What Makes a Hero?


I love Star Wars. And I didn’t just see the movies growing up; I read the books. I had the toys. I knew the technical names for all the ships and weapons. I knew about obscure planets and alien races. I even watched the prequels and spinoff cartoons as they came out. I love Star Wars. My favorite aspect isn’t the expansive universe though; it’s the relatable human drama happening in a galaxy far, far away.

maxresdefaultThe original Star Wars film begins with a naive farm boy on a backwater planet who discovers that the universe is far bigger than he ever imagined. He joins a ragtag rebellion against an overwhelming evil and ultimately rises to his new responsibilities despite temptation toward the easier path of the Dark Side. Luke Skywalker is a character to whom we can all relate; he comes from nowhere and accomplishes great things through hard work, staunch idealism, and the support of his friends and mentors.

Then the Star Wars prequel films happened.
Jedicouncil2Unlike the original trilogy, with its focus on relatable characters in remarkable settings, the prequel films revolve around fate and destiny, and characters follow set paths due to prophecies and forces outside their control. These films’ protagonists, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, aren’t naive farm boys aspiring to see the universe; they’re established as special from the outset, and the overemphasis on fate robs them of any personality or agency. I can’t relate to them, and most other viewers couldn’t either. Like many Star Wars fans, I don’t put much stock in these three movies, and I’ve spent the last decade or so ignoring their existence.

But now we have the newest films.
In The Force Awakens, we encounter Rey, a naive young woman from nowhere who is reminiscent of Luke Skywalker in many ways. Immediately, fan speculation engulfed this character:
Who are Rey’s parents? Surely, she must have been destined for greatness from the beginning due to her parentage, right?
There must be some sort of prophecy about her or something!
Everything great in Star Wars happens because of the Skywalker family, so she must be tied in somehow, right?
For two years, we were left wondering. And now, with the release of The Last Jedi, an old Star Wars theme has finally reemerged, a theme sorely needed in our world:

star-wars-the-last-jedi-poe-rey-and-finn1Anyone can become a hero.

We learn in the new film that Rey’s parents are no one of consequence, further cementing the heroes of the new Star Wars films as “nobodies.” An escaped former stormtrooper, a status-less technician, a hotshot pilot who’s not quite done growing up, and a talented woman from nowhere– none of them have notoriety or prestigious families or anything to make them stand out. (In fact, the only character with a “heroic family tree” is the movie’s principle antagonist, Kylo Ren.) But when called on to fight evil and protect one another, these ordinary people do extraordinary things.

This idea of the hero from nowhere is all over the Bible.
The sacred text of Christianity isn’t just populated with kings and angels; most of its heroes are shepherds and fishermen and tax collectors and younger siblings and women and criminals and Gentiles and all sorts of people without status or lineage or any claim to fame. Even Jesus is born in a stable to a teenaged mother out of wedlock and then raised in an unremarkable town. And when Jesus’s own disciples fight over which of them is the greatest, Jesus reminds them that true greatness lies in serving others.
Or, as Master Yoda once put it, “Great warrior? Wars not make one great.”

Heroism has nothing to do with status or notoriety or lineage. These stories remind us that real heroism is just a matter of stepping up and doing what needs to be done, and so often, it’s the characters from nowhere who understand this best.

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