"The saga will end, the story lives forever": Star Wars and the Journey of Tradition
I need someone to show me my place in all of this
- Rey, The Last Jedi
Trust in The Force. Do not return to the Temple…that time has past. And our future is uncertain. We will each be challenged. Our trust. Our faith. Our friendships. But we must persevere. And in time, a new hope will emerge. May the Force be with you, always.
- Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars Rebels
The Last Jedi continues to be one of the most controversial of Star Wars films, mostly because of the drastic changes which this eighth episode introduces to the character Luke Skywalker, the custodian of the Jedi order, alongside his sister Leia, who redeemed his father Anakin Skywalker by helping the latter defeat both his own alter ego, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine.
The heir to the Skywalker saga whom we meet in The Last Jedi is no longer the wielder of the force who is filled with hope in the Jedi order and the light side of the force. On the contrary, in his long winded seclusion, after his failure to train his nephew Ben Solo as a Jedi, with the latter eventually donning the dark cape of Kylo Ren, Luke had come to believe that the Jedi were filled with hypocrisy and that, as an order, it needs to end.
And yet, I cannot help but perceive this entire episode as a much needed redemption for Luke. After all, it is unfathomable that discovering your own father, a Jedi, had transformed to Darth Vader, the right hand of the dark lord of the sith who spent much of his adult life killing the Jedi, then venturing forth into the heart of the sith in order to redeem whatever remains of your father, that this entire perilous journey would not leave you in inner turmoil. Already in The Return of the Jedi, we see Luke's dark outfit not only reveal the temptation of the dark side in him but also an homage to his father, Anakin's own choice of dark colors, just prior to his eventual submission to Palpatine.
Perhaps what truly devastated Luke is that his struggle to save his father from the clutches of the dark side was completely undone when he caused the turn of Ben, his nephew, from the light side to the dark side, essentially creating a new Darth Vader in the figure of Kylo Ren. And yet, amidst this image of the fallen hero, a precious silver lining emerges in Luke's understanding of the force.
While training Rey, Luke tells his new padawan that the force is actually bigger than the Jedi order and that balance in the force is not what the Jedi council once thought it to be: to rid the universe of the sith, but rather for both the light and dark side of the force to exist in harmony and equilibrium. Most importantly, bringing balance to the force is not the burden of the Jedi nor is it something that they are able to do. Rather, the force brings all things into balance, one way or another.
This powerful realization by Luke directs our attention to the real struggle which this character undergoes in The Last Jedi: the failures of tradition in the face of changing times and insurmountable odds. Luke's own inability to train his nephew Ben Solo is merely one in a long sequence of failures which the former ascertained in the history of the Jedi order, all of which began with the Jedi council's clouded judgment and inability to detect the dark lord of sith in their very midst.
I must admit that I share with Luke his dismay with the council, which consisted of formidable masters like Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi Wan Kenobi, and their unawareness of Palpatine's true identity. More than that, how could these masters of the force be subjected to do the bidding of Palpatine by fighting in a senseless war?
All these questions that arise in Luke are eventually answered by Yoda himself, who reappears in The Last Jedi to tell his former Padawan, after burning whatever remains of the Jedi tradition:
Wisdom they held, but that library contained nothing that the girl does not already possess.
There seems to be a quintessential stage in the journeys of Luke, Yoda, Obi Wan Kenobi, Rey and - as will become clear soon - Anakin's disciple Ahsoka Tano, which both Anakin and Ben Solo did not have: seclusion. After realizing their failure to defeat the sith in Episode III, both Yoda and Obi Wan seclude themselves on Dagobah and Tatooine, respectively. Meanwhile, Rey joins Luke, albeit briefly, on his island for seclusion and training. As for Ahsoka Tano, she also steps away, towards the end of the animated The Clone Wars, from the Jedi order in order to find herself, after a tumultuous trial.
These rising archetypes and motifs in the Star Wars saga make me revisit my own journey with Islam, as a faith, and the American Muslim community, as upholders and custodians of this tradition. Already a thousand years ago, the famed Muslim mystic and reformer Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) had undergone his own crisis of faith, much like Luke Skywalker, only to be reborn as the reviver of the religion.
Like Luke, al-Ghazali had already read and digested the numerous texts of Islam, prior to his crisis of faith. He understood, during his much needed seclusion, the same message that Yoda tried to convey to Luke: the force of God's grace is not yours to muster or control. God, the force, guides whomever He wills. Our task is to submit to the ways of the force and how it manifests in the universe. Most importantly, your knowledge of the force might very well veil you from the force itself.
Luke perceived in his nephew and Rey a formidable sensitivity to the force that neither he nor the books of the Jedi tradition had witnessed beforehand. He saw in both these disciples a younger mirror of his own self. Ultimately, however, Luke was simply an embodiment of tradition, gazing at itself in a moment of crisis, and hoping for its ancient meaning to be dressed in a younger form, one that 'shows us our place in all of this!'