Tag Archives: Renewal of an Institution

The Last Jedi and the Renewal of an Institution (Spoilers)

April 18, 2018

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by Christopher Menzhuber

Christopher Menzhuber

The tension between authentically renewing institutions and destroying them has been around as long as institutions have been with us. Many people would agree the Church -as an institution- should be in a constant state of renewal yet few would agree on what that means. The root of such disagreement lies in our understanding of what Jesus came to do: establish a Church or destroy religious institutions altogether?

For those who believe Jesus came to destroy institutions, “Christ … appears as the revolutionary of love, who pits himself against the enslaving power of institutions and dies in combat against them (especially against the priesthood),” writes Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) describing this view while criticizing it in his book Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. From this perspective, organized religion is seen as an obstacle that must be removed before faith can freely animate a community of prophetic individuals to follow their individual consciences and fully realize the power of love in the world. In short, it is thought that if the kingdom of God is to prevail, the institutional Church must end.

In the most recent installment of the Star Wars saga, “The Last Jedi” released December 2017 and grossing over a billion dollars worldwide, Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) echoes this sentiment about his own Jedi religion. “I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end.” By creating tension between a would-be reformer and the Jedi as a religious institution, director Rian Johnson may be depicting a galaxy not-so-far away as he explores the dynamic of renewal in the Star Wars universe.

Master Skywalker embodies the perspective that organized religion suppresses faith. Reflecting on their legacy of mistakes, Luke has come to see the Jedi as proud usurpers of the Force, which does not rely on the Jedi to exist. “To say that if the Jedi die the light dies is vanity,” he tells Rey. In another important scene, Skywalker attempts to destroy the sacred Jedi relics exclaiming “I’m ending all of this,” an action that would erase all memory of the Jedi and liberate the Force from the Jedi’s confining traditions.

Over and against this perspective is the young protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has been inspired by the legends of the Jedi, and maintains the hope that by being formed in the tradition of the Force she can bring light to the galaxy and find some inner illumination. “The galaxy may need a legend.” she says. “I need to know my place in all of this.”

Does the film espouse one view over the other? The moral character of both perspectives gives us some more insight. Luke, embittered by personal failure, is moving toward self-destruction. Moreover, we also learn he has closed himself off from the Force, and has actually never even read his own Jedi Bible. Drawing a real life analogy to the Church one can see in him the Christian archetype who has grown cynical, who has abandoned the life of prayer, and who despite significant education remains ignorant of his own tradition. Under the pretext of reform this person undermines the very things that give Catholicism its distinctiveness like the sacramental priesthood, moral teaching, and authority of the magisterium, the result of which is tantamount to destroying the memory of the Church.

Rey appears in sharp contrast to Luke: idealistic and energetic; perhaps a little naïve and proud; she wants to be a part of the venerable Jedi tradition. Her scant knowledge of the Jedi is accurate but woefully incomplete. When challenged about what she really knows of the force she stammers only bits and pieces: “Lifting rocks and getting people to do what you want.” Think here of people who grew up without any real religious formation but hear God calling them in a world incapable of providing meaningful answers. They long for the adventure that comes from accepting a truth which places demands upon them and calls forth acts of courage. Far from viewing the Institutional Church as confining, they embrace the ancient but ever-growing Catholic Tradition because it connects them to the greatest story ever told.

While the movie appears to relish the conflict between perspectives, it also seems to tilt in favor of preserving institutions when we catch a glimpse of the salvaged Jedi texts suggesting the Jedi tradition will continue. Rey is acknowledged as a Jedi and her rudimentary grasp of the force turns out to be exactly what the rebellion needs. Luke rediscovers his faith and it sets him on a path seeking forgiveness which “is the heart of all true reform,” writes Benedict.

Overall, “The Last Jedi” takes a more thoughtful departure from its predecessors as it embarks on its own journey of renewal. Whether you can see in it a comparison to what’s happening in the Church or perhaps read it as a metaphor for the renewal of the franchise itself, you may find “The Last Jedi” has an interesting portrayal of the tension between authentically reforming an institution versus destroying it. And if you find those themes to be interesting, you will probably enjoy the book “Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today,” by Catholicism’s own Jedi Master, Benedict XVI.

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