by Alejandra Gonzalez
This article contains SPOILERS for The Last Jedi.
For the better half of my life, I refused to open myself to The Force because I thought it would mean the betrayal of my beloved Middle Earth. Still, being the fair woman that I am, I (slightly reluctantly) was sure to have seen every installation of Star Wars before I developed these opinions, and none of them had what it took to change my mind about the franchise. This was true until I was forcefully (no pun intended) dragged to watch The Last Jedi, and to my immense surprise finally found the Star Wars movie that did. For those who know me, what I’m about to say is earth shattering: The Last Jedi made a Star Wars fan out of a Lord of the Rings devotee.
Upon leaving the theater, my first thoughts after “I really love Oscar Isaac” were wondering why I enjoyed this movie so much when I never particularly cared about Star Wars. I wondered what made me pit Star Wars and Lord of the Rings against each other when the principles of both are generally the same: Good triumphing over Bad, the need for hope in the face of despair, and the unfathomable powers of friendship. It wasn’t until later that it came to me. In Star Wars, the dichotomy between the light of the Jedi and darkness of the Sith was so strongly articulated that I rarely found myself faced with a character who was morally gray, conflicted internally with who they are or which side they want to represent. We have Anakin in the prequels, but he becomes the primary antagonist of the entire franchise, representing darkness by default. With Lord of the Rings, that was never the case. I loved how none of Tolkien's characters (besides my dear Samwise) were above being corrupted by the power that came with the Ring. The way the franchise explores our capabilities to be evil, no matter High Elf or Halfling, was what endeared me to it because it felt true to life. Nobody is ever purely good or entirely evil the way it felt to me in Star Wars -- until I was lucky to have seen The Last Jedi.
The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I personally didn’t find much of this balance in our characters who championed this “Force” throughout the entire franchise. We do, however, see more of this internal battle between darkness and the light inside of Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi, although I wouldn’t call it a healthy balance. He is one of (emphasis on “one of”) the only characters in the franchise who exhibits this moral conflict, and, although he is evidently being overcast by the darkness inside of him, he has occasional glimmers of faint light that make us believe he may not be beyond turning. A perfect example of this is how the darkness inside of Kylo was strong enough to kill his father in The Force Awakens, but a small wavering light was the reason he was unable to kill his mother in The Last Jedi. It is arguable that his betrayal of Snoke was selfish, but I felt that Kylo was taking the first steps in destroying this dichotomy between good and bad that has been plaguing him, and this franchise, for so long.
I found myself growing fond of Kylo because of this, and even found myself sympathizing with Luke in The Last Jedi for similar reasons. Luke is suffering from a dissipating sense of faith in The Force. He has grown cynical of it, and initially refuses to help Rey despite being the only hope for The Resistance. This is unlike a Jedi, pessimism and doubt in The Force being traits not customary for those belonging to the altruistic order of light. To be frank, I was shocked in the best way that I was seeing such behavior from our Jedi hero. When Luke made his choice to do the right thing, it felt more authentic because I knew he had undergone a personal journey before deciding to be a hero. This was significantly more gratifying to me than being faced with characters who were “good” simply because it was the way of the Jedi.