alien beings aren’t really all that human).
3. Canon and Non-Canonical Outside Works
Although most of it is now considered non-canon, and falls in what is known as Star Wars Legends, the Star Wars Expanded Universe (SWEU) contained (what began as) fan fiction, approved novels, comics and tales of happenings outside the movies, but within that galaxy far, far away. When the SWEU was part of Star Wars Canon, George Lucas and his team was known to borrow from some of these works to form the basis of his next film, or some of the premise of the prequel trilogy as well as The Force Awakens and Rogue One which Lucas wasn’t involved in.
Within the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, there are non-canonical texts mentioned. The Book of Enoch is a an ancient Jewish religious work, credited by tradition to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. Although Noah is an Old Testament figure, The Book of Enoch is referenced in the New Testament in the chapters of Jude and 2 Peter.
Scholars of Religion, those who study religion but aren’t necessarily religious or of that religion, and Christian Theologians alike have often referenced these external sources when producing their thesis, writing their own books or creating documentaries.
4. Money Making Meal Tickets
Disney paid US $4 billion to purchase LucasFilm from George Lucas. You don’t fork out that kind of money if you don’t believe it’s going to bring in profit. With the first theatrical release since acquiring the production company, 2015’s The Force Awakens bring in over US $2 billion, plus the licensing of merchandise and sales of the previous films on DVD and digital download coming on strong, Star Wars is a money making machine like you wouldn’t believe.
Christianity is also big business. It’s a great money maker itself. With the likes of Al Sharpton, Joyce Meyer, Jesse Jackson, Kirk Cameron, Rick Warren, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, and Benny Hinn, being worth from US $5 million to over US $45 million, and my local mega church Hillsong’s founder Brian Houston branching out around the world to increase his net wealth, and add to his church’s annual reported tax-free income of between AUD $80-$100 million, Christianity is definitely a business worth being a part of.
From begging for your donations, to selling merchandise such as books, DVDs and CDs, or licensing their brand of evangelical ministries through television networks around the world, Christian pastors know how to get the followers to hand over their hard earned.
And it’s not just the new wave of Pentecostal, Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist or other American made Christian denominations that are bring in the big bucks, but the “original” Christians, the Catholic Church is sitting on a reported US $8 billion worth of assets around the world which sees the senior members of the Church paid nicely and offered first class lifestyles in return for the hard work they do bringing in more money via donations offered up for salvation.
As mentioned in the previous point, selling CDs with religion as the foundation for the work is a huge money maker. In addition to those artists aligned with mega churches such as the Hillsong United band, or those who market themselves as Christian based artists such as Newsboys, DC Talk, or Point of Grace, many artists use their Christianity as a means of promoting themselves to good Christians who want a bit more than songs about simply loving Jesus. Country music stars are famous for doing this, throwing Jesus and God into a song lyric now and then.
But well before music became a commercial commodity as it is today, composers of operas and symphonies needed a way for them to be discovered and to become popular so that they could be commissioned to write the next opera or have the local orchestra play their work. Most of the classical composers that are household names dating back as far as the 1600s would write compositions “inspired” by Christianity. Whilst the harpsichord and clavichord, and then later the piano were favoured keyboard instruments of many composers, with churches housing pipe organs, songs of worship were written to suit this instrument. With the inspiration of religious text having dramatic highs and lows, this helped shape the way music formed in the early days of the classical periods.
For many people back in the day, if it wasn’t for this classical music being part of the church service, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to hear it as going to the opera, the ballet and watching orchestras would have been something that they could not afford to do.
Star Wars isn’t the only movie that utilises classical music. In fact, classical music is the backbone of virtually every movie with the incidental music adding subconscious elements of fear, sympathy, drama and all kinds of emotions. Although other classical music theme songs or their main melody are memorable to fans and casual observers alike, the music that John Williams creates for the Star Wars movies transcends the movies themselves. From the Main Theme/Overture to The Imperial March, or Rey’s Theme to the brilliantly composed Duel of the Fates which makes the best lightsaber battle between the two Jedis and Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace (the only redeeming part of that movie to many), this music is more than background noise for the subconscious mind.
