The Last Jedi

It always takes me a bit of time to process a new Star Wars movie, and The Last Jedi more than most. I don’t expect that I can add much to the current discussion around the movie, but I don’t like the fact that I haven’t written anything in a while.

I should point out that I will wander directly into spoiler territory, but if you haven’t seen the movie by this point you probably don’t care, so I think we should be safe.

Many aspects of this movie have been attacked since its release, and I don’t think it makes sense to defend against most of them, since they are nitpicks or personal preference. Star Wars has always been complex. Even in the prequels, if you can get past the horrible dialog and cringe-inducing on-screen chemistry, there is a depth to the subtext that is worthwhile.

One aspect that I think is particularly deep with pathos is the interplay between Leia, Poe Dameron, and Admiral Holdo. A lot of the criticism of their interaction is based on a need to have a good side and a bad side. Depth of character is not needed or desirable. In that mindset, the whole sequence is upside down and badly written. I think that misses the point, and I’d like to share my thoughts on the underlying struggles that I see.

First we must consider the mental state of General Leia Organa. She has just lost her estranged but still beloved husband Han Solo to the futile murderous ambitions of her only son, after seeing a planet full of colleagues and friends incinerated in a senseless attack. The cost of war is becoming more than she can bear, and she says as much to Holdo. In short, she is going soft in her old age.

Enter Poe Dameron, darling of the Resistance and in many ways the son that Ben Solo never was. He is clear-minded and tenacious, personable with a charisma that makes his fellow pilots trust him with their lives. His piloting skills are legendary. Everyone assumes he is on the fast track to a leadership position, and he is a de facto general, even if the rank isn’t official.

When a devastating threat appears, Poe does what he has always done, relying on his wits and skills to turn the tide. Although the cost is high for the Resistance, he destroys the First Order’s Dreadnought, protecting many others. This turns out to have been especially fortuitous when only moments later the Resistance learns that the First Order is tracking them. If the Dreadnought had not been scuttled, its considerable firepower could have ended their sublightspeed chase before it began.

So the first question that arises is how could Leia demote Poe? He did everything right, didn’t he? His attack gave the Resistance a tactical advantage and turned an ambush into a victory. On top of that, Leia is the General of the Resistance. If she had qualms she should have stopped Poe before the attack, not reprimanded him for carrying out an attack she has implicitly sanctioned.

We need to dig below the surface. Poe’s star is rising. He is cocky and can get away with it, but he has lost plenty of comrades who were every bit as committed to the fight but not as gifted as pilots. Poe sees the world tactically.¬†Sacrificing half the X-Wing fleet to destroy Starkiller base? A victory.¬†Losing five bombers and a squadron of starfighters to take out a Dreadnought? Worth it.

Leia is starting to see things differently. Even in a galaxy with the Force, luck eventually runs out. His big, flashy, skin-of-your-teeth victories are good for Poe’s legend, but they’re becoming a liability to the Resistance. Poe did save the Resistance by eliminating the Dreadnought before it could follow them through hyperspace, but he didn’t know that when he attacked. He just saw a glorious tale of victory for the people back home.

Leia’s choice to demote Poe was calculated, like almost everything Leia has ever done. She recognizes that Poe is popular, and many of the fighters regard him as more their leader than the officers of the Resistance. Her choice will be unpopular, but it’s necessary and only she can do it, since as one of the original stars of the Rebellion, she is the one person the fighters respect even more than Poe. What she hadn’t anticipated was that the First Order would track their fleet through hyperspace and incapacitate her, leaving Poe feeling slighted and needing to redeem himself.

Enter Admiral Holdo. She has been thrust into the limelight by a disaster. The atmosphere is one of suspicion. After all, which is more likely? That the First Order has suddenly cracked a momentous technical puzzle or that there is a traitor in their midst transmitting their position to the First Order. Holdo plays things close to the vest. Even when she finds a possible way to save most of the Resistance, she doesn’t share it with anyone, especially not Poe, who she sees as a hotheaded rival.

