With the release of The Rise of Skywalker came questions about what the Skywalker saga is really about. With George Lucas’s six films there is a clear through line of the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, the theme of redemptive love, and the Hero’s Journey of Luke Skywalker. Disney’s trilogy complicated this legacy (not necessarily in a bad way) by allowing Palpatine to be reborn (remade), complicating the relationship of the Big Three, and once again showing someone with Skywalker blood succumbing to the darkness. While there are arguments to be made from both sides, those who love and those who (respectfully) dislike the sequels, it is impossible to deny that it complicates the perfect ending that is Return of the Jedi. Having post-Jedi stories has always made me ponder what the trilogy of trilogies is saying. What’s the bigger picture? Now that Rise of Skywalker has been released and I’ve had months to consider, this is the conclusion I’ve come to….
The Prequels- Who You Can’t Be
The prequels are a Greek tragedy, centered on the fall of Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi, and the Republic. They are also a lesson in who we cannot be if we are to express our truest, healthiest self.
From the story of the original trilogy itself, the Jedi seemed to be a beacon of hope, the manifestation of our best selves. In the prequels, the Jedi were misguided, manipulated, and, dare say fools. Instead of helping people like Luke realize their full potential, the Jedi were far more focused on who the Jedi should not be. No attachments. No marriage or love. No intimacy of any real consequence, so much so that Obi-Wan never tells Anakin he is loved until he is burning in the lava of Mustafar.
This focus on the negatives to be avoided rather than the positives to be supported tears Anakin Skywalker to bits. When he starts to have dreams of his mother in pain, his best friend and Master basically tells him to get over it. When he loses his mother, there is no one who could even understand what he is going through, much less anyone who would be willing to listen. So when he starts to have similar dreams of Padmé dying in childbirth, he can only turn inward, which drives him to become selfish, until he eventually becomes so trapped within himself that it manifests physically in the armor of Darth Vader.
The Original Trilogy- Who We Can Be
In contrast with its chronological predecessor, the original trilogy is about who you can be. While this is true for Han and Leia as well, the focus of this idea most certainly centers around Luke.
Luke’s story starts with him stuck in place, spinning his proverbial wheels on the moisture farm that has been his world for 19 years. Through the steps of the hero’s journey, Luke not only finds out that he has the potential to be a Jedi, but finds his place in the galaxy. Whereas Anakin’s story is one of denial, resentment, and selfishness, Luke’s is one of selflessness and finding peace and purpose.
By the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke is the Jedi that the Jedi of the prequels could never be. The Jedi that puts love first and lightsaber second. The Jedi during the prequels became resented, even hated, by the galaxy at large: Luke is the Jedi that inspires a generation.
The Sequel Trilogy- Who You Want to Be
What makes the sequels unique in the larger narrative is that there are two main protagonists, Rey and Ben/Kylo. They are reflections of each other, powerful light and powerful dark. Likewise, they are both trying to figure out who they want to be. Ben is trapped by his lineage, being sent off to be a Jedi despite there being no indication that that is what he actually wanted to become. When things went south, he chose the path he thought he should by following in the steps of his grandfather. Similarly, Rey is staying on Jakku because of the hope she has for her parents to return. She is choosing this life because she thinks she is supposed to, although, once again, we don’t know that that is what she really wanted.
When these two crash into each other they are both forced out of their comfort zone. The Last Jedi centers around this tension, as Rey tries to become a Jedi (which is what we find she wants) and Kylo Ren is exposed as a fraud, a facade. Throughout the film, both protagonists are pushing and pulling against one another, one moment enemies and the next partners. However, by the end of the film Rey has chosen who she wants to be, at least in part, whereas Ren has dug his feet in.
Now that Rey knows she wants to be a Jedi, things should be quite simple. She’s got the ancient texts, Leia as her master, and even Force ghost Luke could probably be available if need be. She has learned the lesson of Anakin, that she cannot be the little girl who stays on Jakku waiting on a false reality. But now she must face the trial of Luke, confronting the father/grandfather, to see who she can be. Only then can she truly step into who she wants to be.
Leia, in Bloodline, explains how she does not consider herself Anakin Skywalker’s daughter because of what he did to her, but more importantly what her parents Bail and Breha Organa did for her. When she is outed in the Senate, she has to make the decision between accepting that she should be cast out because of her lineage or stepping into the identity she really wants. She chooses the latter, making her uniquely gifted to train Rey. While Rey does have to confront Palpatine as a Jedi, she also has to face him as a granddaughter. She is combining the paths of Luke and Leia, bringing the two into one. When she does so, symbolized by her use of both Luke and Leia’s lightsabers, she is able to finally become “all of the Jedi.”
With regards to Ben Solo, the path is similar. As Kylo Ren, he was always trying to be what someone else wanted him to be, or rebelling against who someone wanted him to be. That is the persona. Yet Rey wants nothing from him save for him to be who she knows he is. The Last Jedi creates that personal connection between them so that when Rey says, “I did want to take your hand. Ben’s hand,” we as an audience believe her and believe that such words would hit at Ben’s very core. He then reconciles with his mother and father, throws away the persona of Kylo Ren, and Ben Solo is reborn.
It is only when both characters have chosen their path that the galaxy can truly be saved. In a way, they have flipped roles from who they were in The Force Awakens. Ben Solo, now one with the Force (or with Rey), will likely not be remembered by the galaxy at large. That’s what happened to Anakin, even though he returned to the light in the last moments of his life. Ben Solo has become a nobody, but the nobody he chose to be. He freely gives of himself to Rey, sacrifices himself for her, because he no longer needs the validation he was seeking as Kylo. Rey, on the other hand, has become a Skywalker. By taking the Skywalker name she is declaring that she has found the family she was looking for and the identity she always wanted.