When I left the theater afterin 2017, I had one nagging question: How the heck was Episode 9 going to tie this trilogy together? At that point, I still didn't know the goal of the sequel trilogy. I sought clarity by rewatching the films, and after my last rewatch of Episodes 1-8, I found my answer.
Star Wars is a saga about the Jedi religion. The Force is not just a means to saving the galaxy from evil physically, but spiritually.isn't a saga about war.
If you watchas the final point of a religious saga, the film's story works much better as an ending to the trilogy and the saga.
Wait, are you sure it's Jedi and not war?
For years, I had been misled by other fans into thinking Star Wars was a series of movies about war. Given the name, you can understand the confusion. At a casual glance, the films present as a "Rise and Fall of the Galactic Empire" tale. But when you take a step back, the wars and rebellions are a muddled, chaotic mess. The major players change constantly, as do the stakes.
Across all nine movies, the only constant is the Jedi religion.
Here's what convinced me. About five minutes into The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are loose on a Federation flagship. Rune Haako turns to Viceroy Nute Gunray and asks him, "Have you ever encountered a Jedi Knight before, sir?"
Nute rebuffs him and orders the bridge to be sealed off. Rune tells him: "That won't be enough, sir. We will not survive this."
The Jedi are a thing of lore, a thing of legend. Their reputation speaks for themselves. The Jedi Order still appears to be, at that moment, overwhelmingly powerful. These two Jedi are feared, but by the end of the trilogy, the Jedi will be all but extinct.
Star Wars is a chronicle of the Jedi religion: the downfall, the return and the rebirth.
The prequel trilogy, aka The Downfall of the Jedi
As separate entities and a collective whole, all three Star Wars trilogies are about the rebirth of a religion.
The prequel trilogy is The Downfall of the Jedi. By the end of the trilogy, the Jedi Order has been destroyed and, except for a few Jedi who go into hiding, they're all exterminated.
Unfortunately, the prequels are not well made. They fail in many areas: dialogue, character development, performances. But what they do clearly show is the destruction of the Jedi religion. How does this happen?
If The Phantom Menace had a stronger script it would be made clear Qui-Gon Jinn is a fanatic. He believes that an immaculately conceived child (Anakin Skywalker) with crazy high midi-chlorians (eyeroll) is the Chosen One who will restore balance to the Force. He believes this so intensely he ignores major red flags surrounding the boy and convinces the Jedi and Obi-Wan that Anakin should be trained as a Jedi.
This training allows Anakin to eventually become Darth Vader, who is responsible for the downfall of the Jedi. He slaughters nearly all of them himself. By the end of the trilogy, Darth Vader no longer appears to be the Chosen One, but instead a sort of "false prophet."
The original trilogy, aka The Return of the Jedi
The original trilogy's arc then fits perfectly with Episode 6's title: The Return of the Jedi. In A New Hope, Han Solo cracks jokes about the Force, jaded by the notion of its existence. We see that, in just a few decades, the Jedi are practically forgotten and dismissed. The Jedi Order is long gone. But then there's Luke Skywalker, who might actually be the Chosen One from the prophecy.
The original trilogy makes the case that Luke Skywalker is the "messiah," a savior for the religion. He takes down Darth Vader, not through a lightsaber or Force lightning but through compassion and love. His emotional appeal turns Vader back to the light.
At this point, Luke has essentially performed his first miracle. He has brought hope that the Jedi can return and that there's a path to destroy the Sith lords.
Up until this point, despite any flaws in the first six films, they do an effective job at communicating The Downfall of the Jedi and The Return of the Jedi. But what comes next? Can this new messiah actually restore the Jedi religion?
The sequel trilogy, aka The Rebirth of the Jedi
The final trilogy focuses on The Rebirth of the Jedi. But how do you restore a religion?
Between the original trilogy and the sequel trilogy, Luke begins training children to become new Jedi. But when he saw darkness in his nephew Ben, he grew afraid. Luke let fear cloud his judgement the way it clouded his father's. Ben turns to the dark side, becomes Kylo Ren and, much like his grandfather, commits horrific acts. Luke exiles himself out of guilt. The "messiah" has lost his faith.
So what does it take for the "messiah" to restore that faith? Rey comes to Luke seeking training, but Luke has his reservations. In, Yoda's spirit burns the sacred Jedi texts and then guides Luke to the answer: "Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters."
Luke must restore the faith with sacrifice. He must show failure is not the end. Luke sacrifices his life so the rebels can escape, and in doing so shows there is always a path to redemption, a path to the light side.
The sequel trilogy also shows those who have converted, spreading the "gospel." You see this inwith Han Solo, once a non-believer. Finn has similar conversations in The Rise of Skywalker. This "new hope" is something you see spreading throughout the galaxy. This is a key factor in why people come to the aid of the Rebels at the end of The Rise of Skywalker.
We see a small child at the end of The Last Jedi use the Force to summon his broom and then look out to the galaxy. The power of The Force is something that cannot be destroyed by oppression and totalitarianism. Luke's sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. It rallied something within the people of the galaxy to fight back, to stand up for the greater good.
The last piece of this "rebirth" is Rey and Ben. The Rise of Skywalker asks the same question at the end of The Return of the Jedi. Is love stronger than hate?
Up until this point, Darth Vader's return to the light could have been an anomaly. In order to prove light is stronger than the dark, someone else needs to be "saved." This comes in the form of Kylo Ren. The love from his dying mother's spirit reaches out to him and he sees his father once again, someone he killed for more power, but Han is not angry, he still loves his son. That forgiveness gives Ben strength; we can always atone for our sins.
Ben then atones for those sins by helping Rey to defeat Palpatine, a "devil" character: a looming, always-present evil.
So the final battle is a spiritual one. Light versus dark. Rey stands to fight this final battle against Palpatine and is supported by more than troops on a battlefield or Sith lords. Rey has the strength of all the light side of the Force. "Be with me," she asks the Jedi, and she defeats Palpatine with their power channeled through her.
Rey gives her life to defeat Palpatine. This is the final sacrifice. But in an act of atonement, Ben gives his life for hers so she can rise again and spread the love she shared with him. At the end of the film, Rey stands with a new lightsaber and a new name. She has risen. The Jedi faith has been restored.
And in that sense, the sequel trilogy works in telling how the Jedi religion is reborn. The Jedi religion, which was once almost lost, has been saved.
Originally published Dec. 21.