This is ultimately both her and Poe’s undoing, as their inability to collaborate and trust brings the Resistance to the edge of annihilation. Poe’s ego won’t allow him to sit idly by. If he doesn’t know the plan, then clearly there isn’t one, or it’s bad. His mistrust of Admiral Holdo is completely understandable, but his mutiny, rather than being salvation for the Resistance, betrays vital information into the hands of the First Order and results in many of the escaping ships being destroyed. Holdo pays the ultimate price for her inability to overcome her paranoia.

While many look at Holdo’s suicide attack on the Supremacy as a glorious moment, it is repudiated shortly later by, of all people, Rose. Holdo’s sacrifice destroys several enemy ships and saves key members of the Resistance, at least for a moment. It was a tactical victory, one that Poe would likely have endorsed. And it is the movie’s emblem of what is wrong with the Resistance’s way of waging war.

On Crait, as the Resistance prepares for what looks to be their last stand, Poe gets one more chance to be the hero, to push his luck and sacrifice lives to capture the smallest chance of victory. Finally Poe starts to calculate the cost of losing friends to gain an advantage. With so few left, he can finally see the end result of the legend of Poe Dameron. He orders his fighters to retreat.

It’s not that Poe is a bad guy, and it certainly isn’t that Leia or Holdo are blameless. The Last Jedi is not interested in those kinds of simple characterizations. Each of them is noble in his or her own way, and each has deep flaws which hurt the very thing they all care most about.

If you want to criticize The Last Jedi, there are plenty of legitimate avenues. For example, why is there a planet where everyone dresses like James Bond? But if you’re angry about the characters it presents, maybe you should watch it again with an eye out for the subtext. This movie eschewed a lot of the endorphin-rush tricks of traditional blockbuster movies, and it is suffering at the box office and in initial public perception for it. Rian Johnson took a real risk with Star Wars, and if we don’t want a spate of cookie-cutter rehash films from now on, let’s give him the appreciation he deserves.

Time Management

As you can no doubt imagine, taking care of the parents is a full-time obligation. “But Miranda,” I hear you saying, “You need to take some time for yourself as well.” I couldn’t agree more. Let me share with you some of my helpful tips for not losing your free time, and sanity, with parents.

The first thing you must understand is that parents should be placed in a safe environment if you’re leaving them without supervision, preferably with some sort of distraction to keep them occupied. You don’t want to get involved in a task, only to have to come running because they’ve had an emergency.

If you’re not sure what environment is safe for your parent, here is an example: Mommy likes to go to the sink and play with the soapy water. She gives baths to the cups and plates. I don’t understand why she enjoys it so much, but it keeps her occupied almost every day.

Once your parent is safely distracted you have the perfect opportunity to do the things around the house that you really want to do, without parents poking in and bothering you. One thing to keep in mind is that the parents are auditory creatures. If you make too much noise, they cannot help but come and investigate. If you keep quiet, you can enjoy many precious hours of uninterrupted time.

Acceptance

Imagine a church with two-thousand years of being neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. A group of people who had been held together through every disagreement and outward attack by their unity in Jesus, the counterpoint to the deep animosities that divide the world.

It’s not hard to see why Jesus cared so much about the unity of his followers. He never forced anyone to come to him, but if they did, he called on them to put aside their prejudice and join a new family. Yet shortly after his ascension the church was already dividing itself by race and culture. The pattern of the world is hard to break.

At that time, brave people within the church, like Paul, fought to ensure that division could not gain a foothold, even going so far as a direct confrontation with the apostles at Jerusalem. When he heard that the churches were arguing about whose teaching they followed, he made it clear. We are all followers of the same Teacher.

What if the church in our neighborhood was filled with people of different backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs, and yet they all supported each other? If, as one family, followers of Jesus didn’t need to hide who they are and chase the world’s approval because they know a love that cannot fail?

