The Force may have awakened, but the lack of new ideas at the movie theater should be putting us to sleep. I’ll tell you why I think this is a huge opportunity for Christians.
2015 was an important year for a lot of reasons, but for the nerd community, one of the biggest milestones came on October 21—the day Marty McFly from “Back to the Future” arrived in a time-traveling DeLorean from 1985. Most of the film’s predictions didn’t pan out. Even though the Chicago Cubs came close to the World Series.
But when Marty McFly stumbled into an advertisement for “Jaws 19,” his sojourn in 2015 came eerily close to ours. As Ross Douthat points out in The New York Times, the fact that the top-earning flick of last year was the seventh installment in a saga that was already classic in Marty’s time says a lot about the state of Hollywood.
Consider that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” dethroned a fourth “Jurassic Park” film at the box office and comes from a director who just rebooted Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek.” All of this in a cinematic climate dominated by recycled Marvel and DC comics personalities from the 1950s to 70s.
Everywhere we look, entertainment has become synonymous with nostalgia. Douthat observes that the plots of 2015’s top-grossing films are themselves pastiches of stories from yesteryear. “The Force Awakens,” was, despite critical acclaim and deafening approval from fans, a “beat-by-beat reworking of the original.”
Spoiler alert for the three of you who haven’t seen it yet: The latest “Star Wars” is about an orphan with Force abilities who lives on a desert planet. She meets up with a droid carrying secret plans that draw her into a fight against a galactic empire whose deformed potentate has built a planet-destroying super-weapon. Our heroine joins a smuggler, an imperial defector, and a Wookiee at a space-cantina before inheriting a lightsaber, linking up with a rebel alliance, and losing her mentor-figure to a black-masked villain. It all culminates in a last-ditch X-wing attack on the enemy super-weapon, which the good guys blow up seconds before it fires on the rebel base.
If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it’s basically the plot from the original “Star Wars.” As Christian blogger Samuel James remarks, “There comes a point when tradition becomes stagnation, and at least in American mainstream film culture, it seems like that line was crossed some time ago.”
Let’s get this out of the way: I kind of like Star Wars. But the nostalgic fog choking the film industry right now is not harmless. As James points out, if this climate had existed when George Lucas first imagined his “galaxy far, far away,” “Star Wars” would never have been made. Today, similarly daring films rarely make the silver screen, and many that do, like last year’s “Jupiter Ascending,” and “Tomorrowland” flop miserably.
Audiences have spoken: They want more of the same stories—over and over. Never in my lifetime have we needed fresh stories this badly. And you know what? I think Christians should be the ones to offer those stories.
Please understand: I’m not talking about “Christian stories.” I’m talking about stories written, directed, produced, and acted with excellence, by Christians. We know the greatest story ever told. We should be, as C. S. Lewis once wrote, the best storytellers in the world. But lately we’ve earned a reputation for producing corny, preachy, and low-quality art. It’s time to turn that around. And Hollywood’s dearth of new ideas may be just the chance we need.
Do you know an aspiring Christian novelist, screenwriter, or director? Encourage them to do what they love without pigeonholing themselves. Point them to the great authors of the past—Christian and otherwise—who knew the power of stories to shape lives and orient imaginations. Then challenge them to get busy. In a culture playing its favorite movies on repeat, we need a generation of Christians to tell fresh, meaningful stories and offer Hollywood—dare I say it—A New Hope.
Further Reading and Information
Death Stars and Déjà Vu: Hollywood Is Out of Ideas
Take every opportunity to present great stories and listen to great stories. And encourage Christian storytellers to hone their craft. Our culture needs them.
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