SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Proceed with caution.
Odds are if you’ve seen The Last Jedi already, your immediate concerns are how its unresolved storylines will play out in 2019’s Episode IX. Or, you’re thinking about that moment with Leia or one of the epic lightsaber showdowns that colored the film.
What you’re probably not thinking about is an underlying message. And I bet you didn’t think that The Last Jedi has parallels to the current world, or that two generations of Star Wars fans could learn a thing of two from it.
An Exercise in Trust
The Last Jedi tells the story of many people’s struggles, but there are two pairs in the film’s focus. The first, Luke Skywalker and Rey. The other, Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren. Both are caught in cycle of mistrust and frustration, with teachers mistrusting (would-be) disciples and struggling in a power balance.
When Rey first goes to Luke, she does so because the Resistance needs help. What Rey doesn’t realize is her stubbornness to get Luke to come with her isn’t just for the Resistance — it’s for herself, too. Rey feels the Force growing within her and wants Luke to teach her how to use it. She looks to him for guidance. And when he refuses to teach her and says he’d rather his knowledge die with him, Rey fights this. She vows to not fail him, and be the pupil he hoped to have in Ben Solo.
Kylo Ren — Ben Solo — is desperate to prove to Snoke that he has what it takes to become the next Darth Vader. But Snoke, rightfully, has his doubts. In communicating with Rey, the cracks in his resolve to be dark widen. Snoke tried to use Kylo Ren’s pain to antagonize and manipulate his power. By finally having someone listen to and understand his pain in Rey, he begins to, in a way, mellow out. But Snoke, who sees Kylo Ren’s power and selfishly wants to use it for his own purposes, pushes the young man to his limits in an attempt to bend him to his will.
In both cases, the older generation — Luke, Snoke — don’t trust the new, upcoming generation — Rey, Kylo Ren — to make good choices. So they hold fast to control of the situation in a way that will produce an outcome favorable to them. Luckily, both Rey and Ren fight this.
Pass It Along
At the core of these two struggles in aging generations — veterans and teachers — needing to know when to and be willing to hand over the reins and pass their knowledge onto future generations. And they have to do so trusting that new blood will make the right choices, both for the world and for themselves. It’s a tale about what happens when you don’t bring in new students, or mentor eager new people. As your knowledge dies out with you the world is that much poorer — and in the case of Luke in The Last Jedi, could have made things much much worse for the side of the Light.
Fear caused Luke to hold out. He was scared he would train Rey and she would also succumb to the darkness — a selfish thought as he based it off his own experiences with Ben Solo. But it’s not for Luke to decide when the Jedi die out. It’s for him to give Rey enough information for her to make her own choice. And in the end, Luke decides to pass it along and trust — to pretty great success.
Snoke, on the other hand, was selfish but also impatient. He told Kylo Ren exactly what to do and when he didn’t do it immediately, threw more punishing challenges in his way — like asking him to execute Rey. He also, in the end, nearly bypassed Kylo Ren completely, telling Rey that maybe she was the powerful Force-wielder he is looking for. Snoke doesn’t want to pass his knowledge and strength to a new generation — he wants to control is with a minion who will shut up and listen.
Because of this, Kylo Ren — like some young millennials who thinks they already know everything — will struggle the most on his quest. He thinks he knows better than anyone and because of that, he will not learn from any mistakes he may make. Rey, on the other hand, had a teacher who understood the need to pass it along and trust. She will thrive.
In a way, you can look at the generation holding Luke and Snoke as the baby boomers of America. The current economic and political climate is heavily slanted in their favor in many sectors, because most have sought to protect their own interests and are too scared to trust a younger generation with our future. It’s unfortunate because that younger generation is the future, and it will be on them — like it is on Rey and her friends now — to inevitably clean up the mess created by a group unwilling to let go.
I’m not saying The Last Jedi is definitely political commentary. But it presents a powerful messages about students and teachers, and generations trusting in one another to make the world — or universe — a better place.