How The Last Jedi's Visceral & Challenging Themes Inspire Generosity & Courage
"This is not going to go the way you think." - Luke Skywalker
The gut punch that was my first watch of The Last Jedi gave me mixed feelings about the film and left me wondering about its merit as I struggled to accept it. Because of my love for the Star Wars saga films, I went researching and exploring the praise and criticism of the movie in tandem with rewatching it. But exploring the internet on this topic was a sequel to that first gut punch. Not only were people liking and disliking the movie, but people on both sides were treating others poorly.
Navigating The Last Jedi Backlash
Researching how The Last Jedi was a powerful opportunity for fans to grow, I quickly came to recognize most of my issues (and others) with the film were founded on expectations and emotions. After letting these pass, I was able to see the movie for what it was and judge it on merit, not what I wanted and felt during my initial watch.
His biggest issue was Luke, but after talking through it, he acknowledged it made sense and was actually good, but he didn’t want to work that hard for a Star Wars movie.— Bryan Young (@swankmotron) May 12, 2018
Seeing the film through clearer eyes I was able to more effectively parse through it, and process the praise and criticism of the film. As I explored these, particularly the criticism, I soon found more problems with these Last Jedi critiques than the film itself as many fans threw shallow and unfair flack at the movie. All of a sudden, for a small vein of Star Wars fandom, it was trendy to dislike and bash the Last Jedi (and its fans).
As I evaluated and engaged with the backlash (sometimes successfully), my intent quickly focused on inspiring Star Wars fan to more effectively evaluate these movies. People were interpreting and relating to the movie in drastically different ways. Much of the backlash was simply a matter of perspective or them missing details from the movie. Those who failed to embrace the nuance and appreciate the details disliked the movie and were quite vocal about it, sometimes in inappropriately harsh ways.
"Where you push back the hardest is an indicator you have a lot to learn in that area." - Craig Groeschel
At the same time, few dissenters could provide a comprehensive and concise argument for why the film was poorly crafted and executed, even when I specifically asked. When I evaluate something, I want to understand it fully and that includes the positive and negatives.
The Strength Behind The Noise
It’s The Last Jedi for me. It was a masterpiece of cinema, preposterously well-written and executed, and was the deepest and most challenging of the Star Wars films while at the same time maintaining its humor and whizz-bang sense of wonder. https://t.co/uF4FSajS5Y— Bryan Young (@swankmotron) May 30, 2018
By embracing these negatives, I found in my discussions, I was able to surface a deeper understanding and better appreciation for the film. In my journey to becoming a fan of The Last Jedi, I've constructed the strongest argument for why The Last Jedi is the weakest Star Wars film. This starting point will act as a contrast to the themes which elevate this powerful film and lead me to believe it’s a terrific finished movie for the ages.
In this article, we'll explore the following areas as we embrace the film's inspiration, and also discover how to act on it in our daily lives.
- 1. The Case Against The Last Jedi
- 2. The Last Jedi Rises Above These Challenges In Three Powerful Ways
- 3. Kylo, Rey, & Luke: The Pivotal Shift Moment in The Last Jedi
- 4. The Psychology Behind The Last Jedi (& Star Wars)
- 5. The Exploration of Kylo Ren, Reflecting Luke's Cynical Side
- 6. Diving Deep With Rey, Reflecting Luke's Optimistic Side
- 7. Snoke's Forced Connection With Rey & Kylo Ren
- 8. The Dominoes Begin To Fall: Rey Confronts Luke
- 9. Luke's Tree Burning Transformation
- 10. A New Order Begins With Kylo Ren's Betrayal of Snoke
- 11. A Transformed Luke Skywalker Confronts The Unraveling Kylo Ren
- 12. Inspiration & a Roadmap To Leverage The Individual Power We ALL Have
The Case Against The Last Jedi
If you don't want to like the film, you'll find plenty of arrows to shoot at the movie. My challenge in exploring the response to the film was not to dismiss praise or criticism but instead to encourage deeper more thoughtful debate.
As a fan who wants a deeper dive in evaluating the movie, I won't settle for anything less than the best praise and most intelligent criticism. The following five points are the best available critical takes on the Last Jedi.
The Film Didn't Go Far Enough (or Went Too Far): Since the film was going to subvert our expectations, it should have gone further, by having Rey & Kylo join forces. Pull the band-aid off abruptly and let the past die completely. On the flipside, the Last Jedi should have honored the original films by not treating Luke Skywalker as a jaded broken man during the first two acts of the movie. Instead, it should have elevated him as a hero throughout the film, not just the end.
Multiple Problematic Secondary Storylines: The problematic secondary storylines with Poe and Finn made them unbelievable and distracting to the main plot of the movie. With just a few small changes to eliminate ambiguity and strengthen motivations, these huge problems would have been transformed into excellent portrayals.