Let There Be Lights

Life is all about discovery. I try to explain this to the parents, but they just say “Take that out of your mouth, Miranda.” One recent discovery has really changed my appreciation for the marvels of our universe. Did you know that there are small switches on the walls that make lights? It’s true. I wouldn’t have believed it either, except that I’ve tried them for myself. It’s magical.

I think all of you out there in my audience already know how much I enjoy spreading light, and now I can do it literally. As you can no doubt guess, this has not been without some nay-saying from the parents. “Miranda, don’t turn on lights you aren’t using. Miranda, turn out the lights when you leave a room.” I guess I can’t blame them. If I looked like a parent I’d probably stay in the dark too. What, too mean? It’s all in good fun… Mostly.

The parents are not above using these switches of light themselves, but they don’t seem to understand their full potential. They’re always switching lights off instead of on. I’d like to think it’s just an accident, but they seem to deliberately want only a few lights on at a time.

The worst is when they walk into a room and don’t even turn on the lights. Naturally I, being the helpful spreader of lightness that I am, try to correct their oversight, and they object. “Miranda, it’s light outside.” We’re not outside, now are we Daddy? We’re inside. Turn on the lights.

 

Finding a Church

Imagine that when you moved to a new neighborhood you didn’t need to find a church. You didn’t need to drive around looking for steeples, search the Yellow Pages for church listings, or get reviews from Google Maps. Instead, the church was already there. They showed up at your house and offered to help you move in. They were your neighbors who occasionally dropped by with food or invited you to come over to visit.

Even if they hadn’t introduced themselves, the church would be hard to miss. They would be the neighbors that were always spending time together. Their kids played with each other, rather than spending every evening in a sport or activity. The families spent time together, and no one seemed to ever be alone. Rather than seeing each family out working in their own yard, they would all work together, moving their tools from house to house. Of course, they didn’t just take care of each other. They also took care of anyone’s house who was willing to accept some extra help.

Although you eventually found out that one was a janitor, another a lawyer, and one was a single mother, they were all taken care of by the others. Everyone had enough, and no one tried to get more. Instead, anything extra they quickly gave to someone in need, and they knew a lot about needs. In their conversations with you, they would always ask if there was anything you needed. And after a while, you felt comfortable telling them, because you never heard them talking about anyone else’s needs.

What if you didn’t need to find a church, because the church found you?

Patience

The life of a parent is short and hectic. It’s not good for them. Being the benevolent person you all know me to be, I have taken it upon myself to address their lack of patience, and teach them this valuable life skill.

If I’m playing with my friends and Mommy says “It’s time to go, Miranda,” I see a learning opportunity. After all, does it really matter if we leave right this moment? Of course not, but Mommy doesn’t understand that. She’s too worried about silly things like food in the oven. That’s where food is supposed to be, Mommy.

Or Daddy might tell me to put away my blocks. It’s unhealthy to be concerned about these things all the time. After all, he’s certainly not that concerned when I inform him that I need a toy from somewhere I can’t reach. I think these teachable moments can really help them learn to use their time more wisely.

Of course, these parents never make things easy. You probably will find this shocking, but they have been known to try and do things themselves if I delay long enough. I’ll be looking at my shirt, contemplating the design or seeing which holes my head will fit through, and Mommy, in a fit on impatience, will try to put the shirt on me. Naturally I can’t allow this. Not only is it directly counter to the lesson I’m trying to teach, but the parents are hopelessly inept. I protest until Mommy backs down and takes some time to think about what she’s done.

I know many of you will say that I’m just wasting my energy, but the way I see it, even if it doesn’t work out with these parents it’ll be good training for the next ones.

Church

I’ve been indulging a fantasy lately. What might the church look like today if it had managed to avoid so many of the missteps (as I see them) since that first Pentecost? What if, when people suggested placing powerful bishops in each city to ensure that heresy couldn’t spread, enough Christians had stood up to say that Jesus had taught that they were all brothers, and had one teacher, the Messiah1 ? What if they had pointed to the promise that, under the new covenant, God himself would put the law into their hearts and no one would need to teach another, because they would know God himself2 ?

