(Warning, there are spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi)
On Christmas morning, before everyone else had finished unwrapping their presents, Mom and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. We’d already had Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner, and watched everything the Hallmark channel had to offer, so a movie and a bucket of popcorn were the next obvious Christmas rites for our Jewish family.
Sometimes I think that the Star Wars universe has as much to do with my world view as anything I learned in my Jewish Day School. The idea of the Force, an energy that exists within us and that connects everything in the universe, has always felt right to me; and the movies about the people who access it, and reject it, have always resonated for me as much as, or let’s admit it, more than, any bible story.
My first experience with the Star Wars universe was at age seven, when Return of the Jedi came out in theaters and my family went to the opening weekend. Jabba the Hutt stared down at me from the screen, dragging Princess Leia by a chain, eating unmentionable things, and laughing at what he could make people do. I fell asleep, because it was late, or because I was terrified, and I missed the Ewoks, my whole reason for going to see the movie. But Jabba was part of the resonance of the movies too: the darkness, the violence, the betrayals, were all real to me, as was the feeling that I might actually be alone in the universe; not just in my school, or my hometown, but in the whole freakin’ universe.
Anyway, we arrived at the theater early to see The Last Jedi, because there was no one on the roads on Christmas morning. It took a while for the movie theatre staff to catch up with us, so we were first on line for popcorn when they got there, and since we had nowhere else to go, we sat in our oddly uncomfortable reclining seats and watched half an hour’s worth of commercials and previews. Thank God for the bucket of popcorn. Except, I didn’t buy anything to drink, because I knew I couldn’t pause the movie for a pee break, so I was left with that puckery feeling in my mouth that made me wonder why I kept eating the excessively salty popcorn, seemingly against my will. There’s gotta be something added to movie theater popcorn that makes it addictive, but I don’t know what it is. Clearly this has something to do with the power of the dark side.
Finally, the iconic Star Wars music started blasting out of the speakers, and then the golden storytelling script was reeling back into space, and we were off!
I need to get this out of the way first: The Last Jedi is not a perfect movie. Someone forgot to edit the script, and managed to leave in nine or ten acts instead of the customary three or five. The movie seemed to end so many times that when it finally did end, I was suspicious. I thought another act might start to unfold under the credits. I can sort of understand the multiple almost-endings, because they gave all of the heroes and heroines a chance to save the day at least once. Sure, Rey is the titular Last Jedi, but there’s also Rose and Finn, and Poe and BB8 and Leia and, of course, Luke, and those icicle dogs, and Laura Dern, out of nowhere. But despite all of that, the movie worked for me.
I was worried that the long awaited return of Luke Skywalker would be a disappointment; that maybe he would be too bland or perfect in his old age. Instead, he was wonderfully grumpy, and he held the central message of the movie: you never lose people, even if they are far away, and even after death. That was a message I really needed to hear. Other characters filled out that message too, explaining it as part of the force. Yes, one of the bad guys creates the initial “bridge” between Kylo Ren and Rey, but there are other bridges that he has no role in, and even that one goes beyond his control.
I’ve had moments like that in my life, where I’ve almost felt like I could touch the hand of someone far away, or hear the voice of someone long gone. I can’t always tap into that network of everything, but when I can it is powerful, and bittersweet, because while you feel the connection, you feel the distance even more.
There’s something fitting about delving into the Star Wars universe during this time between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. This space is often filled with grief for what we’ve lost, and the darkness of winter, but there’s also hope and a sense of continuity. We sit in the movie theater and the music continues to play through the credits, and we know that the story will continue to unfold, soon.