This past week I saw a sight I don’t often see: families with members of all ages sitting together – grandparents, children, grandchildren – all enjoying and excited about the same thing. In a time when it seems the disconnect between generations grows greater by the day, it was an unusual sight. Even more unexpected was what brought them together: the latest Star Wars movie.
Currently ranked as the third highest grossing film on record, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still in theaters after a run of more than a month and still packing the house from what I saw. As early as it is in its career, it has a good chance of taking over second or first place – currently held by Titanic and Avatar, respectively – as the biggest moneymaker among theater releases of the 21st century.
I went to the theater with my mother and my younger sister. All three of us enjoyed the movie, as have my mid-20s friends, the sixth-grade girls in my church’s youth group, and my older, midlife coworkers. The truth is the span of ages I saw seated before the big screen at the movie theater was more diverse than is usually seen on a Sunday morning at church. Which leads me to wonder, in the battle for culture and in the mission of evangelism, is there something we can learn from the success of a blockbuster hit?
Three elements contribute to the broad-based popularity of the movie that could be applied to efforts at sharing the gospel and changing culture.
It unites families, drawing them together with a common appeal that reaches into each generation and connects with experiences and interests they value. It is a movie they might watch and then bring others back to see. It seems the movie draws an older generation with nostalgia for a movie franchise that was new and cutting edge when they were young adults. The next generation grew up with the movies as a part of contemporary culture through the 80s and 90s. And for the young generation of teens and students, it is the latest, cool thing, and so instantly a hit. These can all enjoy it, and enjoy it together. And so the distance and lack of sympathy that we sometimes see between generations melts away.
The story goes along with themes that are familiar to the general public, not just a fan base. Even someone like me, a non-Star-Wars-fan who had no intention of watching it, can enjoy the movie because it connects to the little that I already knew of the story because of its iconic place in our time. Without having seen any of the previous movies, I could follow and understand the plot. At the same time, it opened up the whole new world of a story I had never paid attention to before. Interestingly, in an age that takes pride in innovation, the movie’s success relies strongly on adapting to what is familiar, even somewhat expected.
A high caliber of production enhances the film’s delivery and impact. I never was a fan of the series before because I was turned off by a certain element of cheesiness. The latest movie incorporates the best of talented filmmaking with modern technological capabilities, while retaining enough whimsy from the earlier productions to make it endearing, especially to audiences that have watched the earlier episodes. As a continuation in the Star Wars series, it follows through with all a fan could hope for and more. As a stand-alone production, it is a well-made and worthwhile movie.
So what can we take away from those elements and then apply to the presentation of our Christian faith and values that we want others to hear and embrace?
To begin with, we have good material. The gospel is way more awe-inspiring, compelling, and thrilling than any sci-fi flick, and easily wins over Star Wars. Our task then is to present what we have to share in a way that does justice to the message, successfully bridging generational differences and bringing families together, connecting with what people already know and value in life, and using current resources without getting tied up in tacky fads.
Maybe then people will be reached and so enthralled by the timeless message that they will take it up and hurry to carry it to their friends.