Star Wars: A Modern Day Morality Play

Morality plays were kind of a big deal in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. They were one of three main forms of plays in the Middle Ages. The other two forms, miracle plays and mystery plays, focused on biblical characters or saints. The morality play focused on a particular hero, an everyman, whose character was tested, but who exhibited strength and achieved redemption.

Historians note how the morality plays were eventually secularized and removed from a liturgical focus as they were increasingly taken over by professional actors. The modern day movie can trace back many of its influences to the drama of the Middle Ages.

But secularism is as secularism does. The best movies seem to arc backwards towards the medieval ages in an attempt to reclaim a discarded image. With all the bells and whistles of twenty-first century Hollywood special effects, there seems to be something deeper and more profound lurking beneath the CGI (computer-generated imagery). It’s the primitive call of the Creator.

C.S. Lewis talked about this in his book The Abolition of Man, in which he illustrated the moral source that undergirds and upholds the Cosmos—what theologians call Natural Law. Lewis warned that a move away from the Natural Law towards a subjective ethic would leave men without chests. They would no longer feel as they ought. It would lead, as the title suggests, to the abolition of man.

That’s because we live in a moral universe. The fibre of reality is ordered by a moral source. As the Apostle Paul explains in the opening chapter of Romans, God has revealed his divine nature in the created world and written his moral laws on our very hearts. To deny this is to deny our humanity.

Star Wars owes its moral narrative to the tradition evident in the morality plays. Bracket George Lucas’s eastern influence and you will see at bottom a fight between good and evil, as if they are real things not merely different expressions of some sort of oneness or force. We cheer the Rebellion because we feel as though they are fighting for something good and against something evil. As you watch movies in the Star Wars franchise ask yourself, “What worldview makes sense of this kind of moral conquest?”

Behind the Rebellion and the Empire, the Jedi and the Siths, lightsaber battles and stormtroopers, there’s a tale as old as time itself. It’s the war between the light and darkness. It’s altogether appropriate that these films often premiere at Christmas time. In the real life star wars—the Incarnation is the point on which the entire plot pivots. It it is the battle that signals the beginning of the end. In the conflict between good and evil: a babe born in Bethlehem shows us which side will triumph.