Numerous Small Problems Add Up Big: There are numerous little issues throughout the film like the early pacing, unnatural dialog sequences, the slow chase scene, and how the lightspeed kamikaze disrupts the lore. These many little issues break the experience and ruin what could be a terrific film.
The New Characters Are Not Interesting or Relatable: There are numerous character interactions and story sequences that were not interesting, and the character's experiences were unrelatable. Give us more Star Wars characters and stories like we've had before and minimize diverse and different ones by sticking to the Star Wars formula we know and love.
The Last Jedi Did Not Live Up To Expectations: On the extreme, there are many Star Wars fans fully entrenched with the extended universe, and the Luke Skywalker they ended up with was vastly different than they expected. For us casual fans, we didn't get the Luke we imagined over the decades since we first watched Return of the Jedi. This fan experience is much like Rey's disillusionment of Luke in the movie, and it's disappointing if we accept it.
While I found these to be the strongest reasons for not liking the film, they did not convince me to dislike or hate the movie. If I accepted these all at face value, the furthest I'd get was an imperfect film. But, the arguments for why it was great far outweighed the strongest challenges, incomplete perspectives, shallow criticism, and unfair evaluations.
"What we criticize the most, often reveals what we understand the least." - Craig Groeschel, How Effective Leaders Handle Criticism
The Last Jedi elevates above these perceived problems for those who give it a chance and let go of their expectations. By doing so, they're given an excellent, thorough, and deliberate finished film, and one that inspires us all to think and act more generously with each other.
While we argue about the film, we're missing the very messages contained within it. When we focus on this message, we're gifted with a rich experience, and one that can change our life for the better. If you're interested in exploring some of these courageous messages, read on.
The Last Jedi Rises Above These Challenges In Three Powerful Ways
"That’s how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”- Rose Tico, The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi is a rich story with complex and compelling character development. And this is especially true for those of us who can relate to the characters in the film from our personal tragic, difficult, and complicated life experiences.
People are not who we think they are, our perspective does not tell the whole story, and we humans handle rejection and failure poorly. While the film's multi-layered intricacy is not an easy one to digest, it provides a rich reward for those who spend the time to shed their expectations notice the detail, and embrace the nuance. It also inspires and teaches us along the way.
As good as infinity War is, it’s not as thematically rich as The Last Jedi. TLJ plays with psychological character arcs and deep ideas, which many can’t seem to fully grasp onto. Star Wars (TLJ) isn’t just a blockbuster anymore, it’s evolving.— Nathan Shi (@NathanShi101) April 29, 2018
While The Last Jedi has many spectacular elements like the visual imagery, subversions of expectations while staying true to Star Wars, my focus here is to explore the film's strongest elements which lie directly with the characters, their development, and how masterfully they're woven together. It's this emotional depth and the interlacing character paths in the film that provide a unique and powerful repeatable viewing experience.
We'll explore the following three areas where the film excels at the highest levels throughout our discovery of specific sequences in this article.
Interwoven Emotional & Psychological Depth: The themes teased and extracted throughout The Last Jedi dive into areas that illuminate complex topics and emotions we rarely see in movies, let alone major blockbuster films. If you want to dive deep with characters, The Last Jedi does it spectacularly.
Challenging Relatability: Not only are the characters relatable, they connect to the hardest, darkest, and most problematic parts of our being. Failure, pride, disillusionment, and cynicism. For fans seeking growth, healing, and reflection, The Last Jedi is a powerful experience.
Quality Storytelling Efficiency & Density: The Last Jedi effectively communicates an abundance of pointed and meaningful insight and information about the characters and their journey throughout the film. When we uncompress what is said, implied or shown, the abundance of detail gives more to those who notice & engage.
Kylo, Rey, & Luke: The Pivotal Shift Moment in The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi takes the foundations set in The Force Awakens to their extrapolated conclusions in an explicit way, and its enjoyable and thought-provoking to watch. This multi-layered story leads us to the only sequence in The Last Jedi and all of Star Wars where Luke, Rey, & Kylo Ren (and a hidden Snoke) are together. This tipping point begins a series of epic and exciting moments that uplift an extended and exciting climax.
At this moment with our favorite characters, we have two people (Kylo & Rey) who want someone to lead them, denied by the positive influences they've needed, and enticed by the dark forces that promise to fill this vacuum. Luke resists his mission, and Snoke encourages evil. And it’s in this force connected moment when both Rey and Ben Solo connect at a genuine and emotionally raw level.
For a moment, they don’t feel alone.
But this fleeting moment is disrupted by Luke Skywalker in a confrontation for truth between Rey and Luke, soon to be mirrored by the betrayal between Kylo and Snoke.
To appreciate the psychological themes underlying the film requires either experiencing these in your life or understanding what they are and how they work. Before we dive into the interwoven dynamics between these characters, I'll share the psychological currents driving our character's motivations.
