For about 20 years, Ray Keating wrote a weekly column - a short time with the New York City Tribune, more than 11 years with Newsday, another seven years with Long Island Business News, plus another year-and-a-half with As an economist, Keating also pens an assortment of analyses each week. With the Keating Files, he decided to expand his efforts with regular commentary touching on a broad range of issues, written by himself and an assortment of talented contributors and columnists. So, here goes...

Monday, November 30, 2020

Watchmen: The Miracle in One’s Life

 by David Keating

The Keating Files – November 30, 2020


Recently, I’ve been working my way through HBO’s television series Watchmen. The series has received accolades and praise from critics and it is one of several attempts by Warner Brothers and DC Comics to craft a sequel that fits the original graphic novel written by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. There has always been quite a bit of debate as to whether or not one can craft a proper sequel to the graphic novel as the original comic functions as a sort-of critique of the superhero genre and of comic books in general. 

This prompted me to go back and watch Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009). Snyder’s film received mildly positive reviews at the time of its release and is looked at as one of the director’s more successful projects. Snyder adds his usual visual flare and muted color palette. However, what I found refreshing was that he adapted the graphic novel quite faithfully. At times, his adaptation seems to be almost panel-for-panel from the original graphic novel. 


One of the themes that I think Snyder fleshes out and really focuses on is the way in which something evil can actually work toward the greater good. During the movie, we find that the Superman analogue, Dr. Manhattan, has exiled himself to Mars in order to remove himself from the increasingly angry public who thinks that he has been, in essence, giving people cancer as a result of his radioactive abilities. Dr. Manhattan remains on Mars crafting a new world for himself throughout the course of the movie. As the villain of the film’s plot unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that the help and intervention of Dr. Manhattan is required. This leads Sally Jupiter, Dr. Manhattan’s former girlfriend, to seek out Dr. Manhattan as she attempts to bring him back to Earth to intervene. The two debate philosophy and argue about what the point of life is. Dr. Manhattan is basically immortal so he argues that everything is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. 


During the course of their interactions, Dr. Manhattan looks into Sally Jupiter’s past and sees the events that lead to her being in front of him in the present day. He discovers that Jupiter is actually the product of a union between two superheroes of a previous era. Sally Jupiter’s parents had a non-consensual encounter in the past and yet, in spite of this, Sally’s mother eventually comes to love her father. This leads Sally Jupiter to despair, yet causes Dr. Manhattan to see that Sally Jupiter’s life is actually a miracle. 


Dr. Manhattan asks Sally Jupiter if she will smile. She asks about what. He replies, “If I admit that I was wrong about miracles. Events with astronomical odds of occurring like oxygen turning into gold. I’ve longed to witness such an event, and yet, I neglect that in human coupling millions upon millions of cells compete to create life for generation after generation until finally your mother loves a man, Edward Blake, the Comedian, a man whom she has every reason to hate and out of that contradiction against unfathomable odds it’s you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from all that chaos is like turning air into gold. A miracle. And so, I was wrong.”


Dr. Manhattan and Ms. Jupiter return to Earth, which in turn kicks off the movie’s final act. Eventually, the day is saved but with dramatic consequences. 


What I love about this moment in the movie is that it is the scene that the whole film hinges on narratively. If Dr. Manhattan doesn’t return to Earth then the final events of the film cannot play out the way that they do. The impetus for his return is Sally Jupiter’s life that, in spite of its origins, is still worthy of being upheld and still contains innate value. Not only this, but Dr. Manhattan points to the fact that one of the great paradoxes of human behavior is the fact that, occasionally, people find a way to (in this case quite literally) love their enemies. 


While I have been (and still am) quite uncomfortable with the implications of the Comedian and Sally Jupiter’s mother eventually falling in love in spite of their history, I find the pro-life aspect of this movie quite fascinating as it isn’t something that usually appears in comics or movies. But the fact that it is Sally Jupiter’s humanity and compassion toward Dr. Manhattan is what helps contribute to the resolution of the film remains one of my favorite moments in cinema. Despite Sally Jupiter’s origins, she is still worthy of love and of respect. And her character arc reminds us that even horrendous situations can lead to something good being worked out of it. 


