It’s okay if it’s time for the Jedi to end

On The Guardian, Ben Child asks, “Will The Last Jedi destroy everything we think we know about Star Wars?” Of great concern to Child is Mark Hammill’s now-infamous line from the first trailer for The Last Jedi: “I only know one truth: it’s time for the Jedi to end.” Reactions on Twitter certainly suggest that Child is not alone in his fretting and that the fan base is rather divided as to how to take the line.

That’s a lot of weight placed on a small piece of dialogue for a teaser-trailer months before the film comes out. There are plenty of potential contexts in which the line could be uttered–if it is said at all in the final film (see, e.g., “This is a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel”).

Nonetheless, let’s play the over-analysis game. Let’s assume that the line is in the film, in a context similar to that suggested, and Luke is rejecting the reestablishment of the Jedi on a literal level. So what’s the problem? Child worries that the end of the Jedi makes the efforts of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda in the classic trilogy somehow frivolous. Child would be okay with “a new, modern order,” but:

[W]ouldn’t dismissing the Jedi in such a manner rather undercut the original trilogy, in which Yoda and Obi-Wan are presented as untouchable paragons of virtue? If the order’s central doctrine is meaningless, then both of Skywalker’s mentors are little more than fools.

And a little further on:

[T]he Jedi somehow seem more fundamental to Star Wars . . . . The entire original trilogy was about Luke’s path from farm boy to powerful exponent of the Force. Are we now expected to accept that this journey was a false one, that he was obsessed with reviving an order that had long since fallen into ineffectuality, guided by a pair of elderly diehards still clinging desperately to long lost grandeur?

It’s dangerous to ask rhetorical questions if you’re not sure that your audience will agree with you. Presumably, Child expects the audience to agree that, yes, dismissing the Jedi would undercut the original trilogy and make Obi-Wan and Yoda out to be fools; yes, we are expected to accept that Luke’s original trilogy journey was a false one; and of course, those answers indicate a bad direction for Star Wars! I disagree.

At its most fundamental level, I think it’s dangerous to ever hold up sacred cows in Star Wars. Each film in the main saga has remixed what has come before. Vader is Luke’s father; Leia is Luke’s sister; young Anakin was actually a prophetic Chosen One, and the Force is sensed through midichlorian cells; Jedi are supposed to avoid the deep, loving attachments that would in some way define Luke’s development as a hero; the Jedi’s entrance into the Clone Wars condemned it to near-extinction by playing into the hands of the Sith; Anakin fell to the Dark Side not out of a lust for power or pure arrogance but because of a desperate urge to protect his wife and an increasing sense that the people closest to him did not trust him. And so on.

Perhaps it is true that the role of the Jedi in the original trilogy would be undermined by Luke’s decision to end the Jedi Order (if that’s what he means), but George Lucas was already quite willing to alter meaning and change significance in his later films. It may be easy to view the prequel trilogy as lesser-than, and it may be convenient to ignore them in one’s analysis, but they nonetheless represent the ongoing vision of the franchise’s creator, with the benefit of a couple decades of hindsight and reflection.

In the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars TV series, the Jedi Order’s rejection of attachment, its adherence to strict rules, and its inability to understand or accept someone like Anakin ultimately lead to its downfall. Maybe even by merely being a functioning body of the government, the Jedi were doomed. After all, it is their entrance into the Clone Wars that leads to the rise of the Dark Side and the vanquishment of the Jedi Order. As an older and wiser Yoda notes, “Wars not make one great.” And besides the broad-scale suffering and violence that the Clone Wars brought to the galaxy, it also had the side effect of producing a great many fallen Jedi (Pong Krell, Barriss Offee, Quinlan Vos, and of course Anakin himself).

Furthermore, on a more individual level, where Yoda and Obi-Wan may be seen as “untouchable paragons of virtue” in the original trilogy, they are fundamentally flawed in the prequel trilogy; simply put, they fail Anakin as friends and mentors. This failure on a human level is observed again in Ahsoka Tano’s final arc in The Clone Wars, in which she was framed for a crime, was hunted by her former allies, and ultimately chose to leave the Jedi Order behind after she was vindicated.

While writing this post, I came across “‘The True Nature of the Force’ is Way More Complicated Than You Think” by Emily Asher-Perrin, which does a good job of showing the weaknesses of the Jedi Order and developing the ambiguity of what bringing balance to the Force actually entails. I believe that it provides additional support for the assertions I have made above.

The Jedi, simply put, are not meant to be perfect. And the Jedi of the original trilogy are not the Jedi of the prequel trilogy; Obi-Wan and Yoda have trained under the guidance of a spectral Qui-Gon Jinn, who has unlocked secrets of the Force that no other Jedi has. Their training of an adult Luke over what could not have been more than a few weeks or months, with an apparent emphasis on eliminating Sith Lords, would certainly seem heretical compared to traditional Jedi teachings.

It’s also misleading to suggest that having the franchise go in a direction where the Jedi exist no more, at least formally, would somehow contradict or undermine the efforts of Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda. Jedi training was always a means to an end, rather than a final goal, in the mentorship of Luke.

In attempting to prod Luke into action, Obi-Wan tells him, “You must learn the ways of the Force if you’re to come with me to Alderaan . . . . I need your help, Luke. She needs your help. I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.” And when Luke continues to reject his overtures, Obi-Wan says, “You must do what you feel is right, of course.” Rather than requesting that Luke begin Jedi training, or demanding adherence to a particular code of ethics, Obi-Wan wants Luke to help him accomplish a mission, believing that he will need a connection with the Force to complete that mission, and Obi-Wan only wants Luke to follow his conscience.