And for many people, the classical themes from the Star Wars movies may be the only classical music works that they could successfully name when the piece is played.
6. The Opening Line
Neither lines need an introduction, but both set the scene for the tales that follow.
Interestingly, it wasn’t until the original King James Version of the Bible in 1611 that the now famous opening of “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” came to be. But when we think of the Christian Bible, and the first chapter Genesis, it paints a picture that there was nothing, and then there was what we see today, thanks to God. And that happened a long, long time ago…
Whilst Kathleen Kennedy who the president of LucasFilm, and brand manager of Star Wars for The Walt Disney Company informed the media back in July 2016 that Rogue One and the rest of the Star Wars Anthology films would not start with the famous opening crawl, one thing that did not change was the title card that reads “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”
7. Open For Interpretation Sparking Countless Discussions
If there’s one thing above all that both of these things have in common is that they are the catalyst for many discussions. On internet forums and social media. At dinner parties. Vloggers and bloggers dedicating their whole existence to either topic. The aforementioned books published in both the form of fiction and non-fiction.
Both have enough ambiguity within the books and/or movies to allow for fans and followers to discuss their own interpretation of what is going on, what is meant, and why this things came to be.
And of course, a major talking point for both Star Wars and the Bible brings me to the next point…
8. Plot Holes in Text
The independent film-making news website IndieWire’s David Ehrlich said that Rogue One is “just a glorified excuse to retcon some sense into one of the silliest things about the original.” That’s probably true. And that’s where the Star Wars story is lucky. From Disney taking the Star Wars Expanded Universe and throwing it all out of the window stating that it is now no longer canon, to them announcing the Anthology films to make amends and fill in the missing gaps, the history of Star Wars as we know will be an ever evolving rediscovery of “the truth.”
Christianity doesn’t have the same luxury. With so many plot holes and contradictions within the Bible what it relies on is the blind faith and the supporters to turn their collective cheeks and champion certain things as gospel, and other things and merely an allegory, metaphor or analogy.
9. Blind Faith Despite The Plot Holes
Even though Star Wars is making amends for those plot holes, there are still many that they can never fix.
The Bible has so many discrepancies that make the whole concept of the Bible being the Word of God seem irrational or unbelievable.
Of course, if you really think about it as many of their distractors do, these often major errors should be enough to turn Star Wars fans against the series and Christians against the whole dogma their religion dictates, yet fans and followers alike are happy to overlook these inconsistencies.
From the mystique and magic God used to create everything as we know it, creating burning bushes, parting the waters, sending the floods and the plagues, to the miracles performed by Jesus including, but not limited to turning water into wine, walking on water, and healing the sick, the mythology entrenched within the Bible is the backbone of the whole religion.
Mythology forms an important part of the Star Wars story with things such as the Force, Force Ghosts, the Kyber crystals (that power lightsabers), the ability to read minds, the ability to save people from death (as was promised to Anakin when he heard that Padme wasn’t doing too well), and dare I say it, midi-chlorians. Okay, let’s forget about those.
Mythology keeps people interested in stories. It’s why we want to listen hear urban legends, ghost stories, or get hooked on learning about Roman and Greek gods, or drawn into books by JRR Tolkien or JK Rowling. And mythology allows the teller of stories to fill in some of those plot holes.
11. Borrows From Previous Sources
George Lucas has never hidden the fact that before creating Star Wars he actually wanted to bring the Flash Gordon to the big screen as one feature length film. Failing to get the rights to do so, he created his own concept based on things he liked about Flash Gordon, things he like in Westerns (cowboy movies) and things he liked Samurai movies. It’s no secret that the look of the outfits worn by officers in the Imperial Army were inspired by the Nazis and the Stormtroopers were named after the Nazi’s own stormtroopers.
