For the Kingdom of God to take hold in the world, Jesus had to do more than heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and raise the dead: he had to suffer and he had to die. Likewise, the Rebel Alliance, even after defeating the Empire’s Death Star at the Battle of Yavin IV, it’s heroes had to suffer and they had to die. But the promise of resurrection for both meant victory over evil.
Peter Leithart, in his incredible book Deep Exegesis, suggests ways that we can learn to look at the world through a Biblical lens. I’ve been encouraged by Caleb Boersma’s blog at https://reviewsbycaleb.com/ where he looks at movies and finds biblical themes or ways to connect the Gospel of King Jesus to some of the messages of the movie. That being said, let’s see how we apply the superstructure of the Scriptures to movies we watch, starting with the grand epic The Empire Strikes Back.
Jesus had to die and he had to rise again for the Kingdom of God to finally break into the world. The prophets foretold his death in song (Isaiah 53), David was promised the resurrection of the Seed (I Samuel 7:13-14), the apostle Paul saw that the entire storyline of Scripture, not just some proof-texts, looked forward to the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Savior (I Corinthians 15:1-4). Jesus in his own earthly ministry predicted his own death, especially at the confession of Peter (Mark 9:30-32, Matthew 16:21-28, Luke 9:22-27, Matthew 17:22-23, Matthew 20:17-19, the Farewell Discourse of John 13-15). The writer of Hebrews says that it was necessary for Jesus to die to inaugurate the new covenant (Hebrews 9) and the author doesn’t even name Jesus in the book until he talks about his death (Hebrews 2:9). John the Revelator notes that the worthiness of Christ to be worshipped comes because he is the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5).
The Scriptures follow the death and resurrection story line closely, sometimes in symbolic form and sometimes in the form of exile and restoration. Adam and Eve sinned and died in the Garden, but were promised a glorious Seedline (Genesis 3:14-16). Noah died on the Ark but was raised again when he touched land as the new Adam (Genesis 5-9). Abraham and Sarah acted out the Exodus twice in their ministry; Isaac died and was resurrected in the Aquedah (Genesis 22, Hebrews 11); Israel died wrestling with God but was resurrected when he reconciled with Esau; Joseph died in Egypt but was raised again to rule with Pharoah. Israel died in the wilderness as an Adamic people (Numbers 1-2) but was raised as a complete Adam and Eve people in the second census. David had to die (in exile, chased by Saul) to be exalted to the throne. Israel had to die in the exile to let Gentiles in to be restored to full health (Romans 9-11). These are many, but not anywhere near the full biblical revelation of the death and resurrection theme. Even the first creation story of Genesis 1 includes it!
But here’s the deal. These stories reach us in the real world. Check it out in Empire Strikes Back. Luke, not fully a Jedi, struggles against the Empire as he hides in Hoth. He has recently lost his Master, Ben Kenobi, so he has no path forward. He and the Rebels have struck out against the Empire (Marvel Star Wars: Luke Skywalker Strikes!), but he is neither Jedi nor full Rebel. When he finally faces the Wampa in his cave, he suddenly becomes attuned to the Force. He knows that he should reach out and use it to grab his saber, and he does: it saves his life. Running into the cold, he finally sees Ben’s full form in the snow who tells him to go to Dagobah. He may not be a Jedi, but his first death opens his eyes to the Force.
But his journey isn’t over yet: Yoda has more tests for him. Yoda takes him to a tree that gives visions of the Dark Side: for Luke, he must fight Vader without weapons (though he takes them anyway, showing a dark side growing within him). Without heeding Yoda’s advice, Luke thinks that he is ready to face Vader without training so he enters the cave with his saber. (A quick note: caves in the Bible are a symbol of death.) Luke faces Vader and chops his head off, a decisive victory. It is not to last, though: underneath Vader’s faceplate is Luke’s face! He is dead, again: evil may have the final word in young Skywalker’s life. He emerges from the cave, alive again, attuned to the Force and attuned to the Dark Side that could be growing within him.
But he “is not a Jedi yet”.
His final death occurs on Bespin. Stretched out over a weather vane, he listens as Vader tries to recruit him to the Empire to run a coup, defeat Palpatine and take over and “rule the galaxy as Father and Son.” Luke tells him that he won’t join his father’s murderer: “Ben told me you killed my father!” “No, I am your father!” Vader famously explains. Luke, willing to die rather than succumb to the darkness within him, lets go of the weather vane to plummet to his seeming death. This is the third time Skywalker has died: he is finally a Jedi. A year later, he would launch an epic rescue plan to save General Solo from the crime lord Jabba the Hutt, using his self-built saber (rather than Anakin’s old blade) with skills unknown to him before.
Just like Jesus, just like the Christian, Skywalker couldn’t attain his goal without death and resurrection. Now it’s your turn: die to yourself. And while you’re at it, read over the stories I mentioned above. Check them out – do you see the same cycles? Do you know any other movies that feature this theme? I’d suggest checking out The Dark Knight Rises, Arrow, Spider-Man 3, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies to name a few!