Sunday, December 17, 2017

What 'The Last Jedi' Means to Me as a Post Bais Yaakov Girl

Warning: This post contains major spoilers for 'The Last Jedi.' Read at your own risk.

Luke Skywalker holds a light-saber, its light glittering green. A dark-haired boy lies asleep at his feet. Skywalker searches within the youth's mind, finding to his horror that the child has turned to the Dark Side. In a moment of weakness, Skywalker determines that the best way to rid the Force of this incumbent threat is to murder the boy. Before he can do it, he comes to his senses, planning to walk away. But by then it is too late. Waking to find his master standing over him, holding a light saber and wanting to end his life, Ben Solo fights his way free and escapes. He burns down Luke's Jedi Temple, taking apprentices vulnerable to the Dark Side with him and killing the others. Skywalker admits that the last time he saw Ben, he looked into the eyes of a frightened boy.

Luke misjudged Ben. Over the course of 'The Last Jedi,' it becomes clear that Ben's choice had not been made. He was conflicted, and remains conflicted still. In assuming Ben was evil and needed to be snuffed out, Luke causes him to turn to the Dark Side. To Ben's mind, if his own master, the person who is supposed to represent light, turns against him, what is the point of goodness? If he does not have faith in Ben, why should Ben have faith in him?

In a later scene, Kylo Ren (as Ben Solo now styles himself) sees Luke and orders that every gun in his army be trained on "that man." He blasts him with everything he has, rage radiating off him in waves. When Luke still does not die, Ren comes out to face him himself. He spits out that he hopes Luke hasn't come to say that he "forgives him" and hopes to "save his soul." Luke says that he has not come for that, instead admitting that he failed Ben.

These scenes resonated strongly with me as a post Bais Yaakov girl. Longtime readers of this blog are aware that I attended a Bais Yaakov school. At this point in my life, I recognize the complexity of my experience there. As a teacher, I realize that most of the teachers were ill-equipped to deal with me or my questions, were juggling multiple roles, and couldn't always correctly read my motivations. Part of that has to do with me as a teenager - opinionated and unafraid to show it. Certainly, there were times when I could have been more respectful, more deferential, where I could have chosen my words more precisely. At the same time, the way I was treated was and remains unacceptable. They were adults, and I was fifteen. Fifteen! 

Kylo Ren and his rage? I recognize that. I felt that. And at that time, if I had been given the opportunity to smite down all the people who harmed me, to blast them with every gun in my arsenal, I would have taken it. And even then, it wouldn't have healed the hurt inside me.

Many of my teachers did not look for the good in me. Instead, they passed judgment. They told me I was "speaking apikorsus and krum." They passed on their misconceptions rather than checking to hear my side of the story. An administrator sided with a teacher, who was lying, over me, who was telling the truth. A rabbi told me he "was not mekabel" my story.

There are people who wonder what makes people leave religion. It is exactly what made Ben Solo turn into Kylo Ren. There are those who assume they know us in our entirety, and determine that we are bad. They claim to stand for what is good and right, and yet it is these supposedly good people who betray us. This happens for different reasons. Malice. Ignorance. Fear. Maybe the person holds a lightsaber over our heads while we sleep. And maybe the person tells us that we are the problem, the ones who need therapy and are unstable. When in truth, they are the ones hurting us.

The judgment passed on us? It doesn't come from a place of goodness. There are people who set themselves up as being good, and we see they are not good. So of course we'll throw our lot in with whatever they aren't, whatever does not represent them. Maybe we'll find goodness there. At the very least, we'll find acceptance.

When I watch Ben Solo turn into Kylo Ren, I watch a part of my story.

I hope that in future installments, we'll see Kylo Ren develop. I hope we'll see him recognize that just because Luke wronged him doesn't mean the entire Jedi way, and the quest to achieve balance, is wrong. But that's a long and hard journey, and the odds are not in Ren's favor.

I'll hope anyway.