The Last Jedi, Training, and Zen Buddhism
The 2015 Star Wars film The Force Awakens concludes with Rey reaching an isolated island, climbing a long set of stairs, and finding the mountain hermit Luke Skywalker.
The ending foreshadowed the Jedi training that Rey would receive on that isolated mountain with Luke in the next film. Unfortunately, the lack of development of that training was one of the biggest letdowns for me for the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi.
One of my favorite topics to watch on screen or read about is the training and forging of warriors, an education that is at once mental, physical, and spiritual. An example from a book I read in 2017 is Dick Couch’s The Warrior Elite: The Forging of SEAL Class 228, which describes the arduous process of Navy SEAL training:
I am also interested in the master and apprentice model of learning, and a book I hope to read in 2018 is Robert Greene’s Mastery:
As for films, you can look at the montages from the Rocky series as quintessential examples of physical training, such as Rocky’s outdoor workouts in Rocky IV:
This was updated in the inspiring 2015 film Creed directed by Ryan Coogler:
Another classic example is the kung-fu film The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which is basically an entire movie devoted to the training montage (a film which had a major impact on RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan as described in The Wu-Tang Manual and The Tao of Wu):
I also think about the spiritual and physical training in the Korean film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring:
The list can go on and on, but I will end my examples with the training scenes from Batman Begins:
Going back to The Last Jedi, I had high hopes that the film would enter this pantheon of epic training films. All of the ingredients were there: Rey was going to the isolated mountain to learn Jedi wisdom and lessons from the hermit warrior-monk Luke. Jedi training encompasses physical, mental, and spiritual lessons. However, when Luke immediately flips the lightsaber that Rey hands to him over his back at the start of the film, it is a sign that the movie will not conform to viewer expectations.
Although we do not see extensive Jedi training in the film, Luke does offer a couple lessons to Rey, and the film does delve deeper into its connections to Zen Buddhism, as Matthew Bortolin, author of The Dharma of Star Wars (which I read in 2016), has recently written about.
First, Luke teaches that the Force is the binding energy connection between all things, which is a teaching about interconnection related to the concept of chi. Luke begins Rey’s Jedi training with breathing and mindfulness techniques. He also teaches Rey not to romanticize or heroize the Jedi masters, which can connect to the Zen Buddhist saying: “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.” In addition, Luke wants to burn down the ancient Jedi scrolls, which can connect to the Zen idea of not relying on the written word or sacred texts.
However, Rey has secretly taken the scrolls, giving us hope that her education and training as a Jedi will continue in the next film, just as our education, learning, and training must never stop.