My Mom Died on May the 4th. ‘The Last Jedi’ Taught Me How to Move On.
I have a hard time letting go. That is my life’s thematic through-line. I am splintered down the middle, cored in two: the who I was before my mother died, and the endless tunnel I have been running through ever since. Anyone who has suffered a massive loss will understand this. That fracturing of atoms. Life is never the same – not just the life we live, but the concept of life as some sort of cosmic occurrence. Everything is incidental. Everything is weird and misplaced. Why are some of us allowed to live while others aren’t? Why can some carry on while the rest of us get caught in a honey trap of memories, grief, jealousy, fragmentation?
That is something I constantly ask myself: Why me? And not “why me” in the sense of loss, because everyone has lost, will lose. But why do I have such difficulty separating my current self from who I once was, and the who I thought I’d be by now? That’s the thing with grief: it erodes your concept of self. It hands you a pride you might not deserve and haven’t yet earned. You look at others, the easier sort, and you mourn their apathy. Don’t you know? Haven’t you seen? This world will annihilate you, just give it time.
When I get this way, I think of Carrie Fisher, as I often do, and this quote from Wishful Drinking.
But I also think back to The Last Jedi. My favorite of the Star Wars movies because it is the most confrontational. (If you have read my writing, you will know that is something I ravenously seek.) It’s an easy thing to conjure up on a day like to today: Not only is it May the Fourth – Star Wars Day – but it is also the 18th anniversary of my mother’s death. And The Last Jedi, above all things, has played the largest role in helping me finally gain the courage to move forward.
To begin with, I must state: I love Rey. She is my favorite Star Wars character of all time. Because she is me, and because she has equipped me with the power to see my own inefficiencies, my own blind precognitions. The Last Jedi is all about imploding her hubris. An orphan with almighty power who learns, by the end of the film, that her importance is not found in the lost corners of her past, but in the possibility of her future.
I will not fully align myself with her exact distinction. I am not an orphan in the same sense (my mother died, my father is gone, but I still have a family), nor am I possessed with the same inherent prowess that Rey is. But her loneliness has been a facet that lured me in after The Force Awakens. That broken girl in a quiet AT-AT apartment, surrounded by toys and mementos, infantile by her own accord. She was stuck in the past same as me. Convinced that something would come along and prove her cruciality. Waiting for her moment without actionably seeking it.
That is something I’ve always felt. That my mother’s death imbued me with some sort of vital key to the universe. That people should bow before me because of what I’ve suffered, what I’ve lost, how I’ll forever be tampered with. I can’t deny that strains of that ideology still quiver through me. But in the last several months, I have done a lot of self-improvement to move past that which tethers me down. I have reoriented myself with my surroundings, and with greater truths: that my suffering is small, and normal, and affords me nothing. That the great people of history never relied on their falterings, but on their strengths. They never let their parents’ deaths carry them while they sat calcified in their own ruins.
That’s what I love about Rey. She who is thrust into an adventure she tried to avoid. But later, she who believed this place in history was always hers. Kylo whispers in her ear, destiny hands her Luke’s lightsaber. I am someone, she assumes. Rey from nowhere, her pride allows her to say aloud. But her vanity, which Kylo ruptures — her vanity says something else.
In The Last Jedi, Rey is confronted with a mirrored image of herself, transpired across time and reality. She seeks out Luke, who she assumes will follow her back to the Resistance so that they might both shine. Instead, he refuses her, and she is lured to a dark, cavernous hole. Throughout the film this darkness calls her, but it is not until Luke’s final rejection, and Kylo’s brainwave declaration that she matters, that she gives in.
From the Force cave, she gives us this voiceover confession:
I should have felt trapped or panicked. But I didn’t. It didn’t go on forever, I knew it was leading somewhere; that at the end it would show me what I came to see. I thought I’d find answers here. I was wrong. I’ve never felt so alone.
There are a lot of lessons in The Last Jedi. I am certain that is part of what has drawn ire. It is not fan service by any means, but rather an incisive reconnaissance for its heroes. I will never silence anyone’s trepidations with a piece of art, since I truly believe everyone is allowed their own perspective, but I wish more people would let The Last Jedi fully wash over them. For me, it was vital. Because Rey’s journey of self-non-discovery has mirrored my own. We expect something of grandeur, but life hands us the rudimentary. We may be big in some ways, but not in others. We matter less than we think. We are wholly fallible.
Rey learns this several times in The Last Jedi. She learns this through Kylo and Luke, and through herself. But by movie’s end, she has grown exponentially. She has let go of the things she once feared to become what the world needs her to be. She has allowed herself to be powerful by her own accord, in place of gallant assumption. Luke is not the last Jedi, nor is Rey. She is a part of a larger story, but not the only one. Myth owes her nothing. History owes her nothing.
She owes herself so much more. So do I.
May the Fourth be with you.