It’s December of 2015, and people are about to have a whole lot of questions. The Force Awakens is being released to the public, ending a ten-year hiatus from Lucasfilm and making true on a decades-long promise from George Lucas that we would see the end of the story he began in 1977.
At the time, I was a really responsible university student, which means I spent the cash to see Episode VII at least twelve or so times in theaters. Then I used my limited free time to read what others were saying about the film online as well as do a little theory-crafting myself.
It’s now the middle of 2018, and the journey to figure out where the story was headed has led me on one of the most remarkable mental adventures of my life. I wish to share with you the thoughts I’ve come to hold about the Star Wars franchise, thoughts that at times have felt too big for my head. But first, I need to offer credit where credit is due.
What really catalyzed this journey was a lengthy back and forth exchange with my friend Ugnaught, in which we argued about the prequels and what George Lucas was going for. At the time I was your standard prequel hater, even going so far as to write Reddit posts about how I would personally fix the prequels (the mere memory that I was once this sort of person makes me shiver). Well, somehow, perhaps due to a general open-mindedness on my part, solid argumentation on his part, or the more likely answer of both, I was won over. I no longer detested the prequels, and the next time I watched them, I even found myself enjoying them, dare I say loving them! Shortly after that he suggested I read the works of Joseph Campbell for a deeper understanding of Star Wars, and the rest is history.
Many who know me for my YouTube videos will already know that I’m a pretty solid fan of the romantic pairing of Rey and Ben Solo. I think it would make for the most beautiful story that can possibly be told given the set-up in the prequels and The Force Awakens.
This meta goes one step beyond that, attempting to pierce through the symbols of Star Wars, of which Rey and Ben belong, to the deeper meaning of the myth, because despite the tendency to focus on the romantic aspect of Rey and Ben’s potential future, I think this goes far, far beyond that. I hope to challenge what you think you know about these characters, their origins, their true selves, and just how grand and cosmic the story is about to become. For me, the sequel trilogy isn’t just a romance anymore, it’s the whole cosmic package personified in the wonderful panorama of characters we’ve come to know and love over the past 40 or so years.
Calling something, “A Star Wars Theory of Everything” is a bit of an ambitious move, so any thesis I write to try and convey to you in digestible terms what I think this story is all about is bound to fall short, but here goes nothing.
Ben and Rey are the two halves of the Living Force, the dark and the light, whose shared soul is that of the Force itself, which has entered and re-entered the galaxy at various times under various forms, playing out a cosmic dance toward it’s final spectacle. Their most recent forms, or lives if you will, were that of Anakin and Padme, and what the sequel trilogy is really showing us is that these two halves of a single luminous being are hammering out their Sacred Marriage [I’ll explain what that is later] issues. Issues that probably long predate the fall of Anakin Skywalker, but which are nevertheless still underlying the entire drive and motivation of the sequel trilogy story.
I already know what the red flags are, since I’ve had many discussions with people over the past year or so regarding this theory. “Reincarnation is too weird,” “This removes the agency of the characters too much,” “Why can’t Rey just be Rey?” I promise you that if you stick with me, I will eventually address these criticisms and more.
But first, I just want to explain what I’m basing this on. First and foremost is Joseph Campbell, whose works inspired George Lucas so much that George at one point said that he may never have been able to finish Star Wars had it not been for him.
Second is George Lucas himself. Despite what the fandom consensus may be, I still believe that the “spirit” of the saga that Lucasfilm says they are following through on was the vision that George himself had for the Skywalker story. Regardless of how far they retreated from his treatments and initial drafts, I do still think they are telling his story in their own way.
Even if you think this is wrong, Rian Johnson and others have still continued to pay homage to Joseph Campbell and his ideas (as well as George Lucas). Case in point: this response Rian had to a Twitter user:
The video he linked is also a wonderful discussion that’s worth checking out. I’ll link it here. I was also told by a friend that in the commentary track for The Last Jedi, Rian mentions Joseph Campbell (during Rey’s cave scene, more on that later).
To get back on track, proving to you why I think my thesis has some merit is not going to be an easy task. I will have to share with you a lot of different ideas from Campbell and Lucas, and then try and relate that to Star Wars in a way that is easy to understand. That’s challenging in part because J.C.’s ideas and the ways in which he gave voice to them are hard for most people to digest, and that might be a big factor in why his work never gained widespread public recognition. Maybe that’s the true drawback of his style, at times it’s so abstract and esoteric that the modern reader might ask, “What is he actually saying?” I will do my best to offer my interpretation of his ideas and how they are at play in Star Wars, and hopefully that will be good enough. For anyone truly interested in exploring his concepts further, my personal recommendation would be to start with The Power of Myth, as that interview was done with the intention of opening up Campbell’s work to the public.
I’ve spent over 1,200 words just on the introduction alone, so I think it’s time to move on and begin pulling apart this modern day myth. I will do my best to include captions with relevant quotes and to weave elements of Star Wars together with the more mythic concepts expressed by Campbell and Lucas. Hopefully the end result is something that is both insightful and enjoying to read. If you want a head start on what Lucas was trying to achieve with Star Wars and what I’m primarily pulling on for this meta, the two most important sources are The Mythology of Star Wars with Bill Moyers and The Cult of Darth Vader with Rolling Stone.
Myth and Metaphor
Without going further, I need to try and define the mode in which I’m interpreting Star Wars so that we’re all on the same page.
Campbell talked about mythology as a language of symbols used to metaphorically hint at the deeper truths of the human psyche. He was fond of saying, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”
A lot of his ideas build on the work of Carl Jung. Many of you are probably familiar with some of the ideas he formulated. Although he was a psychologist, his ideas have been a goldmine of creative inspiration for generations of storytellers trying to figure out what makes a good story tick. After all, how does one create compelling characters without knowing at least a little bit about psychology?
Anyways, Campbell was more of a “big-picture” guy. He made it his life’s mission to see how the world’s mythologies and religions reveal how human beings are more alike than they are different. His view was that each mythology was a different “mask” of God, and he charted out a journey that seemed to be common among most mythological heroes. That’s what his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces is all about.
Along comes George Lucas, who is trying to figure out what the heck to do with this Star Wars thing that he eventually wants to make. According to Lucas, Campbell helped him really hone in on the big picture messaging of the story, and the two remained close friends for the rest of Campbell’s life, with Lucas even discussing the story of the prequels (and perhaps even sequels) with Campbell in the years between the original trilogy and the release of The Phantom Menace.
Now for some of the stuff that’s a bit harder to explain. My interpretation of Star Wars is primarily from a Campbell-POV. All that really means is that I look at the images, symbols, and narrative developments of the Star Wars saga from more of a metaphorical point of view, and from a position of belief that Star Wars is indeed trying to get at the same “universal truths” that most of the world’s mythologies and religions have attempted to elucidate during our time here on Earth. This also means that I’m analyzing the story more from a psychological angle, not so much a sociological/political one. I do think those layers are in the story, too, but I think those are “upper layers,” if that makes sense. They follow from the psychological motifs that drive the characters, not the other way around.
And I don’t mean to make it seem like I’m interpreting the story in some special way. I think most people actually do this without even realizing it! If you ever looked for meaning in the story beyond what is simply said or done plot-wise, then you’ve exercised your mental muscles in a symbolic way. There’s something at work in our unconscious psyche that is constantly doing this when we engage with stories, and that’s probably one of the main reasons we have such strong reactions (be they positive or negative) to certain artistic works.
And speaking of the unconscious, Campbell viewed myths as stories that try to give form to the forces at work in the unconscious human psyche. Every fear and desire, every thought lurking beneath the surface of the conscious mind, every possible feeling within the realm of human experience are given forms through myth and storytelling, which means the characters, droids, locations, music, and even plot-elements of Star Wars are all their to elucidate certain themes connected to the human psyche and how we relate to others and the world around us.
I wish I were half as eloquent with the written word as Campbell, but alas, I am not. So here’s some quotes directly from the man himself explaining how myths operate!
The blue highlights sound a lot like the Force!
What Campbell does next is draw a distinction between “super-consciousness” and the unconscious. Super-consciousness refers to the knowledge that all the forms (literally shapes! People, mountains, lakes, the cosmos! Everything we can see and perceive with our feeble human senses) are just emanations flowing from this universal source. The lapse from super-consciousness to the unconscious and thereby conscious thought that thinks of the universe in the form of “categories” is then the metaphorical interpretation of the “Fall” of humankind in the mythologies. No longer do we behold the form-giver, we are stuck at the level of the forms. Redemption, he then says, consists in returning to that state of super-consciousness that realizes that we are all, essentially, The Force.
I hope it’s okay with you that I spent so much time talking about this stuff. I think it’s important because a lot of what I’m about to get into relies heavily on a metaphorical reading of the saga and a symbolic interpretation of many of its key elements.
To summarize this section, myths, and by extension fairy tales and Star Wars, give symbolic form to the things lurking about in the depths of the human mind, and so this theory relies on reading the entire story in an extremely symbolic way, almost as if each character, object, setting, and narrative development were a different “thought” or “emotion” that we might experience within ourselves. To end it with another quote…
The Sacred Marriage – Transcending Pairs of Opposites
I think we’re ready to start getting into some Star Wars stuff. I’ll still have to reference Campbell a lot, so be ready for more image quotes. I won’t be explaining why I think Ben and Rey are Anakin and Padme reborn for awhile, but I promise you there is a method to my madness!
It’s my firm belief that as soon as George Lucas finished the prequels and solidified the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, the sequels would always have to tell the reverse of that story to stay true to a circular story structure. That’s why Rey and Ben’s romantic pairing appealed so much to me. In the prequels, the masculine is separated from the feminine (Anakin leaving his mother), and what follows is tragedy. So right off the bat, we have a story in which not only serves as a commentary on male-female relationships, but also on the inner masculine/feminine traits we all possess.
We know that Leia is or was meant to have a primary role in Episode IX, similar to how Episode VII was Han’s film and Episode VIII was Luke’s. This makes good on what Joseph Campbell referred to as the “nuclear unit” of the monomyth: separation, initiation, return. Anakin leaves his mother, Ben will in some form return to his mother. With Carrie’s unfortunate passing, I don’t know how Lucasfilm will still handle this, but I trust that they care more than any of us about how it’s portrayed, so I’m not worried about that.
The primary psychological catalysts that vaulted the Chosen One toward the dark side were 1) a fear of death and 2) regarding Padme as an object of possession rather than an independent human being. As George Lucas has said on numerous occasions, Anakin failed to learn the difference between selfless love and possessive love, and as a result he chased the power to cheat death even though it meant harming innocents in the process. This is a simple breakdown, there’s a lot more going on in Anakin’s head (I recommend watching the Mortis arc of The Clone Wars), including the guilt of not being able to protect his mother (which is related to his fear of death) among other things. But for the purposes of this essay, these two catalysts will suffice.
I really think the story of the main saga is that simple. The tragedy is mistaking possessive love for selfless love, and acting selfishly as a result. The comedy (and here I use comedy in the Greek sense of the word, not comedy like, an Adam Sandler movie) will be the reverse, learning the true meaning of what it is to selflessly love others and prioritize the well-being of others over yourself. Another way of looking at selfishness is by categorizing it as greed.
Selflessness and selfishness, and compassion and greed are two examples of opposing concepts. Star Wars is riddled with these sorts of dichotomies. Just to name a few: pain and pleasure, technology and nature, good and evil, dark and light, action and inaction, male and female, hope and despair. There are others as well, but I promise that if you go looking for pairs of opposites in the Star Wars saga, you will see them everywhere. This is why so many people automatically see yin-yang connections in Rey and Ben’s relationship, and why there are countless scenes sprinkled across the saga showing yin-yang visuals in one form or another.
