***The following post contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. You should only read this if you’re cool with that!***
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is more concerned with being a good standalone movie than a good Star Wars movie. Personally, I love that, but I know there are plenty of people who do not. The Last Jedi aims to manipulate people familiar with the Star Wars formula by completely deconstructing it. Nothing that I could possibly say about the use of Luke Skywalker, Snoke, or any of the other characters in the film could better the thematic analyses already provided by sites like SlashFilm and Collider. There is, however, one element of The Last Jedi that I feel is going largely unnoticed.
The Last Jedi puts the relationship between the Force and humanity under a new microscope that exposes some hard truths about the theology of Star Wars.
For a long time, we’ve only been given an abstract understanding of the Force. “Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere,” spoken by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. Each side of the Force has core values that you have to believe in to serve either side. On the light side, it’s peace and hope. On the dark side, it’s power and self-advancement.
We’re told that these are two sides of the same Force, but it’s not hard to see how the divide affects the people who believe in it. The Jedi valued self-sacrifice and prioritizing others, which is why they’ve lasted through the whole Star Wars saga. The values of the dark side always lead to the destruction of the people who preserve it because the dark side prioritizes the self, and the interests of the self will always be prone to change. “I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order,” says Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens.
When Luke begins teaching Rey and testing her powers, we’re given a concrete picture of the Force that helps us understand it better. The Force is an island. On that island, life and peace end in death, and through conflict, death sows the seeds of life. The light and the dark are instrumental pieces in the circle of life that is the Force. That circle and the part the two sides play in it is a balance.
After we’re shown this image, Luke Skywalker digs into a topic not previously discussed by Star Wars films: how humans have always used the Force. Luke says that the Force does not belong to the Jedi because they could not protect balance. The Jedi grew arrogant and thus could not prevent the rise of the dark side, Darth Sidious, or Vader. This is why Luke believes the Jedi must end. Rey pretty much ignores him and continues believing that only the Jedi can save the galaxy. Through this dynamic, a question is posed to us. Who is right? That question and the conflict it brings (plus some clever mind maneuvering on Supreme Leader Snoke’s part) drives a wedge between the master and the hopeful apprentice.
Eventually, Rey leaves the island to turn Kylo Ren, and in the throes of his disappointment, Luke tries to burn down the last remnants of the old Jedi order. However, a Force-ghost Yoda shows up to do it for him. In one of the most powerful scenes in the film, Yoda tells Luke that yes, the Jedi order must pass on, but only to give way to a new one. So that leaves us thinking the conflict between Rey and Luke is resolved. Rey must have been right…Right? Not quite. The true conclusion of Luke and Rey’s conflict of ideas comes a bit later aboard Snoke’s ship.
After some fantastic callbacks to Return of the Jedi – a Jedi waiting for their dark counterpart to turn to the light, an evil master from a forgotten generation revealing a trap, and finally, when all seems lost, a hopeful betrayal – we see Kylo Ren and Rey fighting side by side against the Praetorian Guards. This scene works incredibly well on a couple of different levels.
- For a first-time viewer, this fight scene is packed with a false sense of relief that the child of Han Solo has finally returned to the light.
- In context, this struggle is another visual representation of what the light side and the dark side can do while working together in the name of the Force.
However, once the action ends, we see Ren’s true motives. He wants Rey to join him in deleting ALL governments and religions – the First Order, Resistance, Sith, Jedi – and forge a new order. In my eyes, this scene is the tipping point of the Force.
In the context we’re given – with Kylo Ren as the dark side incarnate and Rey as the light – this is a chance for the galaxy to be ruled by a true balance of the Force.
However, there’s one thing standing in their way. Their humanity. Kylo Ren only wants to join together with Rey so they can be more powerful together, and Rey would only join in order to try and turn Ren to the light side. These characters adhere to their beliefs and values in a way that exposes the true nature of the Force as it’s used by humans.
Balance enacted by humans is truly impossible.
Those in the dark will inevitably trample over the light in pursuit of power, and those in the light are naturally unable to let the darkness do that. Neither Rey nor Kylo Ren can join together because the Force will never be balanced through flawed humans. Once they both realize this, they fight over possession of Luke’s lightsaber, which can easily be seen as a metaphor for the light and dark’s battle over control of the Force. The lightsaber splits in two (as does the entire starship), representing an understanding that the two value structures and those who adhere to them will always be at war with one another. This ideological split is demonstrated in Rey and Kylo Ren’s characters in the last half hour of the film. Once they realize that balance is unobtainable, they cling to the only things they have left. For Kylo Ren and the First Order, it’s power and the self. For Rey and the Resistance, it’s hope.