Nation & World

Crucified 'Star Wars' Stormtrooper causes a stir in an Episcopal empire

A London church heard so much criticism about an art sculpture of a crucified "Star Wars" Stormtrooper that it moved it to a less noticeable place for a current art exhibition.
A London church heard so much criticism about an art sculpture of a crucified "Star Wars" Stormtrooper that it moved it to a less noticeable place for a current art exhibition. Instagram/Raytangmedia

In an Episcopal church far, far away, in London to be exact, a statue of a "Star Wars" Stormtrooper hanging on a cross like the crucified Jesus Christ has raised a ruckus among the faithful.

The "Crucified Stormtrooper" was created by British street artist Ryan Callanan for an art exhibit and charity auction hosted by the historic St. Stephen Walbrook church in central London.

Before the exhibit opened on Thursday, the crucified "Star Wars" character hung at the front of the church by the altar as part of a crucifixion-themed exhibit called "Stations of the Cross" that includes 13 other art pieces.

Parishioners took one look at the life-size Stormtrooper in full battle gear, arms outstretched on a wooden cross, and some decided they didn't like it.

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A London church heard so much criticism about an art sculpture of a crucified "Star Wars" Stormtrooper that it moved it to a less noticeable place for a current art exhibition. Instagram/Raytangmedia

One church member who asked to remain anonymous, told Britain's The Telegraph: "It's a bit silly really. Why use our church? It's plainly offensive to Christians, to be honest."

Others who saw it told the Telegraph they didn't mind it.

"I didn't find the big crucifixion offensive," said one nun who remained anonymous. "It's not my taste, but there you go."

A visitor from west London found the art piece "inspiring."

"I've never seen things like this in a church," Francis McKenna told the Telegraph. "The 'Star Wars' character was a bit weird, I didn't care for that so much."

But the church's rector, the Rev. Jonathan Evens, fielded so many complaints that a priest was quickly dispatched to the scene to decide what to do with the crucified Stormtrooper.

The exhibit was organized and curated by Ben Moore to raise money for the Missing Tom Fund, set up to find his brother, Tom Moore, who has been missing since 2003.

"‘I explained the meaning of the piece, the way that some of them saw it, is a Stormtrooper is a very negative character," Moore told The Daily Mail.

"I like to think of it as a New Hope — such as in the new 'Star Wars' film, where John Boyega rebels against the dark side and fights for something good. I didn’t intend to upset anyone, I like to raise awareness for my missing brother."

Pastor Evens told the Telegraph the exhibit was "designed to provoke thought from artists grappling with their response to the challenge and scandal of Christ's cross.

"For me, Stormtrooper Crucifixion raises similar questions to those which C.S. Lewis raised in his science fiction trilogy — that, were other races to exist on other planets, would Christ be incarnated among those races in order to die for their salvation?

"Lewis' view, which he sets out in the story running through the trilogy, is that Christ would do so.

"For Christians, Ryan Callanan's image can lead us a similar conclusion. I commend these images to you as (images) that can open our ideas and minds to new reflections on the eternal significance of Christ's sacrifice."

Stormtrooper crucifixion by RYCA

A post shared by artwars (@artwarz) on

Hyperallergic, a Brooklyn-based online arts magazine that took note of the controversy, wrote that Callanan is "certainly not alone in his use of crucifixion imagery in art, or his concerns about greater abuses at the hands of organized religion.

"But Callanan appears to maintain a more lighthearted view of the situation, in line with the happy-face motifs and grinning poo emojis that punctuate much of his work."

Callanan himself denied he was trying to make any grand statement about religion. He's heard these criticisms before. In 2014 he showed a smaller version of the work at a London gallery and people called it blasphemy.

"This is a crucified Stormtrooper and has nothing to do with religion. It is not a method of capital punishment reserved for the son of God," Callanan told Artnet.com. "This work is like many of my works, using symbology and pop culture and mixing them up to create a new narrative."

According to The Daily Mail, after a 30-minute discussion with the church official called in for consult, the decision was made to leave the Stormtrooper in the exhibit but to move it from its highly visible spot to the back of the church.

"In terms of cultivating a fan base of rabidly devoted followers, it’s hard to say whether Christianity or 'Star Wars' has the edge these days. But Christianity won a point for censorship this week," wrote Hyperallergic.

When the exhibit ends on March 23, Moore said, the "Crucified Stormtrooper" will go on sale for $16,000.

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British street artist Ryan Callanan, creator of the "Crucified Stormtrooper." Ryca.net

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