Rey, Finn, and Poe want you to be your best self. That’s all the Star Wars sequel trilogy was about and I loved it.
Warning: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker ahead.
The Force Awakens cautioned us that war never changes. The First Order rose from the ashes of The Empire by twisting and corrupting the soul of Ben Solo, the son of two famed heroes that were instrumental in vanquishing The Empire. The newly rechristened Kylo Ren was then tasked with spreading fear and bloodshed throughout the stars as, like The Empire before it, The First Order built a new planet destroyer to intimidate the galaxy to fall under its rule. But as a familiar dread crept, familiar heroes rose to meet it.
Finn, a Stormtrooper within The First Order plunged into a crisis of the self and realized that he was helping to author horror. He found the strength to leave the only life he’d ever known and join The Resistance by helping ace pilot, Poe Dameron, escape capture. Finn then comes to meet Rey, an orphaned scavenger on a desert planet whose life is clearly destined for things beyond the desolation of sand. Together, they escape The First Order and meet Han Solo and Chewbacca who teach our budding protagonists the meaning of heroism and, more so, the courage needed to rage against the dark as The Resistance earns its first victory over The First Order.
The galaxy had new hopes in Rey, Poe, and Finn however, many cited that these “hopes” and the means by which they were crafted as very reminiscent of what came before. This is a valid criticism. After all, both The First Order and The Empire cruxed their power bases upon powerful Sith Lords and planet destroying weapons. This then triggered an almost hysterically identical sequence of events that saw the rise of our protagonists. And, after two separate but very, very similar trench run sequences, The First Order and The Empire learned that they both have weaknesses to cheeky rogues and unassuming sand orphans. The Force Awakens may be a derivative of A New Hope however, there is a lesson to be found in their similarity.
A New Hope and The Force Awakens together prove that regardless of the finalites of your victories and despite how prosperous your days may seem, malice will always find fertile land to grow. The Force Awakens, better than A New Hope, understands this and thusly implores us to stand firm regardless – just watch Han. Watch how Han, despite sensing the cadence of the film’s conflicts, throws himself into the breach once more. Watch how Han inspires Rey and Poe by showing them that as long as they fight, they will always find hope. And watch how Han, despite knowing of Kylo Ren’s atrocities, tries to shore Ben from the maelstrom raging within himself. The Force Awakens teaches us that while dark days will always come but “the light – It’s always been there. It’ll guide you.”
The Last Jedi used poignant artistry and an iconoclastic fervor to teach us how to find purpose in pain. Our heroes find themselves quietly separated and forced to examine their motivations and the roles within the conflict between The Resistance and The First Order.
Poe finds himself aboard the main envoy ship of The Resistance and must contend with The First Order’s fleet trailing them and brandishing oblivion. Poe, being commander of The Resistance’s fleet, is demanding permission to launch a retaliatory attack on The First Order but his superiors are not only denying him, but also dismissing him for his folly. Poe cannot see past the conflict before him and instead of working with his superiors to develop a solution to their predicament and understand their choices, stages a mutiny. Poe and his co-conspirators are quickly subdued but after the acting commander of the envoy employs a self-sacrificial maneuver to enable the remainder of the fleet to escape, Poe realizes that a leader is measured not by battles won and lost and must be more “interested in protecting the light than seeming like a hero.”
Finn’s resolve falters after seeing the might of The First Order. After being critically wounded at the end of The Force Awakens, he awakens from a medical coma and resolves to escape the conflict at hand. He is met by Rose Tico as he about to escape The Resistance’s envoy and together they embark on an adventure to the luxury planet known as Canto Bight. Finn immediately marvels at pomp and circumstance of the planet and is taken by Bight’s beauty but recoils when he learns that their entire colony is perched on the backs of slaves and servants. Finn then completes his adventure by infiltrating a First Order Star Destroyer and, after being held prisoner, faces his former Stormtrooper cohorts and Captain Phasma. Finn comes to this cross road with Rose by his side and is reminded of evil’s true faces. Rose and his adventure with her leads him to recant his prior desire to escape the war as realizes that he must continue to fight the rising tides. Finn chooses to be “Rebel Scum.”