It’s impossible for human beings to actually interact with each other and the world around us without resorting to categorization and thinking of the world in terms of opposites. To use a camera example: if too much light enters the lens, the image is overexposed and will appear completely brightened out, all the “information” will be lost. On the other hand, if not enough light enters the lens, the image will be underexposed and darkened, and that same “information” will again be lost. To see the “forms” in the image, the correct amount of light has to enter the lens.
The same sort of metaphor can be applied to worldviews as well. This is why we say it’s not good to see the world in “black and white.” There are experiences in-between. If we rigorously adhere to one worldview or another, we risk invalidating the experiences and feelings of others, as well as stunting our own emotional growth. Stare at the sun, you’re blind. Turn off all the lights, you’re blind. Same thing, really.
And hopefully that already gets you thinking of the Jedi, the Sith, and the overall message that the sequel trilogy of Star Wars is attempting to get at that builds upon what we already saw in the prequels and the original trilogy.
The Sacred Marriage that I’m referring to with the title of this section is the phase of the myth in which the hero and the Goddess are reunited. George Lucas’ decision to separate Anakin from his mother in Episode I defined what sort of trajectory this tragedy would be on. It’s that separation from the feminine that stunted Anakin’s emotional growth (the Jedi’s toxic ideology didn’t help either, and neither did Palpatine’s scheming). What we see in Revenge of the Sith is a much more extreme and violently displayed separation of the masculine and the feminine. Anakin goes full-on Triumph of the Will, taking a “might makes right” approach to life and cutting Padme out of the equation entirely, reducing her voice (or her will, for that matter) to one of lesser stature. In the process, Anakin quite literally becomes the agent of her death, breaking her heart and stealing her will to live.
You can read this metaphorically in any number of ways, but no matter which way you slice it, you get the general lesson that in a relationship consisting of two human beings, be they male-female or whoever, having one dominant to the other is not the ideal state of affairs. That is why Qui-Gon gives his symbiotic relationship spiel in Episode I, because that’s the major theme of the entire saga! How to live in a world in which we are forced to interact with others? Symbiotically! Which means, “lifeforms living together for mutual advantage.” Whatever endgame is in store for Episode IX will demonstrate Rey and Ben learning that lesson and by extension teaching that lesson to the rest of the galaxy. This is the most basic thing to learn in life, expressed in another form as the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated.
But this whole concept goes much further. Male and female are two more “pairs of opposites” that mythologies grapple with. And in many respects, this opposite represents the deepest questions because it also has the mystery of life tied up with it. From a psychological as well as a sociological point of view, the entire Skywalker saga is just a story of “boy, meet girl,” from a male perspective (more on this later). It is essentially all of the unconscious fears and desires males will have as they grow up and become adults, and of course, how to relate to the female is a big question. Rey being the focus of the ST is kind of like a big “door-opener” toward the female perspective in myth, which I think Lucasfilm will pursue more and more as the years go on. One concept the entire saga gets at are the dangers of masculinity coming at the expense of femininity. Modern terminology may choose to see it as an expression of “toxic masculinity” and the necessary paths one must take to avoid it.
It’s my own point-of-view that the Chosen One of the story (and remember, I’m thinking of Anakin and Ben as of the same “spirit” here) is a male of European descent because that’s what George Lucas is. Part of the original trilogy was a very politically charged “make love, not war” type of message, we can see this with the Ewoks resisting the Empire and all of the connotations that has with the Vietnam War and the U.S. public’s opposition to that.
From this point of view, the entire saga is a “breaking apart” of George’s, and by extension, European male’s heads in order to restructure them into a less toxic order. The Chosen One is born with more power than anyone else because the power structures of the world are currently mostly ran by men of European descent, and thus Anakin’s power is a metaphor on the inherent potential/power white males might be born with. This is my response to the criticism people often have of this theory that goes something like this, “If Anakin and Padme are the same soul, why isn’t Padme Force-sensitive?” Ignoring for a moment my views on who is Force-sensitive in the galaxy, Padme was the person in the relationship that did not have “power” because it’s a commentary on the current state of affairs out here in the real world. For thousands of years, societies have primarily been patriarchal in their power dynamics, and that’s reflected in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin goes full macho man with his Force power while Padme is displayed in the most feminine way possible, which includes death in childbirth. Rather than seeing this as a negative of the films, I see it as another aspect of the narrative that highlights the separation of male and female and the tragedy associated with that.
To take a step back from the sociological angle and back into the psychological one, and speaking as a straight male myself, one of, if not the most primary lesson that a man needs to learn is not to use his power to dominate others. Probably the only reason a patriarchy was able to exist in the first place was that back in the day, men having more muscular power allowed them to use that power to subjugate women, and we’ve been suffering the consequences of that development ever since. But to be a good human being means not using power you have over others to dominate them against their will, and that goes for everyone on this good, green Earth. But the particular inflection that I think is represented in the Skywalker saga is a distinctly masculine one. Having more power in any form doesn’t entitle one to use that power in harmful ways, and the story of the saga so far is a story of what happens when we get it into our thick skulls that “might makes right.” But we don’t even have to use the terms masculine and feminine, we can just as well say yang and yin and get at the very same ideas. For too long, the “yin” element of the human species has been suppressed, not just in the form of males being dominant over females, but also psychologically in terms of our “inner males” being dominant over our “inner females.” The saga thus far tells a tale of why that’s a really bad state of affairs, and Rey’s introduction as this mysterious woman is a gigantic reintroduction of the feminine principle into the story.
There’s a reason Anakin and Padme’s romance is coded as teenage angst 101. Anakin is going through feelings of lust, and although the story doesn’t emphasize the distinctly sexual aspect of this, it is definitely there.
We are almost ready to get into why Anakin and Padme and Ben and Rey are all the same “spirit” in the story. But first, some marriage talk.
Recognizing your other self… Hmmm. HRRRRMMMMMMMM!!!
“It is you,” Ren murmured. His words unsettled her: Not for the first time, he seemed to know more about her than she did about herself.”
― Alan Dean Foster, The Force Awakens
Reconstructing the image of the incarnate God. HRRRMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!
The flash that comes. HRRRMMMMMMM!!!!
There’s a lot to say about this. The kyber crystal within Anakin’s lightsaber as a symbolic representation of the “heart” between these two beings which are the Force itself gets at this idea that the “will” of the Force is really the unconscious fears and desires that are driving these two characters together. When they can’t kiss and make-up, it drives them apart… literally. The ground cracks when they fight, or the crystal shatters when they refuse to listen to each other. Together, Rey and Ben will reconstruct the image of the Prime Jedi and ride off happily ever after into the sunset. They are two halves of a single “luminous” being whose “shadow” side is Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. Only together can they confront this monster, acknowledge it, and say no to it. Once that happens, the wound in the Force will heal, and so too will peace come back to the galaxy. For all time.
To further connect the theme of marriage to the saga and the discussion we had regarding Qui-Gon’s line about symbiotic relationships…
“Marriage is a relationship. When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship. The Chinese image of the Tao, with the dark and light interacting – that’s the relationship of yang and yin, male and female, which is what a marriage is. And that’s what you have become when you have married. You’re no longer this one alone; your identity is in a relationship. Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of the ego to a relationship in which the two have become one.” – The Power of Myth
Note the visual imagery in the frames above. You can spot these sorts of things all over the saga when you go looking for them. Yin-yang symbolism is everywhere, and not just in the sequels! It’s right there in Han and Leia’s contrasting wardrobes and personalities, for instance!
To expand further upon that most recent quote, that’s the meaning of symbiotic relationships from the marriage angle. No longer are you just thinking of yourself. You’re thinking about this thing that is greater than yourself, and as such, marriage is not a commitment that one should make lightly. Anakin and Padme’s relationship was much more like a love affair from Anakin’s point of view, whereas what Ben and Rey will have to develop is much more like an actual Sacred Marriage. What Anakin, and by extension Ben, have still failed to do is sacrifice the ego to the relationship in which the two have become one. Doing so will be the prime challenge of Ben, as he has finally gained “ultimate power” which is the story’s representation of ego taken to the extreme. Whether or not he can give that power up for the sake of those he loves is going to be the true test of the heart within the character.
This is all well and good, you might say, but how does this relate to the idea that these characters are all essentially the same spirit, born again?
Well, the general idea here is that when Anakin and Padme married, their souls became one. And that’s a big deal because Anakin is essentially the Force itself in human form, just like Jesus, among others.
Anakin’s miraculous virgin birth is the first signal to the audience that the story we are dealing with here is not a simple story of “normal” people, it’s a story of gods and demigods sorting out their family issues in order to save life itself. And from the Campbell point-of-view, this has nothing to do with “lineage” in the sense of, “your lineage makes you.” The gods are you. They represent you. This is why I have more to say about Rey’s lineage reveal later in this essay.
Campbell’s interpretation of the virgin birth motif in mythology was that it represents the birth of a spiritual human out of a creature that was formerly thinking in terms of animalistic fears and desires. Anakin’s birth thus tells us that he’s the perfectly spiritual human being, and the fact that he’s a child at this stage of the story (TPM) is further evidence of this. And the story confirms this belief! Anakin dreams of freeing all the slaves and echoes his mother’s words that the main problem in the world is that “nobody helps each other.” The kid is on the right path in TPM, and then the Jedi go and screw it up by taking him away from the one person that was instructing him on how to be a decent human being. It also didn’t help that Darth Maul killed Qui-Gon, the only Jedi who probably would have had the wisdom to eventually take Anakin back to his mother.
Nevertheless, the idea that “love will save the day” is right there, even in the prequels. When Padme refuses to give up on Anakin, even as she’s breathing her last breaths (“There’s still good in him, I know it”), we are seeing hints of something greater happening.
“In your anger… you killed her.”
The ending scenes of Revenge of the Sith are some of the most important in the saga. George Lucas cleverly cut Padme’s death with Anakin’s rebirth as Darth Vader.
And of course, when Padme dies, the helmet goes on, and the first breaths Anakin takes as the creature in a mask are shown on screen in a scene that never fails to give me chills. Breath being, of course, another really important mythological symbol.
Life is breath. A lot of people think Palpatine was the one to steal Padme’s life-force away to keep Anakin alive. I disagree for a number of reasons. First and foremost, as a myth, every choice the hero makes has to have clear-cut consequences. By choosing the dark side over Padme’s love on Mustafar, Anakin killed her. The heart-break and the life-force-stealing go hand-in-hand on this one. As Vader was burning on Mustafar, he must have unconsciously tapped into his connection with Padme via their marriage (they are one soul at this point) and used that connection to siphon away her life in order to sustain his. On the flip-side, by choosing to continue believing there was good in Anakin, Padme must have unconsciously surrendered her life-force to him in order to allow him to cheat death. This is a metaphor on so many levels, and I would hope that each of you find your own personal meaning in it.
The comics are truly gifts in this regard. Take special note of what Palpatine says. That the power of the dark side cannot save Padme… but that doesn’t mean the power of the light side can’t, and that Padme’s death gave Anakin a gift, which I think in this case should be accepted as the truth in an ironic sense. Enter Luke, our favorite farmer turned hero. He goes on his journey, and at the end of it, saves his father’s soul. Luke didn’t know it, but he saved his mother’s soul too!
What the other comic images show, at least to me, is that Padme was always there with Anakin, trying to reach him, trying to get him to give up his egotistical commitment to obtaining power so that he could die and be one with her again. It wasn’t until Luke entered the picture that Anakin was able to let go of everything he feared to lose, and so gain a power greater than anyone could yet imagine… the power to save the ones he loved.
That power, of course, is love. Transcending dark and light, good and evil, war and peace, love is the great redeemer. And the story of the sequels is not just the final stretch of the redemption of this Chosen One figure, it’s a story of the redemption of the concept of love itself. The Sacred Marriage in myths is the moment in which the male-female God is reunited, the pairs of opposites are transcended, and the truth of the Force is glimpsed. And that’s what Rey and Ben are doing right this moment. I think the full scope of this revelation will be revealed to us in Episode IX.