For Christians, Watchmen contains more than a few surprises, chief among them that it reminds us that the miracle of life has value no matter the suffering out of which life is occasionally born. Culture would tell us that Sally Jupiter simply shouldn’t have existed. And yet, her life is still a miracle and this is exactly what Dr. Manhattan points out to audiences and it’s what Zack Snyder is reminding us of in his film. 




The Reverend David Keating is pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Curtis, Nebraska.


Recent by Pastor Keating…


“How Does DC Comics Wrestle with Theodicy?”


“Arrival: If You Knew the Ending, Would You Embrace the Journey”


“Star Wars: What the Rise of Skywalker Got Right”


“Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and Dante? In the Tradition of Christian Art”


“Faith and Family in Fargo”


“Death and Resurrection in Game of Thrones”


“Greta Gerwig’s Church Nostalgia: Why Does Hollywood Miss Christianity?


“Interstellar: Love, Time, and Space”


“Mad Men - What is Happiness? Don Draper and St. Augustine”


“Vatican Shadows” is the New Riveting Read from Award-Winning Novelist Ray Keating

 Facing Threats and Murder, a Pope Calls on a Lutheran Pastor and Former CIA Operative for Help


Long Island, NY – Ray Keating returns with his latest page-turning thriller titled Vatican Shadows: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel


More than 500 years ago, two men – Jan Hus and Martin Luther – tried to bring about change in the Catholic Church. They suffered, with one burned at the stake. Could a modern-day pope transform these reformers from heretics to heroes in the eyes of the Catholic Church? Shadowy figures inside and outside the Vatican oppose Pope Paul VII’s efforts, and stand willing to do anything to stop him. For help, the pope turns to Stephen Grant, a Lutheran pastor, former Navy SEAL and onetime CIA operative. 


The action is intense and unrelenting. The characters and relationships are captivating and filled with complexity, commitment and betrayal. The twists and turns are fun. The dialogue is lively. And the story serves up reflections about faith, love, conflict, history, and friendship that are thought-provoking. 


Ray Keating said, “First and foremost, I hope readers – whether they be longtime or new Pastor Grant readers – enjoy Vatican Shadows as a page-turning thriller. In addition, I think Vatican Shadows could serve as an ideal book for all kinds of book clubs and discussion groups.”


Paperbacks and the Kindle edition of Vatican Shadows: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel are at Amazon via and signed books are at  


About Keating and his Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries, Kirkus Reviews simply says “exhilarating.” Lutheran Book Review says, “I miss Tom Clancy. Keating fills that void for me.” The retired host of KFUO radio’s BookTalk declares, “Ray Keating is a great novelist.” David Keene of The Washington Times calls these novels “great reads.”  And another reviewer observes, “How I'd love to see Pastor Grant on Netflix!”


Keating’s previous Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers/mysteries – The Traitor (2019), Deep Rough (2019), Shifting Sands (2018), Heroes and Villains (2018), Reagan Country (2018), Lionhearts (2017), Wine Into Water (2016), Murderer’s Row (2015), The River (2014), An Advent For Religious Liberty (2012), Root of All Evil? (Second Edition 2020)and Warrior Monk (Second Edition 2019) – have received widespread praise from all kinds of readers. 


Review copies, and author interviews and appearances are available upon request. 


Contact: Ray Keating

Phone: 631-909-1122



Twitter: @KeatingNovels


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Bing Crosby – Christmas Crooner, Top Entertainer, Top Entrepreneur

 by Ray Keating

The Keating Files – Thanksgiving – November 26, 2020


Bing Crosby (1903-1977) enters the American mind during each Christmas holiday season, as we listen to him sing “White Christmas” and perhaps watch him in the movie of the same name. Indeed, watching White Christmas, with Bing, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, is something of a Thanksgiving night tradition in the Keating home. 

But Bing deserves more than being that guy who only shows up during the Christmas season each year and then disappears. Crosby rates as one of the leading entertainers of the 20th Century, as well as ranking as a great entrepreneur.


I’ve long had great admiration for Crosby who excelled in a variety of arenas. But the impetus for writing this piece came when spotting an article on the Gallup website that highlighted a poll from 1950 capturing the enormous popularity of Bing at the time. 


