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If You See Yoda on the Road, Kill Him! A Defense of The Last Jedi

I am, of course, aware that Yoda is already dead, and has been for decades (to say nothing of being a fictional character).  Bear with me on this….  Beginning in 2015, the long-dormant big-screen incarnation of the Star Wars franchise was revived.  All the original cast returned, playing their iconic characters, and fresh new faces playing new characters were also present.  It was the first time since Revenge of the Sith in 2005 that a big-screen Star Wars movie had been made at all, and the first time since Return of the Jedi in 1983–thirty-two years previously!–that the original cast was back in action.  As of this writing (July 2019), two of the movies of the third and final trilogy–The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi–have been released, with the third, The Rise of Skywalker, slated for release in five months.  Two standalone movies, Rogue One and Solo have also been released, and further movies with a new cast are projected; but the main attention has been focused on the three movies which conclude the Skywalker saga.  Fan and critical reaction has been sharply divided on the two released so far, with seeming storms of controversy regarding The Last Jedi in particular.

I don’t really have anything to add to the discussion in terms of a conventional movie review or rating.  It’s been forty-two years since the original Star Wars debuted, and I still don’t think The Empire Strikes Back has been topped.  I certainly don’t have any interest in further stirring the pot of accusations and counter-accusations of sexism, racism, political correctness, and so on and so forth.  More heat than light has been generated on this front, and I doubt there is much likelihood of dialogue in this area, anyway.

What I do want to look at is the metaphysics, or perhaps more precisely, the philosophical and spiritual themes that are present in The Last Jedi and which have been little remarked on in all the tempestuous arguments about other issues.  I think The Last Jedi has definite flaws (some of which, in fairness, were inherited from the plot of its predecessor, and some of the stupid and cockamamie decisions J. J. Abrams made in writing the script for said predecessor), drags somewhat in the middle, and arguably loses focus a bit by expanding the already expanded cast even further.  I definitely would not place it above The Empire Strikes Back.  All that said, I would argue that Last Jedi is actually the second-best movie of the seven Skywalker-centric sequels and prequels to the original Star Wars, right after Empire (and allowing for the fact that Episode IX has not yet been released).  This, I assert, is because of the themes I have already alluded to, and because The Last Jedi is the only movie in the entire Star Wars franchise to take those themes seriously since The Empire Strikes Back (Rogue One made a nod towards some of these themes, but not to the extent that Last Jedi does).  Some of these films have been around quite awhile, and some not; but just to play fair, SPOILERS ABOUND for all the movies in the franchise from this point onward–tread with caution!

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The Heart Sutra for the Weekend

The Heart Sutra

Avalokita, the Holy Lord and Bodhisattva, was moving in the deep course of the Wisdom which has gone beyond.

He looked down from on high, He beheld but five heaps, and He saw that in their own-being they were empty.

Here, O Sariputra,

form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form ;

emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form,

the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.

Here, O Sariputra,

all dharmas are marked with emptiness ;

they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete.

Therefore, O Sariputra,

in emptiness there is no form nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness ;

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind ; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind ; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to :

No mind-consciousness element ; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to : There is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path.

There is no cognition, no attainment and no non-attainment.

Therefore, O Sariputra,

it is because of his non-attainmentness that a Bodhisattva, through having relied on the Perfection of Wisdom, dwells without thought-coverings. In the absence of thought-coverings he has not been made to tremble,

he has overcome what can upset, and in the end he attains to Nirvana.

All those who appear as Buddhas in the three periods of time fully awake to the utmost, right and perfect Enlightenment because they have relied on the Perfection of Wisdom.

Therefore one should know the prajnaparamita as the great spell, the spell of great knowledge, the utmost spell, the unequalled spell, allayer of all suffering, in truth — for what could go wrong ? By the prajnaparamita has this spell been delivered. It runs like this :

Gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā.

( Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all-hail !)

This completes the Heart of perfect Wisdom.

–translated by Edward Conze

This is tweaked very slightly in that I put in the version of the mantra with all the correct diacritics, which Conze left out to make things typographically easier (that was the pre-computer days, you know).

This is actually relevant to some points I’m going to make in upcoming posts, believe it or not.  Meanwhile, it’s one of my favorite Buddhist scriptures, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

Glossary:

Avalokita–the bodhisattva of infinite compassion.

Bodhisattva–a being that is highly advanced on the path to enlightenment but has decided to postpone enlightenment to aid the suffering beings of the world. Broadly equivalent to a saint or a demi-god.

Heap–translation of the Sanskrit skandha, often translated “aggregate”; the characteristic properties of which sentient beings are formed:  form, sensation, perception,  mental formations, and consciousness.

Dharma–in this context, “characteristic” or “property”.

Prajñāpāramitā–the perfection of transcendent wisdom.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.

Also part of the series Buddhism.