The Passing of the Light Saber: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

A common theme in mythology is “the King must die.” The old king must die, often by being challenged and killed by the one who will replace him, sometimes in a willing act of sacrifice, so that the world can be renewed.

This myth is at work in the newest set of Star Wars movies.  In fact, it lies behind their very existence: they could not be possible until George Lucas, who created the Star Wars empire 40 years ago, willingly made over his empire (for a hefty sum) to Disney, sacrificing control of the franchise. This move made it possible for new minds to take the story in new directions.

They are doing so thoughtfully. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was faithful to the story arc of the original “Star Wars” movie in many aspects. We got to see Chewie and Han in the Millenium Falcon, we got to see Leia still running the resistance against the Emperor Snoke, the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces “New Order,” and his chief enforcer, Darth Vader Kylo Ren. Some names may have been changed, but the plot and characters were pretty much the same.

But the new creative team has realized it’s time to move on. A new generation is coming to maturity, and that maturing is the main subject of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” The adolescents and young adults we met in “Force” are growing up and ready to take over, and the old rulers have to get out of the way—or be gotten out of the way.

Kylo Ren understands this too well. He believes that he cannot fulfill his destiny unless he kills both his parents and his mentors Luke and Snoke. Finn must kill Phasma, who has always refused to see his worth, and Rey must let her illusions about her own parents and about Luke die if she is to grow into her full potential.

Willing sacrifices also abound. Rose’s sister sacrifices herself to destroy a Dreadnaught, and later Rose risks her own life to prevent Finn from sacrificing his, telling him “we won’t win by killing what we hate. We will win by saving what we love.” Admiral Holdo sacrifices herself to protect the remnants of the Resistance.

But the big sacrifice is that of Luke, who knows that Kylo Ren—who believed that he had killed Luke years ago—will not be able to resist it when Luke makes himself the bait to allow the rest of the Resistance to escape (any more than the New Order forces can resist chasing the Millennium Falcon; “they hate that ship!” Rose gleefully exclaims). His mission accomplished, Luke, like his  mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi before him, sublimes into the ether, leaving behind his mantle for Rey to take up.

It was an interesting choice for the writers and director to leave Leia in place as the figurehead of the Resistance. Will her presence still be felt in the next movie? We shall see.

Kings and queens die so that their heirs presumptive can grow up and become the new leaders. What they will do with their power once in office, however, is not always an improvement. The most intriguing theme of this movie, for me, was the idea that the Force is not a power, not something innate to particular individuals (praise to the writers for losing that “midichlorian” nonsense), but something any of us can access. Should we be preparing ourselves for a revolution where instead of replacing the people at the top while life remains the same for pretty much everyone else, everything changes?