Nothing can replace the memory of seeing Star Wars for the first time as a child. Or learning in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father.
As the generational popularity of the franchise attests, I am not alone with these happy memories. After the debacle of the prequels, The Force Awakens made a deliberate attempt to return to that happy place.
By taking The Force Awaken’s mindful reboot to a higher plane, The Last Jedi has now become the very best Star Wars film. It can never replace our earlier experience of discovering the wondrous Star Wars universe, but it is the story that makes the most sense spiritually.
The Last Jedi is the most Catholic movie of the series
The Last Jedi is the most Catholic movie of the series because of the centrality of Skellig Michael to its storytelling. Off the coast of Ireland, this is an island where real monks lived for centuries.
In the film, it becomes the location where Luke Skywalker is devoted to a life of prayer and penance. In other words, he’s living like a monk, and looking for redemption.
The Catholic sensibility of the film is also found in the lesson the Jedi order is not to be tied down to the fundamentalist worship of sacred writings, which is something Luke learns in a key scene involving important spiritual growth.
Even further, in interactions between Rey and Kylo Ren, we witness the phenomenon of bilocation, which is a real phenomenon according to testimony about the lives of some Catholic saints.
The theme of bilocation becomes pivotal to the plot of the film, which is not merely about the legendary Luke being new hope for the Resistance, but also about everyone’s hope for eternal life.
“I experienced transcendence through film”—Father Harrison Ayre
As Father Harrison Ayre tweeted on his Twitter account Dec. 15 after watching the movie, “I experienced transcendence through film, and that’s a rare thing, and a good thing.”
But there is a philosophical objection frequently heard about the depiction of good and evil in Star Wars. It is often crystallized in a question about the difficult idea of “the Force.”
As Father Ayre also tweeted on that same day: “One question that has never been satisfied in the Star Wars universe for me: why is the light side ‘morally upright’? In the SW universe, balance is the moral goal, so you need both light and dark to have that balance.”
For me, the answer to this problem was outlined in The Force Awakens. Even better, the answer is more fully embodied in The Last Jedi, which is why I rank it as the best Star Wars story, for the way it satisfyingly integrates all the most important themes.
Without going into details, which would amount to spoilers for those who have not yet seen the film, I can still make the case for this integral embodiment by referring to the interpretive principles I used in my review of The Force Awakens for Catholic World Report: “The Reality of Myth and the Force of Star Wars.”
Peace and justice are realized in the bringing of good out of evil
The thesis of the essay is summarized thus: “The deepest lesson of myth cannot be that good and evil are morally and metaphysically equivalent but that peace and justice are realized in the bringing of good out of evil.”
“The idea that the Force maintains the balance between good and evil is more fully explained” in The Force Awakens, I argued. “If this balance were simply the affirmation of a cyclical dualism of good and evil in which, at least from the standpoint of the endless cycle of history, the two sides were morally equivalent, then the Force would be an almost nonsensical idea. Why fight for the good, if the Dark Side is nothing but the other side of the same cosmic coin?”
The Force Awakens, with its theme of parental sacrifice, gives a satisfying answer to that question; namely, “the hidden way by which the Force restores the balance of peace and justice in the universe” is through “the enhancement of good, the bringing of good out of evil,” as “the good grows and is enhanced, and evil is thereby defeated and diminished.”
This is even more explicitly demonstrated in The Last Jedi, in which the male characters are consistently shown to tend toward the Dark Side of the Force in a way that wants to blow everything up, or tear it all down. But as I argued: “The way the Force really works is through the quietest sacrifices — which are the ones that really shake the world.”
In The Last Jedi, multiple female characters now illustrate this lesson. We learn that “bringing balance to the Force” is a deliberately understated way of describing how integral gender complementarity is achieved through what women bring to the Star Wars universe: namely, the salutary reminder that spiritual progress comes when we focus not on fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.