Immediately after watching The Last Jedi, I was not a huge fan. I’m still not sure how much I like the film. It was an improvement over The Force Awakens and there was some great character development (especially with Finn, Rey, and Ren). But I’ll just join with the chorus of folks already on the bandwagon who have had a hard time with the way Luke Skywalker was written in the film. His dimissiveness and abrasiveness seemed at odds with the way we left the character in Return of The Jedi.
But much credit to Rian Johnson because he created a film that I’m still mulling over months later. I know part of that is due to the soft spot I have for the Star Wars mythology and characters and part of that is just wanting to understand why he wrote Luke the way he did.
After considering it for awhile, I had an idea that helped me think about TLJ and speficially Luke Skywalker. I had been struggling to see how TLJ was going to connect to the previous films. It seemed like it was throwing out or changing so much of what came before. For Abrams and Johnson, a big part of the newest trilogy has been a reformation (or maybe a rediscovery) of The Force and the Jedi. The prequel trilogy gave us Jedi wielding massive amounts of wealth, power, and influence. They were often distant and separated from the plight of the common creature. Just think of the contrast between the polished beauty of the Jedi Temple and the dirty streets in the bowels of Coruscant where Anakin and Obi Wan found themselves chasing a bounty hunter.
The Jedi had become so powerful and disconnected from what was going on around them that they couldn’t even see the Sith threat living right under their noses. Then it all came apart. The Jedi, their temple, their order, and their vast library of knowledge were all practically lost. But for a few faithful adherents striving to keep the legacy alive in the Skywalker twins, the Jedi were essentially destroyed.
That’s where we pick up the Original Trilogy. We see Luke Skywalker learning about his family history, his connection to The Force, and his subsequent desire to become a Jedi like his father. He was trained by Obi Wan and Yoda. Two Jedi who undoubtedly still harbored memories of the Jedi at their height. They remembered how things were in the heady days of the Republic. Luke, having been influenced by his mentors, endeavors to rebuild the Jedi in the mold that he had been taught. Thus, a new Jedi Academy was born, new students brought in, and the same old troubles started anew.
The Jedi Order, despite the good they were capable of doing, had made The Force something only accessible to a few. Power, influence, education, and more were all centered around a small group of Force sensitive beings. Not a Jedi? Sorry. The Force, while real, was not truly accessible to you. Luke was continuing on in that tradition.
But even knowing that, when Luke Skywalker says, “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” My initial response was something along the lines of…
That’s probably why I walked out of the movie so bummed. For all the positive things about the film, I just didn’t get Luke Skywalker. But then I started to consider what he was trying to do. When I understood that his intention was to show that The Force was not just something for the Jedi, things began to make more sense. But even Luke didn’t really get it until he had the equivalent of a Star Wars epiphany with Yoda. Yoda reminds Luke of the importance of passing on what he learned, but not just from what remained of the old Jedi way in the texts Luke tried to burn, but his experiences and his failures. In other words, the Jedi had to learn to swallow their pride and teach their students that even those who had supposedly mastered The Force were still in need of grace and capable of falling on their faces. In fact, that’s exactly what they had done over and over again in the past. Luke was ready to toss the baby out the bath water. Burn the texts. Forget the Jedi. Yoda helps him see a reformation is possible.
So by the time we reach the end of TLJ, we have a reformed Luke Skywalker sparking a reformed view of The Force thanks to his actions in saving the Resistance and his acceptance of what Yoda had revealed to him. Yes, maybe it was time for Jedi to die. The Jedi as they had existed is the past. The Jedi who felt the Force was just something for a few highly trained individuals. Now, with the reformation launched by Luke, The Force is something not just for the handful of Jedi but something that all can learn about and, in some way, participate in. The Force shakes off the midichlorian MacGuffin of the prequel trilogy to become, finally, something that all can have access to in some way because it is a part of everything. The Jedi mediator is no longer required. The old Jedi priesthood might be dead but a new priesthood rises in its place. One that is made up not just of a few highly trained elites but one that everyone, from the poorest Jakku scrapper to the wealthiest casino patron of Canto Bight, can be a part of.