The Psychology Behind The Last Jedi (& Star Wars)
"The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life." - Rocky Balboa
There's a past or future moment in our lives when we face the truth of how totally unequipped we are to handle this journey. What we were taught or told growing up didn't match up to what we experienced and it failed to prepare us for the challenges we'd encounter in relationships, work, and community. At this point, we either shift the blame to others or look in the mirror and take responsibility, to self-author who we'll be going forward.
For many, this becomes a midlife crisis where they choose to blame others leading to numerous actions detrimental to self and other people. The rest choose to embrace the challenges and take responsibility for what they can control, which is ultimately how they live their life and respond to the circumstances (even unfair ones) that come their way.
This moment is the opportunity to shift from level 3 to level 4 in the well-researched developmental theory. This psychological explanation courses human maturity over five leadership levels (or lenses) as described in The Map (by Keith Eigel & Karl Kuehnert) for how we see and experience the world.
In the Ted talk above, Keith explains and expands on the following five leadership levels we traverse through in this life. Here's a quick outline of what each is, and when it usually happens.
In these first three stages, we're heavily influenced by external forces, both chosen and involuntary. In these stages, our behaviour and beliefs are driven or highly influenced by outside forces.
Level 1 - Perception is Reality (from newborn - 8 years of age, on average)
Level 2 - It's All About Me (ages 8 - 17, 10% of the adult population never grow beyond level 2)
Level 3 - Overwhelmed by Outside Influences (ages 17 - 35)
As we enter level 4 and move to level five, we have our own internal anchoring of who we are, what we believe. In these stages, we drive our own behaviour.
Level 4 - Taking Ownership of Your Life (ages 35 - 60 | 80% of people stop growing here, never reaching level 5)
Level 5 - Letting Go & Rising Above (ages 60 & higher)
While describing the leadership levels above is easy, transitioning from childhood to adulthood is anything but, and it's why Star Wars is so compelling as a series of films. We all go through the experience and we all travel it in different ways, with different perspectives under unique but similar circumstances. The different trilogies and characters meet different people in their journey.
In the sequel Star Wars trilogy, Rey and Ben Solo are traveling through level three shifting from outside-in understanding to inside-out understanding.
Stuck in his level four ways, Luke Skywalker reaches the "elusive peak" of level five in the conclusion of the Last Jedi.
So how does one progress through these stages of maturity?
Vertical Development. As opposed to lateral development, which is the accumulation of knowledge, vertical development ("Insight that changed you." Karl W. Kuhnert, Ph.D., The Map) is how you know what you know, and why you believe what you do. It's deep-rooted insight that shapes behavior and increases maturity.
"Vertical development would entail understanding the purpose or value of conflict in a new, different, and increasingly more complete way... Challenging life experiences either accelerate or arrest vertical growth. The more challenging the experience, the greater its potential to bring about vertical development." - Keith M. Eigel, PHD, The Map.
And if there's anything that describes what's going on in the Last Jedi, it's these descriptions of the challenges our characters face creating the perfect soup for meaningful and profound growth.
And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about." - Haruki Murakami
We'll start by exploring these challenges with the setup of Ben Solo's character.
The Exploration of Kylo Ren, Reflecting Luke's Cynical Side
It's almost like Rey & Kylo are two halves of the protagonist." - Rian Johnson
In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is an emotionally unhinged character reflecting Luke's beginning cynical state in the sequel trilogy.
In Kylo’s first sequence in The Last Jedi, we see a focused Ren. With the exception of the destruction of his helmet, Kylo maintains a level of self-control unlike the preceding film (at least until the end). And this shift from emotionally driven behavior to focused resolve provides a compelling trajectory of his character and the ability to betray his master when the opportunity arrives. But like killing his father split him to the core, so will betraying his evil mentor, the one he can never satisfy.
In 2005, my wife and I moved from Flagstaff Arizona to the big city of Atlanta Georgia the day after our honeymoon to pursue our entrepreneurial ambitions and explore our filmmaking dreams. Quickly distracted, I launched a (now dormant) political news website focused on promoting American soldiers. Several months in, an older man (I'll call him Saul) from across the country reached out praising my work and asking how he could support my efforts. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and pride that a stranger would take notice of my work. Wow!
At this time, I was newly married, attempting to figure out life, graduate college, launch a company and make my first feature film. Saul was experienced in the business world consulting with big technology companies like Amazon and new startups in Silicon Valley. He could help me, and since deep down I had no clue what I was doing, I'd accept the questionable help that sought me out.
And so, I began ignoring the many warning flags that both my wife and I saw. At age 21, I believed I could take the good advice and ignore the bad influence. But, this toxic mentor slowly and surely consumed my life, pushed me to act in ways I didn't expect while also slowly and surely breaking me down. Combined with other broken relationships, poor personal decisions, and unpleasant circumstances, I became a shell of who I once was. To give you a sense of where I was emotionally, here’s a fictional scene fragment below expressing my lowest point during this chaotic season of life.
