Article ID: JAF0521CB | By: Cole Burgett
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“God save the queen.” Or king, depending on your monarch. We’ve heard this phrase uttered time and again in films and television series throughout the decades, usually as a show of patriotism and fealty toward a ruler. It also happens to be the title of a regal anthem claimed by several of the Commonwealth realms. While there is no sure version of the lyrics, the form usually considered the United Kingdom standard contains the following: “God save the Queen! / Send her victorious, / Happy and glorious, / Long to reign over us, / God save the Queen!”1
This interesting little turn of phrase, “happy and glorious,” perhaps best captures the spirit of adventure and regality that comes with those old-fashioned ideas like chivalry or pomp and circumstance. Of course, to modern American audiences, the notion that anything formal could carry with it a sense of adventure and discovery probably seems like the crossing of two very different wires that should always remain separate. Yet the most sweeping fantasies that audiences love to buy into are full of courts modeled after medieval Europe, from lords and ladies, kings and queens, to knights in shining armor and the magical weapons they wield. Despite the American way of liberty and self-government, we sure do love the high drama and intrigue that comes with monarchies.
The Politics of a Galaxy Far, Far Away
Perhaps this is why the politics of George Lucas’s Star Wars usually leaves people scratching their heads, especially when watching those legendarily divisive prequels. The original trilogy (1977–1983) presents to us a galaxy ruled with an iron fist by an elusive Emperor, whose chief lieutenant, the iconic Darth Vader, is revealed to be the father of series protagonist, Luke Skywalker. Luke’s journey from nobody to somebody (the Campbellian hero’s journey) forms the backbone of the narrative, which ultimately sees the overthrow of the evil Empire and Vader’s redemption. It’s a scrappy, underdog story of a small band of rebels fighting against an empire. And Lucas had his reasons for this: “It was really about the Vietnam War,” he explained to the Chicago Tribune, “and that was the period where Nixon was trying to run for a [second] term, which got me to thinking historically about how do democracies get turned into dictatorships? Because the democracies aren’t overthrown; they’re given away.”2
Yet the original film tells of an earlier time within Lucas’s universe. Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness) says, “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire.”3 So, when Lucas finally decided to take viewers back to that era in 1999’s Episode I – The Phantom Menace, perhaps many viewers expected to be immersed in an era more closely resembling traditional high fantasy than the one they received.
Instead of kingdoms, lords, and ladies, Lucas gave people a republic, chancellors, and senators. The Jedi turned out to be less like knights in shining armor and more like reclusive monks whose indecisiveness always ensured they were a day late and a dollar short. And over the course of another three films, Lucas got to tell his story of how democracies are given away. For all the grief Lucas is given by fans for his writing, few moments are as powerful as the one that sees Chancellor Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), after years of scheming and meticulous planning, finally win widespread approval to turn the Republic into the Empire from the originals. “So, this is how liberty dies,” muses one witness of the scene (Natalie Portman’s Amidala). “With thunderous applause.”4
Both critical and fan response to the prequel trilogy (1999–2005) remains divided. Lucas’s “trade negotiations” plotline, which sparks off the events of the prequels, remains one of the most “memed” and lambasted ideas in the Star Wars canon. Perhaps, to one degree or another, much of the resentment has to do with the fact that Lucas subverted viewer expectation by giving them a fantasy that looked less like medieval Europe than it did the German Reich of the early twentieth century. Fans never quite got to see the Jedi as knights in shining armor. Despite that line about them being “guardians of peace and justice” in the original film, at the end of the day, the Jedi’s failures proved to be their downfall. None of it felt very happy or glorious.
The Prequel to the Prequels
When Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, the dormant film series underwent an unprecedented revival.5 Moving out from under the singular creative vision of Lucas and wiping the slate clean of the previous “canon,” Star Wars saw an influx of different storytellers pick up the torch and expand the universe in new and interesting directions. From the sequel trilogy (2015–2019) that introduced a newer, younger generation of heroes while bringing back old favorites, to spin-off movies like Rogue One (2016) and the acclaimed television series The Mandalorian (2019–present), Disney has been hard at work producing new stories set in Lucas’s galaxy far, far away.
