The Mess

Note:  This post will have some spoilers regarding The Last Jedi.  Consider yourself adequately warned.  

I don’t know what you thought about the newest installment in the Star Wars franchise, but it has caused quite a stir among the audience.  In fact, my own brother-in-law refrained from even entering in the octagon of dissent because he knew just how divisive the topic of Star Wars can be.  In my unsolicited opinion, I thought the movie was great.  I thought it was both entertaining, original, and a refreshing deviation from the trite trope of the previous narratives that preceded the Last Jedi (TLJ).  I almost felt insecure about enjoying the movie.  Whenever I talked to someone that actually liked TLJ, I almost felt like clandestine secret agents that were on a crusade to persuade the masses that their opinion was faulty.  

But this post isn’t about Star Wars or the cinematic qualities (or lack thereof) of the flick.  In a frenzy to find well written reviews about TLJ to fill my own quivers as way to defend the movie whenever asked, I stumbled upon a powerfully written analysis of the movie.  It can be read here.  

It’s long and NSFW, but do yourself a favor and please read it.  I read it last night around 10:30, thinking it’d be a nice little analysis about the movie, and it ended up being the gateway to a sleepless night of existential contemplation.  It’s one of those.  It’s just that good.  I’ll give you a few minutes to read that over.  

While I must resist the temptation to dissect and fawn over every point that was made and scream “this!  just this!”, I will whittle it down to a few points. 

First, I love that this post, while using concrete examples from the movie, is actually a meta-analysis about life.  But let me give you a few crumbs:  

Stories can never be written for the fans.

Fan service isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it is sometimes a fairly lazy thing — it’s a comfortable signal, a soft chair, it’s Norm from Cheers where everybody knows his name. It’s to say, “You’re lost here, but look, here is a familiar friend to help you through. It’s to let you know that despite all the strange flora and the eyes glowing in the dark, you’re still a known quantity in a known land. This is a safe place.” When done overmuch, fan service does more than just introduce a few friendly faces. It burns down the trees. It lights up the dark. It slides a jukebox over and slams the top of it like it’s Fonzie and suddenly, the Greatest Hits begin to play, just as you love them. Maybe in an order you don’t know, but still the songs you know and you adore.

The Last Jedi is not without its fan service moments, but they are few and far-between, and even when they exist, they exist to challenge you more than they do to bring you succor.

The Last Jedi will not meet your expectations.

For me, this lesson speaks to the precise moment in my own story in which I long for a fan service moment.  I yearn for safety and comfort.  I want familiarity.  I want things to make sense.  I do not enjoy floating in murky waters.  

As I reflect on this past year, there have been great moments and moments that have caused chagrin.  I am, by no means, without blame.  And while it’s easy to construct an argument that makes me appear blameless, at the end of the day, the milk is still spilled and now I can’t go to Disneyland anymore (an anecdote for another day, which literally involves a glass of spilled milk).  

For those that I haven’t really been in touch with, I apologize for the ambiguity; I recently resigned my post at my church because of the session’s decision to let me go in December.  It is something that I am processing and while it has been difficult, and a transition as smooth as a barnacle-laden rock, sitting idly and receiving repeated punishment by the merciless waves, I embrace the story because of my faith in the author in which constructs an even grander narrative in which I know the outcome to be good and favorable.  

And so I understand why people get upset at TLJ; it’s unfamiliar, and invites us to the uncomfortable.  It’s human and it’s tainted with unsymmetrical and an obvious lack of pristine beauty.  Yes, Kylo Ren is petulant.  Rey is ambivalent.  The famed and most pivotal character in Luke Skywalker is cynical to a point where even I am disgusted with his lack of optimism.  And he dies.  Like, what the heck?  

But for me, redemption is only as sweet as the pangs of despair.  Grace is only as powerful as the weight of sin.  And so it is with this understand in which I try to navigate through the tempest of the unknowable.  

Second, I love the beautiful mess that is TLJ.  Again, quote followed by an unspectacular commentary on my own life. 

This film tries and messily succeeds.