"I couldn't feel anything. I was beaten so badly my body was numb. I felt dead, or at least as close as you possibly can get to being dead. The dirt continued to rain down. From the best I could tell, I was being buried alive. In some way, I felt like I deserved this. That I didn't deserve to live. I didn't want to be dead, I was just so guilt-driven I truly thought at some level I deserved it." - The Cellar Journey
This first sequence with Kylo and Snoke is a perfect portrayal of my encounters with Saul. He, like Snoke, knew exactly how to lift me up and feel like a million bucks while using that same high feeling to chastise me with the cruelest stroke. I was made to feel worthless upon my failures, many of which were normal for a young aspiring twenty-year-old boy. The advantages of my upbringing, personality, and skills set the stage for me to make a mark and have an impact on this world. I knew this, and he saw it. But instead of fostering that potential, he crushed me, and that potential right along with it.
"I've given everything I have to you." - Kylo Ren
"You're just a child in a mask." - Snoke
I remember stating similar words as Kylo to Saul and him stating a likewise phrase as Snoke to me. If there's a scene in a film that swiftly and powerfully portrays what I experienced for two years, the first sequence with Ben Solo is it (the other can be found in Whiplash).
"Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That's the only way to become what you were meant to be." - Kylo Ren
Not only is Kylo Ren seeking to please his dark master, he's also taking the beliefs of Luke Skywalker to their logical conclusions. Kylo Ren is the external manifestation of Luke's beliefs. The ones Luke voices, but is unwilling to act on.
In fact, it's not until Yoda holds Luke's feet to the fire by burning down the tree that Luke is forced to reconcile the paradox he's living in. Luke's jadedness and shame have clouded his judgment, and the same is true for Ben Solo. But unlike Luke, Kylo Ren is a young man seeking to find his place, discover his identity, face his inner demons, and survive his cruel master.
"Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others... There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation. " - Oswald Chambers
Unlike Rey, at least for the majority of the film, we should recognize that we don't know the backstory of why people do what they do and whether that's being driven by external or internal forces. This revelation of Kylo's abusive mentor should inspire generosity when we engage with others, and a curiosity to learn more. Suprisingly, Sarah Silverman is an iconic example of someone who engaged with her trolls to get past the tough veneer and talk to the soul.
Diving Deep With Rey, Reflecting Luke's Idealistic Side
"I thought I’d find answers here. I was wrong. I’ve never felt so alone." - Rey
Imagine you've been abandoned since a young age, left to survive on your own in a wasteland. Through a series of serendipitous events, you eventually meet a legend who offers to take you under his wing just to witness his murder. After your best friend is injured and you escape from this killer, you hear about another hero that could guide you, being the father-like figure you never had but needed. And when you meet him to ask for help, he blatantly rejects you.
What do you do?
There's no easy clean answer. Tragedy extended to the most tragic of situations is where we find our protagonist in the Last Jedi. Relentlessly, the idealistic Rey badgers Luke Skywalker, the legend to guide her, face Kylo Ren and stop the First Order. But like Luke's last lines to her, before she leaves the planet, this does not go the way she thinks. And once again, she's forced to face a reality she's ignored, avoided, and run away from.
Disillusionment (which easily leads to cynicism).
It's the shattering of expectations, we face when things are not as good as what we hoped and assumed it to be. And like many fans, I relate.
After my wife and arrived in Atlanta Georgia, I was going to change the world for the better, but the world quickly made mine worse. The challenges of marriage, isolated from the family and friends we had always been surrounded with, the allure of business and the appeal of the entertainment industry disappointed one after the next as I came to realize how little I knew. Chaos slowly unraveled in every facet of my life as I anticipated the terrible future of where my journey would end.
This is not how life was supposed to play out. Why was it so hard? There were quick ways to escape that involved workaholic behavior, pornography, living in the future (or the past), but it all simply perpetuated the problem, making it worse.
The people that chose to engage with me were toxic. The people I wanted to guide me didn't or I didn't explicitly ask. Others who did help me in a good way for a season abandoned me at the wrong time (some by their choice and others through circumstances they couldn't control). Time and time again, I felt alone and heavily burdened.
This experience must come for us all. Being alone. Facing the very circumstances we could not imagine facing without help. Separation from others. Reluctance to take the initiative. Panicked, but prime for prayer. While these are the most challenging of circumstances to face, they are the most fruitful in growing us, in moving us through the leadership levels.
Writer & Star Wars fan Lindsey Romain wrote an eloquent essay about her struggle to let go after the death of her mother, and how The Last Jedi (released 18 years later) inspired her fractured being to move forward. Her grasping words reconciling the reality she faced remind me of those from the ancient story of Job. We will face seasons and circumstances that we'll never understand (in this life), but by embracing them, they foster humility and appreciation so we can live in peace. In her article, Lindsey continues.
