"Big Four" Highlights


Jedi Jesus?

New book explores Christ figures in popular movies

There is only one story that fully satisfies the human heart, and it’s found in Gospel. All stories of human invention are judged by how they relate, however subtly or remotely, to the elemental drama of sin, death, sacrifice, redemption, rebirth and eternity.

Jedi Jesus

This is a central point of a new book by James Papandrea, From Star Wars to Superman: Christ Figures in Science Fiction and Superhero Films (Sophia). A Scripture scholar and a devoted sci-fi fan, he finds that Christian themes emerge in some unlikely stories, though often distorted by a secular or pagan mindset.

To get a clearer picture of the hidden Jesus in popular films, Fathers for Good contacted Papandrea, who is a professor of Church history, Christian musician and author of many books.

Fathers for Good: Are superheroes like Christ by default because they save mankind, or is there a conscious effort by their creators to make a connection to Christ?

James Papandrea: It really varies. Sometimes filmmakers are very intentional about making their heroes analogies of Christ – but even then, writers often are not believers, they are only appropriating the Christ story as one myth among many that they believe will have emotional impact on their audiences. Other times, the parallels are not as intentional, but I would argue they are there anyway because humans are hardwired to resonate with the story of incarnation and salvation. Whether they realize they are doing it or not, many writers who create hero stories are writing variations of the Christ story because they are stories of self-sacrifice and salvation.

FFG: Yet another Star Wars film is coming out. Should we look for a Christ figure there?

James Papandrea: Star Wars is a very interesting example, and of course I have a chapter on it in my book. The backstory of Star Wars gleans elements of the Roman Empire and Nazi Germany, and blends them into a world where divinity (the “force”) is impersonal and morally neutral, and where a person really has to save himself or herself by choosing to reject the “dark side.” People have been trying to make parallels between the “force” and God since the first film came out, but in reality, the concept of the “force” is not at all like the Judeo-Christian concept of God. The “force” doesn’t really care about you, but God does. The “force” ultimately seeks a balance of good and evil, whatever that is, but God promises the triumph of good over evil. I could go on, and I do in the book, but the bottom line is that the concept of divinity portrayed in Star Wars is actually gnostic. It most resembles an ancient heresy that is dualistic and denigrates the human body. In this system, evil is necessary, salvation is by enlightenment, and only the spiritually elite, the Jedi, really have access to it.

FFG: Have superheroes become more pagan in recent remakes?

James Papandrea: Actually, I think they have become more like Christ over time. For example, Superman starts out in the comics as more of a Moses figure than a Christ figure. But the films really turned him into a metaphor for Jesus. So when you compare the original stories in books or comics to the films, directors have been falling all over themselves to inject Christian imagery into their movies. Even with heroes who were originally based on pagan polytheism, like Wonder Woman, we find that their “divine” origins can actually be paralleled to Christ’s divine nature. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the filmmakers are faithful believers, or that they want to promote the Gospel, it may only mean that they realize the power of the Gospel and its emotional impact on people. This only reinforces my conviction that because we are made in the image of God, we are all hardwired to receive his incarnation. 

FFG: How can we use your book for evangelization?

James Papandrea: From Star Wars to Superman was written to generate conversation. It comes from a real love for the genre of sci-fi/superhero stories and for the medium of film and television, but it doesn’t pull any punches when I analyze and critique the stories. My hope for this book is that it will encourage people to watch these stories with their eyes of faith open to the ways in which the writers sometimes teach good theology, even if by accident, but also often teach bad theology. And by pointing out the difference, and having a dialogue about it, I hope that it will help people better understand the real Christ and encourage them to come closer to Christ through his Church. I can envision this book being used in youth and young adult groups, or really any book club group that wants to talk about the engagement of the incarnation of Christ with popular culture. I also hope priests will use it for some good homily material.

Find out more at Sophia Institute Press.