Have you heard? There’s a new Star Wars film coming this year. It’ll be the final film of the sequel trilogy which began in 2015 with The Force Awakens, the final film of the Skywalker Saga which began in 1977 and also in 1999 with A New Hope and The Phantom Menace, and possibly the final “episode” of Star Wars as we know it. And the moment I heard the title (The Rise of Skywalker), I knew exactly what it would be about.
Here’s the thing: the Star Wars series has always been narratively cyclical and anchored by weight of tradition. Even the first film was built on the weight of old Buck Rogers serials and Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces; since then, it’s gathered an even greater weight of tradition behind it. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” for instance. Or the proclivity of the Galaxy Far, Far Away’s denizens to have their hands removed at the wrist.
One of these traditions has been the titles; though they’re all descriptive of the film they’re attached to, they also tell a narrative on their own. “A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi” – the side of good isn’t done yet, it’s been dealt a deadly blow, but it eventually triumphs. I think that The Rise of Skywalker, as a title, is more than just the end of the sequel story – I think it ends a story that was under our noses, secretly, the whole time: the story of the third acts.
2005’s Revenge of the Sith begins the story, 1983’s Return of the Jedi continues it, and 2019’s Rise of Skywalker is about to end it. The story seems straightforward in the first two, right? A major threat emerges in the galaxy and gains a foothold. The good guys battle back and re-establish the order that cared for the galaxy for millennia.
But the Jedi Order, the prequel trilogy tells us, was far from perfect. Though Anakin and Obi-Wan were heroes, the Jedi Order itself may not have even been the “good guys.”
Which sounds like a crazy assertion, until you consider that they were portrayed as barely better than the lesser of two evils in the Prequel Trilogy; our canonically-first view of the Jedi is through the eyes of Qui-Gon Jinn, a rebellious Jedi who has a beef with the Council for their strict over-reliance on following the rules. A once-powerful force for good and joy in the galaxy has become a shadow of its former self, a group of weak and ineffectual errand boys for the politicians of Coruscant while even their strongest members cannot sense the dark side when it roils inside the man on the other side of the desk. The Jedi in the prequel trilogy seem to be far too concerned with tradition and with the rules that they themselves made up, and it’s harmed their effectiveness.
Indeed, this over-reliance on legalism is what pushes Anakin over the edge onto the Dark Side when their rules threaten his wife’s very life. And by the time of the sequel trilogy, despite the fact that it’s been barely two decades since Order 66 and the death of the Jedi, the galaxy has moved on from Force-users so profoundly that Han Solo doesn’t even believe that they exist.
Not that the Sith are the better choice. They may not be hamstrung by useless rules, but consumed by evil and a lust for power, the Sith do literally whatever they want to do. Driven solely by their passions, they are warped, twisted, and eventually – inevitably – destroyed by them. They’re fearful, hateful, consistently angry, and this cocktail warps even the way they look. The Empire they created is racist, classist, totalitarian, and xenophobic.
People who want to do good in the Star Wars universe need a better option.
It reminds me of the options Jesus faced, and the way he refused both of them. When Jesus arrived on Earth, as today, there were two main options for finding belonging and purpose: to pursue piety by way of the rules set by the Pharisees, the leaders of Jewish faith, keepers of the law and creators of unnecessary rules; or to pursue hedonic pleasure by way of the passions of the flesh as exemplified by the Roman empire, a decadent and doomed civilization that was rapidly outgrowing itself.
The Jews expected Jesus to join the Pharisees and take up arms against the Roman empire. But the strictures of the Pharisees’ design weren’t just, and in many cases were themselves in opposition to God’s laws. Still, he couldn’t throw his lot in with the Romans; hedonism has a long track record of eating people up from the inside, causing them to destroy themselves and others.
Jesus founded a “third way:” not trying to get to God by a fool’s errand of piety and rulekeeping, or trying to achieve joy by eating and drinking or being merry, but instead by knowing God and putting all our hope in God for fulfillment and empowerment. He built Christianity as a way of knowing God through him, and he calls us into his “third way” for our salvation and our joy.
This is where I think our heroes, particularly Rey and Kylo, will end up by the time the orchestra swells at the end of The Rise of Skywalker. There’s been a concept in Star Wars Legends continuity for a while called the “Gray Jedi” – a midpoint between the Jedi and the Sith – and while I think this is flawed, I think this is the greatest example of what sort of people Rey and Kylo will become. That is to say, they will pursue the passion of the Sith, but temper it with the discipline and goodwill of the Jedi.
“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love… is central to a Jedi’s life. So you might say that we are encouraged to love.”
-Anakin Skywalker, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
Since the Skywalkers have always been “third-way Jedi,” with Anakin asserting that a Jedi is encouraged to love and with Luke abandoning Yoda’s training in search of his friends’ rescue and his father’s salvation, it would be a poignant and fascinating way for the series to end if Kylo rejoins Rey and the light side to institute a new kind of knight and protector in the galaxy: no longer Jedi knights, Sith lords, or even the Knights of Ren. Instead, the Skywalkers. Embracing passion but eschewing fear, the Skywalkers will rise to become a new power for peace and justice in the galaxy.
And with that, the story of the titles would be complete: the Sith get their revenge, taking over the galaxy; the Jedi return, destroying evil but failing to establish a new order that lasts beyond a single failure. And then, from their ashes, the Skywalkers rise.
But hey, this is the same wild shot-in-the-dark guessing that got so many people disappointed with The Last Jedi, right? And a phenomenally poorly-supported guess at that. I suppose we’ll find out if “The Skywalker” is anything more than a surname in eight long, painful months. At least we have Endgame soon.