"The Last Jedi is all about imploding [Rey's] hubris. An orphan with almighty power who learns, by the end of the film, that her importance is not found in the lost corners of her past, but in the possibility of her future... She was stuck in the past same as me. Convinced that something would come along and prove her cruciality. Waiting for her moment without actionably seeking it."
Romain continues to explain how her story aligns with that of Rey before sharing the following statement about the film.
"In The Last Jedi, Rey is confronted with a mirrored image of herself, transpired across time and reality. She seeks out Luke, who she assumes will follow her back to the Resistance so that they might both shine. Instead, he refuses her, and she is lured to a dark, cavernous hole. Throughout the film this darkness calls her, but it is not until Luke’s final rejection, and Kylo’s brainwave declaration that she matters, that she gives in."
In despair we can feel helpless, like the only thing we can do is give into the lie of darkness, which can quickly become the place of our deepest regrets. Isolated survivalism, the worse state I've lived in and the one I seek to help others out of. Lindsey continues with how this drives The movie.
"[The Last Jedi] is not fan service by any means, but rather an incisive reconnaissance for its heroes... We expect something of grandeur, but life hands us the rudimentary. We may be big in some ways, but not in others. We matter less than we think. We are wholly fallible."
"Drudgery is one of the finest tests to determine the genuineness of our character. Drudgery is work that is far removed from anything we think of as ideal work. It is the utterly hard, menial, tiresome, and dirty work. And when we experience it, our spirituality is instantly tested and we will know whether or not we are spiritually genuine."
The Last Jedi moves us, explores humanity, and challenges us to the core. Two lonely characters, confronted in the very ways they're unable to handle, they're now forced to connect, to listen, to learn and it results in the unexpected.
And it's Rey's story that illuminates how little we know, and how much we have to learn. But, it also inspires great courage that she's so willing to boldly challenge even the most powerful people in the galaxy.
Snoke's Forced Connection With Rey & Kylo Ren
Upon first seeing each other through the newly introduced force connection, Rey is quick to attack Ren (shooting at him) while Kylo is hasty in attempting to control her (bring me, Luke). When they realize their lack of power in this interface, Rey attacks Solo with her words of accusation and condemnation. Kylo quickly seeks to understand why this connection is happening and the extent he can engage it.
This forced interaction reminds me of the real-life story (Best of Enemies) about the young Klu Klux Klan member, C.P. Ellis, and the single mother & civil rights activist, Ann Atwater. Their initial encounters were "charged with hatred and suspicion", but both quickly came to recognize how they were both being exploited by a larger power structure. This led to an unexpected flourishing friendship and alliance.
"I know everything thing I need to know about you." - Rey
How quickly we humans are at assessing and judging others with so little observation or understanding. It's this zeal that breaks Rey when she learns Kylo's perspective, something she's unable to handle or process when she hears it. It's the trigger that finally sends her down into the unsatisfying darkness, illuminating how lonely she truly is, and fostering her final forced connection with Ben Solo back to where we began this article's deep dive.
The Dominoes Begin To Fall: Rey Confronts Luke
The moment when both his guard is down and her accusations are tamed, Rey reaches out to Kylo, which is reciprocated (Kylo would later reach his hand out to her, and she would reject him). In the moment of connection, where they both feel a moment of closeness, the entire ordeal is disrupted by Skywalker, who should have been there for Rey, but out of his shame, he perpetuated his failure.
I loved TLJ because the film was about failure and having to learn lessons. That even the most learned of individuals could make mistakes really resonated with me. It doesn't matter how old we get or how much of the world we know about, there is always something to learn!— Deklin (Dex) Balagon #Resist #ForceOutHate (@JEDIpartner) June 23, 2018
Unprepared for the truth, and unaided in understanding it, Rey scrambles to reconcile it and to hold Luke accountable when he discovers her with Ben Solo. It's at this film's tipping point, Rey's finally hungry for the full truth, to understand the entire picture of what happened. Ironically, it takes escalated stakes for the legendary Luke Skywalker to share the story of a failed teacher in its entirety.
There's an episode of House M.D. where a horrific African dictator promises ethnic cleansing against a segment of his country but is now facing a life-threatening health crisis. The doctors in the show struggle with the tension of their commitment to helping people and who they are now helping. With a justification of peace, one of the doctors indirectly murders the dictator, following through on what the other doctors believed should be done, but were unwilling to act on. The revelation of Luke's choice reminded me of this ethical dilemma.
"I saw darkness. I sensed it building in him. I'd seen it in moments during his training. But then I looked inside, and it was beyond what I ever imagined. Snoke had already turned his heart. He would bring destruction, pain, death, and the end of everything I love because of what he will become. And for the briefest moment of pure instinct, I thought I could stop it. It passed like a fleeting shadow. And I was left with shame and with consequence. And the last thing I saw were the eyes of a frightened boy whose master had failed him." - Luke Skywalker
So, if you had the chance to prevent the future murder of people, would you do it? If you could go back and time and kill Adolf Hitler before he took control of Germany and led the ultimate slaughter of millions of Innocent people, would you? There's no easy answer, but the Last Jedi forces us to at least wrestle with these issues.
