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Why ‘The Last Jedi’ is a perfect Advent meditation


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Joanne McPortland - published on 12/19/17

No spoilers. Just some observations to keep in mind when you watch.
“Darkness rises.

Light rises to meet it.”

(Star Wars: The Last Jedi promotional tagline)

I saw the new entry in the Star Wars series (Episode VIII: The Last Jedi) on Saturday. This is not a review (although I loved it) and will contain, I vow, no spoilers. I’m not interested in weighing in on the arguments some Star Wars canonists – who can beat Church canonists in hollering heresy, any day – have raised about how The Last Jedi does or doesn’t succeed on its merits.

No, I just want to urge you to see The Last Jedi while it’s still Advent, if you can, because as I was watching I kept thinking what a great meditation on the season it would make. Even if you don’t make it to the theatre until after Christmas or into the New Year, though, there is still a lot of inspiration here for reflecting on our own and our world’s perpetual state of longing for the Advent of salvation.

My feeling of connection between the themes of Advent and those of The Last Jedi was only confirmed by Sunday’s Gaudete Mass, at which our parish sang the great Advent Evensong hymn “Creator of the stars of night.” The movie kept replaying in my head as we sang.

Creator of the stars of night,
Your people’s everlasting light,
O Christ, redeemer of us all,
We pray you hear us when we call.

In sorrow that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
You came, O Savior, to set free
Your own in glorious liberty …

Come in your holy might, we pray,
Redeem us for eternal day;
Defend us while we dwell below,
From all assaults of our dread foe.

You don’t have to be a Star Wars canonist to know that the underlying thread of the films – like the underlying thread of all great archetypal stories – is the struggle against evil. It is no spoiler to note that this struggle continues in The Last Jedi. And though I am fairly certain director/writer Rian Johnson did not intend Star Wars VIII as a parable of salvation – I say only “fairly certain,” because his 2012 film Looper was also about redemption, so the intent may be there beneath the surface – it can hardly be read any other way by those of us engaged in that daily struggle in what always seem to be the darkest of times.

Here, then, are some things about our Advent journey – in this season, and every day – with which The Last Jedi resonates. May these reflections enrich your viewing and your prayer.

Waiting is hard.

And waiting for salvation is the hardest of all. Some of us give up. Some of us keep slogging, even in pain and terror. Some of us want to push it, thinking we can rush the happy ending with our bold plans – only to find that there is a greater Will at work. Sometimes, waiting can seem like failure.

How seriously am I awaiting the Lord’s Coming? What am I doing to align myself with God’s plan and purpose, not merely my own wishes?

Discipline is necessary.

No matter what our spiritual powers or our zeal, resistance to evil doesn’t come naturally. That’s why Advent, like Lent – really, like every day of this pilgrimage, our lives – is a training period. “Joy, prayer, gratitude”: those are the things we need to learn and practice, over and over, according to Pope Francis and the Gospel. At this most self-indulgent time of year, we need discipline more than ever.

How fit am I to resist evil and stand up for the reign of Christ? What more can I do to train? Who are the masters and mentors to whom I should be turning?

Evil is attractive.

The lie of limitless power. The lure of winning all our bets. The high that comes from using other people, other creatures as objects, slaves to our lust or our greed or our need to be better than. Hate that feels as good, we’re told, as love. The darkness glitters, and beckons the best of us.

Where does the darkness glitter most for me? To what am I most tempted? What am I doing to help keep my vision clear and my heart single? For what do I need confession and absolution before another week goes by?

The Messiah isn’t the Messiah you’re looking for.

This was true at the time of Jesus’ first coming in the flesh – a baby? a carpenter’s son? a guy who hangs with sinners? a blasphemer? – and it’s true now. We want our Savior to conform to our expectations: of the right bloodline, looking like us (and not like them), fulfilling the right set of prophecies. But our God is a God of surprises, and Christ will come again in such unexpected guise as to seem a thief in the night. Antichrists are built of misplaced expectations. The key now, as then, is to stay awake.

How much thought have I really given to Jesus’ Second Coming? What do I long for him to do or be? What expectations might I need to throw away?

Choose companions wisely.

The thing about not knowing when The End will come is that it could be any moment. We need to give real thought to making sure we are traveling in good company (which is another archetypal element of our story). Resistance to evil is never going to be a matter of majorities. We need to listen for the still, small voice, not the roar of the crowd. We need to find the true hearts, the ones to whom we can say, as Frodo said to Sam, “I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee, here at the end of all things.”

Who are the companions who help me most on my Advent journey? If I knew that today would be “the end of all things,” with whom would I want to be?

Keep hope alive.

It won’t, Paul tells us, be a virtue we’ll need when the reign of God has arrived. But until that time, it’s the most powerful and underrated force in the universe. This Advent, in particular – although we say that every year, don’t we, “this Advent”? – resisting evil means resisting cynicism, indifference, and the mockery of innocence. Those are things we use to shield ourselves after we’ve let the spark of hope die. The old stories themselves are not in themselves the source of our hope, but telling them fans the tiny flame. If we cannot believe this time of year, when can we?

How am I actively resisting the threats to hope? From what sources is my hope fed? How am I being a sign of hope in the world?

Really, you guys, go see The Last Jedi. Maybe you’ll be prompted to your own meditation. Meanwhile, as darkness rises, let us be light rising to meet it. We sing, and pray:

Come in your holy might, we pray,
Redeem us for eternal day
Defend us while we dwell below,

From all assaults of our dread foe.

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