I recently spent an evening with other like-minded young mothers, sipping tea and discussing our mutual desire to classically educate our children (in the Catholic tradition). At one point, Star Wars entered the conversation, namely the latest installment of the saga and whether or not it was appropriate for our young children to see it in theatres.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was no great lover of Star Wars until I was engaged and my now husband made me sit down with him and watch the original trilogy. I enjoyed it, but didn’t really begin to fall in love with it until my oldest daughter was around three years old. Around that time, I had a new baby and our oldest spent a lot of time bonding with her father. It was then that he introduced her to the world of Star Wars, and it became a part of our family culture. Needless to say, he took her to see the latest movie, and she absolutely loved it.
So, when I was having this discussion, my young daughter had already gone to see the movie. In defending our choice to allow her to see it, I offered several fair points. It wasn’t until a week later, when I saw the movie myself, that I finally knew the real value of The Force Awakens, especially for a young Catholic family.
The Force Awakens is one of the finest pieces of Catholic storytelling that I have seen in a while.
As we’ve considered previously here, Catholic literature and art is not necessarily created by Catholics. Catholic art need not portray saints or scenes from Scripture, either. What can be claimed as Catholic art is far broader, claiming all that is true, good, and beautiful; ultimately all that draws one deeper into relationship with God. Far from being exclusionary, Catholicism claims all that is good for Christ.
What is so powerful about art of any sort – including literature, visual, and performing art – is its power to capture our hearts, minds, and souls. Music, for example, stirs something deep within us. A well told story – if it does not aim to merely preach – can convict us of a truth that we previously only grasped at surface level. Art that is Catholic captures our imagination, stirring within us a deep desire for good, and even a longing for God.
Blessed James Alberione, patron saint of modern media evangelists and founder of the Pauline family (among them, the Daughters of St. Paul, who are famous for their wonderful book stores and publications) knew the power of the media for good. He famously said, “We need to put down the scissors of censorship and pick up the camera…the power of the cinema surpasses that of the school, the pulpit, and the press and always produces greater results.”
Although perhaps unintentional, The Force Awakens does just that.
Without preaching or overt moralizing, the movie draws clear lines between what is good and what is evil. Although these lines are clear-cut, where individuals lie is not. There is a natural fluctuation and growth. Characters who are good from the start become better by the end, discovering their own powerful connection to light side of the force. Other characters are introduced at their moment of conversion, and their change of heart plays out over the course of the movie. Still others straddle the light and the dark sides of the force, fighting their inner turmoil in a sense to resist the good – yet, their conflict remains and their final status is still unknown (reminiscent of Darth Vader and his death bed conversion in the original trilogy). There are also individuals who have long ago solidly chosen between good and evil, some of whose names are already known by any Star Wars fan.
The theme of mercy – especially parental mercy – is also a strong undercurrent throughout the movie. Choices are constantly being made, and the outcomes are not always as expected. Courage is rewarded, pride is not, and one walks away from the theatre with a deep desire to fight for something – namely, something good.
It is no secret to anyone who has seen the trailers for the movie that one of the main characters is a female. Already the feminists are trying to claim her as their own, but what makes Rey unique is not her feminism, but rather her feminity. Even the beauty of the natural complementarity between the sexes is displayed in the movie. The strongest woman in the film does not hate men, or look down on them. Rather, she draws on goodness to find her strength, and that goodness includes a respect for the dignity of others.
The Force Awakens beautifully displays all that is true, good, and beautiful – and the beauty is striking. The movie is well done all around (not that we would expect anything less from J.J. Abrams, of course). The scenery is striking, the acting is genuine. It is simply a beautiful movie.
Although I didn’t have this argument at the time of the discussion with my friend, I now understand why Star Wars-The Force Awakens (and movies like it) are such a tremendous tool for good Catholic parents to use. In a culture fighting to capture the imagination of our children, we must use every weapon in our arsenal to nurture in them a desire for good, namely a desire to fight for what is good. We must harness the power of film to form their imaginations in such a way that the fight between good and evil is a part of their consciousness, as well as a deep-seeded desire to be on the side of good. Two and a half hours spent immersed in the world of the search for the Jedi more than accomplishes that goal.