Gallup found and reported that 33 percent of Americans in 1950 cited Bing Crosby as their favorite male singer, with second-place Perry Como only garnering 6 percent. That’s darn impressive, but here’s the real kicker: Crosby ranked number one among all age groups, i.e., among 21 to 29 year olds, those 31 to 49, and among those 50 and older. One cannot even imagine such an outcome, or anything close to it today.


But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised when it came to Crosby, as he was an enormous wide-ranging success as an entertainer and entrepreneur.


In addition to being a wildly successful singer for decades, Crosby’s variety show on radio stayed atop the ratings year after year. He was a movie star, including winning an Oscar for his performance of Father O’Malley in Going My Way. And Crosby would go on to conquer television as well, including annual Christmas shows. He ranks as America’s first multimedia star – leading as box office, ratings and record sales gold.


Bing also was an entrepreneur on the sports front. An excellent golfer himself, he started the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am in 1937, a stop on the PGA Tour, with professionals teeing off with celebrity amateurs. It also was known as the Crosby Clambake. Bing moved the tournament to the Monterey Peninsula in 1947, where it remains today as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. 


Crosby was a founding partner in the Del Mar Racetrack, and a thoroughbred breeder and stable owner. He also became part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.


In addition, Crosby was a venture capitalist, playing a key role in the development of fast-freezing technology, which led to Crosby’s success tied to Minute Maid orange juice – as a spokesman and investor. He also invested in and helped develop magnetic recording tape technology, with this particular investment being driven by a desire to record his radio show.


For good measure, Crosby made investments in real-estate development, television stations and oil exploration.


Crosby also worked tirelessly entertaining the troops during World War II, was a philanthropist, and quietly supported friends over the years who ran into assorted troubles.


Bing Crosby lived a full life that touched millions of lives in positive ways. He truly ranked as a top entertainer and top entrepreneur.


By the way, Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas,” which was written by Irving Berlin, remains the top-selling song of all time.




Related Columns by Ray Keating…


“Character-Rich Sci-Fi: Take the Netflix Journey with ‘Away’”


“‘Greyhound’ Ranks as Strong Storytelling – Even on a Smaller Screen”


“I’ve Been Granted 7 Pop Culture Wishes”


“History Channel’s ‘Grant’ Documentary: A Long Overdue Masterpiece”


“‘Picard’ Comes Up Short”


“Huey Lewis and the News Storms Back with Weather”


“1917 – A Masterpiece from Mendes”




Ray Keating is a columnist, novelist, economist, podcaster and entrepreneur.  You can order his new book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York  from Amazon or signed books  at His other recent nonfiction book is Free Trade Rocks! 10 Points on International Trade Everyone Should KnowThe views expressed here are his own – after all, no one else should be held responsible for this stuff, right?


Pre-order the forthcoming Vatican Shadows: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel. Signed books at and the Kindle Edition at


Also, choose your 2021 TO DO List planner today, and enjoy the pre-order sale! Perfect for you and as Christmas gifts. Choose between The Lutheran Planner 2021: The TO DO List Solution, The Film Buff’s Planner 2021: The TO DO List Solution, and The Disney Planner 2021: The TO DO List Solution. Get more information at


The Traitor: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel is the 12th book in the Pastor Stephen Grant series. The best way to fully enjoy Ray Keating’s Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries is to join the Pastor Stephen Grant Fellowship! For the BEST VALUE, consider the Book of the Month Club.  Check it all out at


Also, tune in to Ray Keating’s podcasts – the PRESS CLUB C Podcast  and the Free Enterprise in Three Minutes Podcast  


Check out Ray Keating’s Disney news and entertainment site at


Friday, November 20, 2020

How Does DC Comics Wrestle with Theodicy?

 by David Keating

The Keating Files – November 20, 2020


Buckle up, because in this week’s article we are going to get into the weeds on one of my favorite topics: comic books. Specifically, I want to take a look at the way in which a medium primarily designed to entertain young adults, often tries to tackle pretty big questions.

If you take a look at comics, both Marvel and DC, over the last decade or so you would notice that the medium has made efforts to sort-of “grow” with that young adult audience that they rely on to sell books. Both of the “big two” (Marvel and DC) have hired writers with a little bit more clout and have made moves to feature more creator-driven books. 


