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Five Life Lessons from The Last Jedi

Did anyone else stay until the very end of the “reel” at Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I did. Not because I was expecting a “secret” scene or to dry my tears of joy (okay, maybe that was a small part of it). Rather, the movie was so uplifting that I felt compelled to sit through the downpour of credits to see the name of every person who helped create it.

If you haven’t seen The Last Jedi, then you should stop reading and go watch it now. But if you have seen it, then you already know that despite iconic phrases such as, “Luke, I am your father” and “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” episode eight surpasses all of the others—at very least in quantity—of great, memorable, and downright useful quotes. Here are five lessons from a galaxy far, far away to take with you into 2018 and beyond.

1. “I’ve seen your daily routine. You are not busy!”

This is Rey’s hilarious response to Luke Skywalker when he repeatedly refuses to train her in the ways of the force. Her persistence pays off. She finally gets a lesson from Luke. And though it’s just one, she’s prodigious and determined enough to make that one lesson count.

Persistence can get you the opportunity you need. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected twelve times, but look what her persistence earned. Steven Spielberg, now one of the most respected directors in the history of filmmaking, was rejected from film school three times. Or consider one of history’s most resilient characters, William Wilberforce. In 18th-century England, Wilberforce’s arguments against slavery and the slave trade were rejected by just about everyone. But he kept repeating them—for forty years. Three days before his death he learned that Britain was finally on track to do the right thing, the one goal he spent his life pursuing; they would abolish the slave trade. Persistence in pursuit of worthwhile goals like these can change the world. And even the galaxy.

2. “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

These are the words of the seemingly omniscient Yoda after Skywalker confesses his responsibility for losing Ben Solo to the dark side. If you’re truly after something in life, if you don’t just shrug it off but pursue it, you’re going to fail sometimes. But it’s really only failure if you let it stop you, if you shrug off the difficulty of pursuing the things you value. As earth’s own Yoda—Thomas Edison—put it, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

3. “This is not going to go the way you think.”

Rey is planning to pay a visit to Ben Solo (who, at this point, has adopted the darker moniker Kylo Ren) aboard an imperial cruiser loaded with enemies who want her dead. Thus, Skywalker’s warning is actually comically understated. It’s nonetheless a truism to keep in mind. Of course, you shouldn’t spend your life contingency-planning. But, as J.R.R. Tolkien tells us in The Hobbit, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” Rationality requires exercising foresight. If you might be facing a dragon, consider a plan B in case things don’t “go the way you think.”

4. “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

The First Order positions a laser canon that will destroy the massive door shielding the last of the rebellion. A handful of brave souls mount the only dilapidated crafts at their disposal and head out to try to destroy the canon. Most are quickly picked off, and Finn is the only one left with a shot. But his guns stop working. He aims his ship at the mouth of the canon, fully intending to give his life to blow it up. Then wham! A side impact throws him off course. It’s Rose, who has driven her cruiser into his, and she and Finn go flying—their crafts bite the dust. “Why would you do that?” Finn asks. Rose, just barely holding on, answers, “I saved you, dummy. That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

Beautiful and true: gaining and keeping the good is how you minimize the bad. Positive values are the whole point. Rose frees the fathiers (horse-like creatures) on Canto Bight so they can be free. Pissing off their senselessly cruel owners may be a welcome side effect, but it’s not her purpose. As Ayn Rand put it in Philosophy: Who Needs It: “We cannot fight against anything, unless we fight for something.” Fighting for justice is an end. Fighting against injustice is only one among many means.

But it’s an unfortunately common mistake to reverse these two, to let what you’re against run your life. Cue time-sucking Facebook battles and pointless road rage. When fighting becomes your end, malice becomes your motive power. Welcome to the dark side.

And this same futility derails important causes. In the book RooseveltCare, Don Watkins says of many would-be freedom-fighters, “They have been against communism, and socialism, and Social Security, and Medicare, and welfare. But what have they been for? Aside from a few vagaries—‘Americanism’ for instance—there hasn’t been an answer. . . . To seize the moral high ground, we have to offer our own positive vision.”

That’s how we win. “Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

5. “We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down.”

The First Order has breached the rebel base, and Luke Skywalker steps out to face off with Kylo Ren, who says, “The Resistance is dead, the war is over, and when I kill you, I will have killed the last Jedi!” Skywalker responds, “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong. The Rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.” Poe is just as recalcitrant. He says, “We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down.”

They are but a spark. When Rey sees the survivors she asks, “How do we build a Rebellion from this?” Outnumbered and outgunned, their odds are vanishingly small. But Leia responds, “We have everything we need.” This is not self-delusion. It’s full confidence in the rightness of their course and their ability to achieve it. And it’s the only proper attitude to have toward anything you truly value. This attitude is what we earthlings mean when we say, “May the force be with you.”


Modified creative commons licensed image courtesy of Flickr user Marco Verch.

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