Perhaps the most interesting storytelling initiative undertaken by Disney since the acquisition comes in the form of The High Republic, a multi-platform publishing enterprise begun in January of 2021. Set 200 years before Lucas’s The Phantom Menace, this interconnected series of books, comic books, and eventual TV shows, looks to chart a course for the future of Star Wars by taking audiences into uncharted territory — the golden age of the Jedi.6
If audiences were left somewhat underwhelmed by Lucas’s portrayal of the Jedi in his own prequels two decades ago, The High Republic looks to remedy that. Kenobi’s words in the original 1977 film act as something of a framework for understanding how the Jedi function in this particular era of the galaxy’s history. Long gone are the suspicious and legalistic Jedi of Lucas’s prequels, along with their infighting and indecisions. The Jedi of the High Republic era really feel like “the guardians of peace and justice” that Kenobi spoke of. The mythic tropes are painted in even stronger hues now, with the Jedi themselves undergoing a visual shift. Though Star Wars has yet to give us kings and queens, lords and ladies, the Jedi very much feel — and look — like knights in shining armor. Even their lightsabers have been redesigned to more closely resemble the swords of medieval Europe than the samurai blades that inspired their initial design.7
Their connection to the Force, the pseudo-magical energy that flows through every living being in the Star Wars universe, is more pronounced here as well. The Jedi are far more open to different approaches and methods of using the Force than in the prequel films, something that Disney has highlighted time and again, so that the Jedi of Lucas’s prequels have been recontextualized to be far less honorable than perhaps originally believed. Disney has been pushing this particular wrinkle in their expansion of the universe as early as 2017’s divisive sequel The Last Jedi, wherein an older Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) tells new heroine Rey (Daisey Ridley), “Now that they’re extinct, the Jedi are romanticized, deified. But if you strip away the myth and look at their deeds, the legacy of the Jedi is failure. Hypocrisy, hubris. At the height of their powers, they allowed Darth Sidious to rise, create the Empire, and wipe them out. It was a Jedi Master who was responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader.”8
Despite his reservations, Luke comes around to shifting his perspective on the necessity of the Jedi in the galaxy by the end of the film, and The High Republic seems poised to show audiences just how great the Jedi actually were before their fall.
The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself
It would be safe to say that the High Republic era is meant to channel the kind of chivalric adventures of yore; only, instead of knights-errant, the heroes are Jedi. Everything is happy and glorious in the High Republic — and the Jedi have the most progressive ideologies of the day. “We are all the Republic” is the resounding anthem propagated by the Republic’s Supreme Chancellor Lina Soh in Light of the Jedi, the novel by Charles Soule that serves as the introduction to the publishing initiative.9 Stressing the interconnectivity of all people, places, and things, the Jedi tap into the Force in ways unseen, relying on one another through the development of platonic relationships that by the time of the prequel films is generally frowned upon.
Perhaps it would be too easy to characterize the Jedi of the High Republic as the social justice warriors of their time, though some will certainly make the attempt to do so — and not without reason, as The High Republic introduces the most diverse cast of characters Star Wars has ever seen, including some who are “gender binary.” Yet the Jedi themselves are deeply committed to the defense of the Republic and its interests, and more than willing to fight for those ideals. The interesting thing about reading The High Republic novel is that audiences familiar with the Star Wars story know where the Jedi end up — and herein lies the fascinating idea that will undoubtedly form the overarching narrative of the entire initiative: something broke the Jedi. In the 200 years between the eras depicted in The High Republic and The Phantom Menace, something takes the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed liberal-lite Jedi and turns them jaded, cynical, and suspicious.
Of course, behind it all is fear. And this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Star Wars story. “Fear is the path to the dark side,” Yoda (Frank Oz) tells a young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) in The Phantom Menace. “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”10 And The High Republic is all about figuring out what truly scares the Jedi.11 Because we are still in the earliest phases of this initiative, it is too early to speculate on how the writers will develop this; nevertheless, we know how their story ends. We know that the Jedi — as a group — never quite overcome that fear. In some ways, it matters far less the object of the Jedi’s fear, because that object changes faces over time. In the era of the High Republic, they face the Nihil and the Drengir. Eventually, they face the return of their ancient enemy, the Sith. It’s the spirit of fear that the Jedi never manage to overcome, leading them to separate, turn inward, ostracize, and tribalize, all factors that contribute to their sudden and devastating fall.
The Destiny of a Jedi
Sitting in a darkened jail cell in Rome, the apostle named Paul knew that his life was coming to an end. He’d spread the gospel as far as he could. It was all going to end at the edge of the executioner’s blade. Facing death, an old acquaintance for Paul by that point, given how many times he’d come face-to-face with death before, the great orator and writer sat down and penned what was, perhaps, the last letter he would ever write.
