Lessons from the Star Wars Saga is a series exploring powerful themes in Star Wars. For more than 40 years, the epic adventures in a galaxy far, far away have also been significant explorations of the human experience in our own universe.
Chased off Hoth, the depleted forces of the Rebel Alliance fought a desperate rear-guard action to hold back the imposing might of the Imperial ground assault as they fled to their troop transports. In the skies, T-47 snowspeeders bobbed and weaved between the legs of hulking Imperial walkers as rebel soldiers battled snowtroopers on the icy plains.
As a commanding member of Echo Base, Leia Organa orchestrated the evacuation as Luke Skywalker led Rogue Squadron in an attack on the AT-ATs, the former narrowly escaping herself with the help of Han Solo and Chewbacca aboard the Millennium Falcon.
In this scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, with the Empire closing in, there is little to hold this rag tag band of freedom fighters together, save for their belief in something bigger than themselves. Some of them believed in the power of the Force, but many more simply trusted in the dream that the Rebellion would ultimately see the end of the tyranny of the Galactic Empire, the flame of hope ignited once again across the galaxy. This belief wasn’t held together by a mystical energy field or powered by coaxium or tibanna gas — only faith could fuel the hope that the Rebel Alliance needed to win the day.
Meanwhile, alone in his X-wing save for R2-D2, Luke Skywalker jumped to lightspeed and headed to the distant world of Dagobah in search of the Jedi Master who had instructed Obi-Wan Kenobi. Luke only had the word of a slain Jedi and his faith in something bigger than himself — the Force itself — to hold on to.
Luke Skywalker – The Dreamer
Raised on the dunes of Tatooine, Luke Skywalker led a harsh existence; his childhood was dreary, desolate, and unexciting. Friends were few and far between.
Luke didn’t know he was a lost prince, nor could he imagine the vital role he would play in the fate of the galaxy years later. With an understanding aunt and an overprotective uncle, he felt constricted, closed off from the rest of the galaxy. He longed for a life among the stars, standing on the sand dunes outside the Lars homestead, watching the twin suns setting as he dreamed of joining the Imperial academy — one of the only avenues off-world for adventure-thirsty Outer Rim dwellers like him — and seeing the galaxy.
When fate came knocking on his door in the form of two droids with a desperate message, a spark was ignited. Through the teachings of Ben Kenobi, himself the missing Clone Wars general Leia was trying to reach, Luke’s brief lightsaber training aboard the Millennium Falcon bolstered his belief in a concept entirely new to him — the Force. But it was the death of his mentor Kenobi at the hands of Darth Vader, the man who, from a certain point of view, had betrayed and murdered his father, which really flipped the switch. Now Luke had a purpose, the Rebellion, and something to believe in, the Force.
Combined with faith in his newfound friends, Luke was on the path to aiding in the destruction of the Death Star, a journey to Dagobah to train under Master Yoda and most vitally of all, faith that there was still good residing in his father, an ember of humanity which no one else — not his sister Leia, Emperor Palpatine or even Anakin Skywalker himself — could see.
For Luke Skywalker, faith in a destiny much bigger than himself fueled his determination to save his father, restore the Jedi, and assist the Rebel Alliance. Decades later, Rey would show that same faith as she travelled her own path from the backwaters of the Western Reaches to the bridge of the Supremacy, facing down the power of the darkness, uncertain of her heritage or her part in the fate of the galaxy. At heart she may be a Jakku scavenger, just as Luke spent his youth dusting crops, but her acceptance of a larger destiny and her faith in herself, her friends, and the Force, will shape history.
Leia Organa – The Leader
Unlike her twin brother, Luke, the foundation of Leia’s early life was entirely built on faith. Raised as Alderaan royalty as the adopted daughter of Breha and Bail Organa, her father fought from within the Imperial senate to make a better galaxy and as Leia grew, those lessons were ingrained in her, forming the fabric of her conscience and her belief in freedom and equality for all.
A desperate mission to deliver the hard-won plans to the Death Star back to her father was initially a failure as Leia was captured, the plans tumbling down to the surface of Tatooine in the care of two droids, with a desperate message to an old family friend and a fate unknown. Leia had faith in Obi-Wan Kenobi, a trust likely passed down to her by her father.
