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"At the darkest moment comes the light": Thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Oh boy. Hold onto your butts, because this one’s a doozy.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful opera, except that it hurts.”
— Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth


There is a moment in the trailer for The Last Jedi where Luke says, “This is not going to go the way you think.” And he is right in more ways than one — The Last Jedi seems, at times, to almost go out of its way to subvert the normal Star Wars tropes and cliches. You know that vague plan to break into the enemy’s ship in order to disable the such-and-such and save the day? Yeah, that doesn’t work. In fact, it hurts the actual plan that would have saved everyone. Hey, what about all those awesome X-Wing battles! Those are fun! Except they come with a cost: real lives are lost and those people leave behind family and friends that love them.

To say that The Last Jedi is bleak is to understate things. Sure, Supreme Leader Snoke is dead, but that just means the First Order is now in the hands of Kylo Ren and General Hux and that can’t be good. The Resistance is down to a dozen people. At one point, it seems as if the light of hope has gone out, the last stand of the Resistance is here, and everyone is going to die.

But we know that’s not the case, because this is only the second part of this story. Because this is a story, a story being told to us just as the story of Jedi Master Luke was told to Rey and to the little boy on Canto Bight. The movie could have ended on Rey in the Millennium Falcon or the twin sunrises on Ach-too, but it didn’t: it ended on the little boy playing with his broom like a lightsaber. Pretending to be Luke Skywalker, like we all pretended to be Luke Skywalker as a child. Cloaking ourselves in stories to give ourselves hope.

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us — the labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
— Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth


The Last Jedi is a story about the survival of hope, even against impossible odds. Despite the fact that the movie subverts numerous Star Wars tropes, it is, at its core, a very Star Wars story. But it shows the world of Star Wars in a different light — first by asking us “What if the Jedi aren’t needed?” and then by asking us “Who really profits from war? Where does ethics ends when fighting a war?”

The Jedi of old weren’t as smart as they thought, as Luke points out. They let Darth Sidious rise to power under their noses and were wiped out because of it. But Luke himself is blind to his own failings — not the fact that he failed Ben Solo, but the fact that he doesn’t see failing as a way to move forward. It takes another (incredibly awesome) visit from Master Yoda to show him that failing can show you the way to be better. And sometimes, yes, old temples can burn, because they weren’t needed anyway. The force isn’t a tree or a book. The force is everywhere.


As for the ethics of war — oh boy, is Rose Tico such a good character. She’s a mechanic, someone who usually just stays in the background. But after crying over her sister (who died in the bombing raid in the beginning of the movie — see, those battles have real consequences), she runs into Finn and they get involved in a plan on the casino planet of Canto Bight. She’s the one that shows us the hardship of living in a galaxy under constant war. And DJ — Benicio del Toro, clearly chewing all the scenery and loving it — is the one who shows us those who profit from war. Sure, he seems like a nice guy and he’s telling the truth...but he will sell them out for money and a new ship. He’s the anti-Han Solo.

But hope still survives in the form of Rey, who convinces Kylo Ren to betray his master...but what comes after that? What if Darth Vader killed the Emperor and then lived? Would he, then, take over the Empire? Because that’s what Kylo Ren does and he does it knowing full well that he wants to control his own destiny and the destiny of everyone else.

Moyers: “Unlike heroes such as Prometheus or Jesus, we’re not going on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves.”
Campbell: “But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there’s no doubt about it. The world without spirit is a wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting things around, changing the rules, and who’s on top, and so forth. No, no! Any world is a valid world if it’s alive. The thing to do is to bring life to it, and the only way to do that is to find in your own case where the life is and become alive yourself.”
— Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth


The biggest mystery of the new Star Wars trilogy is Rey’s parentage. The Last Jedi seems like it’s going to answer that question, until it finally gives us the answer, which is “It doesn’t matter.” It doesn’t matter who Rey’s parents are. If they were scum who sold her or if they were forced to give her up or if, perhaps, she was the grandchild of Obi-Wan Kenobi (my personal theory), it doesn’t matter. Who your parents are doesn’t define you — see: Ben Solo. He sought to distance himself so much from his parents and embrace his grandfather, he lost himself. Rey almost does the same when she looks into the infinite mirror that is the Dark Side and sees only her own reflection.

But ultimately, Rey tries to save Ben and then refuses to follow him. Even knowing that she came from nothing, she refuses. In saving herself, she saves the galaxy.


Poe also realizes that saving what you have is sometimes better than rushing into battle. Love trumps hate, as Rose tells Finn. Saving what you love is better than needlessly sacrificing yourself against something you hate. Save yourself and you save the world.

“One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”
— Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth


It’s widely known that the original Star Wars follows Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth (or Hero’s Journey) to a tee. But it doesn’t do that intentionally — it does it because it follows the same tropes as most folktales and myths do, which Campbell cataloged and created the Monomyth from. The first film in the trilogy — A New Hope, The Phantom Menace, and The Force Awakens — follow the classic myths and folktales.

The Last Jedi, like The Empire Strikes Back before it, takes a look at the bleak aftermath of the Monomyth. Things don’t return to normal. Wars continue. People die. Before the eucatastrophe of the final film, there is a moment of complete darkness, punctuated by a ray of light.

“You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’”
— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers


But, like Frodo and Sam, you have to go forward and continue reading the story. Because even though the darkness is all around, the Resistance is still alive, General Leia is still alive, Rey and Poe and Finn and Rose are all still alive, and the story ends with them all together and then the story of Luke being told to a young boy, as we were told it.

And the story goes on forever...

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