Form a purely storytelling standpoint, Padme’s death being a sacrifice that allows Anakin to live has to pay off later in the story. All this talk of cheating death, saving the ones Anakin cared about, and life-stealing has to play a role in Act 3 of the story because it’s present in the set-up which is Act 1. And I can see no greater payoff than revealing that Padme’s love and eternal commitment to the good in Anakin gave her and him another chance to live, and to fix the mistakes of the past.
The Soul of the Force
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.” – Yoda, the Empire Strikes Back.
If life creates the Force, that means that Anakin as a character, and the Chosen One as a concept, is just a vessel by which life’s conflicting energies get expressed. From a certain point of view, Anakin, and later Padme, became the soul of the Force. Force-sensitivity really has nothing to do with this, both for the marriage reasons I mentioned above and from the angle of another pair of opposites that Campbell talks about at length: that of humankind and the divine. God and man are two other pairs of opposites, and of course, the trick is to realize that these two things aren’t actually opposite or opposed, they are one and the same. What this means is that we can look at the Force, which is created by life, as the soul of life. This is why when Anakin falls to the dark side, the galaxy goes with him, and when Luke rescues him in Return of the Jedi, so too is the galaxy saved. Whatever happens to the divine being that represents the will of the Force will influence the rest of life in the galaxy.
Again, from a storytelling point of view, it has to be the same “soul” that realizes that the first instance of this “marriage” was a love affair, not the real deal, and then struggles along to realize what that commitment actually means, because the metaphor here is of the soul within yourself. Whether you believe in a soul or not, the metaphor still applies. We are constantly “dying” and being “reborn” as we grow and change as human beings. The person I am today is not the person I was in high school, or at least, I would certainly hope not!
Anakin in the prequels represented the “divine” that was making contact with the “living.” Padme represented the living. She was born to two normal flesh and blood parents, was a champion of life in her deeds and ideals, and as a female, represents the power to bear children. Anakin’s job was to make contact with the living world, learn how to be a compassionate human being, and by bringing balance to himself, he would bring balance to the galaxy. Unfortunately, things went astray.
And these categories of distinction are only there because it’s necessary to think in categories. As the quote I shared above tells us, the real trick is to realize there is no difference between the divine and the human. We are all both, constantly. All the gods and demons are within us. What we must do is wake up to that fact.
The Force Awakens… Rey and Ben are on a journey of self-discovery in which a certain kind of spirituality must awaken in both of them. Only then will they unlock the power they need to save the galaxy and end this destructive conflict once and for all! And a very significant chunk of the journey that they will have to take is acknowledging and moving on from the big goof-up Anakin made in the prequels. When he broke Padme’s heart, the galaxy was thrown into darkness. Ben and Rey will have to walk hand-in-hand in some way in Episode IX, confront that pain, and heal it.
Think of the imagery in this sequence.
What we have here is Luke Skywalker, emerging from a flaming vagina cave, onto a salt-covered plain of some sort of red crystal. There’s a lot to unpack in this sequence. From the immediate standpoint of the sequel trilogy, Luke is healing the wound between himself and his nephew that was opened up when he thought about killing Ben. Luke literally dies to say he’s sorry. The salt on top of the red “wound” of Crait is symbolic of what Luke’s doing. Salt both disinfects and hurts, and there’s healing without some pain.
From the point of view of the rest of the saga, I think this gets right back at the central issue. Ben is chasing two women in that cave, his mother and his soul’s other half. That’s why Luke steps out of a vagina-shaped entrance. Luke stops Ben from fleeing the two women in the story because Ben is not thinking clearly and is giving in to his aggression in that moment. Once again this connects to Anakin and Padme, the central relationship issue of the saga that started this whole mess in the first place. Ben and Rey have to heal the wound that was made in the prequels, a wound distinctly related to “boy, meet girl.”
There’s a reason that a great deal of Ben’s motivations have been kept concealed from the audience. He probably knows more than we do at this point. Rey, on the other hand, is still discovering who she is, just like the rest of us.
The Last Jedi is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to this theory. When Snoke tells us that he knew that as Ben’s power in the darkness increased so to would the power of his equal on the light, what that is telling us is that the Sacred Marriage this time around has an altered power-dynamic. Ben and Rey have been set-up as equals when it comes to this Force thing that plays an important role in the story.
From my point of view, it was Anakin who consciously chose to balance his power with his other half that created this scenario. The reason I think this is because, once again, this myth is primarily from a male-POV and is following the choices and consequences of what the male hero does (I will talk more about this male vs. female point-of-view thing later). For the dynamic to currently exist between these two characters, it had to have been done by the Chosen One, consciously, as a way to say, “The way our relationship worked in the prequels was wrong, and I’m sorry. Here you go, I surrender half my power to you.” From the marriage POV, the prophecy of the Chosen One opens up to an entirely new dimension. From the moment Anakin and Padme chose to be with each other, it became a requirement for Anakin to learn that being the Chosen One meant more than gaining power for himself. From the marriage point on, the two became one, and we are seeing the full ramifications of that in the sequel trilogy.
To word it another way, if the story tells us that Rey suddenly has equal powers to Ben for… reasons… then it fails at expanding upon the lesson that it was wrong for Anakin to use his power for domination in the prequels, and it would fail to demonstrate what someone in that circumstance should do, choice-wise, in order to correct it, and we have to remember that every major event in the story has to follow from a choice that the Chosen One makes. Because at the end of the day, as fun as the “does free will exist?” question may be, myths are there as guidebooks for humans, and humans, like it or not, will likely end up believing in the power of choice. Therefore, Rey’s powers can’t be explained away from a purely “The Force did it” angle, unless we accept that the Force, in the form of Anakin/The Chosen One, was the one that consciously set things into motion after learning a really big lesson after having fallen to the dark side.
To get back to the idea that these two beings are the soul of the Force, it’s necessary to say that we can’t really blame Ben for the path he is on. Unfortunately, someone in this story has to represent the “shadow side” of life. If Rey, and by extension the rest of the galaxy, are incapable of forgiving Ben in Episode IX, what that really means is that Rey would be incapable of forgiving herself. And at the end of the day, no matter who you are or what you did, if you can’t forgive yourself, all hope is lost. The redemption of Ben Solo is not just the redemption of a single man, it’s the redemption of life and the Force itself for even having this dark side aspect to it in the first place! And that’s one of the overall central messages of myth. We all have a dark side, and you have to accept that, not beat yourself up over it, and control it if you wish to be a balanced individual.
Campbell talks at length of the split between East-West mythological thinking when it comes to this question of life. Without a doubt, life is a mess of contradictions. How could it not be? Human beings evolved out of the very same chaotic (or ordered, depending on your point of view) forces that make the universe. In the Western traditions that eventually went on to give way to Christianity as the dominant ideology, the “darker” aspects of life are to be denied and purged, which leads to a whole set of psychological problems when taken to the extreme (demonstrated in Star Wars with the prequel Jedi Order). In the East, nothing is good or evil, all things are a product of nature, and how can nature be evil? The problem from the Western viewpoint with this idea is that it may seem as if any human endeavor is then pointless. If good and evil don’t exist, why even bother participating in life at all? Campbell’s answer is once again one of finding balance. Even with the recognition that everything in the world is a part of the majesty of being, nothing being truly good or evil, one can still choose to participate in the game of life, align themselves with what they see as “good,” and fight against what they see as “evil.” You are allowed to pick which “roles” you want to play.
Ben Solo’s redemption, as I’ve already mentioned, is a redemption not just of a single man, but of the concepts of love and life itself. All Ben represents is the darker tendencies in the human psyche. And it’s not so much Ben who represents this as it is the persona of Kylo Ren. Anger, fear, aggression. We all will feel and experience those things. Star Wars just exaggerates it a lot to get a point across. But if Ben and Rey truly are of “one soul,” then there’s no other option than for Rey to forgive Ben and for the two of them to live happily ever after. You can’t kill, imprison, or send into exile an entire part of your soul or your mind, unless you want that part of yourself to gain power and come back even stronger the next time around. But you can put everything together in a harmonious relationship that allows you to kick ass in life.
Hopefully everything up to this point has made sense. I think it’s time to move on to talking about death, rebirth, and reincarnation specifically.
Death and Rebirth – The Overall Central Theme of the Star Wars Saga
I wish I had the video links on me, but I swear George Lucas said these things (commentary tracks for saga films). He said that “death and rebirth” are the overall central themes of the saga (edit: found the link!), and that the tragedy of Anakin is essentially a story of how to “put Darth Vader back together again” after breaking him apart in the prequels. From the point of view of these characters being inner representations of you, and Rey and Ben being two halves of the protagonist, I think we can begin to see what this means. Remember also the idea I expressed that this entire saga is a “breaking apart” of George Lucas’ worldview as a male of European descent, and a restructuring of that worldview into a healthier outlook on life.
The above quote was part of a larger discussion on Campbell’s most well-known advice, that we should “follow our bliss.” Whenever there is a little voice inside of us, or a feeling that clues us in that we are truly “feeling alive” when pursuing a certain career or what have you, that’s what we should listen to. We should pursue that above all else, otherwise we may risk living an inauthentic life. And it just so happens that from the male-POV of the myths Campbell studied, the female Goddesses represented the bliss of life itself. I hope that the female readers of this theory, rather than see that as the more negative expression of “female as reward” for male heroic endeavors, choose instead to see that as the most positive expression of what woman means to man, and what man means to woman, provided each has learned the proper lessons in how to relate to each other beforehand. Because I don’t think there is any moment in Campbell’s work where he thinks men should be rewarded with women simply for slaying a dragon. Remember this is all at the level of psychology, so the hero’s journey represents a spiritual journey of self-discovery that men and women must take before making a commitment as big as marriage. It’s basically all about growing up, and as Lucasfilm is keen to point out, Star Wars is just a huge coming of age story. And so far, the Skywalker saga is a story of, as Kathleen Kennedy said, getting this troubled youth to his successful adult life. All that really means is, teaching kids to avoid becoming Darth Vaders when they grow up! (Side note: I realize that a lot of old school Hollywood macho man action movies really do show the female as reward for actions of male heroism, but I think Star Wars is actually a responsible application of these mythic motifs, in that the writers are aware of what kind of story they are telling).
To connect it with what George Lucas said, Anakin was the “Self” in the mythic sense. The Force descended in human form, who joined with his living counterpart, Padme. Choosing his “program” of power above all else in Revenge of the Sith shattered this “Self” into pieces and sent Anakin into a literal living nightmare from which the only release was death. That death to the ego is what allowed Anakin and Padme to continue along their journey and right the wrongs of the past in the sequels. Unfortunately for the Chosen One, the next time around it wasn’t the Jedi Order who screwed up, it was his own family. More on that later.
Now is a good time to address two of the criticisms I mentioned in the introduction. “Why can’t Rey just be Rey?” and “Doesn’t this remove too much of the character’s agency?” I’ve noticed that this is the most common response people have to the idea of “reincarnation” being present in the story. That it somehow diminishes the characters involved. I think the exact opposite occurs. It tells a more complete journey of the “human soul” along it’s path to maturity, allows the new characters to be their own people (reincarnation is not rebirth of the personalities involved), and gives us a happy ending for the Skywalker family by showing us that the male half of the equation finally got his shit together and made true on the promise of saving the ones he loved, by saving himself! Because remember, all Padme ever wanted was Anakin’s love. Not fame or glory or power. For the story to come full circle, Anakin’s line in ROTS, “Love wont’ save you Padme, only my new powers can do that,” as to have been shown to be completely false, with the reverse being true, “Power won’t save you, only my love will do that.”
But again, the question is not one of “special lineage” vs. “anyone can be a hero.” Reincarnation is a metaphor, and Campbell elucidates the meaning of the metaphor better than I ever could.
Compare Campbell’s view of reincarnation with the captions on the Prime Jedi symbol from The Art of The Last Jedi book. I’ll include a bigger version of the captions to make it easier to read.
