Sad Men in Space

The Patriarchal Fragility of the Jedi Order

Contains spoilers.

For the record, I love Star Wars — specifically episodes 4–8, while I can’t stand the prequels (the level of narrative cringe on multiple levels makes them unwatchable, while the music and visuals are so stunning, I fantasize they will eventually be released as silent films with some sweet John Williams accompaniment). But let’s talk about the sad men of Star Wars for a second. Curiously enough, they’re all Jedi. This is not an accident. A lot of the sad men in our lives are priests, ideologues, Calvinists, pastors who kill themselves after molesting their children’s friends at slumber parties, etc. Basically whether you’re in space or not, think twice before you allow a shame-based restrictive ideology to run your life, because a LOT of those ideologies conflate the removal of dirty ‘ol emotions with wisdom — the castration of the heart with the much harder work of learning and deploying emotional intelligence.

Let’s begin with the worst of the worst: Anakin. Many lives would have been different, with many lives saved, if the Jedi Order had saved the mother of the mega-midichlorian-count force-prodigy the Jedi wanted as their own — both because he clearly needed a mother and because she herself was a slave, worthy of saving and with a terrible future ahead of her — with her son, ostensibly her only pleasure, now lost to her. The Jedi Order, salivating arrogantly at their newest recruit without giving the slightest deference to his Virgin Mary mother— in not even entertaining the possibility of buying/rescuing her even at a later date — betrays the tragic flaw of many religions or cults: the systemic devaluation of concerns that have been incorrectly branded as “feminine” that are actually what make humans wise. The desire to castrate the intellect itself of its emotional, “feminine” counterpart in an ironically fear-filled fantasy of dominance and control is the tragic flaw of patriarchal churchy orgs since forever. It is precisely this display of harmful masturbatory intellectualism — while stripping away what makes us human — that leads to the downfall of the Jedi. Jedi purportedly value wisdom and balance, evidently without knowing where those things come from. Jedi wax philosophical truisms about fear, without allowing their younglings to truly face it themselves. Rather than teaching the wisdom of not being controlled by the fear of losing loved ones (by loving them enough to let them go, HELLO) it breeds young Jedi in a controlled environment where they have no loved ones to tempt them. This is a lot like the church raising sheltered, experience-starved, identical children in environments with rigid rules and much filtering of the real world — instead of encouraging them to be individuals, rigorously testing the boundaries of their own faith , resulting in the belief of some pretty weak gods indeed. Anakin, who nursed obvious mommy issues forever while having no idea how to deal with the basic risks of emotional attachment, made him an easy target for the psychological manipulations of the opposition. He swung to the dark side over the very idea of losing love again — before it had even happened.

Kylo has a better storyline and a much more complex character than the paperthin, shallow, two dimensional Anakin. But part of that is because the audience is given a murky, mysterious backstory for him. A central theme of Star Wars (intentional or not) is men losing their shit over something that is disproportionate to the original, rather mild offense, so it’s good that we don’t know much about why he is so emo, because it will probably be disappointing and super basic (my dad didn’t love me enough to stick around, so I murder people, etc). We now know that the last straw (but not the inception) of his darkness was the betrayal of his master, Old Skywalker. The Jedi-to-Jedi relationship has always been that of relatively detached master and apprentice, mostly devoid of the kind of nurturing mentoring that gets to know its students in full, senses danger sooner, and adjusts accordingly. This requires emotion. This requires mothering. Jedi are often presented in moral opposition to clones and storm troopers, but Jedi children are also raised without love, essentially brainwashing them into a life without emotional attachment of any kind other than with their “brothers” of the Jedi cloth, with whom they never seem truly close. Little in general seems to take Jedi by surprise, who often have Yodaic visions of vaguery of the darkness to come — except the very thing that keeps happening: the impulsive behavior and neglected emotions of their brothers. Luke’s inability to nurture Kylo away from the dark side is the Jedi Order Achilles Heel, incarnate. First of all, is there not a standard operating procedure set in place by now of what to do when one of the students shows a strong connection to the dark side? No? REALLY? (no wonder Yoda set fire to those dusty books — they’re useless) but OK, so your first impulse is to MURDER HIM? Jedi are trained to become very powerful people, while retaining the dangerously poor EQ of their undeveloped selves — who freak out at the slightest confrontation with emotional complexity. This makes Jedi the spiritual equivalent of a body builder who only works the upper half and eventually just keeps falling over. For a cult obsessed with binaries and balance, there is nothing balanced about this practice.