One major event in DC Comics that perfectly captures the desire to provide beat-’em-up action fun while also incorporating deeper questions surrounding their comic book universe would be 2016-2017’s DC event Darkseid War. The event was designed primarily to feature two of DC’s major villains (the Anti-Monitor and Darkseid) as they faced off and did battle while the rest of the world hung in balance. The main titles were meant to satisfy that desire that comic fans have to watch villains, who are terrifying in their own right, battle it out. 


The Darkseid War event illustrates this shift in publishing strategy, with the tie-in issues (one shot comics that are meant to be non-essential to the main books) featured indie comic darlings and up-and-coming voices within the genre. For Darkseid War, the tie-ins were primarily designed to be character studies of each member of the Justice League. The League members find themselves supercharged to god-like levels thanks to a device usually in the employ of Darkseid. Given these god-like powers and abilities, the tie-in comics looked to do a deep dive into what makes each character tick and how they would be affected when given access to these newfound abilities. 


One of the more interesting issues in this bunch of books is the Green Lantern tie-in written by Tom King with art by Evan Shaner and Chris Sotomayor. King has been known to try to dive deep into a character and dissect them so that the reader can see what lies at the core of the superhero. Fans have had mixed responses as to what King thinks is at the heart of each character, but, for the most part, I think his interpretation of Green Lantern works. 


Green Lantern is a story about a test pilot named Hal Jordan who is given a power ring (a powerful piece of alien technology that can create constructs made of energy) because he has the ability to overcome great fear. Over the course of many issues, the reader comes to understand that the reason he has the ability to overcome fear is because he saw his father Martin Jordan (also a test pilot) die in a plane crash while Hal could do nothing as he watched from the ground. 


Tom King’s working with this character leads to some interesting, previously unasked questions about the character. His Darkseid War issue features a young Hal Jordan inside of a church. This version of Hal asks questions along the lines of, “Why did God let this happen to my father?” The comic walks us through various adventures of Hal Jordan and the other Green Lanterns as he wrestles with the same thought. Toward the end of the book, King seems to offer an answer through the lens of Green Lantern to the question of theodicy (that is, why do bad things happen to good people). 


Hal Jordan begins by saying, “[God]’s got no choice but to watch. He’s got to have that moment over and over. That’s forever part of Him. That he couldn’t stop it. That He had to let it happen. Everything He does, it’s all necessary. It has to be. He has to be who He is. He has to do what He does. But not us, right? See, a God doesn’t have something we have. It’s will. It’s our own will. The free will He gave us. … All it is is trusting in that will. It’s loving that will. It’s knowing that whatever happens, you’re the one on the line. This is your world to create, pal. You get to choose.”

What do I find so fascinating about King’s response to the question of theodicy? Because it seems to be a natural response to what well-meaning, but off-base Christians tell people about tragedy. When something truly horrific happens in the world around us, we normally hear some Christians say some variation on the statement that “it all happened for a reason” or that it’s “part of God’s plan.” 


The problem with this sentiment is that it’s quite empty to those who are actually experiencing the suffering. When a child loses a parent or natural disaster ravages a community, how are religiously-minded people supposed to square those well-meaning platitudes with what they know to be true: that the brokenness of the world around us doesn’t seem to square with the idea that God is good?


King says that this is because the whole plan and the entirety of what happens to us as people is all a part of God. Maybe that is true on a certain level. But the problem with King’s theology is that it binds the will of God, rather than looking to the concrete places where God’s will has already acted. If we want to know what God has done about all the hurt, the pain, and the loss that we see in our day-to-day lives then we need to look no further than the cross. It is in the cross where the will of God is made known. That will is that sinners should be saved from the fallen world that they are a part of, and that they should become forgiven and made new. More than this, God has willed that each Christian should be a part of a new heaven and a new earth, one where every tear has been wiped away.


Far from remaining bound, God sent His Son into our world and into our history to ensure that this wasn’t just an abstract idea of a platitude. Instead, He made it concrete by binding the Church to Himself through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. 