Specifically, “The rocks on either side are faceless because they have not chosen yet which face the viewer is to become,” and, “The monad puts on various personalities, life after life.”
Rey and Ben are the whole cosmic egg, folks. Not only are they Rey and Ben, they are two halves the Force itself, and that very same spirit is the spirit that lived inside Anakin and Padme.
To talk briefly about the rest of what Campbell said, the idea of Ben “paying” for the sins of his past life still as a form of purgatory is one way to look at why he fell to the dark side and has in general had a poodoo life so far. That’s the other big red flag people have. “If Ben is Anakin reborn, why did he fall to the dark side again?”
It’s because the myth is telling us a complete story about human attachments or lack thereof. In the prequels, Anakin becomes too attached to Padme because he was separated from his mother and put between the Sith and the Jedi, two sides that hated each other. So the only thing he feared to lose was Padme and he let his fears and desires get out of control.
In the sequels, it’s the family that fails the Chosen One, the exact opposite of the story of the prequels. As a result of Ben feeling betrayed by those closest to him, he writes off the idea of attachments entirely. It’s a complete 180 degree swing from the situation in the prequels. But in comes Rey, the other half of his soul, and all of a sudden getting rid of all his attachments isn’t easy anymore.
What this tells us in the story is that the answer isn’t as simple as, “Don’t take kids from their families.” Families can screw up too. It doesn’t help that a character coded as a creepy child predator was off in the wings trying to turn Ben against his family either, but that’s another danger we all have to watch out for. But at the end of the day, it will be Ben’s love of his family and his family’s love of him that will redeem him. “You cannot deny the truth that is your family.”
So if you’re worried about this theory diminishing the characters in some way, I just have to ask, why? Reincarnation, death and resurrection, these things are just metaphors. Rey is still Rey and Ben is still Ben. But each time we undergo a transformation in our lives, we, in a certain sense, “die” to our old personalities and are “born” into our new ones. If this never happened, we would all remain children, even as adults. And seeing the way some people act in the world, it’s clear that many get stuck at the difficult threshold crossing from adolescence to maturity.
I can see why many would rather Rey’s powers just be because she’s Rey, but that’s not the nature of the story we are being told. “Divine blood” doesn’t mean anything beyond the metaphor. Anakin was born to a slave mother because even a slave is a luminous being. And whether we like it or not, Rey’s powers are explained because “The Force willed it.” Either it chose her randomly out of everyone in the galaxy to make her powers equal to Ben, or in my view, Anakin balanced his power with the one he loved because he realized it was wrong for him to have all the power. Which of those two stories teaches a more meaningful lesson about how those with power should use their power? Rey ends up being a “Chosen One” in either scenario, but in the latter, a much more human story of learning to regard others as equals is told.
Listen to what Campbell has to say when discussing the myth of Osiris and Isis.
“This theme of the search for the God who is the spouse of the soul is a prime mythological theme of the period: of the Goddess who goes in quest of her lost spouse or lover and, through loyalty and a descent into the realm of death, becomes his redeemer… As a goddess, she could prevent the fire from killing him, you understand.” – The Power of Myth
“And so it is that the cosmic symbols are presented in a spirit of thought-bewildering sublime paradox. The kingdom of God is within, yet without, also; God, however, is but a convenient means to wake the sleeping princess, the soul. Life is her sleep, death, the awakening. The hero, the waker of his own soul, is himself but the convenient means of his own dissolution. God, the waker of the soul, is therewith his own immediate death.” – The Hero with a Thousand Faces
To reconnect all of this back to the idea of Ben and Rey finishing what they started in the prequels, I need to talk a bit about medieval myth.
Remember the image of Luke emerging from the flaming vagina cave and how I said that it connects right back to what the central issue of this saga really is? “Boy, meet girl.” The wound in the Skywalker family was opened because Anakin chose to murder younglings chasing a power to save the woman he loved, that’s why there’s so much sexual imagery in The Last Jedi. That wound can only be healed when Anakin chooses to give up power to save the woman he loves. There’s one explanation for why Anakin-Ben gave Padme-Rey half his power, as well as speculation fuel for what might go down in Episode IX. The lightsaber of the Chosen One is, of course, a gigantic symbol. It was the weapon Anakin used to slay the children, and now it’s the weapon that is trying to put Anakin and Padme back together again. George Lucas, “This is really all about the question, how do we put Darth Vader back together again?”
On talking about the courtly interactions among the nobility of Medieval Europe, particularly on how the noblewomen would test a potential candidate to see if he was worthy of her love:
“Yes. There was an essential requirement – that one must have a gentle heart, that is a heart capable of love, not simply of lust… One that is capable of – well, the key word for me is compassion. Suffering with. ‘Passion’ is ‘suffering,’ and ‘com-‘ is ‘with.’ The essential idea was to test this man to make sure that he would suffer things for love, and that this was not just lust.” – The Power of Myth
“Well, to say a word for the other first – one has to recognize that in domestic life there grows up a love relationship between the husband and wife even though they’re put together in arranged marriage. In other words, in arranged marriages of this kind, there is a lot of love. There’s family love, a rich love life on that level. But you don’t get this other thing, of the seizure that comes in recognizing your soul’s counterpart in the other person. And that’s what the troubadours stood for, and that has become the ideal in our lives today.
“But marriage is marriage, you know. Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn’t that. That is a relationship for pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable, it’s off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you’re not married. In marriage, every day you love, and every day you forgive. It is an ongoing sacrament – love and forgiveness.” – The Power of Myth
Later in the book, Moyers brings up the image of the circle that constantly repeats in myth and how wedding rings are circles too. He asks Campbell what this symbolized, to which he replied:
“That depends on how you understand marriage. The word ‘sym-bol’ itself means two things put together. One person has one half, the other has the other half, and then they come together. Recognition comes from putting the ring together, the completed circle. This is my marriage, this is the merging of my individual life in a larger life that is of two, where the two are one. The ring indicates that we are in one circle together.”
I think I’ve done all I can to convince you that Rey and Ben are more than meets the eye. But our theory of everything isn’t over yet. I still have to talk about Rey’s origins and why her parentage reveal in TLJ isn’t the end of the mystery, and what the final battle these two characters face will look like.
Rey as The Force
I understand why many will not like this part of the theory. The answer that Rian gave us in The Last Jedi that Rey’s parents were nobody junk dealers who are dead in a pauper’s grave in Jakku was validation to many who were constantly arguing with others in the fandom that Rey didn’t need to be descended from any particular lineage in the Star Wars saga in order for her to be powerful. And while that is true, and certainly has narrative merit, I still think we are in for one last surprise revelation concerning her origins.
Anakin was born via a miraculous virgin birth. I believe Rey was born without any parents at all, a pure creation of the Force, like Wonder Woman.
Again, this is not because I think Rey has to be descended from midichlorian-rich loin-seed in order for her to be powerful. In fact, I think Force power in Star Wars is more about how much one truly understands certain spiritual principles rather than some sort of video game experience system or special lineages. That being said, the Skywalker family is special, and the reason for that is because they are the family that this whole thing centers on. The myth is about them, and really all that means is that it’s about us. Interpreted this way, Chosen Ones and “special” lineages are not some cheap way to explain power, they are metaphorical attempts to dig out truths about ourselves. We are each the chosen one of our own life, so to speak. With that said, Rey being the Force itself has a lot of implications.
I’m going to provide all the relevant Campbell quotes that I want to share with you regarding the female as a symbol in the world’s mythologies. Then I’ll bridge Campbell’s views with my own interpretation of the saga and Rey’s character specifically.
Campbell’s narrative of the history of mythology goes something like this. The Goddess became the principal mythological figure across the world when the agricultural revolution took off. As Campbell adequately explained, this is because humans saw woman and the Earth as the same. “From womb to tomb.” Burial ceremonies were seen, by many cultures, as a return to the womb of the earth for rebirth later.
In the regions of the world where primarily nomadic, hunter cultures thrived, the principal deities were usually male. The likely reason for this being that hunting was the male’s role. And so in these cultures, a very male-oriented set of deities comes to the forefront of the mythological tradition, and of course those deities were warriors who lived off death and conquest.
After the great agricultural centers spawned majestic city-states, such as Babylon, invasions from the nomadic-hunter zones started to occur, pretty much all across the board, from Europe to Asia. With the conquest of the agricultural zones by the warrior tribes came a restructuring of the mythological order of the ancient world. The Goddess, formerly the most important deity in the pantheon, was subjugated in, or sometimes even downright eliminated from the halls of worship and for the most part male deities ruled the cosmos. There’s no better example of this than Christianity, in which the “waters” that God blows his breath of life over is all that’s left of the Goddess. In that tradition, she’s been reduced to a lifeless primordial body of water, all the way down from the Queen of the Cosmos that she once was.
Now here comes Star Wars. The story so far is mostly a boys club. Anakin falls to the dark side, his son saves him. But now we have the reintroduction of this mysterious “no one” girl that everyone seems to get a funny feeling around (it’s because she’s the Skywalker mother, the returning Queen Goddess of the World who has to basically take matters into her own hands and reestablish her role as one-half the leading figure of this family while trying to get her egghead husband to stop being a jackass).
“The Force is strong in my family. My father had it, I have it, my sister has it. You have that power too.” Luke may as well have ended that teaser line with, “You have that power too, mom.” I hope it’s easy for you to see how ridiculously powerful this story is, if it’s true. For thousands of years the female aspect of the world’s mythologies, at least in the Western world, has been put in a position of subservience to the male-deities (you can see this reflected in the prequels. The Jedi Order and the Sith Lord are the ones making all the power plays, with Anakin caught in the middle). “God the Father” as it’s said in Christianity. And now we have Star Wars about to reveal that the main character of the closing act of the Skywalker saga is in fact the Force returned in female form. It’s a gigantic neon sign that reads, “Time to put an end to this one-sided bullshit, both the male and the female are the Force!”
“And the personification of the energy that gives birth to forms and nourishes forms is properly female.” That’s the Force folks. The Force is female.
Of course, in reality, the Force is created by all life, and that transcends the duality of male and female. Anakin is 1/2 Force and Rey is likely full-blown Force. I see this as getting at the mystery of life in it’s own way. Men have the easy job. We deliver the seed package, and that’s it. In fact, it’s purely pleasure on our end. Women have to go through the pain of childbirth, hosting, symbiotically, an entire person in their body for nine-months, and I think that deserves a certain sort of respect in mythological representations of the female. Giving a special kind of respect is not the same thing as setting up a dynamic of inferiority/superiority, which is what a lot of egghead “anti-diversity” types can’t seem to understand about the increasingly important role of woman in storytelling. Campbell talks about how, for most of human history, the creative conjunction of male and female was seen as a divine act, a divine mystery. We get a sense of this in Revenge of the Sith when Palpatine gives Anakin his little story about the power to create life and cheat death during an opera that is one-hundred-percent bonafide sperm and egg imagery. Given the way our species reproduces, it’s easy to see why a force field that connects all living things would be symbolized as a woman.
Now, you might be asking, “So what does this mean? Ben was lying in The Last Jedi?” Not at all. I think that the drunks who are dead in a pauper’s grave in a Jakku desert likely exist. I just don’t think they biologically created Rey. They probably discovered her as they were scavenging and either sold her off for drinking money or otherwise fled for reasons unknown.
If there’s one thing we should assume about Force visions in Star Wars, it’s that the heroes will not understand the true meaning of them until the ultimate moment in the story that tests who they are. This is why Luke Skywalker didn’t understand that the cave vision had another element to it, that he comes from Darth Vader. Rey and Ben each saw a vision, and they saw what they wanted to see. “The forms we assume are merely reflections of the life force that surrounds us,” is what the Father tells Anakin on Mortis. Rey and Ben saw the Force vision when they touched hands, and what they saw was a reflection of their unconscious fears and desires. Ultimately, what they saw will end up being the truth, from a certain point of view, but there is more to be learned.
