Ewok Celebrations and the End of History
"We’re wired for the happy ending."
Do you get kind of emotional during the big rousing celebration at the end of the original Star Wars trilogy (Return of the Jedi, to be precise), with all those little Ewoks dancing like feral teddy bears to commemorate the fall of the evil Empire? Or the final installment of The Lord of the Rings, in which Sauron is defeated, old friends are reunited, and Aragorn is finally crowned King? Or even at the conclusion of your average romantic comedy, in which the two leads finally overcome the obstacles and are united, expectantly looking forward to their beautiful new life together?
There’s something about a happy ending that can bring a lump to your throat, even if the movie isn't necessarily Great Art. And while some decry happy endings as simplistic and unrealistic, the fact is that the happy ending persists throughout human culture.
People love happy endings. We all long for an end to life’s battles, both in terms of our own private struggles as well as the larger conflicts raging throughout world history. And I think there’s a biblical reason why: we’re wired for the happy ending.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the apparent collapse of communism in 1989, the Cold War was declared over. Democracy had won. At the time, noted political theorist Francis Fukuyama put forward the idea that the fall of Soviet Union was actually the end of history itself. With the Soviet Union’s collapse, Western democracy would now inexorably spread throughout the world, bringing with it the freedom and prosperity that countries like America have been blessed with. In retrospect, this hypothesis seems naive and wildly optimistic—especially in light of the post-2001 rise of terrorism and recent tensions between Russia and the U.S. Yet still, there’s something about the idea of the end of history that we all yearn for.
Even now, the common secular hope for the future is that we will all live harmoniously in a wonderful world in which life’s troubles will be quelled by technological innovation, scientific knowledge, and the human spirit.
One way or another, all of us long for a final happy ending. Yet there is a specter looming over all our visions of a prosperous, peaceful future — that of death.
All our lives are touched by it, and we will all come face to face with it one day. More than being a mere biological process, death is a threat, an enemy, a fear that haunts our contemporary culture—despite our best efforts to ignore it.
Even if they can’t put their finger on why, many people intuitively sense that there is something wrong about death, that it simply should not be. Shortly before he died of cancer, Apple’s visionary founder Steve Jobs said: “I’d like to think that something survives after you die. It's strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away.”
The Bible says that death is a curse upon humanity, a result of man’s willful rebellion against God. Death, then, can be seen as a usurper tyrant with his heel upon our collective necks, holding us all in thrall. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to vanquish death by paying the price for death’s root cause: sin. Through his atoning death and resurrection, Jesus emerged from the grave victorious—and he freely shares that victory with all who place faith in him, who bind themselves to the triumphant King of the universe as he brings renewal and restoration to a broken world.
But what happens after that?
The biblical book of Revelation is known for depicting the end of the world, but many people may not know that Revelation also shows what happens after the end of the world. Revelation’s final chapters actually depict the greatest happy ending possible: death is conquered, justice and peace are restored to the world, and there is a momentous wedding feast, the supper of the Lamb, in which redeemed humanity — made of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation — are joined forever in love to Jesus the King.
Just as the Bible actually begins with a wedding (that of Adam and Eve in Eden), it also ends with one — that of Jesus and his bride, the church, together in New Jerusalem. It’s no wonder that the deepest longings of the human heart are often expected to be fulfilled through marital bliss — what semiotician Roland Barthes called “the dream of total union.”
Yet without the hope for fulfillment in Christ, happy endings are fundamentally hollow hopes — because the only thing that assuredly awaits us all is death. We can wish upon a star and follow our dreams, but ultimately all our eyes will close and our bodies will decay. But in Christ, we have been given a hope beyond death — a hope that has actually conquered death. As C.S. Lewis said, “A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside.”
To belong to Jesus is to know that a happy ending awaits us at the end of our lives. So next time you watch a cinematic happy ending, next time you feel your heart strings tug at the final wedding scene or the great victory celebration, let that whisper to you of the deeper, truer happy ending to come — the final happy ending of which all other happy endings are mere hints.
Born and raised in Southern California, Pip Craighead has been a lifelong student of film and literature. He's continually fascinated by the power of art and story as ways to experience the wonder of God and his creation—and this fascination is evident in Pip’s new children's book, Little Francis Falls Asleep.