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‘The Empire Strikes Back’ turns 40: A lesson in faith from a Jedi master

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.


Empire Strikes Back turns 40
The wax figure of Star Wars hero Yoda for the London Madame Tussauds in the wax museum in Berlin, Germany, 02 February 2015. (Jens Kalaene/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

Yesterday marked the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The sequel proved to be a definitive turning point in the saga, and it still holds up well today.

Debuting three years after the first Star Wars film, Empire helped give the series a level of depth and direction that would propel the Star Wars saga to unprecedented heights.

And while the greatest plot twist in cinematic history (you’re free to disagree if you feel like being wrong) is perhaps the movie’s most iconic moment, Empire is filled with dialogue and sequences that remain both thought-provoking and entertaining. In rewatching the film yesterday, what stuck out the most to me was a specific interaction between Yoda and Luke during the latter’s training.

After Luke’s ship sinks to the depths of the swamp and the fledgling Jedi proves unable to haul it back to the surface, he walks away sullen and distraught. Yoda then brings the ship back up with ease to Luke’s amazement.

Afterward, the young man turns to the tiny, green Jedi master and says simply, “I don’t believe it!” to which Yoda responds, “That is why you fail.”

A familiar faith lesson

That interaction is reminiscent of Peter when he encountered Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:22–33). Any confidence Peter had in his ability to fulfill Christ’s instruction quickly vanished when his own doubts and insecurities became the primary determinate of his perspective.

He took his eyes off of Jesus and quickly sank amidst the seemingly impossible task he’d been given. And when they got back to the boat, Jesus simply asked “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

How many times has that exchange happened in your walk with the Lord?

Perhaps the words were different, but, more times than I’d like to admit, I haven’t followed through on God’s instruction because somewhere deep down I didn’t believe that what he asked was possible.

I lacked complete faith, and that is why I failed.

Fortunately, we serve a God who is patient with us even when we fall short. That doesn’t mean he excuses our failures or ever ceases to try to help us grow beyond them, but, even when things go wrong, he’s not going to give up on us.

So, the next time God asks you to do something that seems to require more faith than you can muster, take heart and remember all the times he’s helped you do the seemingly impossible in the past.

And believe in him even when (and, perhaps, especially when) it seems difficult to believe in yourself.