(major SPOILERS for The Last Jedi ahead. Be warned and don’t read further if you haven’t watched the film… also because you wouldn’t know what the entire article is about)
The last scene of The Last Jedi has many levels of meaning, all connected with the aspect of hope and resistance against tyranny. I would like to focus on a particular aspect of this scene: you could call it the spiritual part. Continuing from there, I would like to ponder what The Last Jedi means for our understanding of the Force and the Jedi in general.
“I am a Nobody”
I believe what happened in The Last Jedi can be called “the democratisation of the Force”. To illustrate what I mean by that, let me first recap several instances that point in this direction. There is the stableboy, who in the final scene pulls the broom to himself: a seeming nobody using the Force without any formal training. Then there is the revelation of Rey’s parentage, which (if true) also means she is a “nobody” using the Force. Lastly, there is Leia, who uses the Force as well without being formally trained. Even if she is a Skywalker, she is still not a Jedi.
These instances create a pattern in relation to another scene: that of Luke, with Yoda’s assistance, burning the Jedi tree and the old first Jedi manuscripts contained within. Combine it with Luke’s conviction that the Jedi must end (not the negative version of it he has in the beginning, that of a resigned old man, but the more proactive one he adopts later) and it becomes a theme.
A radical interpretation of those scenes could be: there is no need to be a Jedi to use the Force. Or, to be precise: to use the Force PROPERLY. Herein lies the difference and the true heart of what I believe we see in The Last Jedi. Of course one doesn’t need to be a Jedi to use the Force technically: one can be a Sith, or a slave boy who unconsciously uses the Force to win podraces.
For millenia, there have been Jedi who searched the Galaxy for such little children, to help them understand their powers and nurture them. What the special message of The Last Jedi seems to be is that one does not need to be trained by the Jedi to use the Force to do good – and to do it systematically while drawing upon the Force to do it. In other words, the spiritual power to do good (as opposed to doing good “just of one’s own physical strength”), the spiritual dimension of doing good, is not limited to the “institution” and the specific system set up by the Jedi. That is how we can understand the burning scene: the source of power that can be drawn upon is not subject to the precisely defined path, guarded by the Jedi Knights. The Force opens itself to children and nobodys – uninvited.
The Force Has Awakened
I had, in fact, been expecting something like this already since learning the title of the previous episode. It hasn’t really manifested itself there, aside from Rey’s ability to grasp the Force fairly well without previous teaching, which, back then, led many to feel like too much suppression of disbelief was required to see her fight a trained Force user so succesfully.
It is good that The Last Jedi addressed this part: what Rey used in TFA was raw power, it was intuitive, but she really didn’t have a concept of what she was doing. One can always draw upon the Force and do amazing feats by trial-error method, but they can think the Force is just “mind-tricking people and lifting rocks”. Luke helped Rey put into words what she kind of intuitively knew, but could not really grasp: that the Force isn’t just some sort of “magic” responding to invisible commands, but that it exists there and connects all things. That it is not some sort of private power to use on a whim, but that it is there with everyone and therefore for everyone. And what directly stems from it is that it should be used for others, because it is there also for them.
The Child and the Resistance
Let’s keep the moment of interdependence and connection to others in mind and let’s go back to the character of the broom boy. By himself, he is nothing more than the reiteration of an old trope: the farm boy, the peasant, the “nobody” who finds his “special gift” and thus could embark on a journey of a great adventure.
But that’s not all there is. The final scene of The Last Jedi connects two aspects: the Force and the Resistance. The boy shows the ring with the Resistance symbol, meaning he isn’t just a potential Force-user, but he considers himself also connected to the others who are fighting for the free future of the Galaxy.
To see these two aspects side by side instantly reminded me of a book by one great theologian of late 20th century, Dorothee Sölle – the book which is, interestingly enough, called Mysticism and Resistance. What she calls “mysticism” could be explained as one’s direct personal relationship with the divine – that kind which cannot be limited by any external structures, exactly because it is personal. And for Sölle, mystics are always driven to action, because of their mysticism: “whether it be withdrawal, renunciation, disagreement, divergence, dissent, reform, resistance, rebellion, or revolution, in all of these forms there is a No! to the world as it exists now. The reformer Teresa of Avila; the Beguines of Flanders, who created their own new forms of life; Thomas Müntzer, the revolutionary leader of peasants; and Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit destroyer of weapons of mass destruction – all of them lived their mysticism in the repudiation of the values that ruled in their worlds.”
I believe this is exactly the kind of model that can be applied on The Last Jedi‘s presentation of the Force. Any kind of “nobody” can have a personal relationship to the Force, and through it, also their relationship to the rest of the Galaxy is changed. And even as a slave in stables, or as a captive in First Order’s prison, they can draw upon the power of the Force for help – and for hope. Being conscious of their connection to the rest of the Galaxy ensures they are not using their Force just wilfully, for their own selfish reasons, but drives them to use it to resist the oppression of the First Order.
The tree burning scene does not mean the ideals of the Jedi are gone. But it means they do not own the Force – and that they realise it. The Force itself finds a way to “awaken” in the many “nobodys” like Rey all across the Galaxy, and fuels them in their resistance.