Warning: Spoilers on Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the first part and then on the film Arrival in the second part.
I watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi last weekend (Obviously. Why were you all doing something different?). I liked it. Quite a bit actually. I loved the fact that it was unpredictable. Every time I thought the story and characters were going in one direction, I was proven wrong and I was the happier for it.
One thing that is prevalent in Star Wars films is the ability of those who are strong with the Force to be able to “see” the future of themselves or someone else, usually of those who are midichlorian inclined. The Last Jedi was no different as there were several instances of when characters acted according to what they “saw” in the other.
With this power, Luke Skywalker sensed that Ben Solo had already been influenced towards the dark side of the Force by Snoke, the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Luke had believed enough in the inevitability of Ben’s dark future that he felt he should take his life. But in that moment where he meant to strike his nephew, Luke paused as he doubted his actions. This of course ensured that Ben saw his uncle hovering over him, looking crazed while wielding a lightsaber, leading to the most natural of conclusions.
By trying to kill him leads to the question of if Luke ended up solidifying Ben’s path to the dark side himself. Was it always meant to happen that way, with Luke being the catalyst of Ben Solo’s dark path to Kylo Ren? Or, instead of trying to kill him, would a rightly timed hug between an uncle and his nephew saved Kylo Ren from Snoke?
To what extent can the proposed future be manipulated? Even in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke sees a vision of his friends in trouble and although Yoda implored him to stay on Dagobah to complete his training, Luke went ahead and ended up changing nothing for the better.
Which brings me to the themes in Arrival.
As I mentioned, I found Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be unpredictable. I had to tell myself to quit trying to figure the story out and accept that I had absolutely no idea where the film was going. Arrival was another movie recently that I had to tell myself that.
Okay, I get it, Arrival came out forever ago (a little over a year). But, even though I first watched it when it was out in theaters and fell in love with then, I have become newly obsessed with its brilliance.
If you haven’t seen it, please stop reading now and watch Arrival, which is streaming now via Amazon Prime. It’s amazing. It’s genius. And now, I have officially overhyped it for you so it will in no way meet whatever expectations you have. Apologies but you know, it’s kind of on you for not watching it yet :)
All right, so spoilers on Arrival…
Arrival, based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, is about aliens who come to Earth. Louise, a linguist played by Amy Adams, is tasked with figuring out how to communicate with them. While the aliens are learning English, the humans learn their language and Louise gets immersed in it the way no one else has. Throughout the film, there are what the audience believes to be flashbacks of Louise’s daughter, as a child, growing up, getting sick while still young, and then dying. Only later do we realize that those aren’t memories of Louise’s past, but visions of her future. Once she had fully learned the aliens’ language, she was able to harness the power of their language, which allowed her to perceive the future.
The moment I realized what that meant when I first watched the movie, I was floored. Louise knows what’s going to happen if she has a baby, that her daughter will get sick and die, and chooses to have her anyways. Or did she have the ability to choose? If the future is what she saw, did she even consider changing it or was her perception of the future the same as a memory from the past – solidified? Perhaps it wasn’t necessarily that she was having premonitions of a future that has yet come to pass but instead the events and choices she made have already happened and she just hasn’t lived through them yet.
I was watching an extra feature on the Arrival Blu-Ray called Principles of Time, Memory, & Language and in it, Ted Chiang spoke of how he got the idea for the short story and talked about the concept of the “block universe” in physics.
This idea stems from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and theorizes that the past, present, and future all exist, that the future is set while also still relying on the events of the present as it’s a causal relationship. To paraphrase, he said that this theory says that knowing the future wouldn’t let you change it since you couldn’t act on it because it has already happened.
This reminds me so much of Qadr (also spelled in English as “Qadar”), one of the six articles of faith in Islam, which is the concept of divine destiny. Many religions have their own beliefs surrounding destiny. Predestination is always fascinating – how much of our future is set, whether we get a say in it, and if not, then what’s the point of even doing anything. Qadr is that fine line of incorporating the idea of free will with predestination. If you believe God to be omnipotent then He would already know what is to unfold. Therefore our future is already set from a certain perspective. However, we have full accountability of our own actions, good or bad, because even though everything is set to an extent, we don’t personally know how it will all turn out. We are not allowed to merely sit around all day and do nothing, saying that whatever is supposed to happen will regardless of whether we do anything about it. There’s no way I can explain all the nuances of Qadr but that’s it in a nutshell.
I don’t quite know where Star Wars proposes when it comes to a set future. The Force itself is the energy surrounding all living beings so if one is strong with the Force, perhaps what they are perceiving is the likely future based on the reflection of the energy that is present at the moment.
Or, it could all just be a movie.
Looking forward to checking out Star Wars: The Last Jedi again!
Random comment – There was a scene in which Snoke believed he was watching Kylo Ren’s future play out in his head. As it turned out, Kylo Ren actually was planning to slice Snoke up himself with the lightsaber, not Rey as Snoke believed. Kylo Ren’s ability to project a specific vision rather than what he was actually thinking reminded me of one scene in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World where Pilgrim thought really hard about what he wanted to project out in his “mind’s eye,” making the vegan drink actual milk instead of soy to end his vegan powers (this would make a lot more sense if you have seen Scott Pilgrim).
Random Comment #2 – The movie Predestination is kind of insane. In a good way. If you end up watching it and get disturbed, please don’t put it on me! The movie itself has nothing to do with this post but thought I’d throw it in here because of the title.
And with that, leaving you all with Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” which is featured a lot in Arrival and sets the tone of the film.