"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Luke's Tree Burning Sequence Transformation
"So it is time for the Jedi order to end." - Luke Skywalker
Skywalker forgot about the power of redemption, and he allowed his failure with Ben to lead to additional failures with Rey, the resistance, and the galaxy. It's at this new low that Luke goes (unsuccessfully) to burn down the tree and ancient Jedi texts. In fact, once Yoda holds Luke's feet to the fire by striking the tree down with lightning, Luke goes to the tree (what actually mattered most) to save the ancient Jedi texts.
"Time it is, for you to look past a pile of old books... Wisdom they held, but that library held nothing that Rey does not already possess." - Yoda
He holds the belief, but unlike his student Ben, he's unwilling to act on that belief. Followers will go the distance, they'll do what is said, directed or act on the beliefs espoused. They are a projection of those they follow and what we believe so it's important we steward leadership with this sensitivity.
"Still looking to the horizon, never here, now, hmm..The need in front of your nose." - Yoda
What we value and hold onto the most, is what we most struggle to let go. It's usually the help of someone else and circumstances that empowers us to finally move on.
"I can't be what she needs me to be." - Luke
"Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned...strength, mastery, but weakness, folly, failure, most of all. The greatest teacher failure is... We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters." - Yoda
This moment with Luke, Yoda, and the burning tree gives us a failed example to inspire us not to follow in Luke's cynical footsteps. Instead, we are to let go of our failure and empower the next generation like the many who've done so for us.
A New Order Begins With Kylo Ren's Betrayal of Snoke
Rey has left the teacher she sought out, while Kylo is poised to betray the mentor who sought him. They're both confident about what they've seen will happen, but their lack of experience taints their expectations. Things won't happen how they suspect.
The intersecting climax kicks into high gear, with the pride and vanity of Snoke oozing out this revelatory confrontation. All seeing and knowing, Snoke believes himself, he's quickly cut down to size in the epic betrayal.
Betrayal. It’s the toughest relational dynamic to overcome. In fact, most never reconcile after severe forms of it. But at terrible as it is, it’s something we all have perpetrated or been the victim of. We are scarred by its execution on both sides of the coin.
And afterward, humility, forgiveness, and reconciliation are the last things on our minds, especially when we have little or no responsibility in the betrayal.
As part of the political news site I launched and mentioned earlier in this article, I established an online community and group of collaborators. After getting meaningful traction in my endeavors, I received an email out of the blue from another blogger operating in the same topic.
He sent an email to my collaborators while blind copying me on the message. He took issue with one of my efforts, and without reaching out directly to resolve it, contacted my collaborators to destroy my credibility and alienate them all from working with me.
There were numerous things that weren’t true or were twisted. With just a few words, one person ended my small stint in the digital world. I was devastated not only at the moment, but also that only one of my collaborators defended me.
This event in combination with other brewing circumstances led to the conclusion of this project. Shortly after, I’d perpetuate this act of hostility towards Saul, the toxic mentor I mentioned earlier in one reminiscent of Kylo’s betrayal of Snoke.
At the time, Saul had integrated his work and personal communications through systems I set up for him. Angry and triggered by further hostility by Saul, I shut down all his systems I controlled. This only escalated his wrath as he began emailing people we both knew to inform them of my pathetic life, which cemented my decision (now regretted) to keep him locked out.
My passive aggressive behavior had escalated at this moment, but by holding onto the grudge, my anger, and desire to get back at him, I became just like him.
I fed the black wolf.
I felt empowered at the moment, but it didn’t last. I had to live with my words and actions.
A Transformed Luke Skywalker Confronts The Unraveling Kylo Ren
The extended exciting climax beginning with Luke's confrontation with Rey and the tree burning sequence followed by Snoke's betrayal, Kylo and Rey's confrontation with each other, the sacrificial destruction of the First Order fleet, concludes with the face-off between Luke and Ben Solo.
Built up from the many little details of emotionally rich experiences and perpetual character's developments and story advancements, we now see the culmination of a good-willed mentor and the student he failed.
And while this moment provides hope and time to the resistance to continue, the power behind this confrontation was Luke letting go of his failure, acknowledging it to his student, and apologizing. The most Jedi action he could have taken.
Luke should not have failed his student. He should have been there for Rey. But now Luke had shed his bitterness, owned responsibility and did what he could to make it right.
With Snoke and Han Solo gone, Luke apologizing for failing him, an emotional Kylo Ren is forced to face himself in the mirror, to recognize his own agency in his decisions that have led to this point.
