Throughout history, exile is a common theme, particularly when speaking of religion. In the book of Exodus, from the second book of the Torah and the Christian Bible, the Jews leave slavery in Egypt and journey to the Promised Land. In Islam a pilgrimage to Mecca, called Hajj, is a mandatory practice that one must partake in if physically and financially able. Numerous religious leaders, such as the Dalai Lama, have undertaken exile in order to stand up for their beliefs and help shape their communities. In the New Testament, Jesus went into exile for 40 days and 40 nights, facing temptations and challenges that would later inform how he taught his disciples.
Regardless of religious ideology and/or beliefs, the stories of religion have shaped much of the world today. Star Wars is one such example. To say that the Force is anything but a conglomeration of a plethora of religious ideas and considerations is folly. Thus, if a practice or theme happens regularly in any religion, or if said theme occurs across multiple religions, we must consider its presence in Star Wars.
Which begs the question: is exile an important part of being a Jedi? Let’s consider.
In “Path of the Jedi,” Yoda admits to Ezra Bridger that the Jedi had been blinded by the dark side and controlled by fear during the Clone Wars. When Yoda went to Dagobah, he had plenty of time to think about the mistakes that he and the Order made, thus shaping how he would train Luke Skywalker some 20 years later. During this time, Yoda was continuing to learn about the Force via Qui-Gon Jinn, thus opening him up to new ways of doing the whole Jedi thing.
When Luke arrives, we see the result of this exile. Yoda is far different than he was in Revenge of the Sith. First, he tests Luke by acting like a menace, seeing if young Skywalker will be dismissive of someone so seemingly unimportant. The Jedi of old forgot the unimportant in their bid to maintain power. The new Jedi must not. Further, notice that Yoda never trains Luke with a lightsaber. This is a very intentional efface, as Luke must learn to not depend on his warrior side as his father did. Going forward, Yoda realizes that if the Jedi are to be reborn they must be different from the Jedi of old. If Yoda had not had those years to reflect, and instead took Luke or Leia to train on Dagobah right away, there is very little to suggest that the Jedi would once again become who they need to be.
If there was ever a character who needed some time alone to think, it was Obi-Wan. Not only did he fail as a Master, he failed as a Jedi. Often considered the most “Jedi” Jedi, and rightfully so in most regards, his inability to connect with Anakin on an emotional level cost the galaxy.
As a teacher myself, I can say with the utmost certainty and conviction that students who you cannot relate to are the hardest ones to reach. There is a gap, and for Obi-Wan and Anakin that gap continued to spread to the point were emotion was basically taken out of the conversation. Kenobi tells Anakin “dreams pass in time” when Anakin is having nightmares of his mother, keeps his former relationship with Satine from Anakin, and deceives Anakin to go undercover as Rako Hardeen. Not the best way to build the trust of someone who already feels stifled by your teaching.
The greatest teacher, though, failure is. During his time on Tatooine, we know Obi-Wan communed with his Master, Qui-Gon Jinn. With 20 years to fill, they most certainly talked about more than just how to live eternally in the Force. Obi-Wan, being the epitome of the Jedi Order, would want to continue to learn and grow; that means handling his failure with Anakin. After his duel with Maul in “Twin Suns,” we see the maturity that this time has begotten him. Despite all the pain Maul caused him, Obi-Wan holds the dying Zabrak in his arms sympathetically. There is no animosity, no anger. Later, he tells Luke his father was “the best pilot in the galaxy,” “a cunning warrior,” “and a good friend.” Again, maturity over animosity.
This growth and maturity is what allowed Kenobi to be properly prepared for teaching Luke. Gone are the wise-cracks and sarcasm, replaced by focus, maturity, and urgency. Obi-Wan learned that a student will take up a teacher’s most present qualities, and thus grew to become, in his exile, the Jedi the galaxy needed Luke to be.
Despite not being a Jedi, exile is an important theme in Ahsoka’s story. So important, in fact, that she has two separate exiles.
First there is her exile from the galaxy at large. On the run post-Order 66, Ahsoka had to keep a low profile to stay alive. But eventually the Force called her back into action as Fulcrum, which would lead to her second and most important exile.
Malachor. After her duel with Anakin/Vader, Ahsoka was absent from the larger galactic picture. We know she didn’t die, as we see her be rescued by Ezra and then later as she returns to pick up Sabine. Knowing that exile is an important theme, we have to ask: What was she doing all of that time? Answer: she was being more of a Jedi than the Jedi she knew ever were, selflessly isolating herself on the Sith planet in order to be a light in the darkness that would allow hope to survive until…
Interestingly, Luke almost starts his life in an exile of sorts, far from anything important. He then goes on his heroic journey, yet like the great Jedi before him he eventually falls short. He exiles himself on Ach-To, and yet again we must ask, “Why?”
First of all, we must realize that the Luke who ends his life in isolation is not the same Luke who started his life in isolation. The happenings of the original trilogy greatly influenced the character; when Rey goes to Ach-To she meets a Luke who, although a bit cynical, believes he is doing the right thing by staying away from the galactic scene. Remember that this is a man who nearly had his friends killed in his foolish attempt to rescue them, who nearly killed Vader in a fit of rage, and considered, if only for a second, about killing his own nephew. This Luke has seen what happens when the Jedi are important figures, and decides that the best bet for the health of the galaxy is to see them fade away into history.
Rey brings him more than a lightsaber. She brings him, literally and metaphorically, a new hope. She reminds him of that youthful young man who rushed off to save his friends, who jumped in an X-Wing at the first chance, who did what was right when it was hard. When Rey goes off to save Ben Solo, Luke sees himself. He is reminded of the value that hope and belief can bring.
But couldn’t he have just remembered this? He is the Luke Skywalker, after all. But again we must consider the religious and mythological figures that Luke is analogous to. Moses, Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and even Jesus had to have time on their own to consider the impact they had and would have on the world. Luke must also have that time, where he can consider the mistakes of the Jedi past and consider Jedi future. Interestingly, Luke, like Moses, Daniel, and at times even Jesus, considers himself unworthy of crafting that future. In his training of Rey, he challenges her to think beyond the Jedi, to focus in on the Force and how it unites everything.
Going forward, we will see how this philosophy will influence Rey’s understanding of the sacred Jedi text. It is possible, and arguably plausible, is that Rey will have to face her own exile in order to fully realize herself as a person and a Jedi. Lets take some time on our own to think about that.