That letter would be carried to someone Paul loved dearly, someone who had worked alongside him to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, who was serving as a leader in the church at Ephesus at that time. That someone was Timothy, whom Paul called his “beloved son,” not in the flesh, but in a common faith in the Lord Jesus (2 Tim. 1:2).12 Paul had been all but abandoned by many professing believers, including Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:15–18). He knew how easy it was to become intimidated in the face of relentless persecution — whether it be from the Jewish religious leaders, or their Roman overlords. And in that final letter, he encouraged his beloved son to “kindle afresh the gift of God,” and to “not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:6, 8). “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity [or, fear (KJV)], but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). Paul’s words of encouragement sought to motivate his son in maintaining his faith and ministry, to not succumb to cowardice, to not give in to that spirit of fear.
In the ninth and final installment of the Star Wars film series, the ghost of Luke Skywalker appears to Rey, his “daughter” not by flesh but through a common belief in the goodness and power of the light side of the Force. “Some things are stronger than blood,” he tells her, now that she has learned her own lineage traces back to the evil Emperor responsible for destroying the Jedi. “Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.”13
That might be true of the Jedi, but it also happens to be true, at least in part, of Christians as well. During my own time in Bible school and seminary, I have written many quotes from witty and sharp professors in the margins of my class notes. But there is one quote from a professor I never had to write down, because it immediately lodged itself in my brain: “A Christian must be many things,” he said. “But more than anything, a Christian must be a master of fear and death.” His point was not that Christians must wield such things, but that Christians must never bow the knee to either and give into the spirit of fear. Because, as Paul tells Timothy, the Lord does not give us a spirit of fear, and death has already been conquered on our behalf (2 Tim. 1:10).
The parallels do not end there. Paul tells his Corinthian readers, “the last enemy that will be abolished is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). As The High Republic plunges the Jedi into fear, we must not forget how the Jedi’s story ends. Though they fail and are destroyed, their legacy continues through Luke, and eventually through Rey, who confronts her fear — and pays the ultimate price for it. She dies. And then she is raised to life again, through the sacrifice of another. In the midst of her final battle against the Emperor, when her strength is gone, she hears the whispering voices of past Jedi calling to her. “Rise,” they say. “Rise.” They give her the last ounce of strength she needs to overcome her fear.
As Christians, we face our final enemy the moment the light begins to fade. And it is the gospel message, carried into the world by a small, long-dead group of men like Paul, that gives us the strength to face that enemy without a spirit of fear. And it is our faith in our great hope that carries us through those final moments. A hope that tells us the moment the light fades, we, too, hear a voice. “Rise,” he says. “Rise.”
Cole Burgett is a seminary student, a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, and an author for the website Christ and Pop Culture.
- “National Anthem” (1745), The British Royal Family, https://www.royal.uk/national-anthem.
- Mark Caro, “Star Wars Inadvertently Hits Too Close to U.S.’s Role,” Chicago Tribune, May 18, 2005, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2005-05-18-0505180309-story.html.
- Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, directed and written by George Lucas (1977; Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox, 2019), BD.
- Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, directed and written by George Lucas (2005; Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox, 2019), BD.
- Matt Krantz, Mike Snider, Marco Dell Cava, and Bryan Alexander, “Disney Buys Lucasfilm for $4 Billion,” USA Today, October 30, 2012, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2012/10/30/disney-star-wars-lucasfilm/1669739/.
- Richard Newby, “How High Republic Will Build a New Era of Star Wars,” The Hollywood Reporter, February 25, 2020, https://hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/how-star-wars-high-republic-will-build-a-new-kind-jedi-1281030.
- Jon Arvedon, “Star Wars: The High Republic Introduces an Excalibur-Like Lightsaber,” September 23, 2020, Comic Book Resources, https://www.cbr.com/star-wars-high-republic-lightsaber-excalibur/.
- Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, directed by Ryan Johnson, written by Ryan Johnson and George Lucas (2017, Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2018), BD.
- See Charles Soule, The High Republic: Light of the Jedi (New York: Del Ray, 2021).
- Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, directed and written by George Lucas (1999, Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox, 2019), BD.
- Kevin Erdmann, “Star Wars High Republic Comics Ask: What Scares the Jedi?,” Screenrant, March 14, 2020, https://screenrant.com/star-wars-high-republic-comic-jedi-villains/.
- Bible quotations are taken from NASB.