As Skywalker let’s go and rise above, both Rey and Ren are both in a position to decide who they are, and what they will choose to become. It's an exciting prospect for the next film, as this torch handoff sets the stage for exciting and new possibilities.
Inspiration & A Roadmap To Leverage The Individual Power We ALL Have
After the peaceful exit (opposite of Han's demise) of Luke Skywalker from the physical realm, were treated to a brief moment where his act of reconciliation inspired powerful kids around the galaxy (towards courage and generosity).
The opening up of the force that the Force Awakens Started and The Last Jedi continued connects us with the story. We are that boy. And like the force sensitive broom boy with great power, so we have that same power to change the lives in this world with the people (and enemies) around us.
We are now living in a time of democratized power and accountability. We all now play a part, not just looking for heroes to save us, but to become those heroes.
But we’re all easily subject to the corruption and failures we’ve seen leaders chronically make since the beginning of humanity, and the ones we've quickly criticized.
To recognize our own fallibility is to embrace humility. The self-contained Last Jedi dives deep into these themes. It also challenges & inspires us. It did for me.
We, humans, are all capable of great good and great evil. In a single moment, our life could change or reveal a part of us we never knew was there.
Understanding and embracing the redemption we observe in these movies means living it out in real life. And for us inspired fans, I'm leaving you with a helpful roadmap of eight ways we can engage with others to make our world better.
1 - Quick To Listen, Slow To Speak, & Slow To Get Angry
"Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear." - James The brother of Jesus
Our human inclination is to lead with our mouths, talking first. We also have to live with what we say. While hostile words may make us feel better in the moment, they tear our character down over time. But what if we switched it up and instead of chomping at the bit to talk, we instead were ferociously curious to learn?
If you're curious about the psychology of Star Wars presented earlier in this article, you'll want to know that actively engaging with people of different perspectives with the intent to listen and understand how they see their world is a powerful tactic for personally moving forward along the five leadership level spectrum. It's also one highly encouraged by the story of The Last Jedi. Perhaps this approach could be leveraged within the Star Wars community?
THIS. i broke the cardinal rule and engaged in conversation w/ some of my "trolls" this week. and you know what? a few of them ACTUALLY came around. we had civil conversations when i showed them compassionate attention. i was astounded – and so happy. that's how we change this. https://t.co/NqbaFWKRaI— lindsey romain (@lindseyromain) June 7, 2018
I've had similar experiences to Lindsey. And while not all are fruitful, and it can be time-consuming, it's a growth experience for those involved. It also acts as a filter for myself to not rashly engage with others unless I'm willing to give it the appropriate time and effort.
We all think we're right, but it's not until we get to the elusive level 5 that we can have a self-authored paradigm while also recognizing we don't know it all. At least for moments, we can set aside our view to understanding another's perspective.
By taking the time to understand the full picture, we won't end up like Kylo Ren with Luke's betrayal, twisting and failing to understand what truly happened. This is why I started my review of why the Last Jedi is great with the case against it. It was important for me to present the full picture as part of my argument.
2 - Lowering The Ladder & Only Lifting Up
If you do not give up, but continue to love the unlovely in a sustained way, they will eventually become lovely to you.— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) June 16, 2018
What if instead of using our words to tear other people down (and ourselves over time), we instead use our power to lift others up? And at the same time, we empowered people to climb out of the pits they've fallen or climbed into? These two concepts originated from my friend Jim Karwisch.
"Lowering the ladder helps someone out of their hole by extending a tool or knowledge that empowers them to get out. Only Lifting Up is helping another while not putting you in a bad place yourself. If you cannot help the person, then the alternative is to avoid pushing them down by instilling in the conversation a sense of hope and retained dignity." - Jim Karwisch, Impossible Coach
Posture and goals matter. What is the attitude and emotion driving your words? By stating them (even when it's a hard truth), what will you have accomplished? Now review your words. Would it have been better to not say them or say them differently to accomplish your objective? To lift up and extend the ladder?
"Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice." - Bob Goff
For social media users, I recommend instead of blaming, begging, broadcasting cynicism/complaints to take responsibility, clearly and genuinely ask for help, and broadcast hope.
"Criticism is not always about you. Those that lash out the hardest are usually the ones hurting the most" - Craig Groeschel, How Effective Leaders Handled Criticism
3 - Share Along The Way, But Don't Bottle It Up
For those of you who bottle up your thoughts and emotions (pretending to be kind), I leave you with another approach to prevent emotional snapping and eruptions (I'm looking at you Kylo Ren).
Blair Enns explains...
"Your frustration in these moments increases with the gap between what you know you should do and what you actually do. If you do the right thing early there is no stress, making it easy to be kind. Ruthless in your behaviour and kind in your words. Kind ruthlessness. Smile when you say it. In any scenario where you find yourself thinking these things you’re far better off saying what you think as soon as it occurs to you than you are second guessing your instinct."