All the while, Rey finds herself with Luke Skywalker, a formerly legendary, currently broken Jedi Master. Luke has isolated himself from the galaxy after he unwittingly ushered Ben Solo to the darkside and initially refuses Rey’s request to train her. Luke is haunted by his failure and the bloodshed it predicated, has renounced the ways of The Jedi, and decrees that he “would never train another generation of Jedi.”
This moment shook Rey to her core. Luke, like her, was never meant to leave the desolate sands of his upbringing. He was to be a moisture farmer like his Aunt and Uncle, whose highest hopes revolved around finding useful droids to assist with all the moisture farming. Fortunately for Luke, destiny thought otherwise and Luke ventured past his lowly childhood to explore the galaxy, learned the ways of The Force en route becoming a Jedi Master, became a legendary hero by helping to destroy The Empire, and above all else, found a family. These were Rey’s greatest hopes. She chased them blindly and feverishly with a touching sense of desperation, almost as if she was railing against the door of the fates shouting, “Please!” So imagine the chilling dread that rose within Rey as she stood at the door of Luke Skywalker, someone who has achieved all that she seeks, as Luke told her “it’s time for the Jedi to end.”
Nevertheless, Rey persisted. Rey held true to her dreams and Luke began introducing her to the Jedi arts but, curiously and unintentionally, begins communicating telepathically with Kylo Ren. She learns of his story and ventures to see him, against Luke’s warning, in effort to convince him to renounce the dark side and return to life as Ben Solo. Rey tries to use the memories of his loved ones and assure him they can work past all that he’s wrought to redemption. Ben considers her proposal and even fights with her to overthrow Supreme Leader Snoke, current head of The First Order, only for Kylo Ren to remerge. With Snoke’s blood freshly flowing on the walls of the throne and set to the backdrop of The Resistance fleet being decimated, Kylo extends his hand to Rey and asks her to “join [him]” so that they could rule the galaxy together and affirms that it is “time to let old things die. Snoke, Skywalker, The Sith, The Jedi, The Rebels, let it all die.”
Rey could achieve all that she wanted with Ren. Rey, in this one moment, could have the teacher that could help her reach the potential she’s always known she’s had, a greater purpose than anything her home in the sands could offer her, and a family in Kylo Ren. However, Rey also knows that a life with Ren would lead to death, destruction, and the darkside. So, like any true Jedi, Rey reached for her lightsaber. Rey’s encounters with Kylo Ren and Luke helped her to realize that personal growth must not come at the cost of your beliefs and that if your heroes fail you, you’ll just have to be your own.
Rey, Poe, and Finn, arguably, lived their finest hour at the battle of Crait. The entire Resistance fleet was pinned down by The First Order but their time apart helped them come together to win the day. Finn’s new found resolve led him to lead the assault on Kylo Ren’s troops. Poe’s recent plight and the perspective gained from it enabled him to coordinate and evacuation strategy to keep The Resistance safe. And Rey’s new found confidence allowed her to enter the fray at the right moment and use the Millenium Falcon to ensure The Resistance lived to fight another day. If The Force Awakens prompted our heroes to take up arms, The Last Jedi was the crucible that forged them into iron and together, they became the “spark that [would] light the fire that [would] burn the First Order down.”
The Last Jedi taught while “darkness rises, and light to meet it,” we often have to be that light by tearing away what we once were. This is why many fans met the The Last Jedi with hatred. The movie was tasked with answering many mysteries posed by The Force Awakens and delivering us the return of Luke Skywalker in the guise of bombastic, nostalgia tinged, space adventure. What we received was a somber meditation on how to achieve personal growth by accepting, learning, and moving away from our past. It was a painful but essential and achingly beautiful lesson.
The return of Emperor Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker allowed our heroes to become legends. Palpatine was the totality of the galaxy’s fears made flesh. He enslaved the galaxy by means of legions of Stormtroopers and Darth Vader. He engineered the fall of the Jedi, the only ones who could rival his might. And most frightening of all, his Empire and its reach suffocated hopes of better tomorrows in the universe. It was only until The Emperor seemingly met his demise in Return of The Jedi that the galaxy began to heal and recover from the decades of imperial rule. But with The First Order growing in strength and The Resistance fledgling after losses suffered after the battle of Crait, the Emperor’s return all but assured the galaxy’s return to the abyss.
