The Last Jedi

January 14th, 2018

I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi on opening night, and I’ve been thinking about it since then. This has to be the best Star Wars movie ever made. It works on so many levels, and speaks so directly to our world, all the while reinventing old Star Wars tropes. However, one central theme of this film sticks out.

The Resistance depends on the idea of hope. It’s mentioned repeatedly in the film. Many of the crises the Resistance faces revolve around whether or not hope remains. The search for Luke is explicitly framed this way: “as long as he lives, hope remains.”

In the first act of the movie, Rey struggles in her relationship with Kylo Ren (the primary villain), but is ultimately moved by hope. She has a vision of his future, and believes in his ultimate redemption. This is what leads her to engage with Kylo Ren in the way she does.

At the climax of the movie, Leia couches the apparent defeat of The Resistance as a failure of hope: “We fought until the end but the galaxy lost all its hope. The spark is out.” That is, in the darkest hour of the Rebellion/Resistance, hope in the future is a central theme.

I think we Christians often make a mistake

The Apostle Paul once commented about “faith, hope, and love.” Most of our churches are quite good at talking about faith, and many are good at talking about love. But hope? Hope is something we often struggle with.

But for the Christian, hope is a central theme. Almost all New Testament scholars of the last century have found it impossible to separate Jesus from his eschatology (His view of how history ends). It is often noted that Jesus’ primary goal in His teaching is to announce the in-breaking Kingdom of God.

Or let me say it another way. Jesus is all about hope that God is making all things new. God is making everything good again. God is leading us back to Eden, and Jesus is announcing it every chance He gets.  

Saving what we love

In one of the most moving scenes in TLJ, a new hero, Rose, claims “that’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.” One of these approaches is essentially optimistic, while the other is pessimistic. To say it another way, one is rooted in hope and love, while the other is rooted in…fear? Cynicism?

This isn’t bad advice for the Christian in the world. Jesus, according to John’s gospel, reassures us: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (16:33, NIV).” Many of us have taken recent world events hard. Many of us had the hope knocked loose in us in 2017. There is so much that we hate. We can certainly resist it.

But a focus on the hope of the gospel, a hope in the coming Kingdom, nudges us to stand for what is good. Instead of condemning the woman caught in adultery, we defend her value. Instead of condemning Cornelius’ complicity with the oppressive Romans, we embrace the faith present in him.  

The world is broken, my fellow youth workers. All the same, God is working, as God has always been, guiding us toward the Kingdom. God is leading us to the New Creation. We can choose to focus on the enemies of God, or on the reason for our hope. Or as Leia says, “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you see it, you’ll never make it through the night.

Jesus has already won, and so hope remains. Amen, and amen.

Stephen Hale is the Director of Youth Ministries at First United Methodist Church Redondo Beach. In his free time, he hosts the YOUTH MINISTRY: SMALL CHURCH podcast. He is also the Director of International Programs for INALIENABLE, a non-profit working for the dignity of migrants. He received a BA in Social Sciences from BIOLA, an MA in Theology from Fuller, and an M.Div from Claremont School of Theology. You can keep up with him at STEPHENPHALE.WORDPRESS.COM.


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