So, rather than looking around us and trying to find evidence of God’s plan in the midst of tragedy, look to where He has already acted. Even though there is still sin and hurt in our world, we know that these things are passing away. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is indeed permanent and proves that God has already acted. How does He then continue to act in the midst of questions of theodicy? By pointing us back to the cross where He has forgiven every sin and given us the hope of life everlasting. 


And, hey, even if I think Tom King’s answer to this question isn’t wholly satisfactory, I’m happy that a medium like comics, as silly as they often are, ask really interesting questions like these. 




The Reverend David Keating is pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Curtis, Nebraska.


Recent by Pastor Keating…


“Arrival: If You Knew the Ending, Would You Embrace the Journey”


“Star Wars: What the Rise of Skywalker Got Right”


“Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and Dante? In the Tradition of Christian Art”


“Faith and Family in Fargo”


“Death and Resurrection in Game of Thrones”


“Greta Gerwig’s Church Nostalgia: Why Does Hollywood Miss Christianity?


“Interstellar: Love, Time, and Space”


“Mad Men - What is Happiness? Don Draper and St. Augustine”


Friday, November 13, 2020

Arrival: If You Knew the Ending, Would You Embrace the Journey

 by David Keating

The Keating Files – November 13, 2020


One of the strangest Hollywood careers to observe is that of Denis Villeneuve. He makes visually spectacular movies with compelling narratives that challenge us to think a little bit more deeply about the world around us. Yet, none of his movies perform particularly well at the box office. 


Famously, his 2017 directorial effort Blade Runner 2049 ended up costing the studio quite a bit of money. Despite the lackluster financial performances, I think his movies have a real way of sticking with us, long after we have finished viewing them for the first time.

Villeneuve was tapped to direct the upcoming Dune movie and I’ve taken the anticipation for that film as an opportunity to go back and look at some of his previous work. Last week, I watched Arrival (2016). Arrival focuses on a PhD translator and linguist named Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) as she makes contact with a mysterious group of aliens whose purpose is unclear as to why they arrived on Earth. Through use of language and communication, Dr. Banks is able to communicate with the strange aliens and, in so doing, discover a way of communication that can be transmitted throughout time and space, effectively bonding humanity together in a way that it previously was incapable of being.


Part of the reason why the movie works so well is because it is told out of order in order to emphasize the key theme of the movie: Would you still embrace the journey your life is on if you knew the ending? As the film opens we are introduced to Louise and her daughter. We watch as her daughter gets older and matures. We see an argument between the daughter and Louise during the daughter’s teenage years. We see other major moments in the daughter’s life. Eventually we see the daughter and Louise in a room with a doctor. The two of them receive bad news and eventually the daughter dies from an incurable disease. 


From here, we see Dr. Banks alone in her home, presumably recovering from the grief of losing her child. Throughout the rest of the film, she works with another scientist named Ian Donnelly (portrayed by Jeremy Renner) as they work to make a breakthrough in this strange new language that the alien visitors have presented to them. Eventually, Dr. Banks begins to dream in their language and is able to translate the language for herself. As she becomes “fluent” in the language she starts seeing things that haven’t happened yet. She sees the fact that her husband will eventually leave her over the news of her daughter’s illness. 


At the climax of the film, Dr. Banks tells Dr. Donnelly, “I know why my husband left me.” To which Donnelly replies, “I didn’t know you were married.” It’s at this moment that the film becomes clear. Dr. Donnelly is her husband and her daughter hasn’t been born yet. She has been able to perceive the outcome of her life through this strange language that the alien visitors have given them. The question the audience is left asking is, “Why would she go through with all the pain and heartbreak that she witnessed if she knows how it will end?” The final line in the movie spoken by Dr. Banks offers us an answer. “Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it. And I welcome every moment of it."


What a fantastically interesting statement to come out of a major Hollywood release. Arrival upholds a shockingly pro-life message as it points to the fact that, no matter the outcome of one’s life, life still has value at every stage along the way. Even though Louise’s daughter will eventually be diagnosed with an incurable disease, that doesn’t undermine the value that her daughter has as an individual. Importantly, the pain that we experience in life doesn’t subtract from the love which a parent has for their child either. Just because we can’t shelter our loved ones from pain and from suffering doesn’t mean that we deprive them of the experience of life. This is what makes Louise’s decision to still have her marriage and her baby so powerful. Despite knowing how the whole situation plays out, Louis recognizes that the love found between her and her husband, and between the two of them and their daughter is worth any of the hurt that may come along the way as well.


