Sunday, March 12, 2017


This is the fourth (and final) article in a series analyzing the relationship between the Jedi and the mysterious spiritual consciousness of the Living Force. Why do Jedi sometimes return from the dead and why do they sometimes simply disappear upon death, leaving no physical remains behind? And what is the deeper spiritual and metaphysical meaning we can draw from these occurrences?

The first article in this series went over the Mortis storyline from Season 3 of the CLONE WARS series while the second article covered Yoda's trial in the final story of Season 6. The third part of our series focused on the role of Qui-Gon Jinn from his initial mistakes in EPISODE I all the way through to his possible redemption at the end of EPISODE III.

I left off with the suggestion that Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi's apparent transcendence beyond the physical world was a matter of self-actualization. Unlike Qui-Gon and Anakin, who had last-minute acts of redemption that ostensibly allowed (or compelled) them to return as Force Ghosts, Obi-Wan and Yoda chose to accept the death of their physical forms with the intent of living on as a benevolent influence on Luke Skywalker. This selfless sense of purpose makes them akin to the bodhisattva, who also believe in complete transcendence beyond mortal existence and embrace the philosophy of rejecting paradise in favor of helping the living to find salvation.

As I often do, I look to Joseph Campbell for clarification on the mythological significance of these story concepts. In his chapter on “The Ultimate Boon” in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell references the story of Ko Hung. Ko Hung was an alchemist philosopher who devised physical concoctions intended to grant him immortality. Eventually Ko Hung disappeared from the mortal world, leaving only his empty clothes behind him. I think George Lucas literally got the idea of disappearing into another state of being from this story.

Too bad Joseph Campbell didn't have any suggestions on how to make this thing disappear.

This relates back to the same principle in my article on how Campbell's concept of the Father Quest is portrayed in the Skywalker saga. Acceptance of one's fate is part of the path to enlightenment. In the Father Quest, it is specifically realized through the ability to face the father and accept his role. In a broader sense, as we see in Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, it is more metaphysically represented in one's readiness to meet his maker. The parable of Phaethon, warns us that when the gods grant a boon to the unworthy, the unworthy choose unwisely or recklessly as to what the boon should be. Kylo Ren's disastrous attempt to succeed his father by killing him at the end of EPISODE VII is an expression of the Phaethon principle. In contrast, we see the opposite of this symbolized in how Yoda and Obi-Wan choose to meet their fates in the original trilogy. 

Let's broaden the discussion to include some of the other prominent Force-wielders we see in the film saga: 

Compare the bodhisattva concept to the way Emperor Palpatine approaches his mortality. Like the archetypal dragon figure of mythology, Palpatine wants to amass as much wealth and power as he can for himself, hording it even if he has no use for it. That power is not life-sustaining and seems to actually rob Palpatine of his vitality. Like the dragon who sleeps atop his worthless riches until he's practically docile, Palpatine lives a life of dismal seclusion, hiding in the shadows and slowly rotting away. The non-canonical DARK EMPIRE comic series offered the explanation that he used the power of the Dark Side to keep himself from dying, transferring himself from one clone body to another as the dark energies eventually took their toll on him. 

This isn't exactly canon either, but in DARK EMPIRE the cloning process leaves you about as anatomically correct as a Ken doll. Just one more reason to resist the (purely platonic) seduction of the Dark Side.

I’m not sure if there is any support of this in the current canon, but there is certainly tangible evidence to the contrary:

In EPISODE III, when Mace Windu deflects Palpatine’s Force lightning back at him, the necrotic effect is both instantaneous and significant, leaving Palpatine scarred for the rest of his life. It does not have this effect when Palpatine uses the same attack on Mace Windu. Mace is hurt, but is much more bothered by the fact that his hands just got cut off. And the lightning doesn't kill him either. In the end Mace meets his end from being thrown out the window. 

Even when Palpatine hits Luke with the lightning in EPISODE VI, Luke is injured by it, but not scarred. It looks like Palpatine is much more likely to scar himself with the lightning rather than anyone else. Could this be because using this Dark Side power leaves him weaker and more vulnerable to its effects? And has he become significantly weaker by EPISODE VI, also due to his manipulation of the Force to violate the natural order of the world?

