More Than a Story: How ‘Star Wars’ Gives Voice to My Spiritual Journey

Space backgroundPeople like to tell me that they haven’t seen “Star Wars.” 

It started out as a joke with friends: “Eric loves ‘Star Wars!’ This will absolutely shock him. He won’t be able to believe it.” 

But over time, it’s become something else. Usually, after I give a talk or a workshop—one thoroughly peppered with “Star Wars” references and jokes—a person will come up to me, sort of sheepish. “I really liked your talk,” they’ll say before pivoting to confession mode. “But Eric, I’m really sorry to say this, but I haven’t seen ‘Star Wars’…”

I mock shock, anger even, but then we laugh. It’s fine, of course—the franchise isn’t for everyone. We all have stories we like and some that just don’t resonate. I haven’t yet refused a friendship over the mere sin of not having seen “Star Wars.”

But I have been thinking more and more about this transition in the way people talk to me about that galaxy far, far away. Because I think they see a change in me: This isn’t just a story I enjoy; it means something. 

RELATED: Faith and the Force: ‘Ahsoka’ and the Power of Relationship

Sure, it holds a special place in my own life story: My dad popped those VHS tapes in the VCR when I was little, ensuring I had something super cool to talk to my friends about in school for the rest of the week–and that I was ready for the prequel trilogy to premiere only a few years later. 

But “Star Wars” means more to me than that. It gives voice to my own spiritual journey.

I’m not talking about drawing parallels between our faith and “Star Wars”: “Anakin as the Chosen One is like Jesus as our Savior!” Or, “Jesuits are like Jedi because they both practice a form of indifference!” Parallels are helpful, sure; they help us see spiritual stakes in otherwise secular stories. But we remain passive observers when we simply look for parallels; we don’t engage the spiritual truths they point to. 

What moves me about “Star Wars” is that the story gives me a new language with which to give voice to my spiritual journey. For example, the Dark Side of the Force feeds on fear; am I allowing fear to govern my decisions in relationships, at work, or in the way I view myself? If I am, then I may be unknowingly pursuing a dark path—and my own faith tradition has plenty to say about that! 

What about redemption? Sure, we love to see Luke cling so fervently to the belief that his father might still be saved, and that Anakin still lives somewhere in Darth Vader. But do I act as confidently in this galaxy oh-so-near? Do I display those spiritual virtues that Luke does on the second Death Star: nonviolence, trust, surrender, and compassion? And if not, is there a relationship in my life that could benefit from such a disposition?

I enter into the story; I engage the characters. I try some of those lofty lessons on for size. And I do so in a way that remembers St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits—honoring the spiritual legacy of the Basque soldier-turned-saint who realized that God was to be found in all things, through our senses and our desires. Ignatius invites us to engage Scripture this way, by entering the story. But what if we did the same with stories of pop culture that mean so much to us?

Because I think in the end, that’s the point: God is present in these supposedly godless stories. God desires to speak to us through the very myths and legends that move us, that inspire us, that stoke our imagination. Are these holy texts? Not in any way a biblical scholar would recognize, but these are stories that speak to something deep within ourselves.

And the reason I spend so much time thinking about them—the reason I wrote a whole book, “My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars”—is because I think that while these stories speak to us, we can use that same language to speak to others. To discover spiritual truths within ourselves. 

We don’t actually have some mystical energy force to call upon to levitate rocks or pull X-Wings from mucky swamps. But we do experience the tug of the dark side and the light each and every day. We wrestle with decisions that set our lives on trajectories that bring us closer to the light or further from it. 

RELATED: Curate Your Own Lenten Movie Marathon

Painting this very relatable spiritual struggle in the hues of laser swords and warrior monks simply brings into clarity the weight of otherwise mundane decisions. Spiritual decisions. Do I move closer to the light? Or, do I find myself in darkness and in need of redemption? The fate of the galaxy might not rest on my meager decision-making. But then again, maybe it does. 

Star Wars. Ignatian spirituality. Pop culture. Our faith lives. These aren’t separate things. In fact, one can feed the other, all while elevating our ability to see new. possibilities in a world so desperately in need of them. 

Maybe that’s why people have started apologizing to me for not seeing “Star Wars.” People feel as though they have to apologize for not being fully bought in. Not because “Star Wars” is my religion but because it clearly gives me a new language with which to articulate very old spiritual truths. And that matters—to me, to you, to our world. 

But here’s what I say in response: Don’t apologize for not seeing “Star Wars.” Find the story or stories that inspire you. And see what God might be trying to say to you through them. 

Learn more about and get your copy of “My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars” from Loyola Press today!