WARNING: The following contains some major spoilers about the newest Star Wars installment. Read on at your own risk.
3:00 a.m. A moment ago, I was in the land of sleep, but now that bliss is denied me. My muscles are tensed. My mind is churning so hard it’s likely to produce butter. Each effort to relax seems to be in vain.
This isn’t like me. Undisturbed sleep is one area in which I typically excel. I once slept through a fire alarm, after all. So I’m going to attribute this nocturnal interruption to the excitement of the previous evening, when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
True, I probably shouldn’t have had that Cherry Coke. I try to avoid drinking caffeine in the evening, and these days I avoid soda in general. (Something about all those added sugars being bad for my health, so I figure that abstaining means I can skip that five mile run.) But it’s not every day that I see the opening of a new Star Wars film, and this one promised to be a cut above the rest, so I decided to indulge. Live and learn.
Then again, caffeine has not historically given me fits, so maybe there’s something else to explain this unpleasant wakefulness. Could it be that I’m still a bit in shock from what I just saw on the screen?
I could hardly believe my eyes, yet there it was in front of me. The whole film had been leading up to it. The big baddy in this newest trip to a galaxy far, far away, an evil knight known as Kylo Ren, is revealed early on to be the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, and thus the grandson of whiny teenager turned übervillain Darth Vader. For the Star Wars universe, this isn’t such a big shock. Consider that this is the series that pulled off the greatest bloodline twist of all time in The Empire Strikes Back with that immortal line: “No, I am your father.”
Kylo Ren, who apparently was originally known as “Ben” (presumably after Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi), formerly trained under his uncle, Jedi hero Luke Skywalker, but at some point fell prey to the Dark Side and now takes his orders from a huge CGI hologram who goes by “Snoke”, a name that brings to mind nothing so much as a combination of “sniff” and “coke”. In fact, I’m fairly certain this will become the new slang term in the geek world for that very activity.
Princess Leia, now a general in the Resistance forces, implores Han Solo to find their offspring and bring him back to the light. “Bring our son home,” she asks. Having already seen their son behave rather dreadfully in earlier scenes (his favorite pastime is mental torture), this seems like a long shot, but despite Han’s own misgivings, his love for his son motivates him to give it one last shot.
That brings us to the climactic moment, when in true Star Wars fashion father and son meet man to man on a bridge hanging over an endless drop-off. It’s The Empire Strikes Back all over again, only this time the father is pleading for his son to return to the light, not join him in a quest for galactic domination.
For just a moment, the filmmakers allow us to think that Kylo Ren might respond positively. The son speaks of the mental anguish he has experienced, torn between his former life and current villainy. His father expresses that he is prepared to do anything it takes to restore his son. Then, even as “Ben” holds out his weapon for his father to take, the scene darkens. Kylo Ren plunges the light saber into his father with utter hatred, then allows him to fall to his death.
What a whopper of a scene! The writers seem to have recaptured the secret to making a great Star Wars film: at the end of the day, it’s not the stunning action sequences that stick with you, but the connection that one builds with the characters in a high drama of Shakespearean proportions. No one cares about a bunch of mindless drones, but a father begging his son to come home and then seeing those hopes dashed – that is something we can relate to and something which will affect us long after we leave the theater.
Yet, there was something else about that moment that seemed to cause me unease as I lay in my bed, struggling to go back to sleep. Finally, I realized what it was. The father-son story bears resemblance to another tale I once heard in our very own galaxy.
A son rebelling against his father and being seduced by the path of evil. A father intent on reconciliation, putting himself in a position of ultimate vulnerability, and pledging to do “anything” to bring that son back to the fold. The son rejecting this gracious offer of restoration and choosing instead to kill the grace giver.
I could not escape the idea that Kylo Ren represents humanity and Han Solo represents Jesus Christ. By no means do I think the filmmakers intended to leave that impression. After all, the character of Han Solo is in many ways totally unlike Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, the emotions that I experienced while watching the film were very reminiscent of the “Prodigal Son” story, only this time there was no happy ending.
That is exactly what happened when Christ came to earth. We had chosen the way of evil and forsaken any connection with our Heavenly Father. We wanted nothing to do with Him, so much so that we nailed Him to a cross, putting Him to death. In our sinful nature, that is what we all really want: to put God to death, to forsake any loyalty we owe to our Creator, to take complete lordship over our own lives.
But there is something which might make the metaphor even stronger – say, if there was some kind of obvious Christian symbolism that I could latch onto, something which the filmmakers inserted without considering its significance, but which speaks to me on a symbolic level. Happily, I found such a symbol when I considered the weapon with which Han Solo was killed: a light saber unlike any other in the Star Wars universe. It has a laser hilt, giving it the form of the letter “t”, or as many of us know it, a cross. It was with that cross light saber that he killed his father.
“That’s kind of cool,” I thought to myself. “I’ll have to write that up in the morning.” And so I did, and now you are reading it. May the Lord be with us all.