"You call that Force Lightning? A wampa slap's got more force than that!"

In contrast to the enlightened state of being Yoda is training Luke to attain, Palpatine's obsession with amassing power in the physical world leaves him devoid of vitality. Even with the wealth of preternatural ability he's gained from the Dark Side, he's still a hunched, dried-up husk of a man by the time he confronts Luke Skywalker.

In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell points out the futility of seeking immortality as a means of physically prolonging life on the mortal plane. The goal is to transcend the flesh and the mortal world, because the quest for eternity is a quest for enlightenment. Yoda cites this very sentiment in EPISODE V when he tells Luke that we are actually luminous beings, not bound by the crude matter of the flesh. Besides the fact that he is directly referencing Qui-Gon Jinn's teachings, he is also literally likening mankind to the bodhisattva, whose name basically means "luminous being".

I believe we are seeing this interpretation of Buddhist philosophy being expressed through Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Through their willingness to let go of their physical bodies and become one with the Force, they are achieving a higher state of being. Their further willingness to return to the mortal world with the wisdom they have gained from the Living Force likens them even more to the traditional bodhisattva role, since their duty is now to reject (at least temporarily) their final reward in order to continue their service to mankind.

But wouldn’t that make them the savior hero figures of the story? 


"HA! Suck it, Yoda!"

For the moment, that role is fulfilled solely by Luke Skywalker. While he does not literally die and return from the grave (so far as we know), Luke lays down his life in his final confrontation with Vader and Palpatine in EPISODE VI, standing at the precipice of that other plane, then returning to mankind to share the knowledge and wisdom he has gained from that experience. Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi have actually crossed over into that other plane, but their advice is no different than what they told Luke when they were alive. They have not fully let go of the bias that comes from their chosen ideology. They instruct Luke that the proper path to becoming a Jedi is to face Vader and defeat him rather than attempting to redeem him. Only Luke gains the insight necessary to see past that prejudice, to let go of the dispassionate dogma of the Jedi and embrace the larger truth that it is through compassion that we pave the road to ultimate salvation.

"You've failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me... BEFORE he became a child-murdering, daughter-torturing, planet-destroying monster... Except for all that, we're practically the same person."

Luke achieves a truly ascendant aspect as an enlightened hero for two very important reasons: First, when he faces Vader in EPISODE VI, he puts himself at his father’s mercy with a full understanding of the circumstances. He takes sole responsibility for his actions and their consequences. He has matured into his own man and is finally able to face his father as the man he has become. Secondly, Luke is not seeking to destroy his father. Despite the urging both of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke rejects the idea that destroying Vader is the only way to end the reign of the Sith. In fact, Luke is not at all interested in the Sith. It is only when Vader tempts Luke with the corruption of Leia that he is drawn into battle, but ultimately Luke decides that laying down arms is the only way to honor who he is and what he believes. At this point he is not just rejecting the influence of the Dark Side, but also of what he has been taught is the will of the Light. He has rejected all influences in favor of his own self-actualized state of being, and he is willing to die in defense of this new ideal. So his enlightenment comes not from choosing the path of the Jedi or the Sith, but in rejecting both.

This brings us back again to the concept of the Gray Jedi. As we explored in previous articles, Yoda is not instructing Luke in the traditional Jedi style. The more spiritual leanings of his instruction are influenced by Qui-Gon Jinn's teachings, which were brought back from the spirit world by way of the Living Force. Yoda and Obi-Wan both have some residual prejudices when it comes to the moral potentialities of Darth Vader, but otherwise they are trying to instruct Luke in a manner that will make him unlike any Jedi that has come before.

A lot of eyebrows were inappropriately raised when the title of EPISODE VIII was announced to be THE LAST JEDI. Because we live in a world where everyone wants to be a Hollywood Insider with unique insight into the process of making movies, even the most innocuous details of highly anticipated films become the subject of wildly speculative think pieces that are mostly just nothing stories offered up as click bait for avid fans. Besides the fact that Yoda tells Luke in EPISODE VI that he will be the last of the Jedi after Yoda's death, and despite even more obvious references during the open crawl of EPISODE VII and by Snoke's own words, which specifically call Luke the Last Jedi, this was still somehow fodder for fan theories as to what the title might actually mean.

