The Heart of the Jedi; The Heart of the Christian
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
Now that the Skywalker Saga has been completed, it is fair, I think, to evaluate the lessons that that galaxy far, far away. In particular, the lesson that I want to review is what we have learned from the Jedi in the face of their struggle with the Sith. In The Force Awakens, Maz Kanata noted that she had seen evil take many shapes - “the Sith, the Empire, and now the First Order.” This evil is what our heroes have been struggling against from the very beginning, when Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan first went to Naboo to negotiate that trade crisis. And this evil is the evil that all good people must struggle with wherever they are.
The Jedi, for their part, ruminated in their tall temple tower, wondering what these “phantom menaces” meant and where they were leading. As the Sith revealed themselves more and more, they found themselves embroiled in a galactic civil war, and they led countless forays into battle on many planets - with many, many casualties. Anakin and Obi Wan sought and end to these hostilities, but Anakin went even farther and sought ultimate power to subdue threats; the result being that he “became the very thing he swore to destroy.” Enter, Darth Vader.
When “a new hope” finally emerges, it looks as though a struggle would continue as it always had: the rebels battled around the galaxy with the more powerful Empire, and Luke joined that fight to effect real change. In that quest, Luke finds himself on that old Jedi path - embracing his destiny to confront Vader and the Emperor. In his first scrap with the Dark Lord of the Sith, Luke fights bravely, but he loses - even loses his hand. He and the rebels must retreat, licking their wounds, and looking for a new way to topple the Empire.
That chance comes at Endor with the newer, more powerful Death Star. The emperor himself is present and has his own designs on Luke as a new apprentice. He is evil incarnate - a master of puppets who simply lives for the power of the chaos that he wields in the galaxy. In Luke’s final confrontation with Vader and the Emperor - Jedi versus Sith - the same old battle ensues, with lightsabers clashing, and even more limbs being hacked off. However, then a new twist comes in as Luke truly embraces his destiny as the ultimate good guy.
He stops fighting.
Luke Skywalker steps back from his wounded father - whom he still seeks to convert and redeem - and in the face of the evil Emperor he even tosses his lightsaber away. His hate, his anger, his aggression are gone. All that is left is compassion - the true heart of the Jedi (as Anakin had told Padme one day on a refugee ship to Naboo). It was that compassion that saved Vader and defeated the Emperor. It was how good triumphed over evil.
Come forward now, as evil takes on a new face - the First Order, Snoke, and Kylo Ren. Rey seeks Luke out again to do legendary Jedi stuff. She doesn’t know what that is. She doesn’t even really know how Luke won that first time. She only knows that he did. Luke has none of it this time. Now, whether, this is Rian Johnson messing with the story or a deliberate ploy to reveal something greater, I don’t know. However, by the end of The Last Jedi, Luke does exactly what he says Rey is looking for - he walks out to face the entire First Order with his laser sword.
But he doesn’t.
This is the lesson, finally, that both Rey and Ben Solo learn in the end. That self-sacrificial love - love that Han Solo had shown his boy, love that Leia had extended to her son - that love is what finally brought this saga full circle. As the Emperor sought to have Rey “defeat” him by killing him, he knew that this was a sure-fire way to perpetuate the cycle of evil. However, when Rey was able to embrace the wisdom and power of “1,000 generations of Jedi,” she resisted the Emperor, and with a cross (!) made of lightsabers, Palpatine’s own evil recoils on himself, and he is finally destroyed. As Rey is spent by the exertion, Ben’s compassion and self-sacrifice heals her - a final, selfless testimony to the real source of a Jedi’s power.
The lesson that I take away from these imperfect, yet epic, films is one that I think our faith has taught all along. Violence, evil, oppression, hatred, injustice - none of these things can be defeated simply by countering with similar and equal force. Hate does not drive out hate; it only creates more hate. Evil cannot dispel evil; only good can do that - and not because it is similar to the power of evil, but precisely because it is not like evil. It is good.
There is a good reason why Rey embraces the Skywalker name at the end of this saga. She learned the lesson that, frankly, only Skywalker had known all along. Compassion - selfless, other-centered love - is the only true source of ultimate power in the universe. We know this because it is at the heart of who we are as Christians. Compassion is, quite simply, the love of God.
And God is Love.
May the Force be with you - always!