This article contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Proceed at your own risk.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi was the most anticipated film of 2017. At least, for nerds and geeks. It was this writer’s most anticipated film, at any rate. Whether the movie was good or if its storytelling method worked are topics for another article. However, like most Star Wars films, there’s a moral lesson bound up in the blaster fire. In The Last Jedi, one of those lessons could be about Christian failure.
Following a Formula
Star Wars trilogies tend to follow a formula. These formulas resemble the traditional three acts present in any story.
In the first movie, main characters are introduced, overarching themes are presented, and the movie ends with an optimistic tone. However, there is still tension because a great threat hangs over our protagonists. Just like the end of act one in a novel, it ends with a turning point.
The second act of a novel is also called the “rising action”. This is where everything goes to pieces and the stakes are raised.
For example, Luke loses a hand and learns the truth about his parentage in Empire Strikes Back while Leia loses a man she’s finally willing to admit she loves. There’s betrayal, agony, and the foundations for self-doubt. The audience walks away wondering if both the Rebellion and the individual characters will ever be able to recover.
The second act, which includes the middle point of the story, is also when the “mirror moment” occurs.
James Scott Bell in his book Write Your Novel from the Middle describes this as a moment when the protagonist looks at himself and comes to a decision that leads to transformation. (Coincidentally, there is a literal mirror moment in the middle of The Last Jedi.) While this moment occurs in the individual storyline, the entire movie is the “mirror moment” of the trilogy.
In The Last Jedi, Rey comes to a decision about how she’s going to fight this war, about how she’s going to face her enemy. In the face of her epiphany, Luke says, “This isn’t going to end the way you think.”
His words foreshadow the results of the choices the characters (large and small) make in this movie. Everything backfires. Everyone, from Kylo Ren to Finn, has small personal triumphs but there’s failure bound up in it. Victory comes but it is bittersweet.
The Teacher Called Failure
After Rey leaves Ahch-To, Luke goes to burn down the tree that contains the sacred Jedi texts. It leads to a confrontation with Yoda. Luke expresses his disillusionment and despair, to which Yoda replies that failure is the greatest teacher.
St. Mary MacKillop once said, “Always try to have success in your work but remember God is often glorified in your failure.” In Proverbs 24, we’re told “the righteous man falls seven times and rises again”. St. Augustine wrote, “I err, therefore I am.”
Failure, whether it be at an enterprise or at living a saintly life, is part of the human condition. Failure is never anything someone sets out to do. Therefore, it’s counterproductive to blame oneself for failing. The only productive thing to do, then, is to learn from that failure. To fall seven times and get back up each time acknowledging the how and why of our failures so that we can better avoid them in the future.
Victory Masquerading as Christian FailurePoe Dameron fails because he chose to listen to his pride and his own sense of right rather than his superior officer. Admiral Holdo fails (to a degree) because she didn’t trust her command with the truth. Finn and Rose fail because they put their trust in the wrong person. Kylo Ren fails because he lets his anger and resentment get the better of him. Rey fails because she runs headlong into a situation without thoroughly thinking it out.
The last one, though, is questionable. In this instance, this could be a victory masquerading as a failure.
Rey makes her decision to go to Kylo Ren based on a number of reasons. First, she’s come to see Kylo as a damaged person with a past. Secondly, through the bond between them, she senses that he struggles with the path he’s taken. Finally, she sees a vision that suggests he will choose the Light if given the opportunity. One could almost make the case that Rey fails because she dared to hope.
However, daring to hope is never a failure. It may not work out right away but it could in the end. Because of Rey’s hope, Kylo Ren is no longer under the influence of Snoke. Without his master’s influence, he could still come around.
Christians know all about victory disguised as a failure. Christ appeared a failure when He died on the cross, which was a death reserved for the lowest of the low. Three days later, He rose again, destroying death and opening the way to Heaven. What appeared as failure was really the greatest triumph in the universe.
While there are problems with some of the ideology in Star Wars (it is, after all, a product of our secular society), it cannot be denied that there’s an earnest hopefulness to it. It’s as if Rhian Johnson wished to say, “Yes, everything looks like it’s going wrong but we can learn from that. We can overcome.” That’s a message I think Christians can understand and even embrace, though with a caveat: With God, we can overcome.