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The Danger of Denying Rey’s Past} ?>
*The Last Jedi spoilers below. You’ve been warned.*
The Last Jedi is a bit of a misleading title in that the Jedi aren’t going to end. Yet it is a movie that asks questions about facing the past. Each of the main characters deals with the past in a specific way. Kylo shoves it aside, destroying memories in the attempt to escape previous attachments; Luke hides from it; Poe repeats it with an initial unwillingness to admit his mistakes; and Rey denies her past because she wants so badly to belong.
Rey’s past was shrouded in mystery in The Force Awakens. Most assumed she had significant parents (I was hoping she’d be Obi-Wan’s granddaughter). And yet, in The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren taunts her with the knowledge that her parents are nobodies. She’s known all along that they abandoned her and were never coming back. She has no legacy of greatness like Luke, no secret royalty like Leia, and wasn’t conceived from midichlorians (thank the Maker). But she wants to be a hero. She wants to be loved. She wants to matter. So, she denies her past, convincing herself that her parents are out there looking for her, and will someday return.
Of all the characters’ responses to their past, Rey’s is perhaps the most dangerous. She has created a false hope, and has to stay in denial to keep it. Facing the past would mean losing that hope. It is impossible to make peace with a past that you don’t admit exists. It’s impossible to move forward when you are constantly dodging the shadow in your periphery, refusing to look at it and pretending it isn’t there.
When we deny the past rather than deal with it, it holds captive. We keep pain and suffering alive by doing so, and fresh wounds pile on until we start to suffocate. We can address the symptoms, but that’s like bandaging an arm when we have a headache.
Though Luke doesn’t deny the past, he hides from it much like Rey does, unwilling to face the consequences. His stubborn refusal to act is perhaps a catalyst for Rey’s reaction when confronted by Kylo. She’s seen his hopelessness and does not want to mirror those emotions.
With typical Jedi wisdom, Yoda challenges the concept of hiding from the past in his conversation with Luke. He suggests that hiding from it, denying it, or trying to destroy it won’t work. Instead, peace is achieved when you recognize your mistakes, acknowledge your suffering, and learn from the past. Yoda challenges Luke to accept that he messed up with Kylo but not to leave things with acceptance. Luke can go out and do better. He can train Rey to learn from his mistakes and deal with her past. Yoda even acknowledges his own struggle with denial, owning up to the failures of the Jedi council.
The moment that Yoda burns down the tree of history and admits that the Jedi haven’t always done a good job was satisfying for me. The council’s methods always bothered me, and the Jedi religion that enforced denying feelings and attempted to live above society was supremely frustrating. But there were good things about it, too. Those things—the Jedi’s selflessness, peacekeeping, willingness to fight for justice, and value of life—were worth taking and improving upon.
Admitting our pasts aren’t perfect is a step toward healing our brokenness. Acknowledging we’ve done things wrong, that there is hurt and pain there, and that we aren’t proud of it all moves us towards peace. We also need to consider the positive things in our pasts, so they can inspire our future.
I didn’t have a stable, loving home growing up—there was a lot of physical violence, substance abuse, and fear there. But my childhood wasn’t irredeemable. I learned to cook and take care of a family. There were times of laughter and joy amidst the darker days. Though my parents weren’t perfect, they did try to show love as much as they were capable, and I can acknowledge that.
When I began a family of my own, I had the option of dealing with my past by confronting the awful and the good, but denial felt easier at times. I’ve since come to realize that Yoda has the right attitude: own the past, say goodbye to the broken parts, and strive to keep what is good while making new decisions that aren’t based off fear. I can set aside the abuse and anger while acting on joy and love. I can keep the valuable things that taught me to be the person I am, and make new policies so that my children grow up with fewer challenges (or at least different ones) than I did. I want to the best I can to make them proud of their past, to fill it with as many joyful memories as I can.
But just like this new Star Wars movie, setting aside the familiar and letting go can be frightening, strange, and uncomfortable. Rey was probably tempted by Kylo’s offer to destroy her past completely and move on, to end the shame of her past with violence. But she starts down the difficult path instead. She refuses to join Kylo and his quest to attack his origins, blaming them for everything wrong in his life. She doesn’t abandon everything the Jedi Order stood for, but preserves their history by keeping the books in what I hope will be a step towards creating something better. We can admit past mistakes, pain, and hardships. We can learn from them. We can take the positive events of our past and shape them into something new. The past does not have to be a weight that destroys us but can be the catalyst for becoming something greater in our own right, provided we choose to face it.