On Ben’s end, the reason he sees Rey’s deadbeat, nobody parents is because his worldview at this point in the story is a cynical one. He feels betrayed by his family, one of whom almost murdered him. He feels betrayed by Snoke, who has made him feel like all of his commitments toward the dark side have gone unrewarded. Ben’s point of view of the world is, “Big fish eats little fish, so better become the biggest fish of them all.” That’s not a very spiritual worldview. So what he sees reflects that.
On Rey’s end, she doesn’t really desire anything other than belonging and an experience of life that doesn’t involve her wasting away in a Jakku desert for the rest of her years. One of the opening images of the sequel trilogy was Rey scrubbing scavenged parts and looking across the table at an older lady, then dazing out for a moment. I think this scene speaks for itself when it comes to one of Rey’s biggest fears.
In the mythic sense, what Ben and Rey saw is likely the truth from a certain point of view, but clearly their vision was ambiguous enough for both of them to not realize that they weren’t going to be getting what they wanted in The Last Jedi.
For Rey, what she likely saw was Ben kneeling before her. He is the master of the Knights of Ren, after all, and that group’s name is loaded with meaning. Ren means several things in Chinese as well as having a specific meaning in Confucianism.
I’ll come back to the Confucian meaning of Ren later in the essay, but Ren also has other curious meanings. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know) it’s a diminutive of the French name Renée, which means to be reborn/born again. Ren is also the word that describes a part of the soul in ancient Egyptian mythology. From the link:
The Ren was one’s secret name. This was given to one at birth by the gods, and only the gods knew it. Scholar Nicholaus B. Pumphrey writes, “the only way that the fate or destiny can change is if a creature of higher power changes the name. As long as the name of the being exists, the being will exist throughout eternity as part of the fabric of the divine order” (6-7). The ren was the name by which the gods knew the individual soul and how one would be called in the afterlife.
The last meaning I want to share with you is the Japanese one – Ren in Japanese means Lotus, which is also love. This connects it with the word Padme, which was taken from the Sanskrit mantra Om mani padme hum. Both Anakin and Padme’s names are contained in that mantra, and Padme means lotus, the same as Ren.
Fortunately every single one of these meanings for the name fits what I’m describing in this theory. I happen to think Lucasfilm carefully selects the names of their characters but it doesn’t hurt to have every single possible meaning for this name end up supporting the mythological basis of this essay.
To connect this all back to ideas in mythology and why Rey is the Force, Ben is the master of the Knights of Ren, and remember the quote above, “By deficient eyes she is reduced to inferior states.” Ben’s eyes in The Last Jedi were deficient. He was incapable of seeing the majesty hidden beneath the “crude matter” of the flesh. The Hidden Divine. This Anakin-Ben character, from the perspective of the Skywalker saga, is on the second phase of his initiation. From the perspective of where the Star Wars franchise will be 20 years from now, he’s likely on a much later phase than that. Once Ben’s initiation is complete and he’s ready to behold the “beatific vision” that he and Rey are both the Force itself, he and Rey may have a Weeknd moment…
The point here is that we need to get back to what George Lucas wants this saga to do, which is to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people. We can live our entire lives thinking human beings are ultimately garbage, that we’re just flawed, leaky organic bags carrying around thoughts and consciousness until the bags deflate, or we can try to learn Yoda’s lesson that beneath the crude matter there is a luminous being. And we can live according to seeing others as luminous beings too. Ben was not ready to live that way in The Last Jedi, and was not ready to see the world that way. He may see himself that way as Anakin’s grandson, but that’s no way to live either. That’s the task left up to him in the final stretch of his journey, to see how he and Rey really just represent the truth that is all life.
Another way to look at this is how to define your self-worth. Rey functions, in many ways, as an audience self-insert in the story. Everyone is waiting with baited breath to see what her character is all about. And like the audience, Rey had these false expectations of what to expect regarding her parentage. She, like many in the audience, thought divine loin-seed was going to explain her role in the story, and everyone learned that that’s not what this story is all about. But again, there is a final stretch of the journey these characters will take which is ultimately a journey of coming of age and self-discovery. And the biggest discovery of all is that we are luminous beings. If you can see that in yourself, then you’ll have an easier time generating self-worth on your own without relying on outside forms of validation. In Episode IX, Ben and Rey will both realize the truth that is their family. They are Skywalkers in every sense of the name.
Now you might be thinking, “Well, why not just leave her as a totally normal human child, isn’t it the same thing? After all, everyone else in the galaxy are luminous beings too!” My counter to this is to remember that the gods in myths are really just us. We are meant to think of the gods in a way that reflects us, or the forces waging a war or maintaining peace inside our own mind. Rey and Ben are the Force because they are both on their way to becoming the key archetypal roles of the Mother and Father, and the divine creative conjunction of those two archetypes is what encapsulates the entire mystery of life for the human species. They are the “principal deities” of the mind in the Jungian sense. From a certain point of view, they are just avatars representing the different sentiments of life itself, from the darkest to the lightest.
Now, another interesting, seemingly illogical thing has to be said here. I’ve been saying “Rey is the Force” up till now, but her being born of the Force still doesn’t make her THE Force. The ultimate mystery of whatever the Force is will always remain a mystery, because it will always be impossible for human beings to unlock all the answers about the universe. Even if we “figured everything out,” philosophically we would always be able to ask the question, “Is there anything beyond what we currently know?” And so human curiosity will never know an end. But for the sake of making stories that relate to the human condition, we personify the Force in different forms, and right now the main saga is showing it in the form of, “Boy, meet girl,” and the resulting “order” that follows from their relationship to each other.
By the end of Episode IX, both boy and girl have to come of age and see themselves as the Force itself, but in a healthy way that forces them to relate compassionately towards others, not dominate them. Rey’s role in the story, from my point of view, is in part undoing the tendency of the past few thousand years to reduce the female Goddess to an inferior role. The full scope of the revelation surrounding her is meant, in part, to once again re-equate the role of femininity with the role of masculinity, and then have those two things reach a harmonious balance with each other. There will be no Supreme King or Supreme Queen by the end of this, but rather a Father and a Mother in a perfectly balanced, harmonious relationship centered on compassion, rather than domination. A gigantic clue to this is found in the Mortis arc of the Clone Wars animated television show. The Father, Daughter, and Son maintained a delicate balance on their world, but without a Mother figure that had a voice (the Force as female Goddess figure could be seen as the missing Mother on Mortis) and agency in the affairs of the world, that delicate balance was easily undone. And, as the Father said, their forms were the reflection of the life force around them. Anakin’s psychology was deeply riddled with guilt over the inability to save his mother, as well as the growing power temptation within him, manifested in the Son’s power growing out of control and threatening the entire balance of the world. Had Anakin been on a path toward enlightenment and regarding Padme as his equal rather than an object of possession, the Mortis arc would have played out much differently.
From the societal standpoint of awakening us to a certain kind of spirituality, which I’ve already touched on, it is appropriate for the “end” of the myth that achieves the victory for all time to have both sides of the equation realize the divinity within themselves. If I had to wager a guess, the next 10 or so years of Star Wars content will move away from virgin births and Force-conceptions, until perhaps we arrive back at the beginning, the Garden before the Fall.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to look at this less in the form of, “Bloodlines determine your destiny” and more in the sense of “What are we, spiritually speaking?” As the principal characters that this story boils down to, the Skywalker family are more than just crude matter. They are living deities, which in term represent certain psychological forces at play within the human psyche.
I’d like to close this section with another quote from The Power of Myth. No image this time, I’ll just type it out for you. Campbell is discussing with Moyers his experience of entering an ancient system of caves which had the paintings of the culture who used it as a religious site.
Moyers: Tell me what you remember when you first looked upon those painted caves.
Campbell: You don’t want to leave. Here you come into an enormous chamber, like a great cathedral, with all these painted animals. The darkness is inconceivable. We were there with electric lights, but in a couple of instances the man who was showing us through turned off the lights, and you were never in darker darkness in your life. It was—I don’t know, just a complete knockout. You don’t know where you are, whether you are looking north, south, east, or west. All orientation is gone, and you are in a darkness that never saw the sun. Then they turn the lights on again, and you see these gloriously painted animals. And they are painted with the vitality of ink on silk in a Japanese painting—you know, just like that. A bull that will be twenty feet long, painted so that its haunches will be represented by a swelling in the rock. They take account of the whole thing.
Moyers: You call them temple caves.
Campbell: A temple is a landscape of the soul. When you walk into a cathedral, you move into a world of spiritual images. It is the mother womb of your spiritual life—mother church. All the forms around are significant of spiritual value.
Now, in a cathedral, the imagery is in anthropomorphic form. God and Jesus and the saints and all are in human form. And in the caves the images are in animal form. But it’s the same thing, believe me. The form is secondary. The message is what is important.
Moyers: And the message of the caves?
Campbell: The message of the caves is of a relationship of time to eternal powers that is somehow to be experienced in that place.
Campbell then describes how the caves were used for the initiation rites of boys and how the boys would try to cling to their mother, and the men of the tribe would put them through one hell of an ordeal to initiate them into manhood. He then brings up the modern dilemma of not really having anything like that. Human beings are sort of just thrown freely into the world, and as the result of not having a solid structure to help us figure out who we are, we have to do it alone, and that can be very difficult and lead to some interesting psychological situations. The two then talk about how movies and entertainment have sort of filled a gap here, but that has drawbacks too.
Campbell: [He says that men who are 45 years old but still trying to be obedient to their father have to go to the psychotherapist for assistance].
Moyers: Or he goes to the movies.
Campbell: That might be our counterpart to the mythological re-enactments—except that we don’t have the same kind of thinking going into the production of a movie that goes into the production of an initiation ritual.
Moyers: No, but given the absence of initiation rituals, which have largely disappeared from our society, the world of imagination as projected on that screen serves, even if in a faulty way, to tell that story, doesn’t it?
Campbell: Yes, but what is unfortunate for us is that a lot of the people who write these stories do not have the sense of their responsibility. These stories are making and breaking lives. But the movies are made simply to make money. The kind of responsibility that goes into a priesthood with a ritual is not there. That is one of our problems today.
Moyers: What does the absence of these myths mean to young boys today?
Campbell: Well, the confirmation ritual is the counterpart today of these rites. As a Catholic boy, you choose your confirmed name, the name you are going to be confirmed by. But instead of scarifying you and knocking your teeth out and all, the bishop gives you a smile and a slap on the cheek. It has been reduced to that. Nothing has happened to you. The Jewish counterpart is the bar mitzvah. Whether it actually works to effect a psychological transformation will depend on the individual case, I suppose. But in the old days there was no problem. The boy came out with a different body, and he had really gone through something.
Moyers: What about the female? Most of the figures in the temple caves are male. Was this a kind of secret society for males?
Campbell: It wasn’t a secret society, it was that the boys had to go through it. Now of course we don’t know exactly what happened to the female in this period because there is very little evidence to tell us. But in the primary cultures today the girl becomes a woman with her first menstruation. It happens to her. Nature does it to her. And so she has undergone the transformation, and what is her initiation? Typically it is to sit in a little hut for a certain number of days and realize what she is.
Moyers: How does she do that?
Campbell: She sits there. She is now a woman. And what is a woman? A woman is a vehicle of life. Life has overtaken her. Woman is what it is all about—the giving of birth and the giving of nourishment. She is identical with the earth goddess in her powers, and she has got to realize that about herself. The boy does not have a happening of this kind, so he has to be turned into a man and voluntarily become a servant of something greater than himself.
Moyers: This is where the mythic imagination, as far as we know, began to operate.
Moyers: What were the chief themes of that era? Death?
Campbell: The mystery of death is one of them—which balances the theme of the mystery of life. It is the same mystery in its two aspects. The next theme is of the relationship of this to the animal world, which dies and lives again.
