The Force of Fathers

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Mads Mikkelson as Jyn Erso’s father, Galen, in Rogue One.

The first time I saw Star Wars, I was with my dad. I was seven years old and the original trilogy had just been re-released into theaters for a new generation to enjoy. I remember leaving the theater spell-bound by the spectacle I had just witnessed, as though some unexplored corner of my soul had been awakened by this space opera of desperate rebels, dark lords, heroic rescues, and larger than life characters. An entire world—no, an entire galaxy—had been brought to life right in front of me. I remember discussing the movie with dad on the car ride home, father and son, relishing the thrill of this shared experience.

As it turns out, the heart of Star Wars is a story about fathers and children. Luke Skywalker is an orphan whose father was supposedly murdered by Darth Vader. Luke is taken under the wing of Obi Wan Kenobi, who becomes like the father he never had, only to see him also killed by Darth Vader. In a chilling twist, Vader himself is revealed to be Luke’s father. Luke and Vader then seek to draw each other to their respective sides of light and darkness, culminating in a father-son showdown that ends with the ultimate sacrifice and a redemptive reconciliation.

Even 2015’s The Force Awakens was powered by another paternal plot-twist: the film’s villain, Kylo Ren, is in fact the son of Han Solo and Leia and the grandson of Darth Vader. It is Han’s turmoil over his son that carries the film’s emotional weight. And it is Han who confronts his son in the film’s most memorable scene. Instead of the smooth-talking, nerf-herding scoundrel we’ve come to expect, we instead see a compassionate father pleading with his lost son to return to the light. We then see the look of betrayal, sorrow, and yet unshaken love in his face when that same son runs him through with a lightsaber. It’s meant to break our hearts. And it does. Because we know how strong this theme of fathers and children has become to the Star Wars universe.

Last week’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story the first Star Wars film to deviate from the Skywalker family tree (unless you want to include this and this – okay, we’ll pretend those never happened). Yet the role of fathers has never been more vital than here.

Rogue One focuses on Jyn, the daughter of Galen Erso, the man who designed the Death Star. Right from the opening scene we see the closeness of this father and his child, and once again dad is the key to the entire plot. When Galen is taken by the Empire to do their dirty work, Jyn is thrust into a fifteen-year meandering of bitterness, trouble and distrust. Meanwhile, the struggling Rebellion takes an interest in Jyn precisely because of who her father is. They plan on using her to track Galen down, kill him, and hopefully stop the Death Star from wreaking galactic terror.

Just as her father’s disappearance caused Jyn’s indifference, his re-emergence becomes her motivation. While all other characters assume her father to be a member of the evil Empire, she retains a childlike faith that he must still be good. Galen’s influence is the catalyst for all that happens in the film and, subsequently, all that goes on to happen in A New Hope. Every father, whether by his absence or presence, has some sort of impact on his children.

Some folks still try to downplay the significance of fathers in the lives of children, but the majority of social studies have proven them wrong. Kids with involved dads tend to perform better academically, exhibit stronger verbal and problem-solving skills, and even show better behavioral patterns. They’re also more likely to participate in extracurricular hobbies, to be successful in their career, to be more socially relatable to strangers, to show greater tolerance for stress, to show more self-control and take more initiative, to do better socially, to have better relationships with their siblings, to have higher moral values, and even to have a higher overall life satisfaction. On and on the list goes.

That’s not to insult families who, for one reason or another, don’t have a father in the equation. But the role of dad is a means of common grace that God uses to forge and develop young people, and whether that impact is good or bad, there will always be an impact of some kind. If Star Wars has taught us anything, it’s that this relationship between fathers and children is cosmic.

Indeed, the story of fathers takes center stage in God’s unfolding drama of redemptive history. We remember the fall of our federal father, Adam, and the resulting history of destruction for his offspring. We remember God’s promise to Abraham, that he would be the father of faith to many nations. We remember God’s promise to King David, that his son would reign forever. We remember the true Offspring of Abraham and David who was to come, who would be called both Son of God and son of man. We remember the story this Messiah told about the forgiving father who welcomed back the prodigal son with open arms. We remember that in Jesus the Messiah we are able to call God Himself our Heavenly Father.

Contrary to popular belief, “patriarchy” is not an ugly word reserved for backwoods chauvinism; it’s designed to be a pillar in the basic societal structure, and it’s even the basis by which we understand our own relationship to God.

Whether intentional or not, Star Wars highlights just how good and redemptive that role can be when done right—or just how destructive it can be when done wrong. Like the Force itself, it can be used for great light or great darkness. It’s been almost twenty years since my dad took me to see Star Wars for the first time, and I’m ever grateful for the role he’s played (and continues to play) in my life. My hope and prayer is to make that same positive impact on my own son’s life, to the glory of our Heavenly Father.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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