The final trailer for The Last Jedi dropped just a few days ago, leaving all of us with some mixed feelings. For me, this is Carrie Fisher’s last movie, and part of me doesn’t want to believe that she’s really gone. The possibility of seeing her die on screen also gives me pause. Nevertheless, I’d go see this movie just for her, even if I wasn’t a giant Star Wars nerd. Carrie Fisher, the world did not deserve you. Rest in peace.
Lightsabers are awesome. Who wouldn’t want one? They’re magical light swords powered by crystals, and they can slash your enemies to fiery bits. Lightsabers are all around some of the sweetest weapons in any fictional story. Unfortunately, despite the large role lightsabers play in all seven of the Star Wars movies, and even in the cartoons, we don’t really know all that much about them, their creation, or how Jedi and Sith relate to their weapons. This seems like a bit of an oversight, considering Rey’s reaction to touching Anakin’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens. We are told the lightsaber actually called out to her, and that it’s probably the lightsaber that showed her all those things. What this means is that lightsabers have to be more than just awesome weapons. They also have to have their own connection to the Force, and maybe even some semblance of sentience as well. One of the defining features of lightsabers is their color, and the color can tell us a lot about that saber and its owner.
I firmly believe that one of the reasons why Star Wars is going to stand the test of time is because it’s the classic hero’s journey. Our plucky hero hears the call to adventure, but needs reassurance before they begin. Once our hero sets out, they meet all kinds of interesting characters and gains knowledge and training and spiffy tools to help them with their mission. Just when they think they’re at their lowest, they’re pulled out from despair and prepared for the final boss battle. Our hero wins, we celebrate, and our hero is a changed person for it. This model worked for the original trilogy, and it looks like it’s working for The Force Awakens, too.
You could probably name dozens of stories that fit this model without much effort. You see shadows of this model all throughout the Bible, too. In the Old and New Testaments we have all kinds of stories of people that follow a similar (or the same) framework. So it’d be easy to say that Star Wars is a Christian story, right? We have a great fight between good and evil, the Jedi are a lot like monks, and even the evil Darth Vader has that gloriously religious line: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Christian groups clamor to ride the hype train by injecting Star Wars themes into religious services. Alissa Wilkinson’s article in Christianity Today shows just how popular a “spirituality of Star Wars” is becoming in all sorts of religious groups, especially among Christians. But does it work? Is Star Wars really a universe compatible with Christian beliefs?
So in order to celebrate, let’s talk about Jedi, monks, and monasticism. The Jedi are warrior monks, who spend their days either meditating or kicking Sith ass. They live minimalistic lives and belong to a spiritual order charged with keeping the peace. The Jedi and their way of life, like many other things in Star Wars, are based off Eastern cultures and religions, but the story is told from a Western lens. As such, the story, especially in the prequels, doesn’t really do all that well representing the way of life it borrows from.
Last year I wrote an article about nuns in geek culture. Nuns and religious sisters of all stripes have such great potential as iconic feminist characters, but writers spend more time casting them as evil sexy sirens in black and white costumes. But what about the nun’s male counterpart, the monk? Monks are men who take vows of virtue and live apart from society (usually in a community with other monks). They’re mainstays of both Western and Eastern religions. Monks challenge popular stereotypes of what real masculinity looks like. And yet monks face a problem similar to nuns: we can’t seem to break them out of a handful of inaccurate stereotypes.
Spoilers for Doctor Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender after the jump.
The Force and whether or not it’s balanced has always been a central part of the Star Wars mythos. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the Force—sometimes referred to as the Way in ancient times—was a field of energy created by all living things. In the prequels, we discover that this energy field actually came about by microscopic organisms called midi-chlorians living in people’s bloodstreams. Someone who had a lot of midi-chlorians was called Force-sensitive, and they could interact with the Force to perform amazing feats—telekinesis, telepathy, precognition, and more.
Naturally, different religious factions came about, with different beliefs about the Force and how best to use it. One of the main tenets was that the Force needed to be balanced, and according to prophecy, that balance could only be brought about by a Chosen One. This Chosen One prophecy ended up being a central part to the prequel universe, and it was something about Star Wars that I was always interested in exploring more. Unfortunately, the prequels never explain to us what the prophecy is, the Chosen One’s role in it, or what balancing the Force even means.
After the Star Wars prequels came out, I found myself a little disenchanted with the entirety of the universe. Let’s face it, Episodes I–III were really bad. Poor characterization, plot holes, the works. To this day, I still don’t even understand why the events in Episode I even warranted a movie, since that entire film could probably be cut and the franchise would lose very little.
Coming to my rescue, however, and restoring my love for the Star Wars Universe, was Misunderstood by Quill of Molliemon.