Jedi vs. Sith: The Biggest Missed Opportunity in Star Wars

Jedi vs. Sith: The Biggest Missed Opportunity in Star Wars
Warning: this article contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker!
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was never going to be as good as fans wanted it to be. The pressure of wrapping up not just a trilogy of space fantasy blockbusters but an entire cinematic saga dating back 42 years is too much for any one film to realistically manage. Even so, The Rise of Skywalker is a sequel full of missed opportunities — and perhaps nowhere is that more obvious than in how the movie wraps up the story of the Jedi.When absorbed chronologically, the Skywalker Saga is a story about the failure of the Jedi. In Episode I we see the Jedi Order at the height of its power. Yet even as they sense the Dark Side growing in power, the Jedi simply watch, wait and put their faith in a vague prophecy about a Chosen One restoring balance to the Force. Their hubris is so great that the Jedi wind up losing the battle for the Republic — and their lives — before they even knew it was being fought.

Even though Luke Skywalker ushers in a new era for the Jedi by redeeming his father and helping him to overthrow the Emperor, the legacy of the Jedi’s failure continues into the sequels. We eventually learn Luke built his own Jedi Academy modeled after the original and tried to establish a new generation of Jedi Knights. Instead, the new Jedi found themselves facing the same terrible end as the old – destroyed by a threat from within that they failed to detect until it was too late.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Gallery

It’s hard to watch the first eight Skywalker Saga movies and not come away with the message that the Jedi are inherently flawed. Twice they were charged with being the guardians of peace and justice, and twice they were destroyed by one of their own. The Jedi failed because of their rigid, dogmatic views on the Force. To them, the Light Side is good and the Dark Side is evil. Peace and serenity are virtues, while emotions and personal attachments are pathways to darkness. The Jedi urge their number to abandon friends and family, bury their emotions and give themselves over to a cosmic energy field. Is it any wonder men like Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo are driven to the Dark Side?

Artist Faith Erin Hicks recently tweeted a very poignant take on Anakin’s arc in the Prequels, showing how a young boy from Tatooine was driven to darkness by a group of dispassionate monks who used him as a tool rather than treating him as a person with real wants and needs and desires. Anakin was forced to leave his mother behind and suppress his longing for Padme, forcing him to live a double life and leaving him uniquely vulnerable to Palpatine’s influence. Anakin only ever wanted power enough to protect the ones he loved. What’s so evil about that?

Similarly, Luke goes astray in The Empire Strikes Back when he cuts his training short in order to rescue his friends from the wrath of Darth Vader. Luke foolishly charged into battle with an enemy he didn’t understand, but his intentions were noble. He put his life on the line for those he loved, yet Yoda and Obi-Wan would have had him sacrifice Han and Leia for the greater good. What good is being a Jedi if it means sitting back and allowing evil to flourish unopposed? Isn’t that how the Jedi were defeated in the first place?If anything, the first eight Skywalker Saga movies make a strong case for the need for something new to replace the Jedi/Sith dichotomy of old. That’s especially true with The Last Jedi, which lays bare all of Luke’s failures and features a villain who insists the past be left to die. Through Luke’s fall and rise, The Last Jedi both acknowledges the failings of the Jedi and celebrates their ideals. Luke loses his faith in the Jedi, only to sacrifice his life so Rey can carry on their legacy. The film’s true message is best embodied in Yoda’s line, “We are what they grow beyond.” Even Yoda seemed to recognize that the galaxy needed something new.

The Last Jedi forces us to question certain truths about the Star Wars universe. Why do Force users need to cling to either the Light or Dark Side? Why can’t peace and serenity go hand-in-hand with passion and attachment? Why shouldn’t students in the Force be seeking to find a balance between Light and Dark, rather than treating one or the other as a weakness and liability?

In X-Men: First Class, Professor Xavier tells Magneto, “I believe that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity.” Xavier helps Magneto achieve his true power by helping him find that middle ground and tempering his rage with a peaceful memory from Erik’s past. The Star Wars movies suggest the same holds true for the Jedi. Luke finally defeats Vader when the fear over his sister’s fate pushes him closer to the Dark Side. Obi-Wan uses his rage over Qui-Gon’s death as fuel to defeat a much stronger opponent in Darth Maul.

In the sequels, Kylo Ren’s full potential is limited because he devotes so much effort to suppressing his inner goodness rather than embracing it. Meanwhile, Rey undergoes her training on Ahch-To, a remote world uniquely touched by both the Light Side and the Dark, and that sets her down a path to abilities not previously seen in either Jedi or Sith.

The hope all along was that The Rise of Skywalker would deliver the final word on the Jedi/Sith conflict and and the Skywalker Saga by introducing a new way of embracing the Force. This sequel had the opportunity to introduce a third choice – a Force user who attains true power and enlightenment by embracing both Light and Dark. Many even speculated the title was hinting at this evolution in the Force. What if Rey is the first “Skywalker,” a Force user who is neither Jedi nor Sith, but something new?

Every Dead Star Wars Movie Character

Sadly, Episode IX completely squanders its opportunity to follow that path. It never really touches on the notion that the Jedi/Sith rivalry is outdated and destructive to everyone involved. It doesn’t argue for the need for something newer and better. This is just one of several areas in which Episodes VIII and IX seem to be on completely different wavelengths.

Rather than continue where The Last Jedi leaves off, The Rise of Skywalker reverts to the franchise’s familiar trappings and once again pits a heroic Jedi Knight against a ruthless Emperor Palpatine and a morally conflicted member of the Skywalker clan. It treats the Dark Side as an evil to be eliminated and the Jedi as something worthy of being revitalized. It doesn’t even truly take advantage of the reveal that Rey is a Palpatine and carries a dark legacy in her very blood. After spending so much time and effort illustrating the failures of the Jedi, the Skywalker Saga ends merely by falling back into the old pattern. For all we know, Rey is now destined to rebuild the Jedi Order and repeat the exact same mistakes as Luke before her.

The movie’s ending pays lip service to The Last Jedi’s message by having Rey travel to Tatooine and literally and symbolically bury the past. The question is what comes next. Assuming Rey’s story does continue in some form or another (be it new movies, a spinoff TV series or comics), we can only hope that continuation will rectify The Rise of Skywalker’s mistake. It’s not enough to simply rebuild the broken Jedi Order. After nine movies where the cycle of failure and renewed hope plays out over and over, it’s time for something new. The Jedi have to end so something better can rise up in their place.For more on the conclusion to the Skywalker Saga, check out how Rise of Skywalker’s Visual Dictionary answers a ton of key plot questions, our explainer of the ending, how Emperor Palpatine is still alive, and every Jedi that spoke to Rey in her final battle with the Emperor.

Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.

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