Second Thoughts On Episode 8 (Spoilers)
I just got done watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi for the second time and my opinion of the movie has totally changed. The first time I saw the movie I walked away disappointed. Luke wasn’t as glorious as I wanted. Rey is a nobody (maybe?). Snoke received no backstory. All of the things I had spent two years waiting on were basically pointless. Honestly, it felt pretty depressing.
This morning I took my wife and kids to see the movie. I told my wife while getting ready that I didn’t really like it that much, but that I thought she would probably love it. It felt weird to say that? Why would she love it if I didn’t? What was making my view of the movie different than what I thought her view would be?
But, on second viewing, I found that not only did my wife and kids love it, I loved it too. It all clicked for me. Of course Rey had to be a nobody. Of course Snoke had to die with little fanfare and no backstory. In fact, I walked away thinking this was one of the most important, foundational movies in the whole Star Wars saga and drives home its core messages. It’s exactly the movie we needed after the last episode thrilled us with thoughts of fresh Skywalker bloodlines, Darth Plagueis fan theories, and dreams of Luke Skywalker coming back to roast Kylo Ren with his lightsaber.
It’s the holiday season, and as the end of the movie neared, it hit me. This is an incarnation story. In fact, this is basically a Christmas story.
Perhaps the most debated question between Episode VII and VIII was the question of Rey’s origin. Was she Luke’s hidden child? Was she somehow related to Obi-wan Kenobi? Or, scariest and most confusing of all, is she just a “random person”? I myself thought about this constantly in between the movies. She can’t just be a “nobody”, can she?
But, of course she can. Anakin was a nobody. Anakin was the child of a poor, uneducated slave woman born on a backwoods planet. This was the person chosen to bring balance to the Force (or, in my opinion, to begin the process of bringing balance). Of course, the story is essentially lifted directly from the Bible. The messiah is born to lowly parents in a backwoods village. Not in Jerusalem… and not near the Jedi Temple.
During my first viewing, I didn’t have the right view of the good guys and bad guys. Kylo Ren and Snoke are not really fighting Luke Skywalker or Rey. Of course, they think they are. But, as Snoke says, this is the Dark vs. the Light. And, just as the Force will raise a savior from a slave woman, it will raise a savior from the parents of two drunkard junkers. That’s. the. point. The person the Force uses is irrelevant. Their background is irrelevant. And, that ends up being an incredibly freeing and hopeful message. A message that can truly give hope to anyone in any walk of life.
I’m amazed this didn’t click with me harder on the first viewing because it’s something that is driven home repeatedly in Star Wars. It begins with Anakin, but continues throughout the saga. Luke is surprised that the great Jedi master he is searching for is a strange, green creature living in a swamp.
In the decades since the original trilogy, we’ve given in to the same mistakes the characters themselves make. We’ve built ornate palaces around our theories, our heroes, and our legends. We’ve become obsessed with bloodlines, genealogy, heritage, etc. In fact, we’ve become so obsessed that we’ve created theories linking Rey to Emperor Palpatine! I mean, she has to be somebody, right?! Surely Snoke is Darth Plagueis, back from the dead?! This obsession has been going on for a long time. Look at the previous Star Wars “expanded universe”. It’s tale after tale of Skywalker children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren. You get the point.
We’re bothered by Rey for the same reason that Kylo Ren is bothered by Rey. We’re supposed to be bothered by Rey. It’s natural to be bothered by Rey. We say with Kylo Ren: “You don’t have any place in this story.” Kylo has become obsessed with his heritage. Ironically, Anakin, the very person he dreams to be, had no heritage. He was a slave child, but a slave child with more force potential than Yoda, just as Rey is a drunkard’s child who can stand toe-to-toe with Ben Solo.
In Star Wars, the Force seems to be a great equalizer. It is always finding balance. Bringing low those that are high and raising up those that are downtrodden.
Questions Going Forward
Episode VIII answered “easy” questions. But, they were foundational questions that needed to be re-stated and re-confirmed to us so we don’t forget them. Who is Rey? She’s exactly who Anakin was. A nobody. Who is Snoke? An ego-maniac who was made a nobody in the moment when he most thought he was a somebody. Rian Johnson was incredibly brave to shatter the ornate palaces we had built in our head, and I’m glad he could see through them to the core messages of the saga.
Now, Episode IX has to answer the hard question and, for me, it’s the most exciting and perplexing question in the entire Star Wars universe: how is true balance in the Force going to occur? How will the light and the dark resolve into “Jedi Grey”? It’s the question that must be answered if the saga wants to find true closure and resolution. I do believe there is still conflict in Kylo Ren. After shelling Luke with hundreds of blaster shots, he plops down in his chair with no look of satisfaction. No look of victory. No relief.
I think Episode VIII has left IX in a great position to tackle the question of balance head on. Baggage has been cleared. Snoke is no more. Luke has passed on pivotal lessons to Rey. We’re left with just a few main characters that can really dive in to resolving this issue. I don’t know how it will happen, but I’m thrilled to say that I’m now looking forward to it.