When training Luke aboard the Millennium Falcon, Obi-Wan states, “Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him . . . . But it also obeys your commands.” The Jedi here serve as an example of the ideal Force-user. This makes sense, given that Obi-Wan himself is a Jedi. But there is still no demand that Luke adopt the tenets of the Jedi Order.

Even when Obi-Wan appears as a Force Ghost on Hoth, he only instructs Luke to go to the Dagobah system, where he “will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me.” Obi-Wan had trained under Yoda as a youth, and Obi-Wan and Yoda both studied to master the secrets that Qui-Gon had unlocked. Yet again, mastery of the Force rather than adherence to the Jedi Code is what is important to Obi-Wan.

Yoda speaks in riddles and plays with language and perception, so some of his dialogue does suggest that Luke is to be trained as a Jedi. Luke tells him that he is seeking a Jedi Master, so Yoda, while still hiding behind the persona of an addled hermit, asks Luke why he wishes to become a Jedi. And in considering the training of Luke, Yoda remarks:

For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained! A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind . . . . Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things.

It is clear that Yoda would have Luke believe that he is training him as a Jedi. Yet what we see of Yoda’s training is focused almost exclusively on the physical, with the trial of the Dark Side cave and brief admonitions as to the seductive nature of the Dark Side serving more as warnings to avoid the path of temptation than as any deep spiritual or intellectual development. Yoda simply does not have the time. He is, as far as we know, the last remaining Jedi Master, and toward the end of his life. Even if Luke did not leave his training to face Vader, Yoda would not have had much time left to truly train Luke in the traditions of the Jedi Order. While Yoda worries that Luke’s departure to defeat Vader could be the undoing of everything, he does not actually condemn Luke’s compassion or attachment to his friends, though such attachment would have been strictly forbidden in the old Jedi Order.

By the time Luke returns to Yoda, Yoda tells Luke that he has had sufficient training, but he can only call himself a Jedi once he confronts Darth Vader yet again. And once more Yoda warns Luke to beware the negative emotions that make up the Dark Side.

In short, Yoda may have promised Luke that he would be a Jedi, but Luke does not have the formal training, the code of ethics, or the sense of history and tradition that other Jedi have. Luke was trained by Obi-Wan and Yoda, more or less, to face off against the Empire and to defeat Vader, to succeed where they had failed. And Yoda hopes that Luke will pass on his training–his ability to sense and control the Force–to Leia.

But if Luke were to continue the “Jedi,” they would be Jedi in name only. The Emperor succeeded in eradicating the Order, and by the time of the Galactic Civil War, Obi-Wan and Yoda were not the Jedi they were in the height of the Clone Wars. Their last act of rebellion against the Sith was to attempt to train an ultimately successful assassin.

Luke could train his sister and others to sense and control the Force. And he could warn them against the Dark Side. And he could focus his new group’s agenda on resisting the Dark Side and the threat of fascism and tyranny. But he probably could not restore the Jedi Order to what it once was, and, frankly, doing so would probably be a bad idea.

Admittedly, the new canon has already established ways in which Luke could gain further insight into the Jedi Order. We know there are collectors of Jedi and Sith artifacts and old, significant ruins ripe with secrets, as established in sources as far-ranging as The Force Awakens, the new Star Wars comics, the Rebels TV show, and books like Aftermath.

But more interesting than how the Jedi Order could be restored is how these new sources also establish a rich variety of alternative Force traditions across the spectrum from Light to Dark. We see that rather prominently in The Force Awakens, after all, with the wizened old Maz Kanata, who can feel the Force and is definitely not evil but not a Jedi, either (for that matter, whatever Snoke is, he does not appear to be Sith, and neither are Kylo and his Knights of Ren). In The Clone Wars we have the Father and his children on Mortis, the Dathomiri witches, and the Force priestesses who test Yoda in the final season. In Rebels, we have the Inquisitors, who work for the Sith but are not–so far as I know–Sith themselves (what with that whole Rule of Two), and we also have the Force-neutral Bendu. And I’m sure there are other examples being developed in the new canon that I have overlooked; there were certainly a variety of Force traditions developed in the Legends Expanded Universe.

Even if all of the above were not true, why should Luke want to continue the Jedi Order by the events of Episode VIII? One of his own students, his own nephew, turned to the Dark Side and slaughtered Luke’s other students, then went on to take a leadership role in a new post-Imperial fascist movement. Over the course of Luke’s lifetime, the Jedi Order has now been destroyed twice, and Luke probably feels partially responsible for its fall at the hands of Kylo Ren.

In Legends, Luke was awfully resilient in overcoming the frequent threats to the Jedi Order (see, for example, the spirit of Exar Kun and the fall of Kyp Durron or the hunt for Jedi by Yuuzhan Vong and Peace Brigade–but in contrast, see Luke’s own brief fall to the Dark Side). However, in the new canon, it is quite possible that Luke’s spirit could be broken by such severe tragedy as he has experienced. And even if his spirit remains intact, he could have rationally reached the conclusion that the Jedi Order could not be restored in the current galactic climate, or that the Jedi simply no longer had the same utility that they once did.

As fans, we can become rather hungry for more of what we like. But I’d rather have a well-told story than one that simply gives us what we think we want (and apparently a lot of us want more Jedi). There will be plenty of places to tell more stories of Jedi, and the Legends Expanded Universe was already bursting at the seams with Jedi after all. If Rian Johnson and crew have decided to let the Jedi die, at least for now, then let’s see how it goes. It wouldn’t corrupt the meaning of the older films, it wouldn’t dilute purpose, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad decision.

But let’s all take a collective breath and wait to see how things play out. The groundwork has been laid to allow this movie to go in a lot of different directions, many of them rather exciting. Whether this movie truly heralds the last of the Jedi or not, I have confidence in the direction of this saga.

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