The Last Jedi, the Prophet Joel, and Pentecost

Nota Bene: The following contains mild spoilers for Star Wars Episode VIII, The Last Jedi. Read at your own peril.

My fellow fans of Star Wars and all that its universe has offered us over the past forty years have been a bit divided over the latest offering, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Director Rian Johnson carved out his own path for the series here, to the delight and/or scorn of many. For the record, I liked the film, mostly because of the wonder it set alight in my oldest daughters. This was the first live-action film I’ve ever taken them to see in the theater, and they were delighted and swept away into this universe which has delighted me throughout my life. My most significant feeling for the movie was the profound gratitude of a Dad who got to sit and share something fun and moving with his kids.

There is an aspect of the film I thought deserved a little bit of extra thought. We’ll see if it persists in the last film, but Johnson’s contribution to the canon has a distinct effect on how we think of the force—something Spencer Kornhaber’s article on the film in the Atlantic noticed, too. Kornhaber writes:

And the long-troubling notion that a person’s significance is simply a product of heredity is vaporized with the reveal about Rey’s junktrading parents, cemented by a coda that sees a force-wielding slave-kid dreaming of a rebellion.

Of course, the child Anakin Skywalker’s journey to becoming Darth Vader began with him born into slavery as well. However, the difference here is that the Anakin was discovered as someone special, as a one-in-a-universe boy whose connection to the force was a part of his unique destiny. The short clip witht he slave child at the end of The Last Jedi feels different to me—as though maybe, just maybe we are entering an era when the force works through anybody open to its power.

There are other pieces to this egalitarian vision of the force in the film as well. For instance, Luke rebukes Rey’s imagination of him as a lone hero who would swoop in to save the galaxy. It also seemed like a moment of Force action/intervention when Paige Tico (Rose’s sister), has her moment of sacrificial heroism in the film’s opening battle. (I’m going to have to see that scene again.) See, part of the film’s vision of “heroism” is that the hero’s journey is now open to everybody, from once upon a time storm troopers to mechanics. The resistance is open to everyone, and any who wish may play a part, and find the force helping their journey.

In our own universe, the prophet Joel has a vision like this

“Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”
(Joel 2:28–29 NRSV)

This is the text Peter cites on the day of Pentecost, a moment in which God’s spirit would be active not simply in a few special people, but on the whole community of God’s people. For what it’s worth, if your vision of Penetecost was that only the twelve apostles were gifted by the spirit, note that Acts 1:15 speaks about the whole company of disciples being about 120 people, and 2:1-4 certainly reads as though the fire event rested on each of that whole company. Verse 4 reads “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. “

Pentecost was an inclusive event—the spirit given wasn’t just for a few, but for all the disciples of Jesus.

Christianity isn’t a way simply for a few spiritual heroes—the spirit is given to all, and each is given the grace of participating in God’s work. As much as we have masked that fact, it remains true—God’s spirit will not be contained to only a precious few, but is always broadening God’s reach, and draws the most unlikely characters—indeed, wishes to call everyone—in to join God’s mission and community.