What We Can Learn from Child Abuse Survivors in “The Last Jedi”

There’s a lot to be happy about in the latest Star Wars movie. Like the porgs.  One scene with those guys will cheer you up on any hard day. I dare you not to smile. Those little guys, coupled with the multitude of strong female characters (Not just one! Or even just two!), an awesome fight scene, and cool effects made this movie a winner, despite the long run time.

The film also holds a lesson for survivors of child abuse. Below this paragraph is where the spoilers start, so if you haven’t seen TLJ yet, stop reading now.

I’m leaving some space so you don’t actually read anything below this. People take Star Wars pretty seriously, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day.

We learn in this installment of the Star Wars saga a couple of mind blowing truths. Menopausal women with purple hair can make excellent leaders (mind blowing for some, certainly a truth). Adam Driver looks pretty darn good shirtless (already knew this truth, still mind blowing). And, more tragically, we learn Rey’s parents sold her for drinking money, and that Luke Skywalker attempted to murder his own nephew.

For anyone reading this blog, these revelations may hit close to home. Kylo Ren represents a typical victim of a guardian who punishes a child for his, the guardian’s, own shortcomings and weaknesses. Luke saw a dark power in Kylo, or so he claims. That can’t be disputed, based off Kylo’s later actions, but at the time he hadn’t given in to the Dark Side yet. This is an excuse a lot of parents use for hurting their own children; she/he was so difficult, she/he had a bad attitude, he/she talked back, didn’t listen, blah blah blah. When it comes down to it though, it is always, no matter what, a parent’s responsibility to show kindness and care to their child.

Luke does differ from a lifetime abusive guardian in that his is appropriately filled with shame and realizes his wrong doing. Reflecting on the night when he was prepared to kill Kylo–who was asleep in the warmth of his own bed at the time–he says he saw in Kylo only, “a frightened boy.” Kylo is filled with fear, and rage, as he should be, and defects to the Dark Side.

Rey’s story is less violent, but no less sad. We find out her parents were “nobodies,” who sold her as a slave for drinking money. She grows up alone, without anyone to teach her anything, which is why she is . Rey represents the classic example of the neglected child, whose parents are too busy drinking, shooting heroine, battling untreated mental illness, etc., to take care of their children. She grows up wishing desperately for parents who will suddenly remember she matters. She can’t give up hope, because to do so would mean acknowledging her own mother and father don’t give a damn about her–and that really bleeping hurts. Meanwhile, due to necessity, she has to learn how to care for herself. Picture the child who learns how to make her own breakfast, brush her own hair and teeth, and get herself to the school bus by age 6, while her mom is passed out and unavailable. If Rey lived in our galaxy instead of her own, that’s who she would be.

But Rey doesn’t go to the dark side. She leans towards it; all survivors do. It’s natural to feel the hurt, anger, fear, and rage that Kylo feels. Rey sees possible answers, a possible end to her loneliness, in the dark side. But she doesn’t give in to that yearning, because she sees that down that path, she stands alone. Whereas by committing to fighting for what is right, she is surrounded by Luke, Leia, Chewie, Poe, Finn, and all the other rebels.

Abused children often grow up to be abusers. It’s what they were taught, instilled from their earliest experiences onwards. Without a proper model, it can be nearly impossible to know that violence and uncontrolled hatred, a need to control and bully, and a lack of empathy are wrong. After growing up feeling completely, devastatingly lonely, or cowering in fear, having total power of others–whether through violence or manipulation–can seen so alluring. But, we don’t have to go down that path. The survivor can choose the way of the Jedi. We can embrace flowers, sun, laughter, love, and porgs. It opens us up to vulnerability, to the chance of being hurt again by those like Snoke and Kylo Ren. But, ultimately, it’s a lot less lonely.

 

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