As an author in Christian fiction, one of the thing that resounds most with me is stories that have a theme, whether prominent or underlying, of redemption. Because that is what Christ did for all of mankind, sacrificing His own life so that our sin debt would be covered if we only turn to Him in faith, redemption is the central theme of our belief system. And because of that, seeing that played out in stories, whether explicitly Christian or not, always brings me joy. So today I want to look at two stories–in this case, movies–that came out last year and had heavy redemptive themes.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The story of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi is one that has brought about a lot of debate among Star Wars fans, to say the least. Some say that it was a logical continuation of where his story was left off in Return of the Jedi, while others say that it was so out of character that they’ve taken to referring to him by another name, “Jake Skywalker.” (I personally take offense to that name being used in such a negative light, but whatever. Just kidding. Kinda.)
So let me be clear. Luke Skywalker is my favorite fictional character. Like, ever. His story in the Original Trilogy really resonates with me, and I was extremely excited that Mark Hamill returned to play him in the Sequel Trilogy. While I was disappointed at his thirty-second cameo in The Force Awakens, I was thrilled with the promise of more in The Last Jedi. So as a Skywalker fan, I should’ve been terribly disappointed by Luke’s handling by Rian Johnson, right? Well, wrong, actually.
Because here’s the thing about Luke: he’s all of us. He always has been. That’s why his story was so relatable, because he was just your average Joe, and he got to go on this great adventure and find out about these amazing things he could do and ultimately, he won not by killing, but by showing love and compassion to a fallen man (and if that isn’t a Christian theme, what is?). He also had his flaws, though. He was reckless and impatient and he had a temper. But so many fans of Star Wars expected that when Luke showed up in the Sequel Trilogy, he would be this all-wise Jedi Master who had no flaws left.
But that’s not the character of Luke Skywalker at all. While so many others were disappointed that Luke had a split-second temptation to kill his own nephew, I saw that for what it was: human error. Just like anyone who has been a Christian for a long time and yet struggles with temptation, Luke is not perfect just because he’s been in the game for a long time. He still has his own flaws that he has to deal with, and he has to accept the repercussions that flowed out from his actions.
And then he quit. He left, ran to hide out on his own and give up because of his failure, because he thought he couldn’t live up to the legend. Luke Skywalker had been built up to be this Messianic figure that could do no wrong, and like many believers who deal with pride, he even began to believe that himself, so when he did mess up, it hurt him so much that running away was the easiest option. But here, too, we see something not so uncommon in humanity, don’t we? We like to run from our mistakes and try to hide from the judgment we fear others will show (we from God or our fellow believers, Luke from Han and Leia in particular).
But that wasn’t the end of Luke’s story. The Last Jedi shows Luke walk a path of redemption that ultimately allows him to shine, almost as that Messianic figure that so many believed him to be. But Luke wasn’t perfect; he wasn’t some all-powerful, sinless deity. He just stood up for what was right. When it came down to it, Luke realized that running away didn’t do anybody else any good, and it didn’t do himself any good, either. He repented of his sins (to Leia and even to Kylo Ren) and he moved forward. While this ultimately cost him his life, well…”Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend,” right?
So that’s why I think The Last Jedi handled Luke well, and why I think that at its core, it is a story of redemption.
The Greatest Showman
The story of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman surprised me. This movie sort of snuck up on me, because all my attention last year was on The Last Jedi, and since this came out around the same time, I sort of missed the build-up for it. But after I heard about it from my brother, my girlfriend, and some of our friends, I thought it might be interesting to see.
I was blown away. The music was without a doubt the best part of the movie, but the story at its core, while not exactly true to P.T. Barnum’s life as we know it, is one that is encouraging and exciting. When Barnum’s aspirations put a wall between him and…well, everyone in his life, but especially his wife, he has a moment of realization.
This is his “Prodigal Son” moment. As the Prodigal Son lay in the mud with the pigs, even eating their slop, he realized he’d been a fool to not see what he’d had right in front of him before he went his own way. So many believers do that, seeking more from the world than what they think God can offer, only to realize that only He can bring the true contentment we seek. That’s what happened to Barnum, too. As his troupe gives him a pep talk, he realizes that all the stuff he’d been seeking after had only been blinding him to what was truly great about his life all along: his family.
In the penultimate song of the movie, “From Now On,” Barnum says “…those were someone else’s dreams, the pitfalls of the man I became.” Often, we become someone else when we search for happiness outside of the life God wants us to lead. We become unrecognizable to our family, our friends, even ourselves. When we return to Him, though, we can be fully restored to our relationship with Him and experience, again, the joy of His salvation.
Watch the scene where Barnum sings this song. He starts of in low tones, sad and regretful. But as he realizes where the root of his failure was, and what he needed to do to come back from it, watch him. As the first verse crescendos and leads into the chorus (“but when I stop and see you here, I remember who all this was for!”), Barnum’s mannerisms, his tone, and his expression all change. He exhibits excitement, hope, and joy. He begins dancing around the room, enjoying the company of those he had previously shunned. And then as he sprints out the door to reconcile with his life, he is practically beaming.
This is the same experience a lost person has when he is saved, or even a believer, already saved, who has wandered from the faith and finally comes to his senses and is restored to his relationship with Christ. It’s a feeling of explosive joy that might just bubble up out of your chest. It’s a feeling that should make us want to sing along with Barnum, “Let this promise in me start, like an anthem in my heart!” It should make us want to never turn away from God again.
So these two movies, released so closely together, may be very different from each other, but at their core, they have a very similar message: redemption is possible. Neither of these movies were explicitly Christian. But the beauty of it is that the theme holds true. A piece of fiction doesn’t have to be explicitly Christian to honor God. But whatever we write, whether it prominently features Christianity, God, and biblical themes, or whether it is only implicitly Christian, with encouraging and uplifting themes that still ring true to the Gospel without ever mentioning God, if we do it for His honor and glory, He can use it to uplift and encourage fellow believers, and maybe even draw the lost to Him. Our writing has a purpose. We should be faithful to it.