*****There will be many SPOILERS about the film The Last Jedi. You have been warned.***
John Lennon once invited the world to imagine no religion. Inferring that behind all of the walls of religion we’d be living our lives in peace. It’s an idea my mind often entertains. Only in my mid-twenties, I’ve spent nearly all of the last decade of my life caught up in the studies of religion and many more years drinking from the well of knowledge instilled by my faith tradition; Christianity. I’ve nudged up against the walls of my faith time and time again, asking if any of it were real. Long I’ve been kept inside by teachings that those in my faith have it right, while others are lost, mistaken, destined for destruction…wrong. You see I’ve been given the Spirit. Others “they do not and cannot have it unless they follow the same teachings, the same texts, put their faith in the same deity as we.” What is true for my life cannot be true for theirs. The Spirit is here, not there. Christ lives in me, not them.
In a youth surrounded by the like-minded fearful, this was an easy concept to latch onto and build a sturdy home in my ego. But in adulthood filled with the experiences of the “others,” it’s an idea that dies over and over again when I find what I’ve found beautiful in me, in that unsuspecting place of “them.” Somehow I found truth where my teachers told me I would not find it. Somehow I found Christ in all the wrong places. My faith shook on the foundations of black and white or rather light and dark.
The other night I sat stunned as the all familiar John Williams shouted in the final credits of the incredible new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. I had entered the theater anxious to successfully dodge all spoilers and learn the goods, who was this Snoke dude? Who the HELL were Rey’s parents? What’s the deal with Luke? What color lightsaber will he use? (You know the important things.) What I got was a film far deeper, with far more mature thematic material than I had bargained for. And I loved every bit of it. Heck my eyes watered at the brilliance and hope instilled in the final scene of the film. I had picked up on these deeper themes ever so slightly in the first of the new installments into the Star Wars saga titled The Force Awakens. Perhaps the greatest twist being there is more to what’s behind this “hokey religion.” That what our characters call the force is far more expansive and inclusive than the practices and traditions of the Jedi.
“There has been an awakening, have you felt it?”-Supreme Leader Snoke
Perhaps the biggest question fans had leading into The Last Jedi was the true identity of Rey. Theories abound about whether or not she was a Skywalker, a Kenobi, a child immaculately conceived by the force like the great Darth Vader. Her identity would reveal how she was so powerful and her role in the greater narrative of Star Wars. Shockingly, the insignificance became the great significance. There was nothing glorious about the identity of Rey’s parents. No more than two depraved drunks who abandoned their child in the most unprofound corner of the galaxy. (Assuming that’s not a ruse, which I truly hope it isn’t.) She, like the slave children featured later in the film was the forgotten of the galaxy. The one you have to “look closer” to see. And what great power they have.
Luke, hiding away after the failure of his hope towards passing things on, leans into his belief that the Jedi must, and would, end with him. That the great power he had found was bound to the texts that he possessed. In fact in what will likely be a favorite scene for all, Luke sets out to torch the texts, end the Jedi and the teachings of the force. And Yoda appears to drop bombs. Luke has become a “Bible thumper.” And Yoda says no less to him joking that his loyalty isn’t even found in practice (as Luke has barely read them anyways. No comparison to the real world there.) Yoda argues his dependence and imprisonment to the words have kept him from seeing that the texts merely reveal what is already true in all corners of the galaxy and in every individual. There is nothing Luke can destroy. In other words, it is not true because it’s in the text, the text points to what is true in everything. Yoda both teaches and apparently jokes that there “is nothing in that tree that Rey doesn’t already have.(A joke because we see later that Rey has actually stolen the library and hidden it on the Millineum Falcon.) Destroying the library, as Luke would have just believed, would be the end of ones ability to be taught the ways of the light side of the force. Leaving Luke and the Jedi as nothing more than “legend.” But Yoda teaches him to see beyond this limited and small hope.
