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The Last Jedi shows what it means to fail as a teacher

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When your best isn’t good enough

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Luke in Ahch-To cave Lucasfilm/Disney

The Star Wars universe has always placed great importance on the relationship between the student and teacher, but the series’ focus tends to be placed on what happens when those relationships go badly.

[Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.]

Being a teacher means accepting responsibility for your students, especially when you’re teaching them an art of great power. And Star Wars is a grim reminder of what happens when power corrupts. Kylo Ren wasn’t created when Snoke blackened Ben Solo’s heart; he became lost when Luke Skywalker’s initial instinct was to kill his student before the young man could do more damage.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Kylo Ren rotating lightsaber Lucasfilm/Disney

Kylo Ren didn’t make a conscious decision to go rogue and destroy Luke’s temple and kill his students, which is how the act was presented in the The Force Awakens. His rebellion began as an act of what had to feel like self-defense, and became a rampage. The temple’s destruction and the murder of the other students was collateral damage.

There was a dark power in his soul that he didn’t know how to deal with. He clearly had issues with his parents and with growing up in one of the most well-known families in the galaxy, and that’s on top of the responsibilities of being a Jedi apprentice. Being tempted by the dark side goes with the territory, and it was literally Luke’s job to guide young Ben Solo through that temptation. Luke instead reacted with instinctual violence, and gave Kylo Ren an excuse to rise to power.

It makes sense from Ren’s point of view. Luke Skywalker did not have the power, patience or wisdom to teach him. Skywalker was ready to destroy a power that he feared, and that’s the attitude of a Sith Lord, not a Jedi.

If Skywalker was so flawed, he was not fit to train others — and Ren was all but forced to turn to his hero worship of Darth Vader, and accept Snoke as his teacher. Ben Solo didn’t defect to the dark side; his teacher nearly killed him, which pushed him that way.

It’s understandable for Luke to go into hiding, now that we know that Kylo Ren exists because of Skywalker’s lack of wisdom as a teacher. Luke wasn’t betrayed by his student; he was taken in by his own fear. Rey may be comfortable absolving Skywalker of responsibility, but you can understand the failure while still holding Skywalker accountable for it.

Disappearing is the easy way out, and Skywalker takes it. His reaction to failure is to continue to fail.

This isn’t just Luke’s failure

The Last Jedi gives the middle finger to the fans’ Snoke theories by killing the character before we get a chance to explore his backstory. It doesn’t matter who he is or where he came from; he’s dead and gone.

Destroying your master is the Sith way, but Kylo Ren believes in the film’s theme of leaving the past behind. However, Snoke’s death also results from his failure as a teacher, and from his inability to look past his hubris to understand why Kylo Ren existed in the first place.

Ben Solo was desperate for a parental figure who could help him work through his feelings of rage and powerlessness, even as his training gave him access to more power. Snoke took advantage of that fact, and then pushed the manipulation much further than necessary to reach his goals.

Snoke told Ren exactly how he thought of General Hux, and by extension how Snoke thought of Ren himself: as a pet whose few strengths could be sharpened and used as weapons. Snoke would not provide any insight or relief for Ren’s pain; doing so was never to be part of his training.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Rey holding out lightsaber Image: Lucasfilm/Disney

Kylo Ren wasn’t being trained so much as he was being used — his pain was just another tool for Snoke to get what he wanted. Ren reacted in the only way that has ever been effective for him: with violence.

Both of Kylo Ren’s masters let him down, and the galaxy is left to suffer for its inability to provide a suitable teacher for a young man with more anger and power than wisdom. Ren has no outlet or coping mechanisms for his rage, and from his point of view, even the Jedi think that fact makes him worthless — and suitable for extermination.

His teachers hurt him, and he’s doing a whole lot of hurting back to try to even the scales.

This is a theme throughout the Star Wars series. Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t able to teach Anakin Skywalker — Ben Solo’s grandfather — how to control his anger and fear. Yoda was unable to teach Luke Skywalker how to pay attention to the living Force instead of giving in to fear and doubt. Luke Skywalker’s fear led to the destruction of his temple and the death of his students, and the rise of Kylo Ren.

Rey’s own power is left unchecked, as she is only given a few lessons in how to connect with the Force before being convinced that she’s on her own.

The franchise is filled with characters who are hurt, or left to heal by themselves, after being failed by those who are meant to teach them. Yoda even explicitly states that failure is the best teacher, but the movies rarely follow up by showing what these characters were taught by their own shortcomings. Star Wars presents a galaxy of flawed masters, and then demonstrates that the rest of us are left to pay for their inability to reach their students.

We fear power, especially in those without the necessary wisdom to wield it well, but Star Wars never provides an answer to the question of how that wisdom can be provided effectively. Instead we’re shown, time after time, what happens when it isn’t.