Star Wars movies have always been strong with religious motifs, and The Last Jedi is no different. Whether the viewer sees the Force as a deity-like power, the Jedi as monks or priests, or Emperor Palpatine as the embodiment of Satan, Star Wars is great at using religious symbolism. One of the religious themes I really enjoyed in The Last Jedi was that of baptism, by both water and fire.
Baptism by immersion in water symbolizes a cleansing as one descends into the water and emerges purified. It also represents a type of death and resurrection. Either way there is a change after someone is baptized by water. For example, in Revenge of the Sith Obi-Wan Kenobi fell into the swamps of Utapau after his clone troopers turned on him at the start of Order 66. He emerged from the water cleansed and changed. He became a hunted Jedi and was cleansed of the Jedi dogma and arrogance. When Obi-Wan emerged from the water on Utapau he was humbled. His humility focused his resolve, and humility is a requisite of baptism. No longer obligated to follow the Jedi Order’s strict precepts, Obi-Wan could concentrate his energy on defeating the Sith.
In The Last Jedi, Rey was pulled into the water in the Force cave on Ahch-To. Rey emerged from the water and cave with a changed outlook. She was no longer as confrontational when speaking to Kylo Ren (she had been cleansed of her anger and felt more compassion for him) and became open to the idea of recruiting him to join her and the Resistance in their ongoing battle against the First Order. This led her to leave her training with Luke Skywalker (just like Luke left his training with Yoda) so she could get back to fighting the First Order.
Rey also came out of the cave having a renewed confidence in herself. She didn’t seem as dependent on Luke as she was before going into the cave. Her vision in the cave seemed to tell her that it doesn’t matter who her parents are. What matters is who she is and what she can become. It didn’t mean that she wouldn’t have failures along the way, but doing something was better than doing nothing, and she wasn’t beholden to her past.
Whereas water cleanses, fire refines. “Baptism by fire” is a way of describing a rite of passage through the survival of a crisis, and there is a change in initial attitude after the traumatic situation. Just as metals are refined by fire, a person (or an entire order, as the case is in The Last Jedi) is symbolically baptized by fire and refined when they experience a trial of their faith, endure suffering, and emerge purified in the end.
Also in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader was refined when he was burned by the lava on Mustafar. The only way to “refine” Anakin was to bring him to his lowest possible point. In less than a day he lost his humanity by letting Mace Windu die and killing younglings himself; by joining the very enemy he swore to defeat; by contributing to the death of his wife, Padme; and by fighting his friend and brother, Obi-Wan, leaving Anakin defeated and barely human. And he was humbled.
In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker was ready to end the Jedi Order. He acknowledged that the hubris of the Jedi led to its downfall. As he prepared to burn down the Force tree (and also the ancient Jedi texts, he thought) on Ahch-To, he found that he couldn’t follow through. It took Yoda igniting the tree with lightning to help Luke realize that the Jedi Order didn’t need to end, it just needed to evolve. It needed to be cleansed, refined, and reborn, and they didn’t need to be so dependent on the ancient texts (they weren’t page turners anyway).
Not only was the Jedi Order refined (symbolically and literally, it seems), but so was Luke. Rather than expecting perfection, Yoda counseled Luke that failure is one of the best teachers and he should embrace his failures. Only if we don’t acknowledge and learn from our failures, have we truly failed. Luke learned that his failures were an integral part of his continued learning and self-improvement, which helped him re-engage the fight against the First Order. He failed in the past when his anger led him to violence. In The Last Jedi, he helped his friends and family escape from the First Order on Crait by using his Force abilities in a non-violent way. He truly was a refined Jedi.
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