I THINK JOHN PAUL II WOULD HAVE LIKED EPISODE 8
I know, I know. You have your critiques. Maybe they’re plot-centric, Force-centric, or things just didn’t turn out the way you thought they should. Also the movie was about 30 minutes too long.
Yes, we’re doing a blog on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Spoilers to follow. As a former high school theology teacher, I tend to view films through a catechetical lens. In other words, is there something in this story that speaks to the good, the true, the beautiful? And can I get away with showing it in the classroom so I can grade papers in the back for a few days?
One chief concern I’ve seen - from several well-known Catholic reviewers - is that ideology rules the day, imposing themes from the outside and forcing characters to conform to them. While I’d agree that the characters seem to be enduring similar thematic growth, I’d like to suggest a different interpretation.
The most resounding themes of Episode 8 seem to be a reconsideration of the past and the turning to a new horizon of possibility. A “metanoia” if you will, for better or worse. Key heroic character encounters this struggle in their own way.
Poe: a reconsideration of impulsivity and a turning toward measured leadership
Luke: a reconsideration of his jaded regret and a turning toward self-sacrifice
Finn: a reconsideration of reactionary rebellion and turning toward the deeper “why”
Kylo: a reconsideration of his doubt and a turning toward his desire for power
Could the fact that all primary male characters endure a similar thematic struggle be a sign of the movie’s feminist ideology? Sure. It could also be a narrative device effected by the natural constraints of one movie juggling several character arcs in 2.5 hours..the wisdom of which is debatable, I'll admit.
This narrative features different themes when it comes to women. Are women disproportionately steady in the film? Sure.
Rey: Steadily holds firm to the light side despite temptation
Leia: Steadily leads her people despite her weariness
Rose: Steady in her “new hope” for a brighter future
Captain Phasma: Steadily a horrible jerk
Rather than a gut reaction of “feminist ideology,” could we instead read this film in light of Mulieris Dignitatem?
“The moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way. Of course, God entrusts every human being to each and every other human being. But this entrusting concerns women in a special way - precisely by reason of their femininity … A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God "entrusts the human being to her,"always and in every way, even in the situations of social discrimination in which she may find herself” (MD 30).
Fascinating, isn’t? I heard a talk recently that offered some elucidation on Genesis 2. For the man “per se,” he existed on the earth before other human beings. A technical, analytical worldview is part and parcel of the masculine genius. Woman “per se” has never known the world without people in it.
If we want to stretch it a little further…in The Last Jedi, men are invited to “look up” from their world of objects and to consider the value of the person in their decision making. That they are invited to do so by women - who are steadfast in their embracing of true human value - isn’t feminist ideology. It’s often a sad fact of history. Look at any modern conflict zone in the world today to see this paradigm playing itself out, as it does in every age. Who are the warriors and who are disproportionately the victims and refugees? That’s original sin. At least our heroes (most of them) choose to progress along the path of moral virtue! And how powerful it is to allow depictions of the human person as flawed and striving.
That’s not to say the film cleanses women of all their faults. Captain Phasma’s consistent cruelty and raw rejection of the person - think back to Episode 7 and her comments on Finn as a “flaw in the system” - is what makes her such a villain. She is made villainous precisely in her rejection of the entrusting spoken of by St. John Paul II.
Is there an “ideology” or thematic drive to the story-telling? Maybe. But I’ll take a teachable moment about complementarity with the Millennium Falcon any day.