The Last Jedi and the New Atheism


This last month premiered the latest chapter in one of the most successful movie franchises in history: Star Wars.  The movie titled Star Wars: The Last Jedi continues George Lucas's space fantasy, which has captivated millions with diverse themes like good versus evil, the Force, justice, and freedom and characters such as Han Solo, Darth Vader, and Yoda.  The newest installment of the saga focuses on the character of Luke Skywalker as the Last Jedi and the biggest threat to the evil First Order.  Yet Luke's portrayal in the movie is a representation of the world we will live in if atheism – or its current version, New Atheism – triumphs over faith.

The Last Jedi continues the storyline established for the newest Star Wars trilogy in The Force Awakens as the Resistance looks for, finds, and hopes to recruit Jedi master Luke Skywalker to the cause.  Rey, the new trilogy's main protagonist, does indeed find Luke in the end of episode VII and in the new movie tries to recruit Luke to fight for the Resistance.  However, the hero of the rebellion is a broken image of his former self.  The Skywalker we see in this movie is not the one from the Return of the Jedi, who held hope for the future, the Force, and redemption and who also had a purpose.  He's a Skywalker deprived of hope in the Force and the Jedi, rejecting redemption in the case of Kylo Ren, and is without purpose, simply waiting to die.  This Skywalker has the same characteristics our society faces in light of the continued assault on religion and faith by New Atheism.

St. Augustine argued that in ourselves we have longing for fulfillment, true and lasting happiness – in other words, the characteristic that wouldn't exist in an atheist society.  This characteristic is called hope.  We may have hope in achieving our favorite professions, love with partners, or successes that will shape our entire lives, yet after all of this is fulfilled, we will not be satisfied.  In Luke we see great hope in Jedi teachings, the redemption of Darth Vader, and the creation of a new Jedi temple, thus he has achieved great things.

Nevertheless, suffering comes in with the failure of Ben Solo and the destruction of his fledgling new Jedi order.  But unlike Job, who experiences suffering but as a righteous man never loses faith, Luke loses hope and faith in the divinity that is the Force.  Consequently, we have a broken, disappointed master Jedi devoid of hope and purpose, waiting for death.  But as the movie progresses, we see Luke regain purpose and faith in the Force, ultimately becoming one with the Force, thus achieving the fulfillment of his life and work.  

In The Last Jedi, we see Luke's atheism on full display as he rejects the Force.  The result is a deep sense of sadness, a loss of hope and purpose, and a profound feeling of emptiness.  This is what we would expect in the purely secular society being offered by the New Atheist.  These are inevitable consequences if we remove  faith in the transcendent and the divine from our society.

A good example is how the Galactic Empire moved to erase the history of the Jedi Order and the Force by depriving the galaxy of hope, thus crushing any threat to its rule.  Nonetheless, in the rebel alliance, the continued use of the phrase "may the Force be with you" is a rallying call of hope that in all this darkness, light will surface and prevail.

If Luke's hope was devoid of the divine force, he wouldn't have achieved his fulfillment, much less helped the Resistance at the end of the movie.  In trusting the force, he regains hope and sees that the future of the Jedi was not going to the grave with him; rather, it was going to inspire a new generation of Force-users who would resist and ultimately defeat the First Order.

Some may say atheism does indeed give hope, but it's a hope constrained within scientism and empiricism – better explained, a hope placed solely in what humanity can control.  As Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Saved by Hope argued, despite failure, a sense of purposiveness, and suffering, the power of hope in God sustains us.  Luke Skywalker's initial hopelessness and the subsequent revival of the power of hope give us the strongest indication that atheism's triumph is society's downfall.  As in the document from the Second Vatican Council, Joy and Hope, "[t]he future of humanity [the galaxy] lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping."

Ojel L. Rodriguez Burgos, AKC is a freelance writer and graduate from Kings College, London.

If you experience technical problems, please write to