In the darkest of times there are stories of hope that serve as inspiration for us all..
I have a list of films and television episodes that I turn to in times of darkness. It’s a list I’ve curated over the last few years and have slowly built into a physical collection of DVDs. I affectionately call this list my Hope Arsenal. These are the movies and episodes that give me hope when I have none, whether it’s because I’m having a bad day or the world looks particularly bleak. Wonder Woman is a core entry, for its positive message of love and that the world is indeed worth saving. Rogue One is in there too, for its affirmation that there are crucial things out there worth fighting for. As someone who struggles with depression, I find the need to cultivate hope in every way I can. That’s why I cling to these movies. That’s why I hang their posters on my walls and wear their symbols on my t-shirts. These are stories that remind me why I need to fight for life, kindness, and happiness when I’m feeling totally devoid of hope. These are stories that have saved my life.
My Hope Arsenal has just grown by one title. After a few viewings, I’ve added Star Wars: The Last Jedi to my inspirational list. The Last Jedi is a film that looks to the future. It demands we leave the past behind at every opportunity. It tears down our preconceived notions, says goodbye to beloved heroes, and literally burns ancient relics. Instead of reifying the past, the film encourages us to fight for the future. The fate of both the Resistance and the First Order are left in the hands of relative new-comers. By the end of the film, this new generation of heroes (and villains) largely have the reigns of the narrative. Leia (Carrie Fisher) is the last remaining pillar of the original cast, and sadly we know we will be saying goodbye to her shortly. This gaze towards the future is emphasized in the final scene of the film when we see Temiri Blagg, a young, Force-sensitive boy (Temirlan Blaev) looking towards the stars. It’s this gaze towards the future that gives me so much hope. No matter what happens, there will be a new generation of heroes waiting in the wings to lift the burden of revolution, of progress, of leadership from old shoulders to new. And how did they get there? Stories.
Star Wars has long held a certain mythos at its core: the Jedi mythology. In both the original and sequel trilogies, Jedi are remembered to be mythic heroes– powerful but imaginary. (Remember “It’s true. All of it,” From The Force Awakens?). In the Original Trilogy, the Clone Wars tales are stories that inspire. In the Sequel Trilogy, it’s the legends of the Rebellion that inspire. The Last Jedi is a dedication to the symbols of the Resistance, shared through stories. The members of the original cast are the symbols in The Last Jedi. Leia embraces her symbolism head on and uses it to her advantage. When trapped on Crait, she uses her personal code to contact allies in the Outer Rim, knowing that if they were going to come, they would come for her. Luke (Mark Hamill), on the other hand, is a reluctant symbol. He seems resentful that no matter how far away he goes, his myth lives on in the galactic vernacular. His story has grown. It has taken shape without him and now exists whether he wants it to or not. It takes the course of the film for him to realize that that mythos can be used strategically for good. So, when no one answers Leia’s calls for help, he arrives. Luke realizes that what the galaxy needs is not a grand defeat, the Resistance is too damaged for that, but a symbol of hope. He gives them a story that no one will be able to resist telling.
The final scene of the film shows a friend of the Force-sensitive boy acting out the Battle of Crait to his friends. He’s speaking in a different language but we all know what he’s saying. The words “Luke Skywalker” come through loud and clear. Luke is a legend now. One that inspires these kids to look to the stars and I’m sure when the time comes, to join the fight against the First Order. A story can do that. A powerful story can elicit change, can inspire a generation, can change the world. It’s not hard for me to come out of the film and look upon my own world through the lens of Star Wars. We don’t have Jedi in our world, but we do have heroes. We have people who work hard to make the world a better place. Watching this movie makes me want to be one of them. This is why stories are important- they can give strength when it can’t be found in real life. It’s why, at least for me, these films are more than just escapism. I’m not exclusively trying to get away from the real world for a moment, I’m trying to experience something that gives me the strength and the hope I need to face the uglier parts of reality. The magical part about The Last Jedi is that we are ALL that young Force-sensitive boy. Whether we’re playing with our Star Wars action figures or doing lightsaber tricks with broomsticks, we are opening ourselves up to these legends. We are letting these stories inspire us. We are returning time and time again to watch them, with our faces turned up to the screen like Temiri’s face is turned up to the stars. And we are returning to our reality when the two and a half hours are up with greater strength than when we left it.