Many Star Wars fans were completely flabbergasted by the latest installment— The Last Jedi—in the film series. They were certain that “Luke would do that!” and “That’s not the way of the Jedi!” etc.
Yet from a contemplative or mystic perspective, I see this as Star Wars finally hitting its stride and delivering the spiritual epic it’s been progressing toward since Obi Wan’s first instruction to “Use the Force.” And like all good wisdom stories, it begins a long time ago. . . .
In the world of action, the good guys in the Resistance are fighting a scrappy battle. They’re almost wiped out entirely, but they retain, as General Leia Organa says, “a spark of hope” in anticipation of the return of the great Jedi Master, her brother Luke Skywalker. Inconveniently for the Resistance, he’s off meditating in self-imposed exile and simplicity. He’s kind of over the hero thing.
When Rey, a young novice Jedi, finds Skywalker on his lone island, she begs him for training and for his intervention in the war. Like many wisdom teachers, he retreats into his hut and orders her, “Go away!”
She eventually persuades him by explaining, “Something inside me had always been there, but now it is awake. And I don’t know what to do with it.” (Pause for a show of hands if you relate. . . .)
In Rey’s first lesson, Skywalker’s message suggests he’s been reading Living School materials. He has her sit, close her eyes, and breathe. Then he explains, “The Force is not a power you have. It’s an energy that flows between all things; a tension that binds the universe together. When you reach out with your feelings (aka heart center), what do you see?”
She sees, “Life, death, new life, warmth, cold, peace, violence. . . .”
“And between it all?”
“Balance. Energy. And inside me, the same Force. It does not belong to the Jedi.”
Meanwhile, the action continues as the generals (women!) lead the Resistance troops (including female fighter pilots and people of all colors).
Rey learns more about Skywalker’s internal disconnection from the Force. Skywalker explains how the Jedi had become deified and how his ego got in the way of training young Kylo Ren (now emerging as a major bad guy in the evil First Order). “I failed because I was Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. A legend.”
As Skywalker’s ego continues to struggle with the problem of Skywalker’s ego, he decides that the Jedi order must end. He’s going to kill the religion by destroying the tree that houses the library of their sacred texts. “I’m going to burn it down.” But he hesitates. . . .
And in that moment, the tree is hit by a lightning bolt, and the spirit of Yoda—Skywalker’s beloved Master—appears. “Time it is,” says Yoda, “for you to look past a pile of old books.” When Skywalker confesses that he has been weak and unwise and he can’t be what Rey needs, Yoda replies, “Strength, master. . . . Hmmm. . . . Weakness, folly, failure also. The greatest teacher failure is.”
I won’t spoil the rest of the plot for you, but let me say this: I believe the filmmakers were informed by a deep understanding of what is to be expected when a character spends a lifetime in spiritual training and contemplative practice. Skywalker has failed. He has felt betrayal and shame. He has become an icon and destroyed his icons. He has lived as a vessel of the Force, and he has cut himself off from it. He has learned to let go. Now, in the climax of the narrative, how does contemplation meet action in the power of love in the Force?
One last personal note: I saw this film in the same theatre that I saw the first Star Wars more than 30 years ago. It happened to be the anniversary of the death of Carrie Fisher. To be embraced within the power of the cinema, reminding us of the Timeless and the Universal, and hear Fisher speak the words, “I know my son is gone,” and hear the response, “No one is ever gone,” was profoundly moving.