And the resultant mess — the splatters, the ripples, the broken glass, the unfolding mutations — changes our understanding. It frees Episode IX from fitting a known pattern. It frees us from knowing what’s to come — we are gloriously, wonderfully lost. Just as the characters are themselves lost. I pondered that this film could’ve just as easily been called The Lost Jedi, because that’s how it feels. Luke is wayward. Rey is lost to her own powers and place in the world. Kylo is lost in his rage, fallen into the chasm of his heart and spirit. Poe is unmoored from his heroism. Finn is pinballing between his cowardice and his own heroism. Rose is lost without her sister. Leia is lost without Han and the Republic. The Resistance is lost under the might of the First Order. Everyone is lost. Everyone is failing. The entire movie presents us with failure after failure: characters trying to do the right thing and missing a step, every damn time. (Emphasis added)

…[I]t’s broken, yes, but into new shapes, new tastes. It’s failure in the way a mirror is broken: one image becomes many, distorted and new and beautiful in its way. It’s failure as the butterfly effect. It’s failure as Yoda tells it: the greatest teacher, failure is.

This failure of Luke, of Rey, of the Resistance, of all the characters, leads to a resurrection — the Phoenix Firebird of the Rebellion — rising anew.

This failure of these characters is a success for the film.

It’s a mess in the best way. Because in that mess, the patterns are lost, the expectations are destroyed, the tropes are broken and bent. For the first time in a long time, I had literally no idea what was going to happen, and that felt like madness in the best way…

In being lost, we have become found.

It’s hard not to feel like a failure.  I already struggle with being an impossible critic who cannot be satiated, but to be in a situation in which I don’t get to do what I absolutely love to do, I feel like I’ve let down many people.  I feel like I’ve let down God.  I feel like God gave me a few talents to invest in, and I didn’t even bother to dig a hole to bury it in, but rather bet it on black, only to have the ball trickle onto red.  And now I’m lost.  

I’m not trying to kid anyone; this feeling that is sitting in the pit of my stomach is like an existential heart burn that is lingering without an end in sight.  But if anything, in a weird way, I was calmly comforted, through a random blog post I stumbled across while perusing a Seattle Mariners blog.  I used to cackle at people who would proclaim that something “spoke to them”.  But this post, and specifically this portion of the analysis, spoke to me.  Not to hyper-spiritualize my moment last night, but I believe God was simultaneously reprimanding and reminding me.  He was reprimanding me for my Poe-like delusional zeal, in which I try to concoct my own ministry success, but he was also reminding me of the future that he holds and that in my own failures, and in my own shattered glass as I try to find my own identity in its monstrous reflection, that God will mend the seemingly unmendable shards of glass so that it will be whole again.  It’s so easy to preach, and it preaches well, but even after a degree in theology and several years under my belt, to speak such powerful truths and to live them out is another lesson in which I need 10 more lifetimes to perfect.  

Finally, a pertinent challenge to myself.  And again, I gratuitously quote:  

The challenge comes for the viewer is this:

Do you need need your Star Wars to be comfort food? No harm, no foul if you do. Some look to Star Wars and need it to be the perfect mirror it has been — they don’t want that mirror broken so that other stories can be told, so that other people can see themselves in the shared shards. Some want the tropes. They want the familiarity. They need nostalgia.

I can understand why people did not enjoy TLJ.  I think there are definitely cinematic reasons for it.  But maybe I’m just in this weird place in my life where it resonated with a certain part of my pschye that the transcendent narrative of the broken actually brought me a semblance of peace.  I could have done without the weird Leia floating in space, or Luke Skywalker milking whatever that creature was, but all in all, in a very misdirected way, it was yet another reminder of the power of narrative and importance of the mess.  In the mess, I am forced to fix my gaze upon Jesus.  I don’t know what is going to happen in the next few months.  I might not even be in Seattle for that much longer.  I might even be doing ministry or the type of ministry that I envisioned.  And no, the pain still lingers and the uneasiness of the future is nauseating, but today, I feel a little better about my mess.  Here’s to tomorrow in which another page of my story will be revealed.

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