Third time’s the charm. I’m fond of the idea that at some point in Episode IX, Kylo will kneel with his knights before Rey as a symbolic act of him voluntarily choosing to serve something greater than himself. Kneeling is foreshadowed. “You will not bow before Snoke.” What exactly did you see, Rey? Hmmmm?
But before Ben Solo’s heart of gold shines and he realizes who he and Rey are, he has to undergo an initiation out of his boy psychology into his man psychology. And that’s going to be the most difficult challenge of all…
The Only Fight, Against the Dark Side
“There’s always a bigger fish.” A truer statement has never been spoken. The world will constantly regenerate people seeking to better themselves at the expense of others. It is not likely that in any of our single lifetimes we will see an end to this cycle. There will always be an external, big fish out there trying to shark his or her way into something greater at your expense. The biggest fish of all, however, is the one lurking in the abyss of your unconscious. As Maz said, “The only fight… against the dark side.”
As two halves of a single luminous being, Rey and Ben’s shadow is Kylo Ren. In a larger sense, the shadow looming over the galaxy and the Skywalker family is Darth Vader. It was Anakin’s choices that sent the galaxy into a state of darkness, war, and despair, and it’s only through the same luminous being’s choices that it can be self-corrected. That is the true value of the hope message in Star Wars. That no matter what you do in life, you can always have a shot at putting the pieces back together in your head to find an internal balance, and ultimately, peace.
“It’s a story of, how do we put Darth Vader back together again? How do we turn him back into that innocent boy we see in The Phantom Menace?” – George Lucas
“You’re just a child… in a mask.” – Supreme Leader Snoke
Remember when I talked about how I still think the Skywalker saga is overwhelmingly still being told from a male point of view? I hope my female readers don’t interpret that in a negative way. It gets back to what Campbell and Moyers were talking about, and how a true myth needs to include a message of psychological transformation of boys and girls into stable, adult men and women. And right now, I do really think it is more important to tell a story in which the male hero confronts his dark side fears and desires, and channels the anger, fear, and aggression from that into something positive, because right now, men, for the most part, rule the world. I don’t think Star Wars can save the world, unfortunately, but I do think the responsibility of the storytellers should be to give an idealistic and true-to-heart vision of the journey that boys and girls should take in life. There’s one reason that I’ve not really discussed Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness in this essay, and that’s mostly because I do not think we are seeing a true “female” chosen one yet. In the mythic, Sacred Marriage sense, yes. Ben and Rey are split halves of the protagonist, and what that is doing is opening up the door for a larger female perspective in the future. What Lucasfilm will likely start moving closer and closer towards is a female counterpart to Anakin, who undergoes all of the same sorts of dilemmas, gets tempted with power and the desire to dominate, and then has to figure out how to save themselves from that. Hopefully, Lucasfilm gets some female directors to tell that story, but seeing as Kathleen Kennedy is running the company and the Lucasfilm Story Group is made up of mostly women, I don’t think they need to be lectured on what to do going forward. I’m just excited to eagerly await the stories they tell, from whichever points of view they wish to tell them from. That being said, the Heroine’s Journey is definitely an illuminating read to understand what’s going on with Rey, Leia, and the other female characters in the saga so far, so it’s still worth checking out for insights into the Skywalker saga. But much like the audience, Rey is just waiting to see what Ben decides to do with his power.
Before getting into more Campbell quotes I want to remind you of a concept I brought up earlier in the essay, which is that Ben and Rey, as two aspects of the Force, represent the varying sentiments, emotions, and dilemmas of life. Therefore, Ben’s redemption is not merely a “crime versus punishment” matter, it goes far, far beyond that. The redemption of Ben Solo is the redemption of life itself, for even existing in the first place (for life could not exist without conflict and strife). It’s also a redemption of the concept of love, which so far has been portrayed in a purely tragic sense by the saga. It’s important to bring this up again because I do not think a serious case can be made against Ben Solo’s redemption. I do not even think a serious case can be made against him getting a “happily ever after” ending with Rey. This is about coming of age, putting the pieces of yourself together, and trudging forward. The “crime and punishment” angle completely misses that, I think. In the real world, you will face consequences from society for your actions. But this story is about the principal “divinities” in your mind. If you can’t forgive yourself and learn to love yourself, no matter what you’ve done, then all hope for you is lost, and that has nothing to do with whether or not you “get away” with something or get caught and have to face consequences from society. You will still wage that psychological battle in your own mind regardless.
The sequel trilogy is putting the Skywalker family back together again. And Padme-Rey is as much a part of that family as any other character, so she will get a likewise, one-hundred-percent happy ending (and yes that includes Mr. Beefcake returning to her as a “man with a gentle heart”, get over it Ben haters).
Of course, I could be wrong about all of this and I’m just looking to deep. Believe me only as much as you are willing to get invested in this outcome for the story. That being said, let’s continue!
There’s a reason Snoke was chopped in half in The Last Jedi. The story is finally breaking through to this message that at some point, we have to stop worrying only about the external enemies in the world, and worry primarily about whether or not we are living in terms of certain spiritual principles that make us good people. There’s always another Snoke around the corner. But do you progress through life doing the necessary introspection to make sure you aren’t the Snoke? If we can’t master our own balance of light and dark, then what use is it fighting evil in the world? We won’t even know which side to pick! And that’s probably another meaning of the poem that opens up The Force Awakens novelization.
“First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say,
Is only made right
By the resolving of gray
Through refined Jedi sight.“
If one hasn’t undergone the proper psychological transformations to become a stable, well-adjusted adult, forget a proper family life, forget proper relationships in general, and for damn sure forget getting involved in politics. Unfortunately, I think that many in the world right now rush to get involved in the external world before conducting the necessary introspection to see if they are everything they are cracked up to be themselves. But that’s getting too close to a political discussion, so I’ll stop there. One thing that has to be said is that it isn’t even necessarily anyone’s fault. As Campbell and Moyers pointed out, the dark side of the success of the modern world is that we, as modern individuals, are sort of catapulted into this ether of conflicting viewpoints and beliefs, and without something to help us figure out who we are, we have to do it alone, and that can be very difficult.
Back to Snoke. He’s gone. It’s just Ben and Rey now. No one will stand in their way. Their relationship will determine the fate of the entire galaxy. If Rey kills Ben, boom, another cycle of war and violence will start again, because that’s what the story is telling us, you can’t kill the dark side, it will just come back. If everyone involved on all sides of this war can work on a compromise, a peace-agreement, and move towards compassion and forgiveness, then there is yet hope for a victory for all time.
With the absence of an obvious “big bad,” many have understandably questioned what’s going to happen in Episode IX. I think it’s going to be the most mystical battle we’ve seen yet, one waged almost entirely in the Force.
In The Last Jedi novelization, there is a curious line, “Darth Vader, the ghost who haunted Kylo Ren’s dreams.” In the image above, Luke is being haunted by a Sith ghost. I used to be fond of the idea that Palpatine may still be pulling strings in the story, as his contingency plan and ultimate goals (cheating death, god-power-level-unlocking-rituals, etc) have some very curious elements to them. But from the perspective of this myth representing the battles we wage inside ourselves, the ultimate battle has to be against a representation of what the “true evil within” was all along. And that evil is the dark side itself, personified in the form of Darth Vader, the Father of the Skywalker family. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Darth Vader is a “living” entity. Yoda confronts an illusion of Darth Bane that was really just the Force itself trying to initiate Yoda into a wiser phase of his life.
In one of the novels, Ben is described as a being of “pure light” and at one point Han even remarks that has “ancient eyes” as if he’s been waiting around for a millennium to enter the world. Leia has a vision of the stars turning into menacing eyes to to watch her and her baby, which have been Snoke, but I think Snoke is connected to something larger going on here.
We also have a ship called the Millennium Falcon, and we know that roughly 1,000 years before the prequels, there was a big Jedi-Sith war (another mythic event, not the “Fall” event because this comes after the birth of the Sith, but something else along the way to where we are now).
The popular interpretation of baptism is that it “washes away original sin,” with emphasis rather on the cleansing than on the rebirth idea. This is a secondary interpretation. Or if the traditional birth image is remembered, nothing is said of an antecedent marriage. Mythological symbols, however, have to be followed through all their implications before they open out the full system of correspondences through which they represent, by analogy, the millennial adventure of the soul. – The Hero With a Thousand Faces
This is why both sides of the Force have to “go all the way” in the story, both the dark and the light. The true implications of the pain and pleasure you will based on where you allow your internal psychological balance to go cannot be known unless the hero (in this case Ben and Rey, Anakin and Padme) go ALL the way with the light and dark side, that means hatred AND forgiveness. If you get trapped in a spiral of hatred and self-loathing (Rey killing Ben, the galaxy not forgiving him), kiss your mental stability goodbye. If you instead get trapped in a cycle of compassion, well then, you’ll be able to weather the emotional storms much easier. To quote George Lucas, if you follow through with the dark side, “you get everything you think you want, only to find out you’re miserable.” Unfortunately, Anakin-Ben had to be the person in the story plunged into the deepest abyss of pain and suffering so that we could see for ourselves why to avoid that.
Dave Filoni revealed to us in an after-episode recap of The Clone Wars that becoming a Force ghost is a very “intentional” ability. The people who do it have to be aware of the ability and begin the training to be able to undergo that transformation, and of course that training is all about learning to let go of everything you fear to lose, and align yourself with selflessness as much as possible.
George himself has said that there’s a very good reason Anakin’s body remained behind even though he became a Force ghost. In mythology, the burning of the body represents a lot of other things. In some traditions, it’s another method of rebirth. The flesh is burned away so that the spirit can be reborn, which is where we get an idea like the phoenix myth. The Rebellion symbol itself is a “Starbird,” which is Star Wars’ take on the phoenix myth. The legend states that when people think the Starbird is gone, it’s actually being reforged in the heart of a nova.
To build upon what I told you earlier, I will propose this. The “luminous being” that was Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala (they were joined in marriage) returned to the Force in ROTJ. He balanced his power with her. But to light a candle is to cast a shadow. The shadow is that of Darth Vader, represented in the burnt helmet that Kylo Ren now communes with.
Whether still “alive” or not, Darth Vader is the shadow side of the Skywalker family. And what Star Wars consistently shows us is that the shadow-side of ourselves can only be confronted, accepted, and controlled, never eliminated.
The video linked above is when Yoda confronts his dark side during his three-episode long Clone Wars arc, which I think everyone should watch.
Yoda: Yoda recognizes you not.
Dark Yoda: [Laughs menacingly] See not what is inside Yoda?
Yoda: I choose not to give you power.
Dark Yoda: And yet you spend your days in the decadence of war, and with that I grow inside you. Know your true self. Face me now… or I will devour you.
Yoda: Part of me, you are not.
Dark Yoda: Part of you, I am. Part of all that lives! Why do you hate what gives you power? Yoda thinks me not worthy.
Yoda: Recognize you, I do. Part of me you are, yes. But power over me, you have not. Through patience and training, it is I who control you. Control over me, you have not. My dark side you are. Reject you I do.
In another confrontation from the same arc, Yoda faces an illusion of Darth Bane. All he has to is acknowledge that it is an illusion and say he has no fear, and Bane disappears.
What Darth Vader has become, to the dark siders in the galaxy by the time of the sequel trilogy, is some sort of God. The Aftermath Trilogy reveals to us that the Acolytes of the Beyond are searching for Vader Reborn (another rebirth clue as well as a clue toward what the final enemy is here). Snoke’s expression also changes into one of religious awe when he says that Kylo was to be a new Vader. It’s clear that there is some sort religious fanaticism at play here, and that’s even how Adam Driver described his character to Empire.
Speaking exclusively to Empire for our Force Awakens issue (in all Light and Dark Side newsagents next week), Driver says that he sees Ren as more of a religious fanatic than a villain in the traditional sense. “When they think of their actions as morally justified,” Driver told us, “it makes them dangerous and unpredictable. There’s no level they won’t go to to accomplish what they’re after. I never thought of the character as an evil person.”
