The Jedi Order must reinvent itself after The Rise of Skywalker
Story arcs that go from decline and fall to rise and redemption are common in fiction that operates on a grand scale. The Star Wars franchise operates on a large enough scale to do it twice in three trilogies, as I’ve mentioned here in previous articles. When you watch the scene with Ben and Luke in A New Hope, it’s all about establishing the mythology of the golden age of the Jedi and the Old Republic, as well as the stakes and the goal of the original trilogy. The scene at the end of Return of the Jedi seems to promise the fulfillment of that goal, with the three Force ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin watching Luke and Leia form the foundation of a new group of Jedi to guard the peace.
The new trilogy is telling the same story for a new generation, but to have it inspire the same effect as the victory at the end of Return of the Jedi, something needs to change. The audience has seen failure and false promise before, and won’t be so easily led to accept the results. At the end of the new trilogy, the reaction to the triumph of the Resistance might be “how long until this victory is also thrown away?”
In The Last Jedi, Luke describes the legacy of the Jedi as one of failure, and the return of a failed era can’t be the goal after Rise of Skywalker. For there to be justified optimism among the victors of the latest struggle, Rey and those who eventually take up the mission of the Jedi must craft a new way forward.
It’s hard to know how the new Jedi are to avoid the pitfalls of the past if those pitfalls haven’t been made very clear to the viewer, because the story of the fall of the Jedi of Luke’s era has yet to be fleshed out in much detail. Between the end of Return of the Jedi and the arrival of the prequels, there was a lot of speculation about Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side and how the Empire purged the Jedi, but there hasn’t been the time with the new trilogy to have similar numerous theories emerge on what happened between Ben Solo and Snoke. Kylo Ren’s corruption by Snoke seems to have come at a distance, in contrast to Anakin, who was shown to have a lot of personal contact with Palpatine.
Recognition of the need for change seems to already be present in Luke and Yoda, as the scene with them together in The Last Jedi makes clear. The old, largely unused texts are destroyed to make way for a new approach. Luke seems to have been trying pretty hard to be faithful to the old ways of the Jedi Order as he saw them, which is interesting because in the original trilogy, he’s more willing to carve out his own path. He defies Obi-Wan and Yoda’s command not to go to Cloud City, and finds his own way to facing Vader, rather than the physical defeat of Vader in battle that Obi-Wan and Yoda seem to be looking for. Perhaps Luke’s awareness of the weight of responsibilities he took on as head of a restored Jedi order led him to adhere closely to the past Jedi way of doing things, as if those older ways were his security blanket.
The line from the trailer from The Rise of Skywalker is that “we’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now.” While it’s a poignant line, Rey’s connection to the Jedi legacy at the end of the new film will be quite different from where Luke was at the end of the original trilogy. Luke got to spend a lot more time with two Jedi, Yoda and Obi-Wan, than Rey does with Luke, and of course he had the family connection with his father. Maybe Rey will feel less restricted by a legacy that wasn’t thrust upon her as it was upon Luke. Obi-Wan watched over a young Luke on Tatooine and told him that he “must learn the ways of the Force if you’re to come with me to Alderaan.” Luke was sent to Yoda on Dagobah to continue learning the ways of the Force.
In contrast, Luke didn’t seek out Rey or encourage her to train with him. Rey’s encounter with the Force and the history of the Jedi and their opponents comes over a much more truncated period than does Luke’s. So perhaps Rey can be more comfortable with making changes to the Order going forward; changes like a less rigid approach to romantic relationships among Jedi, since that’s an example the viewer is familiar with, and one that had a role in the Jedi’s downfall in the prequel trilogy.
The Force will still be with the Star Wars setting, whatever the outcome of the end of the current Star Wars trilogy. Much like how with the X-Men, Xavier’s School for the Gifted serves as an institution to teach responsible and positive use of mutant powers, an institution like the Jedi would be needed to ensure responsible use of powers by the Force-sensitive and to prevent abuse of those powers by others. The Resistance and Rebellion leadership has seen how the absence of an involved and active Jedi order has hurt their cause before. Keeping future Jedi engaged in the process of rebuilding a restored republic and having them involved in the communities they serve—beyond just in high-ranking military, political, or diplomatic roles—would make sense as a way to prevent the perception of the Jedi as aloof and out of touch, which is what enabled Emperor Palpatine to turn his followers against them.
Finally, a new era for the Jedi could start with acknowledging that they may have to come up with a better way of dealing with the lure of the Dark Side to their members. Dooku, Vader, and Kylo Ren were all originally Jedi, and their eventual turns to the Dark Side had disastrous consequences for the Jedi Order. Yoda does spend a lot of time warning against the Dark Side’s pull during Luke’s training on Dagobah, but through much of the prequel trilogy, as well as parts of the original trilogy, the approach from Jedi teachers seems to be providing a list of “shall nots” and “bewares”, and lists of activities and behaviors that they see as leading Jedi down the wrong path.
Clearly, the Sith and similar groups have devised an effective pitch of the potential power that their approach can bring, and use that as temptation. Perhaps the Jedi can go back to the drawing board with new members, coming up with an alternative to the approach of what to avoid, to instead focus on a positive side of what empathy, peace, and self-discipline can bring. The title of the new film, The Rise of Skywalker, and what it means have been the subject of much debate, but it seems that at least there’s an idea here of Rey leading a new group of Light Side Force users after the conclusion of the events of the new trilogy. And if the title refers to Luke, then maybe he’ll be alongside her in spirit, serving to remind her and lead her away from the failed paths of the recent past.