What if, when Constantine had secured his empire and declared it to be Christian, the church hadn’t been so demoralized by Diocletian’s persecution that they leapt at a chance at legitimacy? Could they have welcomed Constantine with open arms, but told him that the role of King was already taken? What if they told him that within the church there is no slave or master, no Emperor or subject3 . What if they had said that while a man could repent and follow Jesus, an empire could not?

What if, when some suggested that the church split, either because of some disagreement or so that they could be with people like themselves, the church had said, as Paul did so forcefully in his time, that within the church there is no Jew or Greek4 ? What if they had clung to Jesus’s promise that their unity would be the attribute that set them apart from the world5 ?

I know each of these decisions would have been costly. I doubt I could have done better, and Jesus has shepherded his church through it all, but what if…


  1. Matthew 23:8-10 

  2. Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:8-13 

  3. Colossians 3:11 

  4. Galatians 3:28 

  5. John 17:20-23 

Communication Disruption

Do you know that the parents have the audacity to plot against me right in front of my face? Those of you who have read my previous reports about these particular parents probably aren’t surprised, but, for those who doubt, let me give you an example: Mommy will say “Miranda built a stool out of blocks, pulled the CD player down off the shelf, and set the alarm for 8:00 AM.” Then Daddy will say “We should move the CD player.”

“Hello? I’m standing right here. I can hear you.” Still, I can’t have them plotting against me. Fortunately, I have found a way to frustrate these vile attempts at insurrection. It’s quite simple, really. I remain constantly vigilant for any moment when Mommy is trying to speak to Daddy, or vice versa, then I start talking as loudly as I can. It doesn’t really matter what I say. Sometimes I just make up sounds.

“Miranda, honey, Mommy and Daddy are trying to talk,” they say. Um, yeah, I know. That’s the point. I should add that this not only works with face-to-face conversations. It’s equally effective against telephones. No method of subterfuge will be allowed to prosper under my reign.

The parents don’t know who they’re messing with. I’ve studied them for years. I know all of their weaknesses. They haven’t got a chance.

The Hostage

Many of you seem to think that the parents can’t really be as bad as I make them out to be. “Surely,” you say, “this must all just be some sort of misunderstanding.” Very well, I will present you with the facts, and you may draw your own conclusions.

I have a faithful little duck. He is small and yellow, and always shows up when I take a bath. On his bottom are the letters H-O-T. He doesn’t say much, but I know I can count on him and we’ve grown quite close.

I never gave much thought to where he went after bath time. I guess I just assumed he went back to his little duck family. I wish I had never discovered the truth. You can imagine my horror when, as I was innocently exploring the cabinets under the bathroom sink, I found him trapped there in the dark. I couldn’t imagine why he was there. Maybe he’d been looking in the cabinets too, and the door accidentally closed on him. Naturally, I set him free. How could I leave my good friend in such a state?

The next day, I found him locked up under the sink again. I tried to free him, but Mommy stopped me. “Leave the ducky in there, Miranda,” she said. I protested, but she was unrelenting. However, I am more agile and clever than the parents. I grabbed my friend and ran for it. Unfortunately, Mommy eventually trapped me. She grabbed duck and put him right back under the sink, then carried me away.

You tell me. Are the parents really as bad as I have said?

Asymetrical Warfare

The strategy of saying “No” to the parents has hit a snag. You see, it turns out that they apparently don’t understand their own language. I tell them “No” and they just ignore me and insist that I do what they said anyhow. Sometimes, and I know this will come as a shock to many of you, they even physically force me to comply. It became obvious that I needed to rethink my strategy.

I am not going to lose this battle. If I can’t overcome them directly, I’ll wear them down slowly until they beg for mercy. At first I couldn’t understand their defiance, but then I realized the truth: All of these so called “naps” and “bedtimes” that they say are for my own benefit are actually when they plot against me! I cannot allow this to continue any longer. I will never take another nap. I will refuse their bedtimes. If necessary, I will even start screaming in the middle of the night, just to make sure they remember who is in charge here.

Your move, parents.