Concepts within the films borrow heavily from Hinduism, Qigong, Greek philosophy, Greek mythology, Roman history, Roman mythology, parts of the Abrahamic religions, Confucianism, Shintō and Taoism, plus pre-Roman Celtic folklore. Beyond the ideas that Lucas brought into the script, the costume and set designers borrowed heavily from history with Darth Vader’s suit based on Samurais, and locations, especially in the prequel films were based on Roman buildings with the pod race being based on Roman chariot racing.
Although often denied by those within the Christian faith, many of the ideas within the Bible and rituals carried out by Christians borrow from sources in practice well before they were used by Christianity. It is well documented that Christianity flourished when adopted by the Romans who were entrenched within their own folk religions and forms of Paganism. Celebrations acknowledged by Pagans were soon borrowed and renamed as Christian feasts, festivals and observations.
Stories within the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments have been likened to folklore that dates back to hundreds, even thousands of years before the gospels the Bible is collated from were written. Stories about virgin births, gods that have risen from the dead, floods that covered the entire planet, all have roots within Pagan folklore and folk religions.
Many aspects of Christmas have been traced back to Pagan rituals and celebrations with things such as the date chosen to celebrate Christmas based on winter solstice even though Jesus’ birth would have been months before, the decoration of trees from early Paganism, and many aspects of modern day rituals of Christmas having their history in Yuletide celebrations from Germanic Paganism.
12. Inspires Others
Although Christianity was inspired by religions before it, it also has been the inspiration of religions that have followed it. From those denominations of Christianity that border on being cults, to those that are flat out cults in every sense of the word with a leader who claims he is the new messiah or the new embodiment of Jesus returned to earth, Christianity is the basis for many modern religions. Both Mormonism and Scientology that aren’t considered Christian denominations use concepts within Christianity within their own dogma.
Outside of religion, Christianity has inspired further folklore including the works of Dan Brown, the Harry Potter series which has parallels drawn from the mythology of Christianity as confirmed by the author herself after the Pope condemned her books and, believe it or not, aspects of Star Wars as well including the unwritten but often alluded “virgin birth” of Anakin Skywalker.
Star Wars itself has inspired many knock-off science fiction stories set in space. Although Star Trek existing long before Star Wars was created, William Shatner of Star Trek fame credits the success of Star Wars as the catalyst for launching Star Trek on the big screen well after it ended its television run.
With the huge sales of merchandise from the original series of toys produced by Kenner, Star Wars figures served as the inspiration for Mattel to create the Masters of the Universe toy line with many more action figure based television shows and movies following shortly after.
Speaking of Star Trek, there are many who see that movie franchise and Star Wars as bitter rivals. You can either be a Star Wars fan or a Trekkie or Trekker. It’s akin to the battle of the colas. Are you a Coca-Cola fan, or a Pepsi fan?
Can you be a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek or is it always going to be a case of Star Wars vs Star Trek? Well, unlike the major religions of the world, you can definitely put a foot in both camps and no one really cares all that much. Sure there are plenty of people debating about which one is the better of the two franchises, but the good thing is, those people won’t be procreating, so the gene pool of sci-fi nerdom may stop with them.
Not that it matters, and not that it makes any inkling of difference even if you DO sit on one side of the fence here, but when it comes to box office success, Star Trek with its 13 feature films since 1979 has brought in US$1.39 billion at almost US$107 million per film whereas Star Wars with its 9 feature films since 1977 has brought in (an estimated) US$6.8 billion at almost $755.55 million per film. This estimate includes the estimated US$1 billion profit from the latest film which is sitting just shy of US$500 million in its first week of release.
Christianity finds itself competing with both Judaism and Islam plus many other non-Abrahamic religions spread throughout the world. Further, all of those religions as a collective find themselves competing with non-believers. Where Christianity differs from Star Wars is that you must have both feet firmly within realms of that one religion.
