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Death on a Cross — Redemption & Sacrifice: Gospel Themes From Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Updated: Feb 13, 2020


That's the number of times I've already seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (TROS) in theaters. And I'm hoping to go at least once more before it's out. So...I guess you could say I'm a little obsessed. (Also, SPOILERS are coming, so stop reading if you haven't seen TROS yet! Last warning...ok.)

Contrary to some others' opinions, I absolutely loved this film. I admired the score (John Williams is second to NONE!), Rey's inner development, adored all of the old school throwbacks, D-O being voiced by JJ, HAN FREAKING SOLO, and so much more. My mom and I were lucky enough to go to the Opening Night Fan Event on December 19th at the earliest viewing time, and I literally cried through about 90% of the movie because I was so overjoyed to just be there, in the seats, living the Star Wars movie premiere in real time like millions did back in the '70s and '80s.

What I also loved about this film were the crazy amount of Gospel-related themes I could discern within the various storylines. As per my disclaimer, I am in no way assuming that's what the writers and producers were specifically intending. But as a believer in the greatest story ever told (that Jesus came and died for us so that we might have eternal life in heaven), I can't help but see themes of that story in all of my favorite books, films, and shows. So! Let's get down to it. There is so much I could say and want to say about TROS, but I'll try to keep it manageable for you guys :)

THEME 1: Death on a Cross — Redemption & Sacrifice

One of the things that has fascinated me throughout the new trilogy is Kylo Ren's lightsaber. The red color is easy enough to explain (#Sith).'s also a cross. The reasons for this are explained in this image from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary. The gist is that Kylo Ren's lightsaber is unstable because it was built with a cracked kyber crystal. In order to balance the power of the saber, the cross-guard blades are used to split the main blade into perpendicular blade energy channels. The cross-guard vent shrouds then protect the wielder's hand from these smaller perpendicular blades.

We'll talk about the cracked kyber crystal and helmet he uses in another post. What I find most interesting about Ren's lightsaber from TROS is that he is killed with it as he and Rey are battling it out on the old remains of the Death Star. Tired, weary, and worn down by protecting Finn from the crushing waves around the Death Star remains, Rey loses ground and is about to be struck down by Kylo Ren. Meanwhile, in her own last attempt to reach out with the Force and call her son back to the light, General Leia calls out "Ben."

Kylo Ren pauses, drops his Sith lightsaber, and Rey catches it, thrusting it into his chest in the same moment. He is mortally wounded. He will die. But then Rey, who feels Leia losing her strength through the Force and senses her death, comes to his side and force-heals his wound. She tells him that she did want to take his hand once, "Ben's hand," and then she runs off to take his tie fighter.

Ren/Ben is bewildered, and also healed. He looks out on the ruins of the Death Star, and then (in a moment that is probably my FAVORITE of the movie), we hear, "Hey, kid." Ren/Ben turns and sees his father, Han Solo, and gets to replay the scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens again, but this time with the memory of his father. Within their conversation, Han says that "Kylo Ren is dead, my son is alive." And as we see in the rest of the film, this is true. Kylo Ren is no more; Ben Solo lives.

When Jesus died on a cross, he died a sinner's death, despite having lived a perfect life as the Son of God. Crucifixion was a capital punishment in which criminals were nailed to a cross and raised up, hanging on the cross until they eventually died from exhaustion and asphyxiation. Jesus was crucified alongside two criminals—I would encourage you to read the passion and death of Christ in Luke 22-23. It's hard to imagine without seeing all of the historical context, but to be crucified was a horrific way to die. And all along the way, Jesus endured people mocking Him, telling Him to save Himself if He truly was the Son of God.

After Jesus' death, we know that the women close to him prepared spices to take to His tomb. But when they arrived, this is what they found:

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. [Luke 24: 2-8 NIV]

Because of Jesus' resurrection, He conquered death. And all who believed in Him are redeemed, made new in Him because of what He has done. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says it best, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"

So what does this have to do with Kylo Ren? First of all, let me be clear: Kylo Ren is not Jesus. He did not live a perfect life by any stretch. He did, however, die on a cross—his own lightsaber. “Death on a cross“ is something we all could have had, and indeed deserved, as sinners. But we who are believers know that when we believe in Jesus (and a great picture of this is in baptism by immersion), we die to our old ways and life, and are born new in Him. When Kylo Ren is called to by Leia and pierced by his own lightsaber (i.e. the cross), and then healed by a transfer of force energy from Rey, I believe something similar happens in him. The light side of the force is awakened in him again. The dark side is put to death (in the same way that our old selves are put to death when we place faith in Christ).

Redemption requires sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed Himself to a death given to criminals so that he might redeem those who would believe in him. Leia sacrificed the rest of her strength to call out to Ben. Rey sacrificed part of her life, her own force energy, to heal him from his mortal wound. They did this so that Kylo/Ben might be redeemed in the light, and might revert from his old ways.

Redemption is the act of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. In "real life," Christ's death and resurrection redeemed us, saving us from being slaves to the evil and sin in this world. In Star Wars, Leia, Rey, and even Han's sacrifices worked together to redeem Kylo Ren. When the cross pierced him, Kylo Ren died, and, as Han said, Ben lived. And we see that play out from the scene Ben has with the memory of Han, all the way through to the end of the film. (And the truly incredible thing is that by the end of the film, Ben is willing to sacrifice HIS life for Rey.) I think this is a beautiful image of what it can look like for us as those who are believers, or who might be simply considering who Jesus is or could be in our lives. Just as Kylo Ren, who committed horrible murders and atrocities, was still not so far gone as to be worthy of being redeemed and saved by those who loved him, no one is too far gone to be saved, loved, and to be given the grace of Jesus's sacrifice.

NO ONE is too far gone. No matter who you are. No matter what you have done. No matter what has happened to you. Jesus wants all of you. He died on the cross for you. He is reaching His own hand out to you...would you take it?

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