4 - Kindly (But Firmly) Maintain Boundaries
Historically, I used kindness as a way of avoiding conflict. Parlay this with a scarcity mindset, and it commonly ended up with me on the short end of the stick. Time and time again, I'd extend my kindness only to be taken advantage of or harshly criticized in the business arena.
So I made the choice to identify and enforce my boundaries. I didn't have to be a jerk or talk down to others to do this, although even kind enforcement of boundaries can lead to the perception of us being strict or inflexible.
At the end of The Last Jedi, we have a moment between Kylo and Rey right before she closes the door and moves on. There will be times when we need to close the door and move on with relationships. These may be for a season or permanent, but what matters is how we go about finishing. We have to live with our words and actions, and while even me closing the door on my toxic mentor was a healthy step, the way in which I did it was not.
5 - Deal Direct, & Escalate Appropriately
Perhaps one of the worst, most passive-aggressive habits I see on twitter is the subtweet. If you have an issue with someone, talk to them about it. Maybe you don't have all the context, maybe you're upset about nothing, maybe you're just in a bad mood.— Bryan Young (@swankmotron) June 22, 2018
Several years ago, a client stopped working with me for my style of conduct at their marketing event. My style was casual and goofy while there's was highly formal. I didn't get the memo, didn't read the situation, and it backfired. But, I wasn't told this happened, or why. I was simply caught off guard that they no longer needed my services.
After questioning my friend, I got some insight into what happened and why. What was most frustrating about the situation is that if they had directly communicated to me, I would have adapted to their requirements and it would have been a win-win for us both. As awkward or uncomfortable you may be with confronting someone, please take the courage and do so directly.
Now not everyone is willing to adapt, so there are times we need to address people appropriately. In these cases where a direct conversation fails to accomplish the objective, find a mutual friend or co-worker and confront that person together. If they fail to change, go to them with your boss or a mutual authority figure to confront them.
6 - Focus On Pull Leadership, Less On Push
Directing people with what to do, and when to do it by is what you'd expect from the military. There's a driving force behind the person to get them to do what they do in a push type leadership style.
A pull leadership approach inspires and leads by example. They paint a vision and encourage people to strive towards it.
Unless you've been given explicit authority over someone, push leadership styles (telling people what to do) fosters resistance while voluntary pull leadership facilitates movement forward. It's easy to push people around to get stuff done, but to pull people towards something greater than themselves or where they currently reside requires long-term vision and consistency. In Star Wars fandom, its the better choice.
7 - Master The Art of Acceptance
Life is hard. We fail. Others fail us. Circumstances change everything. We have two choices. We can lament indefinitely about this truth, or we can accept and dance with it.
These words flow from my keyboard quite effortlessly, but doing this in real life is extremely hard. I want things to be how they should be, how I want them to be. We don't often have the power to change it, to bring our mother back, to forget the way we were treated, to restore that broken relationship, or to prevent our inevitable deaths.
But, we have the power to control how we'll initiate and respond to our circumstances and others. We can accept it and live a more empowered life from it. Taking responsibility is a powerful mechanism for mastering acceptance.
8 - Make It Right With Those You've Wronged
We'll get hurt by many people along our extended journey around the sun, but that means we too are responsible for much of that pain.
A few years before shutting down my marketing company, I realized there were several people I had at best, a misunderstanding, as we parted ways while others were severely hurt by my actions. It was time I made it right, and after assembling my list of people, I began meeting, calling, and emailing them.
It was a transformative journey of accepting responsibility, facing relational consequences, and reconciling with others. Some were great experiences while others told me to go pound sand.
One of the people I reconciled with was the Saul, the toxic mentor mentioned above. Even though what he did was harmful to me, it didn't justify my harmful reciprocal behavior. A few years after I sent my apology letter, he did respond. And while I didn't rekindle the relationship, I owned my part in its failed ending.
The Last Jedi is a deeply emotional experience and one that challenges us in both invited and uninvited ways. We all have the opportunity to let that inspiration guide us towards more generous and courageous living or we can instead choose to feed the black wolf. Which step, and what action will you take going forward?
Additional Star Wars Links To Explore
The Last Jedi Betterment Blog Series
I collected the following resources during my research for this article, but for various reasons they didn't make the cut but are worth checking out anyway.
- The Last Jedi - The 7 Basic Questions of Narrative Drama
- In Defense of The Last Jedi - Movies with Mikey - "But for once I saw the design of the thing, in pretty striking clarity and suddenly I adored it, like, all of it. Even the weird stuff." "With a little perspective, I love every decision in this film" - Mikey
- Lessons From a Screenplay - The Last Jedi - Forcing Change
- The Last Jedi Honest Trailer
- Rehashing ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ With Mallory Rubin
- Caleb Kaltenbach On How To Embrace An Outraged And Polarized Culture Most Leaders No Longer Like
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