The central theme of the film is the tension of the past as a hindrance to the future. Luke wants to destroy the Jedi and their religion because he failed in trying to preserve it and he lost hope. The very hope that once helped him save the Galaxy. Kylo Ren wants to end all of the past to make way for an entirely new and fresh future. That power is found in forsaking the past and cutting yourself off from others. Basically cutting off all that has formed you. “Let the past die. Kill it. Snoke, Luke, the Jedi, The Resistence. That’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.” Which is a constant theme found just prior to any true enlightenment. We desire to destroy that which we were once enslaved to. An anger towards systems (or religions) that once kept us from seeing bigger. We often must be removed, or “leave the village” before we can rightfully return home. Before we can harness the true meaning and power of home. Rey seeks to save Kylo’s soul because she sees the tension in him but also she seeks to find answers as she has confusion and tension in her own spiritual homelessness. She wants Kylo to help her find her place in all of this. But Kylo turns inward, becomes selfish, in pursuit of progress. Rey sees Kylo’s plan of forsaking the past and moving to isolation as a pull towards negative power and self-centered ego instead of hope, peace, connectedness and goodness. She believes a balance can be found through the teachings of the force and the hope revealed with the future. That order is found in union. She has never been bound to the tradition of the Jedi but believes in it’s power to teach one how to harness the force and chooses to carry it along not merely reject it. It has it’s purpose. It reveals a power.
Yoda invites Luke to see beyond religion and find what is universal.That the religion helped him understand it. Helped him harness it. But that the force transcends what’s on the page. The text merely helps him take hold of it. This is found in the natural ability of others to use the force in these new installments of the films. Rey having never been schooled in the ways of the force, never being taught the Jedi religion somehow has enough power to take on Kylo Ren. Chirrut, the blind fighter in Rogue One, shows that the force has hold over him in times of trouble by repeating “I am one with the force, and the force is with me.” A man who has found union presumably not by birth or training, but by faith. Leia, whose Jedi training is currently unbeknownst to the audience, uses the force to save her life near the beginning of the film. Those bound to the religions of the past can’t move to understand the inclusiveness of it all. It’s unconventional, shocking, inexplicable to them that others could harness these powers that only those taught the way of the Jedi (or Sith) should have. Because that outcome is not what they’ve been taught. Rather this new generation is revealing something unfamiliar. Characters like Luke and Snoke were never given eyes for it which is why Rey is such a surprising character. And yet this is where they leave the hope of the saga. By breaking the rules and the assumptions of the previous films. That the force is over all, through all, and in all. There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?
The final shot of the film is not of our main heroes, it’s of a nameless slave-child who uses the force to grab his broom before looking hopefully, powerfully across the universe. It’s the universality, the inclusiveness of the force that makes it so powerful, and leaves one feeling so hopeful. That it’s not the great legends like the Skywalkers that we must always look towards for hope, but the nobodies, the least of these, the overlooked, who will carry on the power and progress that shapes our future. (Perhaps…we should build them up?)
I’ve come to find a similar awakening in my own life. That the religion that protected me and excluded others, blinded me of the “raw untamed power” of those whom I feared or overlooked. It blinded me of seeing that they too were wrapped up in the very thing I’d found life in. Perhaps the only difference was that I had given it a name they had not: Christ. That much like the force, the Christ is that which holds all things together, a cosmic, universal power that holds all things, and reveals all things. It needn’t be bound to text or black and white, or name. If it is true here it must be true everywhere. It transcends our understanding and therefore we need words and stories to help us explore it. Or as a the Christians believe a body. A human that helps us wrap our brain around the cosmic Christ so that we can find it in oursleves. Religion gives me metaphors that help me harness and find intimacy with that which cannot be bound or named. Whether I end the Jedi or end the Christian, or the Muslim, the Buddhist, or even destroy the traditions of the past, the power still exists, still finds life in the least of these, still makes itself known somehow. Naming it only focuses our gaze not yet expanded. Not yet universal.
Often we give divinity and lordship to the sacrament rather than finding our awakening through the sacrament. I believe this is the lesson given by Yoda to Luke. It’s a lesson about religion, as well as a lesson about power. A lesson to help tear down his rigidness that has left his understanding small, limited, and self-centered. Perhaps this is why the voice coming from the burning bush told Moses “I will be, what I will be.” That perhaps that which binds all things together is still trying to bind each of us together.
The unity of all things.
We need only transcend. We need only not overlook. We need only to imagine.
I’ve come to learn that the strongest religion is taking care of the orphan and the widow. That somehow this power, this force, is felt strongest when serving and building up the least of these, the ones overlooked and abandoned. That the great union of all things is uniting with that which we have dismissed. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Maybe there, in this practice, we find a new hope.
I am one with the Christ. And the Christ is with me.