When she learned that the droids were successful and Kenobi had arrived on the Death Star with the droids, the plans, and a trio of newcomers — Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca, — her faith in the Rebellion fueled her to lead their escape to finally deliver the plans to the rebel base on Yavin 4 where the Alliance would make a stand.
Faith in the dream, faith in democracy, faith in her friends — Leia was very much the product of Padmé Amidala’s nature and Bail Organa’s rearing, two people whose belief in justice and freedom was at their very core.
For Leia Organa, faith in equality for all — no matter where in the galaxy they resided or what social circumstances they lived in — helped focus her reality, inspire a rebellion, and free the galaxy from tyranny. Her faith in the dream — to remove the Empire, restore the Republic and make it whole again — powered the Rebellion and later the Resistance through the darkest of times.
Han Solo – The Scoundrel
It took Han Solo a long time to believe in anything but himself. Born and bred a scrumrat on the mean streets of Corellia, Han was raised under the harsh yoke of Lady Proxima. While his skills as a scammer were considerable, Han had a propensity for finding trouble. His love for and faith in Qi’ra helped see him through these difficult times, as they made their ultimately futile plans to leave the planet and make a new life together.
With a new name — Han Solo — he enlisted as an Imperial cadet. For a man whose very name suggested he was a lone wolf, he hated to be alone. His time in the Empire led him to Mimban and a first meeting with Chewbacca, bolstering his faith in friendship.
It’s a common Solo theme, his willingness to believe in and fight for his friends. A competitive friendship of sorts formed with Lando, one that would come back and haunt him many years later when desperate days would lead Han to Bespin. Han had shown loyalty beyond expectation when he risked the Millennium Falcon to help Luke destroy the Death Star, and again on Bespin he displayed faith in friendship as he vouched for Lando and accepted his help. Faith sent Solo to the carbon freezing chamber and the vile clutches of the gangster Jabba the Hutt.
But Han’s trust in his friends would be repaid when Luke and Leia, Chewbacca, and even Lando, risked everything to get into Jabba’s palace to break him out. Where Qi’ra had made a choice to leave Han, Leia made a choice to save him. A wiser, more considered man after his long carbonite suspension, he gave the Millennium Falcon back to Lando to fly in the Battle of Endor while he joined his friends in the mission on the ground to destroy the shield generator.
A rogue, a scoundrel, and a braggart no doubt, but Han Solo proved Qi’ra right — he was the good guy, and his actions helped destroy the second Death Star and cripple the Empire.
For Han Solo, faith in his friends was enough to galvanise his comrades to fight for each other and come to his rescue, no matter the cost. Begrudgingly leading by example, Han showed that even a cocky, foolhardy smuggler from Corellia and his steadfast Wookiee partner could be bound by the power of faith in each other.
A galaxy of faith
Across the Star Wars saga there are countless examples of ordinary people who stand up to be counted because of faith. It can be faith in people, in something bigger than oneself, in the all-powerful Force or faith in a better tomorrow.
Galen Erso made choices he couldn’t take back but left a fuse within the Death Star because he had faith that someone would find that weakness, and exploit it. His daughter Jyn proved him right. Qui-Gon Jinn had faith in the will of the Force, but also in the abilities of a young podracer from Tatooine who would not only help get him off the desert planet but help break the blockade above Naboo and maybe even bring balance to the Force.
Years later, Finn would struggle to find his place after leaving the First Order behind but ultimately discover faith in his friend Rey, who gave him a hand and refused to leave abandon him, and the larger cause of the Resistance. His brave but foolish last-ditch run to destroy the superlaser siege cannon during the Battle of Crait displayed once again his ever-strengthening faith in something bigger than himself.
Faith, in its many forms, stands shoulder to shoulder with hope in the Star Wars saga. It inspires heroes from all corners of the cosmos to take a stand and hold a candle to the darkness, binding the galaxy together every bit as much as the Force.
Mark writes for Star Wars Insider, the Official Star Trek Magazine, Starburst magazine, and is the editor-in-chief of Fantha Tracks. He’s an honorary member of the 501st and Rebel Legion and when he’s not talking, tweeting, or writing about Star Wars, he can usually be found sleeping, where he’ll most likely be dreaming about Star Wars.