Star Wars is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, so is it strange or even wrong for the characters to occasionally mention "god" and "hell"? A few of the most powerful Jedi have become one with the Force, but are they then in Heaven?
Among the many complaints detractors have levied against The Last Jedi is the instance Vice Admiral Holdo wishes the Rebellion "godspeed" before she sacrifices her life to help their escape pods flee to the safety of Crait. Many argue that Star Wars deliberately mentioning 'god' ('godspeed' usually translates as 'a prosperous journey', derived from Middle English - 'god prosper you') is glaringly out of place considering the saga's outer space setting.
However, despite the anger and even petitions of some fans towards The Last Jedi, writer-director Rian Johnson is merely keeping in step with what Star Wars' creator George Lucas established. In fact, references to 'god' and 'hell' have been common in Star Wars movies since the very beginning.
Early in A New Hope, Uncle Owen Lars was the first person in Star Wars to utter "hell" when Luke Skywalker took C-3P0 and R2-D2 to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. "Well, he's better have those units in the south range repaired by midday, or there'll be hell to pay!" Uncle Owen fumed to Aunt Beru. Though Lucas created the Force as a surrogate for God in his galaxy, he certainly didn't mind his characters referencing 'hell.'
It happened again, perhaps most famously, in The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo mounted his tauntaun and endured the freezing Hoth blizzard to find Luke. When warned that his tauntaun will freeze before he reaches the first marker, Solo defiantly spat out "Then I'll see you in hell!" with extra emphasis on 'hell'.
In the prequels, Lucas used Jar Jar Binks to float the notion that the non-human species in the galaxy have other forms of worship outside of the mystical energy field that is the cornerstone of the Jedi religion. In The Phantom Menace, when Qui-Gon Jinn's rebuffed Jar Jar's pledge of the Gungan custom of a life debt to him, Binks insisted. "Demanded by the gods, it is!" declared Jar Jar.
The Star Wars galaxy is vast and fans of the movies have really only glimpsed a relatively small segment of it. Of the untold billions of beings who inhabit the galaxy, relatively few believe in the Force, especially after Darth Vader wiped out the Jedi. This means most races and species in the galaxy must have their own belief systems and their own concepts of God, Hell, and Heaven. The closest idea to Heaven we have seen in the movies are the Jedi Force Ghosts, but there must surely be as many variations of the afterlife as there are different faiths in the galaxy.
One way that might help some fans struggling with their disbelief is the theory that if one takes the events of Star Wars as 'true events' of the distant past, the movies are just a translation of those events using our own verbiage and terminology. Enjoying Star Wars requires ignoring mistakes and inconsistencies, like how most characters across the galaxy speak and understand English despite there being over 6 million forms of communication that require protocol droids.
In the end, Star Wars is a fantasy mirror image of our own world and of ourselves. It's best to focus more on Star Wars' lessons, like the one Poe Dameron learned about not always trying to be a hero when it's more important to be a leader, rather than becoming annoyed by Poe saying 'hell'.
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019