‘The Last Jedi’ is both a radical departure and totally orthodox Star Wars movie. And if we’re honest with ourselves, it reveals what we always wanted.
[There are Spoilers. Of course. But mild. So proceed with caution.]
When I was 5, I wanted to be a Jedi.
Jeff was Luke Skywalker for Halloween that year after we saw The Return of the Jedi for the second time.
Since then, I’ve lost track. Did I want to be Luke or a Jedi? Which was it? Did I want to be that Jedi or did I want to be me as a Jedi?
I wanted the lightsaber. And the tricks; knocking blaster shots back. Then doing it blindfolded. Talking my way past the guards.
The other tricks: the choking, electricity: that was for the bad guys. I wasn’t going over to the Dark Side.
I’d play at being Luke in the movie. But it was more often me. I wanted to be a Jedi.
It was years later when I realized they were pitching Darth Vader as the main character to the kids. We wanted to be Luke. Yoda taught us not to turn to the Dark Side. The marketers assumed we were already turned.
A Jedi is a Jedi because of the Force.
In the original, we hear it called “a religion” derisively. The Force is just some spook they tell people.
As for the Jedi? They’re all gone. But then we see the truth; not all are gone. One, then two remain. Obi-Wan, Yoda are revealed.
Then Luke. Then just Luke.
Turning to Crap
I didn’t read all the books, the EU, the strange proliferation of theories.
Luke was the real Jedi and all this other stuff was crap.
Then the prequels tried to turn it all to crap. Mitochondrion explanations for Luke’s father, a worse torture than Jar Jar Binks. Lucas nearly kills the Force for science like a fundamentalist atheist—rigid and egotistical. Destroying his greatest creation.
The Force barely survives.
But after nearly four decades, what is the Force, really?
The soul of Star Wars was only ever a mystery. The thing we wanted to be a part of never really was there.
We never saw the Force for what it was.
All the arguments were about the material world – What is it? How does it allow people do these miraculous things?
Who has it – The Jedi apparently. But anyone else?
The Skywalkers for sure. But then there was a whole academy. Wookies are force-sensitive, supposedly. But that never gets play in the movies.
It’s just a few Jedi except when it’s a lot. Before the Clone Wars. A whole order. Organized and hierarchical. Ordered.
Then there’s the Dark Side. The Force implies the light, but then there’s the Dark. A yin-yang arrangement. Even the hero wears white and the villain black to make sure we see it.
Flip sides and where do you fall?
The Dark has sheer power. It seems more powerful. The Light is the norm and less powerful. A strange dynamic I never accepted.
They seemed so ordered. There are always two, apparently. That was important for some reason.
In practical terms, it made sense; a master and his apprentice. And besides, they’re evil. What are the chances someone isn’t going to kill someone else to take his place?
We’re told they love their chaos, but they were just as ordered and rule-bound. They are all emotion, but they suck it up for the sake of the Empire.
Supposedly the Jedi are good because of their order and level-headedness. But love is impulsive and good will sacrifice itself.
This understanding of order and disorder doesn’t lead to a consistent truth. The order seems almost arbitrary.
It pales next to the Force. If we can extract it from the Jedi long enough to see. Long enough to see how neutered it is by George Lucas and all the fan theories.
How free it was when we were running around the backyard, making the hum and the WHOOM! sounds; dueling to save the universe.
In Christian theology, there’s the stuff most of us pay attention to and know already. Mostly that Jesus was a dude, born of a virgin mom. He did some whack stuff, and ultimately was killed by crucifixion. Then three days later, he came back.
It takes a little more digging to notice that he’s killed by an Empire as a rebel and that his followers meet the same fate.
But one of the oldest holidays in the church is Pentecost. As the story goes, Jesus came back from the dead and chilled with his friends for a few more weeks, then went to heaven. But he promised an advocate would come after him.
So Peter and the others are hanging out in Jerusalem when this rushing wind whips through town and these great tongues of fire show up above the disciples’ heads. And they start talking.
And all these people from all over the world speaking their own languages and yet somehow, they all hear them and every single one of them can understand what is being said.
Why this story is important is not so much the specific elements, but what it meant to the church. That these followers thought the whole deal was about following Jesus. Like, literally following him around.
And God showed up in the Spirit, saying “It’s your turn.”
The Rise of the Force
I often see the paradox of Star Wars is not the tension between the Jedi and the Sith or the Rebels and the Empire, but the tension between the Force and the humans trying to define it.
The people who dismissed the Force as a simple religion. It’s adherents as irrational.
The Jedi and the Sith who abused and mistook the nature of their powers.
Lucas and the fanboys, who confined the Force to some strict system of advancement or else some cheap plot device or excuse for different colored light sabers and nerd fan fiction.
The pseudo-spiritualists, who insisted that a balance in the Force was more important than a Force which compels the people toward unity. That it could somehow be both neutral and good.
In some ways, this was the most deadly teaching I ever got from Star Wars. That the Force was true neutral. That any rising of a lawful good Jedi would instantly create a chaotic evil Sith Lord. Presto! All in balance.
Even as the Empire takes over the universe. Gotta keep that Force True Neutral.
I always refused to believe that. I trusted the rules—the canon told us there were rules, but the Force can’t be neutral. Not really.
The Last Jedi
Perhaps The Last Jedi is a departure from tradition, but only if we also acknowledge how lame the Force had been up to that point.
Those lessons Luke gives Rey reveal the paradox of life, not a false, imposed balance. Not neutrality or impartiality. And not when the Force reaches out to the weak, the blind, the oppressed.
It reaches out to change the world. A world the Sith want to dominate.
The Force was lame. But not anymore.
How meaningless those statements of “May the Force be with you” were before these new movies. How awkward they are to hear now. Forced and unsure. Is this the right time? Should these characters be saying it?
How awkward it must be for these people hoping this nearly dead religion has something to offer any more than its only living practitioner can save them. Offering hope.
Freeing the Paradox
This of course reveals the paradox The Last Jedi wouldn’t let us hold anymore. It has all come to a head and we must choose. Choose between wanting to be Luke or a Jedi.
On the one side, all that love for Luke and all that he represents: the order, structure, tradition: all the rules and regulations. What it means to be an official, sanctioned, genuine Jedi in the Star Wars Universe.
And then on the other: a Force with power, purpose, and meaning. Something long dormant and constrained and desperate to be free.
We couldn’t have both. We couldn’t keep Luke as the great hero AND the unbridled Force.
Like all those people of faith leaving the confining structures of a faithless religion for a faith which transcends religion. A faith worthy of the God they love.
This is much more than killing our idols or democratizing the Force. These are still obsessions with rules and how we can impose our will upon the nature of the Force.
What we’re seeing in these newest installments of Star Wars is the Force truly unleashed. The dream we all had in that first movie, 40 years ago. That dream we had whenever someone denigrated the Force as some silly, dead religion. We all wanted to prove them wrong.
We wanted the Force to protect the Light. In the galaxies and their people. A Force worthy of our attention and devotion. One which helps the blind to see and the deaf to hear. And even the dying to have new life.
If we were honest to ourselves, to those children in our hearts, we’d push past the skeptics and those teenage years full of irony and cool indifference and come home to our most passionate selves. Then we’d know.
Luke or Jedi?
We’d pick Jedi every time.