On top of being a surprisingly pro-life movie, I also love the focus on language being something that unites us. Our ability to communicate is what helps us relate to one another and it helps to bind us together culturally. This too is reflected biblically. John identifies Jesus as the Word incarnate in his gospel account. In other words, Christ Jesus is the Word spoken at creation that gave order and meaning to the world even as it was void. Speech then is how God speaks order into the world and creates the very fabric of the world around us. How fitting that it should be speech, language, and communication that once again unites humanity in the world that Arrival crafts. 


So, despite this being another film by Denis Villeneuve that didn’t necessarily dominate at the box office, I think it’s an underrated gem and certainly worth a watch, especially from a Christian perspective. It answers the question of whether or not the journey is worthwhile if it ends in a tragic way with an emphatic “Yes, it is absolutely worth it.” In an era where we are told that it is better to avoid pain and suffering at all costs, Villeneuve presents us with a story that reminds us that life is worthwhile, beautiful even, despite the tragedy of the world we live in. And, importantly, he presents us with characters that demonstrate to us that the love we share and experience in our families, and in our interactions with the world around us, triumphs over the loss we are forced to share with one another. 




The Reverend David Keating is pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Curtis, Nebraska.


Recent by Pastor Keating…


“Star Wars: What the Rise of Skywalker Got Right”


“Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and Dante? In the Tradition of Christian Art”


“Faith and Family in Fargo”


“Death and Resurrection in Game of Thrones”


“Greta Gerwig’s Church Nostalgia: Why Does Hollywood Miss Christianity?


“Interstellar: Love, Time, and Space”


“Mad Men - What is Happiness? Don Draper and St. Augustine”


Friday, November 6, 2020

Star Wars: What the Rise of Skywalker Got Right

 by David Keating

The Keating Files – November 6, 2020


While it seems longer, around this time last year, audiences were eagerly gearing up for Disney’s The Rise of Skywalker. While messy in so many ways, there’s more in this film to reflect upon than most moviegoers acknowledge. 


Despite the profoundly mixed response to the sequel trilogy put forward by Disney and Lucasfilm, the discussion surrounding the film had certainly ramped up. With no clear trajectory mapped out for the sequel trilogy, audiences had no idea what to expect from the final film in the three-part series. 


In 2015, moviegoers had mostly reacted in a positive way to The Force AwakensStar Wars fans were happy to see old, familiar faces returning, and were intrigued by the promise of where the newly introduced characters would go in their journey.


The Last Jedi caused the studio and Star Wars fans more trouble and sparked more division than any other movie that I can recall, at least in recent memory. Much of the promise of the first film and the mysteries that were set up to explore were promptly tossed out the window in the name of subverting expectations of fans and critics. In many ways, tossing out the plot points of The Force Awakens did more to doom the director of The Rise of Skywalker than Rian Johnson, the director of The Last Jedi


The Rise of Skywalker was a movie tasked with a long list of things to accomplish. The movie had to reintroduce story beats and mysteries that were thrown out by the previous movie. While The Last Jedi was uninterested in answering questions like: “Who are Rey’s (the main character of the new trilogy) parents?”; “How did Snoke (the evil emperor and this trilogy’s version of Emperor Palpatine) come to be in a position of power?”; and “Can Kylo Ren (formerly Ben Solo) be saved?” The Rise of Skywalker was now in charge of answering these questions as well as attempting to get audiences to reinvest in the questions that the previous film tossed away. 


As a result, The Rise of Skywalker ranks as chaotic from a narrative perspective. It creates new “mystery boxes” that need to be unwrapped by the end of the film. It forces answers to those questions set up by the first film that clearly weren’t thought out all the way and ended up being shoehorned in. It borrows from previous movies in the Star Wars franchise in order to remind audiences of the nostalgia they have for much better and more well thought out installments in the franchise. But, for all those faults, I still appreciated The Rise of Skywalker much more than the previous movie. Why is this?