Taking into account that Yoda and Obi-Wan are instilling Luke with a brand new philosophy, one that rejects the Jedi's single-minded opposition to the Sith and embraces a more compassionate world view, Luke can either be considered the first of a New Order of Jedi (as he was called in Timothy Zahn's HEIR TO THE EMPIRE) or the last Jedi to have any connection at all to the more traditional Jedi and their teachings. Given that Yoda's instruction of Luke instills him with more of a pacifistic interpretation of the Jedi philosophy and the fact that Luke's later efforts to build a new order clearly end in disaster, it's a good bet that the Luke Skywalker Rey finds living as a hermit on a secret planet will have no interest in training her to be a Jedi. If he has become more of a Gray Jedi in his exile (hinted at by the gray robes he's wearing when Rey finds him), then even if he does teach her how to connect with and commune with the Force, it's likely that instruction will have nothing to do with the traditional Jedi teachings. He may be teaching her to become something entirely new, effectively and officially making Luke Skywalker the Last Jedi.

"Everybody got that?"

Luke's predilection toward rejecting the Jedi way for a new, more compassionate approach is hinted at even in the original trilogy. Luke's reckless regard for his friends over matters of galactic importance puts him at odds with his mentors almost immediately. In EPISODE V, when the Force shows Luke a vision of his friends in danger, Yoda and Obi-Wan insist that Luke would honor their plight more by completing his Jedi training, even if the consequences for Han and Leia were torture and death. They are sincerely convinced that the only hope for the future is for Luke to become a Jedi. Luke rejects this, choosing instead to go to his friends’ aid. This leads Luke to the turning point of his hero’s journey, his initial confrontation with his father. 

Unlike Anakin in EPISODE III or Kylo Ren in EPISODE VII, Luke doesn’t confront Vader as a father figure and therefore the confrontation is not an end unto itself. The peril of his friends is a trap set by Vader to draw him into that situation. Even though this early attempt at an atonement with the father meets with catastrophic failure, it is less because Luke is unworthy and more because he is ill-prepared. He is not motivated by revenge. He only goes to Bespin (and finds himself in Vader’s trap) because of his love for his friends. It’s also important to note that if he had not made this choice, he would not have learned the truth and would not have been able to face his father in EPISODE VI as a fully self-actualized person. If he had trusted solely in the influence of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, he would have failed exactly as they did.

As opposed to every other character caught up in this toxic cycle of failed father quests, Luke is motivated by compassion at every stage in his hero’s journey. Obi-Wan tries to bait him in EPISODE IV with the deception that he should follow in his father’s footsteps, but Luke is unwilling to abandon his family. Even when Luke does agree to help Obi-Wan, his primary motivation is not to become a Jedi, but to save Princess Leia. Luke’s first independent moral act in the saga occurs in the Death Star, when they learn in Obi-Wan’s absence that Princess Leia will be executed. With no other influences to guide him, Luke decides she must be saved and even manages to convince Han Solo to help.

Luke’s decision to go to Bespin is also based on a desire to save Leia (and by this time, Han as well). He doesn’t know who Vader is or that he will even be there. Luke’s decision to confront Vader in EPISODE VI is also motivated by his innate sense of love and compassion. He wants to distance himself from his friends to protect them from Vader and he wants to appeal to Vader’s long-subdued sense of good in order to allow his father's return from the Dark Side. In following this path, and being the first of the Jedi to do so, Luke has outgrown all physical attachments to the mortal world. More importantly, he has transcended the spiritual limitations of absolutist dogmas, and in so doing he becomes the transcendent savior figure of the story.

"Suck it, Yoda."

Based on the more enlightened influence of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda (and thanks indirectly to the posthumous contributions of Qui-Gon Jinn), Luke Skywalker becomes not just the Last of the Jedi, but something new entirely. In the original trilogy he becomes the ascendant hero who transcends the needs of the physical world and returns to save mankind. In the current trilogy, he is poised to represent the fully realized bodhisattva, whose teachings will help a whole new generation of Force-wielders find a path to enlightenment that is free of the shortcomings that ultimately proved to be the undoing of the original Jedi Order.

No comments:

Post a Comment