Although the comparisons aren’t on a monetary value, we can measure the popularity of each religion by “bums on seats” and, just as Star Wars dominates over its closest sci-fi rival, Christianity with its 2.2 billion followers worldwide dominates over its closest rival which is Islam at 1.6 billion.
14. Huge Following
When you’re averaging over three-quarters of a billion dollars per film with the recent films making over one billion dollars of profit and growing, it proves the sort of following you are getting from a franchise like Star Wars. It would be hard to calculate exactly how many people in the world consider themselves Star Wars fans, but one may hazard a guess that over 200,000,000 people would be a figure one could prove based on the box office takings and DVD rentals and sales of The Force Awakens.
Although the figure of 2,200,000,000 Christians in the world sits at 2 billion more fans of God and Jesus than fans of the Jedi and the Sith, one may argue that this figure is grossly inflated by those marking off their census with the religion of their birth rather than what they actually believe, or don’t believe now. Still, even if as many fans of Star Wars equates to the number of people falsely calling themselves a Christian when they never attend church or have anything to do with Christianity, having almost one-third of the world’s population as followers of Christ is truly impressive.
15. Impacts the Census
Speaking of people writing down a religion that they aren’t really a follower of, in what has been referred to as the Jedi Census Phenomenon, in 2001, the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded over 70,000 people as stating they are of the Jedi faith in Australia. This followed by a drop down to 58,000 in 2006 and back up to 65,000 in 2011.
Although the United States doesn’t ask about religion on their census, many other countries including Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom do. Whilst the Jedis barely make a blip on the pie chart of religions in Australia, Christianity is still the largest of all the religions with over 70% of people considering themselves one.
16. Brings People Together
Church has always been the place where congregations congregate (I mean, what else would they do really?) Whether it is at Sunday mass, to a Church held wedding ceremony or funeral, to a baptism, Christianising or confirmation, Christianity has rituals that bring people together.
With up to an estimated 80,000 people sitting a Sydney’s famous Domain joining in singing the Carols in the Domain the weekend before Christmas Day, and a further 10,000 people sitting in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Christmas Eve down in Melbourne, without these events based solely on the Christian celebration, that’s 90,000 people who otherwise may have not been brought together. Add to that the hundreds of thousands of people watching both events at home around Australia, Christmas certainly does bring the masses together.
Whenever the Pope travels outside of the Vatican he is sure to encourage a huge crowd at the venues he attends. In 2015, the current Pope drew a crowd of over 6 million people to a mass in Manilla whilst Pope John Paul II drew a crowd of 5 million to an event at World Youth Day in 1995.
Although many Star Wars fans are attracted to events such as ComicCon which they share with fans of other genres and franchises of fantasy and science fiction, since 1999 eleven Star Wars Celebrations have been held around the United States, and some held in other countries, all of which have drawn crowds ranging from 24,000 to an estimated 35,000 people to conferences held over three to five days.
In addition to that, fan clubs such as the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion with members all around the globe bring Star Wars fans together in droves. There are also many groups formed on Facebook with like-minded Star Wars fans congregating to discuss the movies and other forums found around the internet where further discussions take place.
17. Support Charities
Some of the largest charitable organisations are backed by Christian organisations, whilst other Christian organisations are front and centre of the charity which bears their name with the most famous being the Salvation Army.
Christian groups such as World Vision, Bread for the World, Compassion International and Food for the Hungry use their donations to care for those in need including the homeless within their own communities and countries, to populations within third world countries that are often stricken with disease, drought and famines.
Likewise, both the two leading Star Wars fan clubs, the 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion hold being charitable as their number one policy after discussion the highlights and lowlights of the Star Wars films. The 501st Legion was a name thought of by the founding members of the group which did not actually appear in Star Wars canon; not in the movies nor the Expanded Universe books. Seven years after the creation of the group, with George Lucas’ permission, a writer of one of the Expanded Universe novels included the name of the unit and it has been referenced in the Star Wars canon since.
