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Baptism in The Last Jedi

Baptism in The Last Jedi

Star Wars movies have always been strong with religious motifs, and The Last Jedi is no different. Whether the viewer sees the Force as a deity-like power, the Jedi as monks or priests, or Emperor Palpatine as the embodiment of Satan, Star Wars is great at using religious symbolism. One of the religious themes I really enjoyed in The Last Jedi was that of baptism, by both water and fire.

Baptism by immersion in water symbolizes a cleansing as one descends into the water and emerges purified. It also represents a type of death and resurrection. Either way there is a change after someone is baptized by water. For example, in Revenge of the Sith Obi-Wan Kenobi fell into the swamps of Utapau after his clone troopers turned on him at the start of Order 66. He emerged from the water cleansed and changed. He became a hunted Jedi and was cleansed of the Jedi dogma and arrogance. When Obi-Wan emerged from the water on Utapau he was humbled. His humility focused his resolve, and humility is a requisite of baptism. No longer obligated to follow the Jedi Order’s strict precepts, Obi-Wan could concentrate his energy on defeating the Sith.

In The Last Jedi, Rey was pulled into the water in the Force cave on Ahch-To. Rey emerged from the water and cave with a changed outlook. She was no longer as confrontational when speaking to Kylo Ren (she had been cleansed of her anger and felt more compassion for him) and became open to the idea of recruiting him to join her and the Resistance in their ongoing battle against the First Order. This led her to leave her training with Luke Skywalker (just like Luke left his training with Yoda) so she could get back to fighting the First Order.

Rey also came out of the cave having a renewed confidence in herself. She didn’t seem as dependent on Luke as she was before going into the cave. Her vision in the cave seemed to tell her that it doesn’t matter who her parents are. What matters is who she is and what she can become. It didn’t mean that she wouldn’t have failures along the way, but doing something was better than doing nothing, and she wasn’t beholden to her past.

Whereas water cleanses, fire refines. “Baptism by fire” is a way of describing a rite of passage through the survival of a crisis, and there is a change in initial attitude after the traumatic situation. Just as metals are refined by fire, a person (or an entire order, as the case is in The Last Jedi) is symbolically baptized by fire and refined when they experience a trial of their faith, endure suffering, and emerge purified in the end.

Also in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader was refined when he was burned by the lava on Mustafar. The only way to “refine” Anakin was to bring him to his lowest possible point. In less than a day he lost his humanity by letting Mace Windu die and killing younglings himself; by joining the very enemy he swore to defeat; by contributing to the death of his wife, Padme; and by fighting his friend and brother, Obi-Wan, leaving Anakin defeated and barely human. And he was humbled.

In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker was ready to end the Jedi Order. He acknowledged that the hubris of the Jedi led to its downfall. As he prepared to burn down the Force tree (and also the ancient Jedi texts, he thought) on Ahch-To, he found that he couldn’t follow through. It took Yoda igniting the tree with lightning to help Luke realize that the Jedi Order didn’t need to end, it just needed to evolve. It needed to be cleansed, refined, and reborn, and they didn’t need to be so dependent on the ancient texts (they weren’t page turners anyway).

Not only was the Jedi Order refined (symbolically and literally, it seems), but so was Luke. Rather than expecting perfection, Yoda counseled Luke that failure is one of the best teachers and he should embrace his failures. Only if we don’t acknowledge and learn from our failures, have we truly failed. Luke learned that his failures were an integral part of his continued learning and self-improvement, which helped him re-engage the fight against the First Order. He failed in the past when his anger led him to violence. In The Last Jedi, he helped his friends and family escape from the First Order on Crait by using his Force abilities in a non-violent way. He truly was a refined Jedi.

Thanks so much for reading my blog! You can contact me on Twitter @ryderwaldrondds, email me at ryderw@coffeewithkenobi.com, or leave a comment below. And remember:

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4 Comments

  1. James Worthington
    January 11, 2018 at 15:02 Reply

    What a wonderful post, Ryder! Epecially since we just celebrated Theophany, the baptism of Christ, less than a week ago on January 6th. I don’t think I had ever given much through to the symbolism of Utapau. And yet, in the murky tomb he rose with a new and clear mission. Brilliant! In Eastern theology, we speak about the threefold life of redemption by means of Purification, Illumination and Deification. Purification is made through baptism. How perfect that you see Obi-Wan and Rey going through this process. It changes them in their mission, though not essentially. Illumination in our context is called Chrismation, where in the churches that practice it, it is called Confirmation. This is the rite through which a person receives the Holy Spirit. In our case, we could see it as the moment when Obi-Wan and Yoda are deciding on their exiles. Or Rey climbing out of the black water to find the new purpose and knowledge of which you wrote. Deification does not mean we become God, but that we become part of the life of God, we are made part of his body. In our story, and as you so perfectly put it here, this is what Luke achieved through his sacrifice of love.

    Great blog! I am sharing this everywhere!

    1. Ryder Waldron
      January 12, 2018 at 00:02 Reply

      James,

      Thanks so much for reading and for your comment. It made my day. It is so great to hear about other faiths and to learn about the many commonalities they have. And it is especially cool to tie it all to Star Wars. Thanks again.

  2. Garth
    January 12, 2018 at 10:33 Reply

    Lucas liked to associate water with goodness. In his original draft of the script for Star Wars, the rebel home planet was called “Aquilae”. The Gungans live underwater. The Mon Calamari fought for the Rebels. Even Luke and his aunt & uncle were moisture farmers.

    Great post!

  3. MelindaW
    January 15, 2018 at 08:43 Reply

    Excellent, Ryder! Having seen “The Last Jedi” only four times so far, I had as yet to consider these obvious themes. I’ve been more focused on other aspects of the story. That’s the great thing about Star Wars films — they are so multi-layered that one can see it many, many times, and always pick up something new. (A little help from one’s friends comes in handy along the way. 😉 🙂 )

    I plan to get to the theater at least once this week, so your points are ones to which I will pay close attention. You’re absolutely right about both Rey’s, Luke’s and the Jedi Order’s paths. Did you notice that Rey’s hairstyle changed when she emerged from the water in the cave, and stayed that way for the rest of the film? For us of female persuasion, it’s all about the hair. 😉 (lol)

    MTFBWY 🙂

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