Our heroes had grown much stronger since we left them last. Rey was now taking her final steps toward becoming a Jedi, Poe had acclimated to his role as being a highly ranked leader within The Resistance, and Finn was enjoying a confidence of being an effective sword for the rebellion. But, as they began their mission to find Palpatine, even they felt fear and doubt creep within them as the despot’s cackles echoed among the stars. Poe began to question his ability to lead The Resistance during Leia’s waning hours, Finn was unsure of how to handle a surprising new found sensitivity to the Force, while Rey was beginning to dread her inevitable confrontation with Kylo Ren and had become fearful of learning the truth of her past and her parentage. This fear followed them and hissed horrors into their ears as they drew closer to Palpatine but ultimately, this fear served as a contrast that made their victory all the more brilliant.
Poe was afraid that he could never live up General Leia’s example as a leader. After all, he was not even able to obtain ally support at the battle of Crait and feared that his life as a rogue made him unfit to command The Resistance. General Leia’s passing made him face all this as he immediately took her place at the head of the rebellion. He found himself kneeling at her bedside, he asked the heavens how Leia was able to lead. The heavens answered with an elderly Lando Calrissian who told him, simply, that all Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and himself had was “each other. That’s how [they] won.”
Finn, meanwhile, had become able to sense the Force. It was a new ability that he did not understand and was wary of telling his friends – even after it offered a clear tactical advantage on multiple occasions. However, after meeting a troop of former Stormtroopers who had deserted The First Order like he had, Finn reflected on how far he had come and all that he had achieved and began to embrace his abilities.
Rey’s nightmare became a reality when she was revealed to the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. Rey, by means of ominous hints from Kylo Ren and insidious visions she had received as a result of her burgeoning power as a Jedi, began to be frightened of her origins and what her might will lead her. Imagine the terrors in her mind as she learned that she was terror’s heir apparent. She immediately recoiled and retreated back to the island where Luke Skywalker isolated himself from the galaxy, intent to combat seeming inevitability with isolation. And as she threw her lightsaber into a fiery abyss, she comforted by Luke in Force Ghost form.
Rey asked Luke if he and Leia knew that she was a Palpatine. Luke said, yes.
Rey asked Luke why they trained her if she knew that she was a Palpatine. Luke said it was because of her spirit and the faith they had in her.
Rey asked Luke what she should do. Luke said, “confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.”
Rey sprinted towards a final confrontation with Palpatine with a new sense of self and beckoned Finn and Poe to follow. Poe realized that he was no longer the daredevil loner he once was and placed faith in his troops, his allies, and his friends as he led the airborne assault against Palpatine’s fleet. Finn’s acceptance of his new abilities allowed him to coordinate an attack on a principle Star Destroyer that allowed The Resistance’s armada to strike. While Rey’s renewed sense of self allowed her to ward Palpatine’s manipulations, resist the seduction of the dark side, redeem Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, and destroy The Emperor by triumphantly proclaiming herself a Jedi. The triumvirate found victory because they embraced their strengths, their weaknesses, and each other as they learned to “never be afraid of who you are.”
The trilogy ends with Rey honoring Luke and Leia by burying their lightsabers on Tatooine, wielding her new saber fashioned from her old walking staff, and looking at the planet’s Twin Suns – hopeful for what the horizon may bring. Rey is no longer a lowly scavenger waiting for her parents to come back, in the same way that Finn is no longer the cowardly Stormtrooper, nor is Poe the adrenaline seeking, glory hound. No, together they found a cause for fighting for, grew beyond themselves to wage war, and in the process, conquered their fears to find the strength to be a hero, a leader, and a f-----g Jedi Knight.
Tell me, is their path not the one you must walk to find your best self?
Star Wars is many things. It is a western, wrapped in a space opera, that champions themes of lover, family, duty, honor, and heroism. It’s story has been told by means of fantastical worlds, creatures, aliens, droids, and spirits over 42 years. It’s spawned movies, television, books, video games, and has been the cornerstone in childhoods, households, and its cannon has lead to the founding of a religion. But, more than anything else, Star Wars is about people.
The Phantom Menace, Attack of The Clones, and Revenge of The Sith warned us that succumbing to your fears will bring you to ruin.
A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of The Jedi promised us that faith in your family will help you conquer all.
And now, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker, we learned how to become our best selves.
So, if you can’t celebrate the stories of the new trilogy and their end — celebrate their message. “Never be afraid of you are.”