Leadership Scholars

Exile, Hope and Empire

By Luke Perrin

This week, I’m picking up my preorder of the newest video game in the Lego Star Wars series. For the child who fell in love with movies when he first saw Attack of the Clones, who begged his parents to take him to the PG-13-rated Revenge of the Sith at age eight, and who dressed up for The Force Awakens midnight release at age eighteen – Star Wars has been a crucial part of my life for almost two decades. There’s something mystical about the world that George Lucas built. Based on old Flash Gordon serials, Star Wars transcended cinema as both a kid’s movie and a soft science fiction tale that would inspire books, movies, and television shows for the next half-century. What’s not to love?

Luke Perrin

The Star Wars saga is built on two fundamental intertwined ideas: family and hope. Heck, the latter is even the title for the original film. Family in the franchise is synonymous with the Skywalkers and their origins, rise, fall and legacy are the overarching story that ties the galaxy together. Meanwhile, those ties are strengthened by the existence of hope. In The Phantom Menace, hope is found in the emergence of the Chosen One, and expectations begin a grandeur of ending near-permanent conflict, bringing balance to the Force. It’s clear just two films later that this plan hasn’t gone as planned, and the galaxy is forced to find a new hope. 

Enter Luke Skywalker – a poor moisture farmer whose only goal is to leave the life of laboring behind and join with his friends in the Imperial Academy. Luke didn’t have any other pathway to upward mobility. His family simply wasn’t wealthy enough to consider any option other than Luke joining the Empire for him to live the life he wanted to live. When his family is killed by the Empire, he takes the first steps in joining a cause that will both define the rest of his life and unknowingly become a spark of hope for those in the galaxy who desire peace.

This spark isn’t found solely in Luke Skywalker. Joining with rugged smuggler Han Solo and savvy monarch Leia Organa, the trio and other members of the Rebel Alliance rally together in scoring a decisive victory over the Empire by destroying the Death Star. 

Then, hope is shattered once again.

By the end of The Empire Strikes Back, seemingly nothing remains. The Rebels have been scattered across the galaxy as exiles. Han has been frozen in carbonite and sold into slavery as a result of unpaid debt. Luke is suffering mental anguish, physical deformation, and faces the trauma from his family’s history. Leia witnessed atrocities committed against her companions and is seemingly displaced from the ability to find hope. Yet, the prophecy of bringing balance and peace to the galaxy remains prominent, despite hope being clouded in the minds of the Rebellion.

I can’t help but wonder if this is where we are today. Two years since life as we knew it was uprooted, we are still individually and communally suffering in the midst of a global pandemic. I’m reminded of the churches described in 1 Peter. 

While not the victim of religious persecution, we are suffering in our own ways. Many of us still feel exiled from our church communities, friend groups and the causes we hold dear. Many in our communities were exiled even before seismic global shifts affected those of us with the most social privilege. 

There are instructions for individuals and churches throughout 1 Peter; yet the penultimate verse sticks out most to me: “Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.” 

By closing with this benediction, there is a reminder of the greater community beyond the exile. There is a reminder that there is a church making up for the parts of the whole that feel missing, as implied by saying that the church in Babylon is together with all of those who are separated physically – and emotionally – from one another.

Walter Brueggemann writes that “displacement and destructiveness of exile make one aware that the terrible fate of displacement is more massive than can be explained in terms of moral symmetry.” This is why we so often relate exile to a punishment from God. The cost of protecting God’s moral reliability is to take the blame for large disorders. We do this through theodicy; yet even theodicy has problems when God is morally implicated in the Book of Job. Job might serve best as the example for exile, and as a counter for oversimplifying retribution for wrongdoing. What wrongdoing did the Rebels cause in Star Wars to meet their horrible fate in Empire? Was it staging an uprising against the evil, established tyrants? Was it attempts at self-preservation amidst the sure signs of defeat?

In the poem of Job, though, the questions of failure, blame and guilt evaporate. And in their place come mysteries that stretch all imaginations of the concept of faith. Job is full of crocodiles, hippopotamuses, and a leviathan. Deep, unanswered questions give us the ability, like Job, to enable those of us who are exiled to embrace our self-concern, and move into the larger world where God’s mystery is greater than our semblances of morality.

Such was the case in Return of the Jedi, where the mysteries only increased through revelations regarding Leia’s parenthood, Luke’s continued exposure to the Force, and the uncertain peace that comes at the end of the film – wrapped in a semblance of victory. We know that this peace isn’t sustained, as a sequel trilogy throws our supposed answered questions out the window. But therein lies the placement of where we are and where we expect to be for quite some time.

Luke Perrin is a dual-degree student at Duke Divinity School and the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy. He plans to graduate with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Public Policy in 2023.

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