Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the highest grossing film of 2017, making over $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide. And that’s despite a mid-December release date. The highly anticipated film turned out to be a polarizing one for fans of the franchise. The director and writer of the film, Rian Johnson, took some big risks with the story set up in The Force Awakens, and Star Wars lore in general. Many didn’t like the pay off. But for me, TLJ had some layers to it which I appreciated. Unlike TFA, which was a solid but safe entry, TLJ dug deep into the characters. It made me ponder quite a bit about the human condition, which Star Wars hasn’t explored in any satisfying way since Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars has always reflected broad religious themes of good and evil, spirituality, and redemption. I think the TLJ follows suit and even ventures into some biblical themes without even knowing it. Warning: Spoilers below.
The Force Awakens in a “Nobody”
In Star Wars, it was always the force itself that determined who would have control of it’s power. One could not choose to possess the force. While there was always an undetermined number of people who had access to the force, the Star Wars narrative centered on the Skywalker family, as the force was especially strong in their line. It started with Anakin Skywalker, who was presumed to be created by the force, became a powerful Jedi, and an even more powerful Sith Lord. He had two children, Luke and Leia, with the narrative following Luke’s journey into a Jedi Knight. Leia had a son, Ben Solo, who became the powerful dark side user, Kylo Ren. When the force awakened powerfully in Rey, many speculated that she was the son of Luke, or that she had some connection to the Skywalkers.
TLJ showed us that Rey was actually just a girl from a junkyard planet, yet the force was strong in her. While the narrative will continue to follow a Skywalker (Kylo Ren/Ben Solo), our main hero is not a Skywalker at all, but still has the spirit of a true Jedi. The movie ends with the revelation that the force is awakening in others, just as it appears in who we affectionately call “Broom Kid.” Just like Rey, the force can awaken in anyone.
This reminds me of the bible’s narrative in which God chose Abraham and made a covenant with him. God promised to make him a great nation and bless the world through him (Genesis 12:1-3). The bible’s story centers on the decedents of Abraham, and climaxes with Jesus Christ who blessed the world as the messianic seed of Abraham. The bible’s story concludes with the hope of the gospel, where anyone who believes in Jesus has access to the Holy Spirit, whether Jew or Gentile. The Skywalkers are like the Abrahamic line, and Rey could represent the Gentile who believes in Christ.
In TLJ, Rey feared that she had no special lineage, and thus no significant destiny. Kylo Ren tried to entice her to the dark side by telling Rey to believe her fears. He said she is indeed no one with no place in the story, but he could make her someone of significance by his side. Like a true Jedi, she wisely avoided the temptation.
We tend to believe the same lie, that we are no one and have no significance in the story of history. But the truth is that God knows us intimately (Psalm 139:1-4), and those who have faith were chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be his children (Ephesians 1:3-6). There is no reason to give in to the enticement of the sinner.
Relativism is the Path to the Dark Side
Many fans wondered if TLJ would explore a grey side of the force, where Luke embraced the dark side, as well as the light. Thankfully, TLJ maintains the mythos that the dark side of the force is to be completely resisted by the Jedi. This is closer to the bible that consistently teaches there is no benefit from mixing darkness and light, or unrighteousness and righteousness (2 Corinthians 6:14).
TLJ does include one character who is supposed to embody a mixture of good and evil. He does whatever works for him. He represents relativism. The thief and code breaker that Finn and Rose meet on Canto Bight is DJ (which stands for Don’t Join). He says to Finn, “Good guys, bad guys, made-up words. It’s all machine partner. Live free, don’t join.” This was supposed to be a challenge to Finn who was uncommitted to the good intentions of the Resistance, and overly focused on what he cared about most—the safety of his friend Rey.
As it turns out, it wasn’t much of a challenge to Finn, and it therefore ends up being a weak plot point. Part of the problem is that there’s nothing appealing about a person who lives by relativism. One who does comes off as completely selfish, rather than enlightened. Johnson seemed to consider this when writing the DJ/Finn storyline:
Especially today, when we are bombarded by so much information and so many points of view, it’s so easy to say there are no good guys and there are no bad guys. Everything is just shades of gray. It’s seductive, because there’s some truth to it. But using that as an excuse to live selfishly is something that we all struggle against, day to day. Through DJ, Finn finds that nobody’s purely perfect or purely evil, but there are still things worth fighting for. There are things that are right and there are things that are wrong. This is not an entirely post-truth world [laughs]. There are truths that are worth standing up for. (The Art of Star Wars The Last Jedi, 143)
Johnson is right. This is not a post-truth world. It never will be. What he probably doesn’t get is that it is God who determines what is good and what is evil. If you reject that and choose any form of relativism, it will always lead to selfishness.
Not the Legend We Expected
Luke Skywalker comes across to me as a Christ-figure in TLJ. He (along with much of the fandom) expected he would rebuild the Jedi Order, which he tried to do. He was messianic in the sense of restoring the Jedi Order as ideological protectors of peace and justice in the galaxy. Luke even mentioned he had 12 followers, with one that would fail and betray him.
But in a very un-Christ-like manner, Luke contemplated murdering Ben Solo to prevent his works of evil. Everything fell apart after that moment of weakness. Ben Solo attacked Luke and destroyed the Jedi temple. Luke went into hiding on a remote island with the intention of dying there. He was more like Elijah in that sense.
Elijah fled into the wilderness wanting to die after realizing Israel would not repent of their idolatry. He saw himself as a failure, no better than the generations before him (1 Kings 19).
Elijah didn’t get to redeem himself, but Luke was able to move beyond his failure. In a Christ-like manner, Luke offers his own life for the sake of others. His final act as a Jedi would allow the remnant of the Resistance to escape the First Order and allow the rebellion to be reborn.
Luke’s portrayal in TLJ stirred up some controversy among fans. Many wanted to see Luke do exactly what he thought would be ridiculous—they wanted to see him walk out with a laser sword and take down the whole First Order. That’s the picture they had of a Jedi legend, and many couldn’t accept that the legend would die the way he did. Even Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke, had a hard time accepting Johnson’s vision for Luke. That’s a fascinating reaction to me, as Jesus’ disciples had a similar preconception of their messiah. They expected Jesus to rule with power and restore Israel to glory. Instead, Jesus taught that he would suffer many things, die, and rise three days later. In response to this, Peter rebuked Jesus, to which Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:31-33). Peter was wrong to doubt Jesus’ role as a sacrifice. I wonder if fans should be doubting Luke’s role in Johnson’s Star Wars story.
I think Star Wars: The Last Jedi can be an interesting film when you see it as a story that reflects elements of the greatest story ever told throughout the whole bible. May the force be with you!