When he was searching for inspiration for his Easter Sunday sermon, Rev. Mark Hughes turned to a galaxy, far, far away.
Star Wars and the Force that binds the galaxy together became the basis for his weekend sermons at Church of the Rock, as well as an Easter drama titled Rock Star Wars: A New Hope.
"It's just a passion play, but it is done with a contemporary metaphor," says Hughes, who has turned to movies and music for the last dozen or so Easter services. Previous themes included Star Trek, Tombstone and The Princess Bride.
"I use a lot of pop-culture metaphors and that's how I relate the Gospel."
Featuring riffs on the original Star Wars movie, and familiar but slightly skewed characters such as Luke Moonwalker and Ham Solo, played by youth minister Tim Hamm, Hughes' half-hour drama draws on the movie's battle between good and evil to present the resurrection story of Easter to his congregation.
"The story almost writes itself," says Hughes, who founded the interdenominational Fort Garry church in 1987.
"We do a lot of parody and borrow the concepts and do our own stuff."
Hughes was reluctant to share too many details of the Star Wars drama, which involves about 40 people as actors, backup musicians and production staff. He would only say that it involves live music by the church band, including David Bowie's Space Oddity, Darth Vader as the fallen angel and Luke Sky -- er -- Moonwalker and his band of rebels fighting against the evil empire. Oh, and Hughes makes a cameo appearance as a yet-undisclosed character.
He's unapologetic about employing a gimmick to attract new folks to the five Easter weekend services -- four at the Fort Garry campus at 1397 Buffalo Pl., one at their Henderson Highway location -- since he knows people expect something different from Church of the Rock.
"We do this because we know that Easter is a time when we get people to church," says Hughes, who estimates 5,000 people attend over the four weekend services. "We're found if we use a little twist we can get a big crowd here."
And he wants to leave that big crowd with a message they connect with, just as Jesus Christ did with his parables.
"When you look at the Gospels, everything Jesus did was in the form of parables," he says.
"We're just using these metaphors. The more familiar they are, the more effective they are."
With its classic struggle of good versus evil, and characters who are easily identified as good or bad just by the colour of their clothes, a religion professor wonders if Star Wars is the best metaphor for Easter.
Instead of being comforting and reassuring, Jesus's parables turned things upside down, says Laurence Broadhurst, who teaches a course in religion and popular culture at the University of Winnipeg.
"Star Wars is mythic in terms of confirming things are as you think they are, where in the end, Jesus's parables keep you up at night," says Broadhurst, who also teaches course in Testament and the early church.
"If I were (Hughes) I would look for a pop-culture theme to present an analogy to Jesus's use of parables. I would look for some show that upsets people."
Hughes is used to disapproval for his movie-themed Easter dramas, but dismisses it by pointing out people who don't like it can always find another place to worship.
"The people who criticize it are not people who have actually seen it or come here," says Hughes.
"There's lots of traditional ways to celebrate Easter, but we're not one of them."