This brings us to Old Skywalker, and Luke’s descent into his version of the same fate as Anakin and Kylo. A similar opinion is shared by Mark Hamill himself, who revealed that this Luke wasn’t his Skywalker, but that he had no choice but to shrug and go along with it. And to be fair, Jedi male emotional stupidity is basically rooted to Star Wars canon. Luke’s hopeless and selfish seclusion was obviously very different from Kylo and Anakin’s full descent into darkness, but they all share the same root of not knowing what the fuck to do the first time an adult emotion takes them inexcusably by surprise because they are all sheltered as fuck. What happened to Luke that caused his self-banishment was a setback in ego, a potential source of familial drama, and presumably his first failure as a Jedi. And he made it worse by literally running away from it for years. All the character needed was some therapy time with Apparition Yoda (Yoda is the most maternal of all the Jedi Masters) an explanation/apology to Leia, and maybe some time off to heal and recharge. Better yet, I dunno, maybe recognize the elephant in the room, the gaping flaw in Jedi youngling training. But this is the low end of toxic masculinity, and it’s where Skywalker chose to reside until his final act of a redemption that ought to have come much sooner and been longer lasting. By contrast, poor Leia lost her parents, experienced the trauma of living on a chain for a while by a slobbering Weinsteinian slugbeast, lost her son’s goodness, lost an ultimately disappointing relationship with Han (we infer), and Luke went AWOL — and yet she still manages to keep her shit together and focus on what she can offer others. Yoda and Kenobi are not victims of toxic masculinity. They lived in exile because they witnessed the utter decimation of the Jedi — a formerly robust order of political and spiritual leadership — easily and by one of their own. The few survivors lived in hiding because it was not safe for them otherwise. Luke has no such excuse.

Wisdom doesn’t come from abstaining from life and loss, it comes from confronting relationships healthfully, coping with loss head-on, accepting the realities of our mortality and that of our loved ones, getting comfortable with losing control for we are never in control — while getting back up again anyway when we fall, and seeing oneself as a chess pawn, not a chess queen, in the world of ego, especially as it relates to heroic acts and world-saving. There is a lot of potential for ego-tripping in the Jedi world, you’d think they would cover this once in awhile. As much as I love Star Wars, if you compare all the characters who have Force skills, that power is statistically better wielded by the untrained and inexperienced, than by anyone who ever came out of the Jedi Order machine. And OHMYGOD are the women of Star Wars good at this wise business of happily playing their part of the larger whole for the overall good, without struggling with the temptations of power or ego, and without losing their shit when they go through pain. Ironically, the feminism of Star Wars has unintentionally been there longer than the arrival of these sequels, by the mere fact that the women seem to be in so much better control of their shit. The only exception to this is Padme, but her death (of sadness?! Bitch, please) was completely inconsistent with the character they wrote for her. Her real cause of death was one of the laziest plot devices in cinema history.

For a number of reasons, The Last Jedi is subversive AF, as well as the best Star Wars film yet. But the entire Star Wars saga is accidentally the perfect treatise on toxic masculinity. So much so, it ought to be used as a teaching tool of what EQ doesn’t look like. This is not a flaw of the saga. In my personal headcanon it’s a feature, a critique on the dangers of religion. I like to imagine that this is why Yoda literally burns it all to the ground, dogmatism that is not open to change will always be in danger of consuming itself — why “Let the past die” is a central theme, why Rey’s parentage turned out not to matter so much (the whole midichlorian thing was both dumb and a tad too genetic-superiority-ish for my taste). It’s a much more progressive view of the Force that it can belong to anyone curious and open enough to explore it — hence why, in one of the final scenes, we are shown a young slave child with random force skills. I suspect Yoda is well aware that the history of the Jedi is so much its own damn fault, and is in need of fresh ideas, youth, change, and diversity. “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” In a culture rife with overwhelmingly white male mass shooters (because someone rejected them that one time) more than ever, we need Jedi with EQ and open, honest vulnerability, much more than we need another Jedi who kills a bunch of people because he never learned how to handle a really bad day.

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