After Lucasfilm announced that the eighth Star Wars movie would be called Star Wars: The Last Jedi, people had questions. Is that singular or plural Jedi? If singular, than who is the last Jedi? What’s going to happen to them? Is it truly the end, or is it a beginning?
[Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.]
When The Last Jedi finally hit theaters we got our answer, which turned out to be more complicated than just one explanation. You can say that “last Jedi” is Luke, or that it’s Rey. You can say that the movie showed the destruction of the traditional Jedi order, or that it just left a path for it to live on in a different form. Regardless of interpretation, there’s one thing that’s constant: The Jedi are flawed and needed to end because the Jedi are bad.
Why do the Jedi suck?
Obviously the Jedi are not “bad” when compared to their counterparts the Sith. In a galaxy of binary ideologies, and one side with names like Darth Sidious and Darth Maul, it’s hard to see the Jedi as anything but the epitome of good. But you have to look closer.
The Jedi order claim to be righteous, but fail to hold up their end of the bargain. Specifically, I’m talking about the Jedi Council as depicted in the prequels and in the animated series — I’m not touching Expanded Universe material in this piece. That Jedi Order engages in cruel practices that negatively impact not only the families of Jedi recruits, but padawans and Jedi knights themselves.
Think specifically of Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano. Both are characters that were not only let down by the Jedi Council, but whose lives were ruined by it.
Anakin never fully gains the trust of his elders because they outright refuse to give it over. He’s reckless and deemed by many to have too much raw power, but instead of honing that power, the Council is afraid of it and pushes him away. Even when he finally gets a seat on the Council in Revenge of the Sith, he’s not given the title of Master — a purposeful slight.
Then there’s Ahsoka, Anakin’s padawan in The Clone Wars animated series, who is blamed for the destruction of a Jedi Temple based on circumstantial evidence and an unfortunate case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s only after more evidence is uncovered and somebody confesses to the crime that she is acquitted and blame is rescinded. However, the Council frames the situation as a teaching moment, not their own mistake — a test by the Force to measure her faith — and she leaves the Order. Anakin feels similarly betrayed, forced to stand by as these authority figures abandoned her.
Every conflict the two experience with the Council is based on arbitrary Jedi laws and traditions, putting the missions of the Order above all else and casting aside its individual members. The eldest members of the Council express little care for their recruits, not only isolating them from the outside world, but trapping them in a lifestyle that doesn’t take into account their needs. The Jedi refuse to own up to their mistakes and frame everything as an exercise in trusting the Force. This lets Anakin and Ahsoka down, and ultimately leads to the downfall of the Council itself, as the Order is unwilling to bend to changing times and a changing Republic.
Anakin goes over to the Dark Side for a lot of reasons, but mostly because he sees in them what he couldn’t get with the Jedi — the individual attention he needs and the ability to step out of the shadow of centuries of tradition. While he fails to find a balance between the light and the dark, he shows how thin the line between the two is. While the Sith seek to take control, they present their ideas as relatable, saying they want their recruits to reach their ultimate potential. It makes sense why someone would join them over siding with celibate monks who refuse to change.
But the battle between the light and the dark is also an antiquated concept. There is no room for a gray area. The Jedi and the Sith live on structured paths that don’t take into account the complexities of existence, which is why Anakin can fit equally on either side, but can only exist on one. Ahsoka, after leaving the Jedi, doesn’t joins a group of rebels, living independently of both the Jedi and the Sith, so we know it’s possible. The entire universe is thrown into chaos because of an unnecessary war between a select group of people. Something needs to change.
So what have the Jedi learned?
The Jedi’s actions throughout the Skywalker saga can be dissected even more, but it all leads back to The Last Jedi, where both the Sith and the Jedi are destroyed.
The batch of new characters in this trilogy represent a flexibility that the old order could never master. Luke, as student of that old order, is taken aback by Rey’s unwillingness to learn and accept binary traditions. Instead of holding back from the dark side, for instance, she immediately starts going for a dark hole underneath the island, here said to be the physical manifestation of the Sith’s ways. She gets scolded by Luke for not holding back but traverses into its depths anyway.
Later, after she has left the island, Luke goes down to the temple and runs into his old mentor Yoda (now a Force ghost). They have a discussion about Rey that involves a few hard questions. Did Luke fail her as a Jedi Master or did he teach her enough? Is there anything left to teach a new generation of Force users who don’t have any attachment to the traditional Jedi Order?
Yoda spends a lot of this discussion being his typical sassy self, but also attempting to open Luke’s eyes to the future. He not only decries the Jedi temple and its old texts as unreadable and useless, but sets it all on fire, effectively destroying all that is left of the old order. We find out later that Rey had taken the old books from the temple before leaving (and Yoda likely knew that before setting the whole place ablaze, since he tells Luke that she has everything she needs), but the point has already been driven home. Yoda — a Jedi Master of the highest order and one of the wisest characters in the entire series — has just brought down the Jedi Order and all its traditions. He takes that rebellion one step further by telling Luke that it’s alright to accept his failures. It’s a beautiful sentiment: that the heroes of our nostalgia are imperfect and don’t fully understand their own philosophies.
It also throws the whole concept of the “light” and the “dark” into chaos. Being on the “light” side doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes or that you don’t have moments of weakness.
The light and dark sides of the Force have always been at odds with one another, and in The Last Jedi, they seem to clash even further. The interactions between Rey and Kylo Ren — explained to be literal foils for each other and to represent the light and dark sides respectively — are complicated. We find out that Kylo’s fall to the dark side wasn’t as simple as him being lured by Snoke, but that he was swayed by feeling betrayed by Luke. Not only that, but we learn from Luke that for a moment he did think to kill Kylo.
Later in Snoke’s throne room, Kylo has a reaction to the realization that Snoke has been manipulating him for his own personal gain. He kills Snoke, going into a brief moment for the audience where you think he might turn to the Rebel’s side, but he takes an unexpected third option. He’s not strictly on the “dark side” anymore but somewhere in the middle, urging Rey to use their power to start the world over. The two struggle over Anakin’s lightsaber, ultimately tearing it apart — a visual metaphor for the end of the old ways.
The Jedi Order and the Sith were always fighting over arbitrary definitions of right and wrong, trapping the Force in an exclusive space where it can only be used by the privileged few, bound by laws that had no room for exceptions and didn’t take into account the feelings of those who had to use them.
But The Last Jedi is filled with characters using the Force without any conception of the Jedi Order, or the battle between it and the Sith. When Leia uses it to fly herself back onto the ship after being thrown into the vacuum of space, or when the boy in the stables at Canto Bight uses it to bring his broom towards him, it’s not a religious, well, force. It’s an everyday part of some things. Even Luke accepts this when he tells Rey that the Force can be best explained as a part of the connection between all matter.
So what is the point of having a light and dark side if the Force is a part of all things? Why have a Jedi Order and a Sith if both can live together without any morality or arbitrary rules tearing them apart? Yoda understands this, which is why he tells Luke that it’s okay to be imperfect, to have some dark side tendencies.
The Force is changed in a lot of ways, from the powers it grants people to how it works, but most importantly, it’s finally freed of its connections with religious orders and old texts. It’s freed of the Jedi, who interpreted it so strictly that it resulted in the fall of the Republic, and it was abused by the Sith, who only wanted its raw power. In The Last Jedi, it’s finally found a gray area where it has room to evolve. And if the Jedi cannot evolve along with it, then, as Luke says, it’s time for them to end.