Campbell talks greatly about this dilemma as well. Of latching on to one’s idea of God, or symbol of God (Darth Vader) as the final term of transcendence and mistaking that for the ultimate mystery that lies beyond that symbol (the Force).
I hope you can read that. I’ll re-type the part that’s most intriguing just in case.
Joseph Campbell: Well you have to go past the image of Jesus. The image of God becomes the final obstruction. Your God is your ultimate barrier.
That about sums up Ben Solo’s character! In his quest to become the new Darth Vader, he has lost himself. He needs only be reminded of who he truly is, then confront that image of what he wanted to be, to be freed from his pain. This is, psychology speaking, also confronting the most extreme and toxic manifestations of ego.
This is also why Anakin-Ben is still pursuing ultimate power. ROTJ was just a 2/3 stopping off point. He now sees the woman as his equal, but the woman now has to tell him that’s not enough. He has to have compassion for everyone else too. Anakin-Ben is still chasing the illusion of ultimate power, that life can be controlled, and everything can be made the way they want it to be.
This is the ego, folks. The ego is constantly obsessed with control or the lack thereof. It’s another dichotomy in Star Wars. How much are we in “control” of our destiny, versus how much are we in the hands of fate? Campbell’s answer is that, we have to follow our bliss, and at times the ego gets in the way of that and convinces us that one path is the right one when in reality it’s totally another that we should be on.
To give you a personal example, I spent four years in university getting a Biochemistry degree because I wanted to be a scientist. Something was “driving me” towards that. I thought that I wanted to unlock the secrets of the universe, or at least a few. By the end of my senior year I was wiped out. I had listened to my ego in chasing that degree. But I still made a mistake. I thought that if I switched to astronomy in grad-school, I would be more motivated to pursue it through to whatever I would become after the fact. I survived one-week of grad school (part of that was I moved to a new city and literally did not have the time to pay bills and go to school).
When I reflect back on what the hell was going on in my head, it’s clear as day, especially after reading Campbell. I was interested in the “big questions” and that’s why science appealed to me. I thought it was the path to answering those questions, and in many ways I still see it that way. But the questions I’m interested are the ones that can never be answered, and I’m just not built for the scientific life. From a certain point of view, in college, science had become my image of “God.” And thus, it had become my ultimate barrier. I had to give it up (let go of everything I feared to lose) in order to figure out which path I should set myself on, and I learned that the only way I would feel “at peace” no matter where I was work-wise would be to pursue something more on the creative side of things, because then at least the work would be activating the pleasure centers of my mind rather than feeling like a never-ending slog to feed myself.
Now imagine I had pulled a Darth Vader/Kylo Ren. I would still be suffering in graduate school, barely paying bills, all to arrive in a career that ultimately would feel unfulfilling for me, and I would have realized this all much later. And I don’t mean to hate on that path, I respect it as much as any other, but there’s definitely a feeling you will have that clues you onto what you are really meant to be doing. For some people, including many of my friends, they are just meant to be scientists. No one had to tell them that, they just figured it out. And it has nothing to do with God or destiny if you don’t believe in those concepts, it has to do with whoever you really are. Whether you see yourself as a manifestation of the Force or DNA governed by the laws of chemistry and by extension physics, something is making you who you are, and you have to figure out what path to put yourself on.
“The fates lead him who will, he who won’t, they drag.”
Now to relate the above image quote to Star Wars. Anakin’s “interest” was gaining power to protect the ones he loves. This leads him to do some pretty sickening things but this honestly probably how most people we consider “evil” justify themselves, be them terrorists, people on the opposing side of the political aisle, or what have you. They are acting out of a very human, very easy to understand fear of losing what they care about and wanting to gain power to safeguard what they care about. We have entire political ideologies centered around this concept.
Anakin then, as a result, became the very thing he swore to destroy. The Chosen One “divinity” became a monster, Darth Vader. This same Chosen One is now harassed, both day and night, probably by images of this divine monster (Ben Solo communing with the Vader helmet).
And all this pain is just a reflex of the victim’s own ego which has misaligned itself with the desire of the soul/unconscious. Anakin was taken from his mother, and then the problems started. That fed into his psychological ailments that led him down the dark path. Atonement in it’s simplest form is abandoning the self-generated double monster, the superego (what you think God is, for Ben this is Darth Vader/the Dark Side), and repressed id. What is id? To put it simply:
For me, Kylo Ren represents Ben Solo’s id/ego, Darth Vader his superego. He has to abandon that self-generated “double monster” in order to atone. That means giving up Kylo Ren (which he did in The Last Jedi, he smashed the helmet to pieces, he is not going to be the Pure Evil Supreme Leader that people are expecting in Episode IX), and giving up Darth Vader as the ultimate God to strive toward. A quote that sticks with me is, “Ego is a necklace that should be hung loosely around the soul.”
It’s interesting to me that Snoke wears an obsidian ring (Black Diamond was the old code name for Episode IX) that comes from underneath Darth Vader’s castle. When you go into the concept art books, there’s a lot of stuff about Darth Vader’s castle. Palpatine forced Darth Vader to meditate there, because it was the source of his greatest pain and rage. Rage at having lost to Obi-Wan, pain because that’s where he lost Padme for good.
Couple this with the fact that Snoke’s section in The Art of The Last Jedi is called “The Man Behind the Curtain” and we can begin to make some fun theories out of where Snoke is truly getting his power.
Aftermath tells us that Palpatine was looking for the “source of his power” in the Unknown Regions. From the narrative standpoint, and in the mythological sense as well, the power is the power that was within the hero all along (relevant Campbell quote on this appears later). How the hero chooses to use that power determines the balance of the hero’s world. When Anakin joined the Emperor, the galaxy descended into darkness. When Luke redeemed him, there was peace. Choosing to play the game of war and violence and domination fed the dark side within the hero, and therefore the dark side of the Star Wars universe.
Ignoring for a moment whatever form the “source of Palpatine’s power” is going to take in Episode IX, as I do think Ben and Rey will end up at that source in the Unknown Regions (it will probably look a lot like the Wellspring of the Dark Side), there is only one possible storytelling answer we can arrive at as to what actually created this power.
It was the hero’s power. And our heroes are now Ben and Rey. Anakin gave his power to his other half, so that the two of them could come back into the world and kick some major dark side ass. Who the hell is upset at the direction of the sequel trilogy again?
To connect this to Snoke and the ring, one idea I’ve toyed with is that Snoke’s power was actually just Ben’s. Han Solo says it, “Snoke’s just using you for your power, as soon as he gets what he wants he’ll crush you.” By stoking Ben’s conflicted soul, Snoke was stealing Ben’s power. I think the ring, in some way, was allowing him to do that, as the source of “pain” for this Anakin-Ben-Padme-Rey soul figure is still their relationship issue from the prequels, and Darth Vader spent a lot of time meditating on that pain and anger in his castle. What better visual metaphor could there be to showcase “letting the past go” than Rey and Ben teaming up at Darth Vader’s castle, and the resulting union destroying that symbol of pride and the lust for power that Darth Vader pursued? One can dream.
Anyways, to give myself a break from making image quotes, here’s another Campbell quote for you:
Two degrees of initiation are to be distinguished in the mansion of the father. From the first the son returns as emissary, but from the second, with the knowledge that “I and the father are one.” Heroes of this second, highest illumination are the world redeemers, the so-called incarnations, in the highest sense. Their myths open out to cosmic proportions. Their words carry an authority beyond anything pronounced by the heroes of the scepter and the book. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Anakin’s arrival in the prequels was as emissary. Just as Jesus came to man to bring the word of God, and man rejected it, so too did the Jedi and the Sith allow their ideology to cloud their vision. That’s really why Padme is fridged in the literary sense in the prequels. The “word of God” in the prequels did not include Anakin regarding Padme as 1/2 of the eyes, ears, and voice of the Republic. The Chosen One became a tool to be wielded for the destruction of one’s enemies, rather than being seen as the incarnate God that he was. Ben is the one, who to some degree, has the knowledge that “I and the Father are one.” The Father here being Darth Vader. Ben has one twisted view of what that means, but he will have to learn what it really is. And I would be willing to wager that, during his “divine mercy” moment, Harrison Ford is brought back as Han Solo as a way of visually representing Ben having learned that “I and the Father are one.” Atonement with the Father. At-one-ment with the Father.
Continuing along with Campbell:
The work of the incarnation is to refute by his presence the pretensions of the tyrant ogre. The latter has occluded the source of grace with the shadow of his limited personality; the incarnation, utterly free of such ego consciousness, is a direct manifestation of the law. On a grandiose scale he enacts the herolife—performs the hero-deeds, slays the monster—but it is all with the freedom of a work done only to make evident to the eye what might have been accomplished equally well with a mere thought. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
And that’s all it takes to eliminate the Darth Vader within you. A mere thought. To say no to the dark side and continue living on the light.
To further understand why the Emperor, Snoke, and any other “big bad” can’t in fact be THE big bad, take a look at this quote.
The tyrant is proud, and therein resides his doom. He is proud because he thinks of his strength as his own; thus he is in the clown role, as a mistaker of shadow for substance; it is his destiny to be tricked. The mythological hero, reappearing from the darkness that is the source of the shapes of day, brings a knowledge of the secret of the tyrants doom. With a gesture as simple as the pressing of a button, he annihilates the impressive configuration. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces
With a gesture as simple as the pressing of a button, Snoke was dead. The knowledge of Snoke’s doom? Ben’s real feelings for Rey. All that’s left for Ben and Rey to do is confront the tyrant in their mind, represented now, as Darth Vader, Anakin’s ultimate attempt at gaining total power over the cosmos.
I want to once again address one last red flag people have with this theory. “Why did the Chosen One have to fall to the dark side again?”
Well, I touched on this already earlier. He didn’t. The prequels were about being separated from the family and having problems, the sequels are about the family being capable of having those same problems. Two sides of a coin. There’s no guarantee that a Chosen One, which is really any of us out here in the real world, will end up on the dark or light side. Things can get in the way of reaching our full potential, and we have to watch out for that. You might ask, “Why didn’t Anakin and Padme eliminate evil as Force ghosts, weren’t they more powerful than anyone could imagine?”
Yoda in The Last Jedi gets at this idea. He called down lighting from the sky. Frickin’ LIGHTNING from the sky! Why doesn’t he just zap Snoke and Kylo and call it a day?
And yet, if the mono-myth is to fulfill its promise, not human failure or superhuman success but human success is what we shall have to be shown. That is the problem of the crisis of the threshold of the return. We shall first consider it in the superhuman symbols and then seek the practical teaching for historic man. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Could Anakin and Padme and all the Force ghosts have annihilated evil forever at the end of Return of the Jedi? Sure. He was the Chosen One, basically God at that point. But that’s not how life works, and life creates the Force. We don’t just get gifted divine powers to destroy our enemies. Only human successes count. And that’s why there will probably never be a “final battle” in a major Star Wars saga that ends with one side just using power to destroy the other, unless, of course, that power is somehow related to love. Every other type of victory is merely a postponement of more violence, or a breather from the next cycle of light vs. dark. The victory for all time that Yoda speaks of is a door that is not open to the Sith because the Sith deny compassion and love as elements of themselves, and so that must be how Rey and Ben finally end the Star Wars. And every victory of love in a myth is a victory of how one type of person figures out how to relate to other types of people. If they can learn to put the needs of others over the needs of themselves, then they have already won, spiritually speaking, and this has nothing to do with superpowers. Superpowers, like reincarnation, death, and rebirth, are just a metaphor.