Having over 10,000 members on six continents the 501st Legion’s main aim is to build their own stormtrooper, clone trooper, Sith and bounty hunter costumes. Members of the group are then invited to attend events including red carpet premieres of the movies, comic conventions and the aforementioned Star Wars Celebration, and charitable events. The members will attend any of these events free of charge but use these opportunities to raise money for their charity.
Both the 501st Legion and the rebel Legion have donated millions of hours to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities around the world.
And it’s not just fans of Star wars that have started charities, Disney and LucasFilm created their own charity called Force for Change. This charity has created events and promoted the drive for donating to make the world a better place. Force for Change works in partnership with UNICEF. To find our more, click here.
18. Impact on Culture
Whether its several thousand people gathered in one place dressed up as there favourite Star Wars character, several thousands of people writing “May the Fourth be with you” on the 4th of May each on social media, or shows such as the Family Guy or Robot Chicken having dedicated Star Wars spoof episodes, and the Simpsons drawing many cultural references as inspiration for scenes, Star Wars has had a major cultural impact on people of this planet.
We may be in our own galaxy far, far away from where their shenanigans are being played out, but people and places within that galaxy sees our day to day interactions, media outlets associating politicians and no-good-doers with many of the evil characters from the movie (Donald Trump as Darth Vader anyone?), and it is hard to move one step in many shopping centres and retail outlets without bumping into some random item with Star Wars branding emblazoned all over it.
Similarly, when living in a country where Christianity is the dominant religion, it is hard to drive more than a few kilometres or miles before stumbling upon a house of the holy. Within a 5km radius of my own home there are 18 places of Christian worship according to Google Maps.
With six of our national public holidays in Australia being Christian celebrations, and a seventh if you recognise New Year’s Day as a Christian observation based on the fact that it’s the first day of a calendar created and named in honour of the Pope of the day, Christianity definitely has had an impact on our culture.
19. Dating System
Speaking of calendars…
Although there is no widely accepted international standard for civil calendars, the Christian based Gregorian calendar is the most widely used of all civil calendars. Whilst some countries or cultures use their own calendar for festivities, international business is conducted using the Gregorian calendar so that timing of transactions can be agreed upon between businesses within Australia, the United States or all of Europe to businesses within Saudi Arabia which uses the Islamic calendar internally within their country.
Unlike languages that need to be translated or currencies that need to be converted, with businesses and government agencies within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia using their own internally with the Gregorian calendar used along side their own, with the world being as connected as it is these days, it’s clear that the Christian based dating system incorporating the year named in honour of the trips around the sun the earth has taken since the birth of Christ is more than a pseudo internationally recognised calendar.
Another thing that internationally recognised calendar introduces is the concept of everything happening before the birth of Christ is referred to as BC (Before Christ) and everything after his birth is known as AD (Anno Domini, or in the year of our Lord). Some people erroneously think it’s Before Christ and After Death, but that would mean our calendar’s dating system misses out on 33 years of appointed time.
Though it is only known and used by the dedicated Star Wars fan, and only in relation to the happenings within the Star Wars canon, Star Wars itself has a dating system based upon a major event in that galaxy’s timeline. At the end of the first Star Wars movie, the one that’s now known at Episode IV or A New Hope there is a battle which ends with the destruction of the Death Star. That battle is known as the Battle of Yavin.
Although it wasn’t a useful tool other than something that Star Wars geeks could use in a battle of the minds when talking to other Star Wars geeks, the reference to the years before or after the battle have made their way into more people’s psyches now that you have to explain when things take place in the prequel episodes (all BBY) and where things happen in the sequel trilogy, aka The Force Awakens and beyond (ABY).
And then, thanks to Rogue One slotting itself in between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, it is very important for dedicated fans and random movie goers alike to know that this takes place circa 1 BBY. That is, within the year leading up to the first movie release in 1977.
That’s AD 1977, for what it’s worth…
Can you think of any other ways they are similar? What have I missed out?