Our daughter Emily turns nine today. For her birthday we gave her the newest Star Wars movie and a poster of the movie for her room. Although she enjoys princesses, purple butterflies and glittery nail polish as much as any girl her age, she is also completely enamoured with Star Wars. Last night we all watched The Force Awakens for the third time, after seeing it twice in the theatre. If I can gauge her excitement at all, I’d say the movie is getting better for her each time she sees it. She anticipates favourite scenes, laughs at all the little jokes, and cheers at the many glorious triumphs of Rey, the story’s heroine, as she discovers how strong with the Force she really is.
Ah, the Force: Christian writers and critics have had no trouble finding much to object to in the whole idea of the Force, with its balance of dark and light in the universe, the ongoing presence of the spirits of dead loved ones, and the generally bizarre spirituality it seems to represent. As far as they go, the critiques are correct enough. If our kids were all taking the Force seriously as a system to consider, we would have reason to worry.
The reason I’m not overly worried is that I don’t think most kids take either the Force or the philosophy of Star Wars very seriously. It seems to me that there’s something much more basic going on at the heart of the series’ appeal, something that is on joyous display in this, the warmest and (to my mind) best of the Star Wars movies.
In The Force Awakens we meet two young protagonists who need to belong: to belong to something good and constructive, to find a place in something like a family, to experience the meaning of friendship. Both Rey and Finn find these things in the course of the movie, but Finn’s story has more concrete turning points.
When we meet this character he is a Storm Trooper troubled by the violence to which his life has been devoted. In all the previous Star Wars movies the Storm Troopers, soldiers in characteristic hard white uniforms, have seemed like nothing if not killing machines, robots designed to fight without asking questions. The masks they wear tend to hide any humanity they might have. But here we finally see a Storm Trooper with his mask off.
This unmasked Storm Trooper wants out, and in an early scene he enlists the help of a pilot being held prisoner by the evil First Order, so that they can both escape. They hijack an aircraft and manage their way out under intense fire before they even know each other’s names.
We discover soon enough that the Storm Troopers have been seen by their owners and masters just the way we’ve always imagined them: as mere machines. The pilot asks the rogue Trooper what his name is.
“That’s the only name they ever gave me.”
“Well, I ain’t using it. FN, huh? Finn—I’m gonna call you Finn, is that all right?”
“Finn… Yeah, Finn—I like that.”
“I’m Poe—Poe Dameron.” “Good to meet you, Poe.”
“Good to meet you too, Finn!”
This scene isn’t just a renaming. It’s a rebirth. Finn is no longer a number. He is not a machine. He is a person, who deserves the dignity of a name. FN-2187 belongs to the world of requisitions and purchases. Finn belongs to a world of personal address. Along with his name, he’s been given something else: friendship. He means something now. As he makes more friends, finds new abilities, and is given new and more difficult tasks to complete than he ever had working for the First Order, Finn will learn what it is truly to live.
At several points in the Bible, people are given new names at turning points in their lives. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter, Saul becomes Paul. Sometimes the names are newly created, sometimes they are new uses of previous names. In each case they mark a change of some sort and indicate a special relationship with God and a meaningful place in his plans. In the Book of Revelation there are a couple of references (in 2:17 and 3:12) to God’s people being given a “new name,” or perhaps God’s own name.
All of this renaming is significant as we think about our own lives. God seeks to address us personally. He summons us to a new adventure with him, a life laden with meaning and significance, because our life is a part of his work and his purposes. He does this through Jesus Christ, in whom we were created and by whom we are redeemed.
Like Mary Magdalene, whose eyes were opened when the risen Jesus spoke her name in the garden (John 20:16), we are given new sight when he calls us by name and welcomes us into an eternal friendship with him. Like Finn, whose life took on a new status when he received a proper name and a proper friendship, we are given in Christ a new identity and a new relationship with God when our sins are forgiven and we are welcomed into God’s family. And like Emily, whose joy at watching these scenes unfold brings excitement to her eyes, we too can know the joy that comes from knowing real lives to be transformed in Christ—those of others as well as our own.