Partly it came down to character work and the enjoyment I got from seeing our heroes interact in a fun and adventurous way. More importantly, it came down to the way that the movie drew from classic elements of good storytelling and dramatic character arcs. 


One of the key relationships that highlights what I’m talking about is the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren had, over the course of the last two movies, seemingly taken the plunge into full-fledged villain. He had murdered his father, Han Solo, as his dad attempted to pull him back from the dark side. He had attempted to crush the fleeing rebels and murder his former master, Luke Skywalker. And now, by the final film, he has found himself as head of the First Order, ruling the empire in a way that Darth Vader could have only dreamed of. The Rise of Skywalker begins by pushing Kylo Ren into even darker depths, as the character seeks out the barely living husk of Emperor Palpatine, who in this movie is the embodiment of the Sith and of the dark side itself. 


Rey’s arc in the movie puts her on a collision course with Kylo Ren. Much like Luke Skywalker, Rey is wrestling with whether or not there is still good in Kylo Ren and whether he can be saved. Eventually, the two find themselves clashing lightsabers as they come into conflict during their search for a Sith wayfinder. Rey has dealt a deadly blow to Kylo Ren and the series’ villain seems doomed to die. It’s at this point that the movie makes a dramatic shift. Rey uses the force in order to heal Kylo Ren from his injury. The act of compassion changes Kylo Ren, healing his body and perhaps restoring his soul as well. Rey departs to face down the emperor and Kylo Ren is left wondering what just transpired. 


After a brief interaction with the ghost of his father (I can only imagine how much money Disney had to shell out to get Harrison Ford to return as Han Solo), Kylo Ren casts off his villainous title and mantle, and returns to his roots as Ben Solo, a Jedi knight. Ben follows Rey to defeat Palpatine and the forces of the Sith for good, but before either one of them can save the day, Rey is killed in battle. Ben transfers his lifeforce to Rey (using the same force healing technique that Rey used on him previously), and the two share a kiss before Ben Solo dies heroically. Rey (as the embodiment of the Jedi) goes on to defeat Palpatine and save the day.


Why did I love the last interaction between these two characters? Because it represented a return to what made Star Wars so great in the first place. In 1983’s Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker behaved in the same kind of way. He goes to the Death Star in order to face down evil on behalf of his friends. Instead of striking a killing blow to his father, Darth Vader, Luke throws down his weapon and willingly gives up his life in order to redeem his father if need be. Vader, seeing his son’s sacrifice, turns on Palpatine and defeats evil, redeeming himself in the process. The same theme emerges in The Rise of Skywalker. Ben, rather than dealing a killing blow to the Emperor, gives up his life as a sacrifice so that Rey might live. 


I remember sitting in the theater almost a year ago being struck by the almost biblical imagery involved in this final scene. Ben Solo ends up being the ultimate hero in this sequel trilogy because he behaves in a Christ-like manner that ends up elevating this scene to mythic heights from which the rest of the films fell well short. As Ben gives up his life for this woman whom he has grown to love, I was reminded of the book of Ephesians: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”


Was Disney or JJ Abrams aware of the biblical parallels in this scene? Probably not. But, traditional storytelling often taps into themes and virtues that Christianity holds to and loves. And it’s a comforting thing for me, as a moviegoer, when I see a character behave this way. Ben’s sacrificial death for his would-be “bride” should point us toward an even greater version of this story and that is Christ’s sacrificial death on behalf of his bride, the Church. In both instances, our hero rescues the helpless from death in order that they may have life and a final victory over evil itself. 




The Reverend David Keating is pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Curtis, Nebraska.


Previously by Pastor Keating…


“Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and Dante? In the Tradition of Christian Art”


“Faith and Family in Fargo”


“Death and Resurrection in Game of Thrones”


“Greta Gerwig’s Church Nostalgia: Why Does Hollywood Miss Christianity?


“Interstellar: Love, Time, and Space”


“Mad Men - What is Happiness? Don Draper and St. Augustine”


Zack Snyder’s Messy Super-Jesus”


“Short Message: How Do, or Should, Christians Witness?”


“Amazon’s ‘The Boys’ - Does Christianity Have a Culture Problem?


“Reflecting on 9/11: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?”