The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time. He is “the king’s son” who has come to know who he is and therewith has entered into the exercise of his proper power—”God’s son,” who has learned to know how much that title means. From this point of view the hero is symbolical of that divine creative and redemptive image which is hidden within us all, only waiting to be known and rendered into life. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces
That last quote, I think, adds more evidence to the case for a happy ending for Ben. He and Rey are two halves a divine creative-redemptive image, and that redemption, mercy, and forgiveness has to be shown in the story so that the full effect of that power is made known to us. It’s not about redeeming Ben Solo, or talking about crimes and punishments. It’s about redeeming ourselves, life, and love. It also gets back to the source of Palpatine’s power. The source is coming from Anakin, Padme, Ben, and Rey. The source is the Force, and the “Chosen One” couples are just conduits through which the Force flows.
The problem of the hero going to meet the father is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being. The hero transcends life with its peculiar blind spot and for a moment rises to a glimpse of the source. He beholds the face of the father, understands—and the two are atoned. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces
It’s not an easy task to overcome our fear of our own existence, which includes our fear of death, violence, and losing the ones we care about. But Ben will have to accept life as it is before he can be at peace. And when he can do that, his family will be there waiting.
Before I close this section, I do want to say some word about our boy Hux.
I talked about earlier how “nature versus technology” or “man versus machine” is another dichotomy and another theme in the Star Wars myth. Hux represents a life without humanity. He’s a technologist, and The Last Jedi novelization makes this super clear. He fantasizes about building a hundred Starkiller bases, he started a First Order child-soldier program, and he despises the Force. He believes in the Force, of course, he just hates it. This is the mindset of “technology will save us” taken to the extreme. Joseph Campbell says in The Power of Myth that “Technology won’t save us.” We have to save ourselves. Technology is just an extension of the human, and there’s no guarantee one way or the other if technology will be used for good or for ill. We have to figure that out on our own.
Hux is a fitting “final enemy” in the exterior world because he represents a life lived in denial of basic human spirituality. But as the final “spiritual” enemy, well, that’s where I think we’re going to see all the Darth Vader/Dark Side/Kylo Ren stuff. What I would personally like to see is Ben Solo extend the hand of redemption to Hux if/before any final battle with Hux and those loyal to him actually occurs. Given how The Last Jedi introduced the wealthy war profiteers as an antagonistic force in the saga, and how greed as an enemy really encapsulates that as well, I could see Hux ending up at the bottom of the scum pool with both the wealthy war profiteers and the crime syndicates who fill the void of the chaos that the wars bring. If we’re going to have a final battle between good versus evil in the exterior world, let’s take all these different aspects of life, have them choose sides, and see what happens! The good criminals vs. the bad, the good wealthy vs. the bad, the good Stormtroopers vs. the bad, and on and on it goes.
But of course, even after the last battle is fought, there’s still the question of how they will begin to pick the pieces up.
A New Order for the Galaxy
One of the key themes of The Last Jedi was learning from the past, taking what was good, learning from what was bad, and forging ahead into the future with that knowledge. That’s why Rey was right to save the Jedi texts and Luke was wrong to want to burn it all away. All the parts of the story should be told. The good and the bad.
Where I differ with most people is that I do not think a “New Jedi Order” in the sense of lightsaber-wielding galactic peacekeepers is the endgame here. The Prime Jedi symbol goes far beyond that, and the realizations these two characters will have will have to go far beyond that as well. Because ultimately, your spiritual life is not determined by your ability to wield a weapon. Far from it. Whether or not you are a good person has nothing to do with an ability to exercise power over others, enact justice, or anything of that matter.
Your inner man and inner woman
have been at war
they are both wounded
and in need of care
it is time to put down the sword
that divides them in two
“That’s how we’re going to win. Not by fighting what we hate, by saving what we love.”
Do you want to know why I’m so attached to the idea that Ben and Rey are simply Anakin and Padme in their newest forms? Because Padme died still loving and believing there was good in Anakin, even after he had killed the younglings, choked her, had his limbs chopped off, and was roasted by the flames of hell. If that isn’t going to be revealed as the truest demonstration of “love as power” that can possibly be demonstrated, then I don’t know if this myth can succeed in delivering it’s fundamental message.
This, of course, doesn’t have anything to do with condoning these behaviors in real life. We are at the realm of psychology right now. Whether you care to admit it or not, there are demons and gods lurking beneath the surface of conscious thought, and every day you choose which ones to listen to. For most of us it is easy. We are born to loving families and are raised with a decent set of values. But for others, it is not so easy. Some were victims long before they were born (the ongoing fight against systemic inequalities), some were victims in childhood, some are victims on the other side, victims of lies, manipulation, and deceit. No one is free from “the shadow of greed,” and we each owe it not just to ourselves but the world we care about to try and speak in a language and pursue a manner of living that helps other human beings win their freedom from that shadow.
That is what Joseph Campbell things the fundamental goal of the hero is.
THE world of human life is now the problem. Guided by the practical judgment of the kings and the instruction of the priests of the dice of divine revelation, the field of consciousness so contracts that the grand lines of the human comedy are lost in a welter of cross-purposes. Men’s perspectives become flat, comprehending only the light reflecting, tangible surfaces of existence. The vista into depth closes over. The significant form of the human agony is lost to view. Society lapses into mistake and disaster. The Little Fgo has usurped the judgment seat of the Self. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
All this is saying is that because we tend to think only of the external world, rather than the inner one, everything becomes a jumbled mess of contradicting ideologies each caving to violence, and we don’t really know who to side with. This was Anakin in the prequels, caught between the Jedi and the Sith.
Stated in the terms already formulated, the hero’s first task is to experience consciously the antecedent stages of the cosmogonic cycle; to break back through the epochs of emanation. His second, then, is to return from that abyss to the plane of contemporary life, there to serve as a human transformer of demiurgic potentials. Huang Ti had the power to dream: this was his road of descent and return. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
What is being said here is that the hero has to break through the past and the future, to realize the truth that is eternity in the present moment. “Be mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the present.” And all this means is, don’t let your anxieties regarding the future impact your ability to be compassionate right now. As George Lucas said, you can choose to be a hero every single day. You can choose to treat people with compassion and dignity, or not, and if you don’t, well then, “you’re a part of the problem.”
In the prequels, the future was used to turn Anakin to the dark side. In the sequels, the past was used to do it. Both are reflections of the same shadow at play here, the shadow of Darth Vader. Whether it be original sin from a distant past or the monster one may become, if one succumbs to that vision of life then one is already lost. Take a look at this frame from The Last Jedi:
Look at the design of the throne room. What do you see? It’s a bunch of Darth Vader helmets, with Rey in the center! “Myth as the mirror for the ego.” Padme really got herself into one hell of a fight by choosing to marry the Chosen One!
“What is past is future.” Sounds an awful lot like an absolute, doesn’t it?
The deeds of the hero in the second part of his personal cycle will be proportionate to the depth of his descent during the first. The sons of the clam wife came up from the animal level; their physical beauty was superlative. Väinämöinen was reborn from the elemental waters and winds; his endowment was to rouse or quell with bardic song the elements of nature and of the human body. Huang Ti sojourned in the kingdom of the spirit; he taught the harmony of the heart. The Buddha broke past even the zone of the creative gods and came back from the void; he announced salvation from the cosmogonic round. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
AniBenPadRey’s deeds in the sequel trilogy are proportionate to the depth of their descent in the first. And boy did they go all the way. Not only from the point of view of Anakin killing the younglings, but also the pain and heartbreak Padme felt when Anakin was lost to her.
The supreme hero, however, is not the one who merely continues the dynamics of the cosmogonic round, but he who reopens the eye—so that through all the comings and goings, delights and agonies of the world panorama, the One Presence will be seen again. This requires a deeper wisdom than the other, and results in a pattern not of action but of significant representation. The symbol of the first is the virtuous sword, of the second, the scepter of dominion, or the book of the law. – The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
This is really getting at Ben’s happy ending again. If there was no hero willing to “descend” into the darkness in order to show us where that leads (pain, suffering, misery, losing everything you love even if you gain everything you “want”), then how would we know to avoid doing that ourselves? This is teaching in it’s most basic form. Art serves that function, and specifically storytelling. Again, it’s not about crime and punishment, it’s about having a mythological template to look at and say, “Aha! That’s why you don’t wait to tell your best friend you love him until you’ve chopped his legs off and left him to burn! You should just say it when you get the chance, codes and Jedi Orders be damned!”
Campbell says that mythological symbols are there to be contemplated and meditated upon. And that’s really why we have these two halves of the Force protagonist. It’s the Force within you. You can think about the story, and hopefully, if it’s a good story, it will help you with the conflicting fears and desires you experience in life, so that you can get some sense of what “bliss” is and follow that instead of the Sith Lords and the Jedi Orders that just want to turn you into an organ of the system.
Taken from the introduction of The Power of Myth:
“…by overcoming the dark passions, the hero symbolizes our ability to control the irrational savage within us.”
“The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others. One of the many distinctions between the celebrity and the hero, he said, is that one lives only for the self while the other acts to redeem society.”
“Campbell was no pessimist. He believed there is a ‘point of wisdom beyond the conflicts of illusion and truth by which lives can be put back together again.’ Finding it is the ‘prime question of the time.’ In his final years he was striving for a new synthesis of science and spirit.”
Ben and Rey will have to take a leap of faith with each other in Episode IX. They’ll have to roll the dice, and trust that each has the other’s back. I have some ideas about how they will “die and be reborn” in Episode IX, but the form that takes isn’t really what matters. They will emerge from that event in a form that is ready to lay down the law. It’s all right there in the image of the Mortis Gods.
There’s a time for compassion and empathy, and if that fails, there’s a time for action. I think they will have to do a bit of both to bring about galactic peace in Episode IX. I think a Republic will be reformed in some manner, and Ben and Rey will preside over it in some sort of authoritative way, either as spiritual leaders who have the power to intervene (they are essentially gods, who is going to stop them?) or as an official branch of the government in the form of a monarchy or something. This gets right back to Anakin and Padme’s argument in Attack of the Clones about how to rule. Anakin said someone wise should make everyone listen, Padme said that’ll never work and that everyone should have a voice. This was essentially George Lucas having the argument with himself. In the past, George has said that a “benevolent dictatorship” is the ideal form of government, but maybe that’s just the authoritative, out-of-control man side of him speaking. Padme represents the other ideal, that everyone should have a voice, great or small. But the story will have to reflect a truth that, like most things, is somewhere in the middle. Human societies need leadership figures, but we also need a system that allows the many to challenge the few if the few become oppressive. There’s no easy answers here, so anyone hoping for some sort of political edict in Episode IX that says, “This solves all the problems in the real world,” is likely setting themselves up for disappointment. The political endgame will likely be way more fairy tale in nature than realistic.
Only one thing is certain to me. The “order” that emerges out of Episode IX will not be an order that needs to be held together by threat of violence, it will be an order predicated on the notion of compassion and love. As to whether or not Episode’s VII-IX are truly the “end” of the story and a “victory for all time,” who is to say? Lucasfilm can do whatever they want at this point. I just want a good holiday season popcorn flick with a decent message about loving thy neighbor. I’ve studied enough about this story to learn that I have to let go of everything I fear to lose, and that includes all of the predictions I’ve made in this essay. The last thing I want to become is an overly attached fan who is possessive of a franchise he has no control over, who then lashes out in anger and rage when I don’t get what I want. I hope that no matter where you stand on the state of the Star Wars franchise, you too can also unlearn what you have learned and come to enjoy the Star Wars films for what they really are, fantasy films written primarily for twelve-year-old kids with some meaningful psychological motifs about growing up.
This essay has been a monster to write and I’m sure it’s been a monster to read. For those who managed to stick through till the end, thank you. If you’re interested in whatever future Star Wars think-stuff I produce, my Twitter and YouTube links are on the side of this page, and you can also follow my Tumblr page. I’m also over on the Star Wars Cantina Reddit page, where a lot of really thoughtful folks share and discuss Star Wars content.
That’s all, folks! As always, may the Force be with you!