WARNING: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow. Read at your own risk if you haven’t yet seen the movie.
When will the fight between the dark and the light end once and for all, I wondered wearily while watching The Last Jedi a few weeks ago. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the film; I loved it. The epic battle provides a backdrop for sage wisdom from brilliantly archetypal characters we love and with whom we can relate.
It also reminded me of the world we live in, our current state of affairs, and that for millennia we’ve engaged in the same dramas but have worn different uniforms representing different campaigns, time and time again. They’ve all led to the same results: winners and losers. An imposed peace and quiet follow for a period—until tension and intolerance build and fighting recommences.
We’ve lived in a world of duality (good vs evil, right vs wrong, Left vs Right) for thousands of years. It plays out on the international stage and we see it in the news every day. People speak passionately about and promote their causes and dress down those with whom we disagree via shouting matches, video and written blogs, arguments on social media, and behind each other’s backs.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to move on.
“We’re going to win this war, not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” —Rose Tico, The Last Jedi
When I was a little girl, I threw temper tantrums. When imperfect, I lost patience with myself and wallowed in self-loathing. My mother, whose nerves I’d wear thin with my brooding and crying, would note how my behavior reminded her of my hot-headed father. She’d left him when I was 5, and I knew there was no love lost in that separation. Therefore, I interpreted her remarks as “When you act like your father, you’re unlovable.”
Add to that messages I received in church or in Catholic school, that when I did not follow the Ten Commandments or behave the way Jesus would in each moment of my human life, I put myself at risk for being abandoned to the fires of hell. God loves us, the priests proclaimed (but only when we’re good). Die with sin-stained souls, and “He” will damn us for eternity.
Thus intensified the war within me and my own black-and-white perception of the world. I strove to be flawless; when I failed, self-hatred intensified. When others did not live according to the high morals of Christian doctrine, I judged them. In fact, sometimes it was easier to evaluate others than to contend with my own insecurities.
And so it is for most human beings, including our beloved Star Wars heroes.
Upon sensing great darkness in Kylo Ren, Luke Skywalker pulled back in fear and almost killed him. Not unlike Luke, we abhor others’ shadows, because we’re averse to our own. As the battle rages within each human being, it persists globally.
You may have heard of Harvard professor and psychologist Robert Rosenthal, who, in 1964, conducted a study on how teachers’ expectations affected student performance. Teachers tended to smile, exhibit patience, and nod approvingly at students whom they were told had higher IQs. Students internalized their teachers’ warm attitudes towards them and thus increased their IQ scores.
Imagine how we must look at and interact with people from whom we expect the worst and how it affects their self-image and behavior. Awakening to the sight of his own uncle poised with a light saber pointed at Kylo’s head reinforced the younger man’s belief that he was some kind of monster—thus motivating Kylo to take up his light saber in service of darkness.
“What you stand witness for in others is strengthened in them by the power of your observation. When you look for the worst in someone, when you make them wrong in your mind, when you refuse to see the best in them, you are committing a spiritual assault of the worst kind. For you are testifying against their ability to choose the light, standing witness for the darkness in them and strengthening its power over their heart and mind.
“If you’ve ever face a hostile crowd, a hostile cop, a hostile lover, you’ve felt the destructive force of another’s contempt for you. Do not give into this way of seeing. Stand witness for the light in others. The unassailable divine spark forever shines in the hearts of every man, woman, and child just waiting to be called forward.”
That divine spark is the Force, so to speak, and it’s within each of us. So too is the power to choose whether to use it in service of self or for the greatest good of all—and the survival of all humans and our planet depends, in this very lifetime, not only on the choices each of us makes; the way we interact with and see each other will determine whether we usher in a final era of cataclysmic destruction or of everlasting unity.
Luke: What do you see?
Rey: The island. Life. Death and decay, that feeds new life. Warmth. Cold. Peace. Violence.
Luke: And between it all?
Rey: Balance and energy. A force.
Luke: And inside you?
Rey: Inside me, that same force.
As art imitates life and vice versa, Rey represents all of us. She holds the power to free Kylo (who too represents all of us)—and thus the galaxy—from the clenches of his inner demons. It was apparent when the two saw and communicated with each other beyond third-dimensional space-time that it was she, his equal, in whom the Force runs equally strong, who could see most clearly through Kylo’s layers of hurt and pain into his true self. In doing so, she was the one who came closest to melting the ice around his heart.
Rey to Kylo: “You don’t have to do this. I feel the conflict in you. It’s tearing you apart.”
That ability lies within each of us for each other.
So where do we go from here?
Stay tuned for part two, coming in January 2018.