There are rules. Then there is what is right. Those two concepts overlap more often than not. But when they do not overlap it makes for a great story — which the Star Wars universe is quick to remind us. And these stories make for great parables instructing us in the good life of faith, providing us the room to ask: “Are the rules what make right, or is it something else?”
There are many rules in the Star Wars universe. Perhaps the order of the Jedi Knights best exemplifies the love of rules. Jedi are not to have personal attachments. They have codes of dress and hairstyle, apparently. They must obey their masters and the Jedi Code.
More recently, we were shown the love of rules through Star Wars’ two newest episodic adventures: "The Mandalorian" and "The Book of Boba Fett." Both feature characters bound by strong cultural codes. In "The Mandalorian," we meet Din Djarin, an adopted Mandalorian seeking to live by the strict Mandalorian cultural code while navigating a galaxy-wide adventure on his own. As part of the Way of the Mandalore (the Mandalorian cultural code), Din must never remove his helmet, must always protect other Mandalorians, must bring certain resources to the clan, and must honor vows. At times, adhering to The Way seems to come at a cost to Din’s better nature, especially when it comes to Din protecting and nurturing the cute, green and vulnerable child who falls into his care: Grogu, AKA “Baby Yoda”. It certainly makes for a compelling story.
Likewise, Boba Fett faces conflict between cultural code and compassion. However, in "The Book of Boba Fett," Fett is initially the one who needs others to bend the rules in order to offer him care. The Tusken Raiders who find Fett wandering the Tatooine wilderness, starved and mad with thirst, face a tradition that demands they dispose of outsiders. Instead, they provide a sort of care and connection for the vulnerable Fett, in their own desert-hardened way.
After a time of recuperation, Fett faces flaunting the traditional practices of Tatooine crime lords in order to protect the vulnerable communities with which he’s grown attached. Again, it makes for a compelling storyline.
Even cute little Grogu faces a challenge of rules or goodness when he is asked whether or not he will conform to the Code of the Jedi and forsake his worldly attachments or choose familial attachment. I won’t spoil the story by revealing Grogu’s choice, but it is revealing (and possibly prophetic) that the person posing the challenge, Luke Skywalker, once faced the same choice and chose to run to the aid of his friends.
What is righteousness?
These stories provide a great lens through which we might read through one of the Bible’s more confusing sayings. In Romans 5:7, the author writes:
Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.
The author, believed to be the Apostle Paul, describes the extravagant love of God displayed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul notes that God’s love is completely unearned.
To be righteous is to act in accord with divine or moral law. It implies a state in which we are free from guilt. This makes the above statement from Romans 5:7 a bit peculiar, because we would assume a strong tie between righteousness and goodness. But Paul draws a distinction: we might make a sacrifice for a good person, but we’re less likely to sacrifice for a righteous person.
The Star Wars stories help us understand this distinction. The righteous Din Djarin kept his helmet on. But the good Din Djarin removed it for the sake of the child in his care. The righteous Tusken Raiders would’ve held their code and disposed of the weakened Boba Fett. But Tusken Raiders acting in goodness provided a way forward. The righteous Luke Skywalker would have never offered Grogu a choice between code and family. But good Luke provided a glimpse at something else.
And then there’s Christ, willing to die for the sake of all: the righteous, the unrighteous, the good and the un-good. Such an act flaunts our traditional assumption of justice. In a just system, the guilty are punished. But God dismisses the convention on our behalf, continually extending an invitation of love and community. God’s will is not that we be judged righteous. It is that we be holy, good, and free of the ways in which we sin against one another.
That’s a pretty compelling story, too.
Redeeming the lost … in Star Wars
The whole Star Wars saga — at least as far as the tales involving anyone linked to the name “Skywalker” — is an anecdote for the redeeming value of fraternal and familial love. This is the kind of love celebrated in Romans 5.
The wayward characters of Star Wars are those who rejected a path of goodness and chose selfishness. It is the way of Anakin Skywalker who seeks selfish power. It is the way of Ben Solo who seeks after his own ambition. It is the temporary way of Han Solo who seeks after self-preservation seemingly at the cost of others (for a time). It is the temporary way of Finn who also seeks self-preservation at the cost of deserting his friends.
All of these characters are eventually drawn back onto the path of goodness, welcomed and celebrated. They are redeemed, sometimes at great cost to those who helped them reclaim their way. And they are celebrated though they seemingly don’t deserve it — for the things they’ve done seem unforgivable: parricide and infanticide included.
Yet love overcomes.
Romans 5 points us to this world-changing truth: love overcomes.
What is so amazing, and inspiring, in these stories and in the revelation of Romans 5 is the grace represented by those who surround the wayward characters. And while many of us need to hear the message that we are not below redemption, many more of us will benefit from these stories’ reminders that we are called to be ambassadors of grace. Our roles in these real life stories may be to offer respite to thirst-mad Boba Fett in our lives, or the vulnerable and helpless child, or the selfishly distracted family member.
Because, as all this reminds us, love is The Way. And that makes for a really great story.
Written by Rev. Ryan Dunn, Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church and United Methodist Communications where he hosts Compass and Pastoring in the Digital Parish. As a kid he wore his Boba Fett costume for three straight Halloweens. Today, he watches all new Star Wars content and debates the spiritual meaning therein with his son and spouse.