For another post on The Last Jedi, check out Leander Harding’s “The Last Jedi and the Christian story.” Other reflections on Star Wars may be found here.
By Matthew Neugebauer
In the deeper circles of Star Wars fandom, the phrase balance of the Force appears often, vaguely defined as a cross between a sort of Manichean dualism and a Taoist Yin-Yang. Light and Dark are equal and opposing entities, and they need each other to keep the universe together. Decrepit old Snoke says as much in The Last Jedi: “the dark rises, and the light to meet it.” As does grumpy old Luke: “powerful light, powerful dark.” The polarity and dance between Rey and Kylo Ren throughout the film seems to confirm this, not just in Snoke’s estimation but in ours. Their struggle over Anakin and Luke’s lightsaber is a struggle over the legacy of these putative Chosen Ones, a struggle that splits the saber and possibly the galaxy in two.
But in the end, we see Rey holding both halves, comforted by Leia: Ben Solo’s mother, Luke’s sister, Anakin’s daughter. To borrow words from our baptismal liturgy, Rey has “renounced the evil powers of the world” that would define her as isolated and worthless. She takes her place in the new family offered by Leia. And she “continue[s] in the teaching” of her Jedi forbears. (When Finn opens a drawer on the Falcon to find a blanket for Rose, we gain a very brief glimpse of the Ancient Jedi Texts, safe and secure.)
In other words, the Taoist influence in Star Wars is undeniable, but Rey’s journey and this film as a whole look a lot more like Christian baptism, following a passage from life to death to new life, much like our watery journey with Christ through his crucifixion and resurrection. Let me explain.
When Luke speaks of the tension between “powerful light, powerful dark,” his remark is mirrored by specific geological markers on the island hosting the Jedi Temple: the rocky temple ledge where he teaches Rey, and the creepy, watery mirror cave that Rey will later visit. She experiences both places on her path of emerging as the next Jedi, but all that means in the dark cave is that it comes at the service of this emergence, of her ascent into the light.
On the Temple ledge, she receives the clearest piece of catechetical instruction on the nature of the Force that we as viewers have seen in 41 years of the Star Wars franchise. She sees a vision of the fecundity of life and the violence of death “that leads to new life.” The real lesson, the key insight, beyond even Luke’s claims about Jedi arrogance, is that life exists as a good in itself, and has inherent meaning in the providence of the Force. Death does not: it exists at the service of new life, and is only allowed to continue as a necessity for new life to flourish.
In the place of “powerful dark,” Rey indeed faces that death and the limits of her stark and isolated life on Jakku thus far. The underground cave is meant to mirror (pun intended) Luke’s journey in the cave on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. There he faced the limits of his self-reliance, of his life to that point, and of his futile quest to strike down Darth Vader, his own flesh and blood.
But the cave scene in The Last Jedi is just as much a parallel to Luke’s near-drowning in the Death Star’s trash compactor in A New Hope. Like Luke before her, Rey plunges into and emerges from a watery grave, not only to face her limits but also to face her destiny. It’s at this point that the narrative trajectories of A New Hope and The Last Jedi turn toward both characters’ embrace of a new family, and of their vocation as Jedi who will help restore a crippled galaxy.
It’s only after this “baptism” that The Last Jedi’s plot closely adheres to the film’s core respect for life. In Canto Bight, Rose overturns the tables of a temple to human greed, built on death-dealing. She does so by saving the lives of animal slaves and empowering the imagination of human slaves. In direct contradiction to Kylo Ren’s pure obsession with “letting the past die,” Rose will ultimately tell Finn, “That is how we win: not by killing what we hate, but saving what we love.” This is true even if such victory risks the loss of our life — and even if it doesn’t. Admiral Holdo learned this through decades of experience; we see Poe grasp its truth before our eyes.
The example par excellence: Luke faces the limits of his bodily life, overcomes his bitterness and fear over the sins of the past, and preserves the future of the Jedi and the Rebellion in one last burst of “peace and purpose.” To my mind, Luke’s final moments echo those of Moses atop Mount Nebo, after handing on his mantle to Joshua. Master Skywalker sits atop the temple ledge, and blesses Rey and the band of Rebels to be the next hope: to emerge from the cave onto the Falcon and claim the Promised Land of a galaxy at peace. Just like with Joshua and the next generation of Israelites, Rey, Poe, Finn, and the rest have their work cut out for them.
Luke shows us that a good death rarely comes in a blaze of glory, since such a blaze often ends up glorifying death instead. That was the great error of the Jedi during the Clone Wars, and it is not the vocation of the Church in our day: If we seek out martyrdom in a blaze of cultural defiance, do we bear witness to Christ’s glory or to our own? Rather, a good death comes at the service of new life, of new hope. Luke’s death shows us the truth of Yoda’s words, that the burden of masters (and the burden of tradition) is for those who learn to grow beyond their teachers. Rey, Rose, Finn, and Poe — the catechumens of our story — show us that the galaxy will be saved, and that our selves will be found, by renouncing the dark pull of false definitions, of self-serving notions of heroism and “head-in-cockpit” self-sufficiency, and by embracing the fellowship and eventual call to leadership of a new family.
Matthew Neugebauer has an MA from Regis College and a Certificate in Anglican Studies from Wycliffe College in Toronto. He is a lay volunteer in discernment with the Anglican Church of Canada, and podcasts about Star Wars and Christianity at fcsa.podiant.co.
 From the Baptismal renunciations found in the Anglican Church of Canada’s Book of Alternative Services (Anglican Book Centre, 1985), p. 154.
 From the Baptismal vows as found in Ibid., p. 159.
 Rey clearly “stole” the ancient texts before Yoda burned down the Force tree. Yoda — who might continue to visit her as a Force ghost, as well as Luke and others — most likely knew that she had “stolen” them. To me, this changes the whole tenor of Yoda’s seemingly anti-traditional tone, which Leander Harding noted, and recasts the whole film’s response to tradition as one of “saving what you love” more than of “killing what you hate.”
 Nnedi Okorafor’s contribution to the short-story anthology From a Certain Point of View reinterprets the one-eyed dianoga water-monster as a Force-sensitive guide who initiates Luke into the wider narrative. See Nnedi Okorafor, “The Baptist” in From a Certain Point of View (Del Rey, 2017).
 Director Rian Johnson commented that the closing scene on the Falcon is “kind of the response to the end of that mirror scene.”
In practice the Manicheean style approach can’t be consistently held as it would involve ascribing equal worth and validity to cruelty, self-absorption etc (vis a vis love, joy, peace etc). So we will constantly observe avowed dualists defaulting to preferring light over darkness (resonances of John’s prologue) and love over despising. We find that humans rebel against that kind of parity of esteem, in the end.
CS Lewis did a very good analysis of this. I think it may have been in Mere Christianity but maybe I’m misrecalling.