In my years teaching I often joked, but with a lot of truth, that it’s more important to understand the “dark arts” than it is anything else. They were the days of Harry Potter! To understand the workings of the shadow and the numerous blind spots of our lives is the true pathway to the wholeness we desire. An obsession with light tends to simply blind all the more, and, well, with darkness it will ultimately take you down in one way or another. The obsession with light often puts us on the run, from ourselves, and over time, darkness becomes comfortable and a life of consistent turmoil and angst becomes the norm. On the exterior is the display of a virtuous life, per se, but quite the opposite interiorly.
There are many scenes in the new box-office smash, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but one in particular personifies the difficulty we face as humans in seeking that life of wholeness. Both Rey and Ren find themselves in a heated battle with pounding waves crashing around them, in, of all places, a destroyed Death Star. It seems almost inevitable that one will lose their life in the process as all the rest flee. The two of them stand on the edge of the world, battling it out. Of all the scenes in the Star Wars saga, this scene, in many ways, is symbolic of the interior struggle of the two characters playing out in their external environment as one learns to act with great courage and the other, love. Rey, resisting her own lineage to the darkness and fighting it with every ounce of strength she has. While Ren, the great resister of love hides behind the machismo, but what lies behind the mask is a little boy, Ben, desiring to be loved and doubting the worth of the Jedi heritage in which he comes. The two grappling with darkness in their own way, resisting what it is that will bring them wholeness.
The battle between the two is really a battle with themselves, her with the masculine and he with the feminine. As in our own lives, and certainly an unhealthy masculinity, of which we settle for as a society, and I’m only capable of speaking of, we’re tempted to do all we can to abolish the feminine, somehow making us more of a man. Ren, a heartless slab consumed by his own pain and anger, must confront the love of the other in order to let go and reclaim his birthright as Ben, manifested in the healing touch of Rey, but only when pushed to the edge himself. In an intimate moment of touch, Ren can do nothing but cry and be driven to silence. In time he finds himself surrendering to that love, of which he feared most and considered a form of weakness, allowing the mask to fall on his own hero’s journey.
Rey, though, has her own battle. She must confront a history from which she runs, embodied by the darkness she witnesses in Kylo Ren and Emperor Palpatine. Her desire to live the courageous life of a Jedi, as is her birthright, appears to stand in conflict with her lineage and like most of us, finds herself on the run from the darkness. Her history, as part of the Palpatine lineage, points to her demise and to be reduced to the seat of darkness itself. Her history stands in conflict with her heart and spirit, as pointed out by Luke, that she is more than her darkness. She was, like us, going to go to the place she feared the most and confront the Emperor face to face. There is no other way in the hero’s journey. The journey always takes us downward to the places we fear the most and to encounter the demons of our own lives that narrow our thinking and move us to succumbing to a destiny not our own.
The saga that has played out over these past forty years in the Star Wars series is much more than light and dark, good and bad, right and wrong. It wouldn’t have pulled in generations as it has if it were that simple. Granted, some of the movies are better than others, but all the characters have some kind of work to do in their own lives that throws them into the “and” of all the scenarios. They often stand in conflict, and like us, belief life is about getting rid of and keeping hidden what we have deemed as being insufficient, what we see as insufficient or flawed about ourselves. Rey saw that in her lineage and Ren in his own hurt and anger, all of which drove them down into the depths of their being. It’s why the battle takes place on rough seas, on a deteriorating Death Star, and fought alone. It’s their battle to fight and not to win or to kill, as the world often seems all to ready to do, but to find peace with one another and to learn to love all the parts of themselves.
Joseph Campbell, a Jedi in his own right when it comes to mythology writes, “Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul’s destination.” Rey would never become the Jedi she desired and believed to be in her heart and soul unless she did such a journey. It’s why so few choose such a journey of faith in their lives because it’s what we fear the most. He goes onto say that the tomb and womb are all but one. Something must die, such as Ren’s egoic persona, before the true self, the birthright, is revealed, Ben. Rey too carries that burden and must allow her own persona and expectation of Jedi and darkness, that she is somehow less than, in order to accept her true self.
It is the journey we are all invited into in our lives. We live in a world where all too many settle for something less or simply see it as a movie and irrelevant to our lives. It’s not Lucas’ intent. It’s his journey as much as it is ours. It’s what makes the series more than a series of movies but the unfolding of a story, a life, lives, who have accepted the call to the resistance of “that’s just the way it is” and sees not only themselves as more but the world as well. When the characters, and ourselves, tap into that reality within ourselves, now grounded in more than all the external authorities, there’s no stopping us. It’s why the world, political, and religious leaders fear it the most. It exposes the shallowness of their own authority, an authority that comes not from the deepest recesses of the soul, of one who has done their work. Rather, it comes from position and power.
To experience the wholeness of our lives, light and dark, right and wrong, and all the rest, then the invitation to the Star Wars saga is for us, a journey unique to each but universal in the nature of the timeless hero. In the end they are no longer naïve; it explains the change in facial expression. The hero, rather, learns to embrace and live the tension between what is and what can be, head and heart, and recognize the joy that comes even in the sadness of a life once lived. They are the people we need, now more than ever, to be the Jedi masters to future generations who seek more.