Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Oh. My. Gosh

Cheesy blog post title, but it’s a legitimate reaction! It was THAT.GOOD. I promised one of my friends I would watch it so we could have a philosophical discussion about it (Star Wars has a lot of philosophical themes in it). But I put it off, watching other movies and doing other things. So I finally took the time to rent it online, and I was in for a surprise. Is it just me or did my heart keep pounding every time Adam Driver (Ben Solo/ Kylo Ren) or Oscar Isaac (Poe) showed up on screen? I swear I literally could not stop looking, they are both HEARTTHROBS. Of course, Adam Driver plays an evil person, but I have seen him in other movies (funny enough, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac both were in Inside Llewyn Davis, one of my favorite films) and seriously, my romantic feelings for him have never died. Also, John Boyega is everything in this movie. šŸ™‚

Of course, I would be remiss if I were to spend the entire blog post gushing over these heartthrobs. Because let’s face it, these men would not be anywhere without K.A.W. (Kick Ass Women) like Princess Leia and Rey to save their skins when they got in trouble. Honestly, I didn’t care much about Star Wars a few years ago, but after I started watching them, I have a deeper appreciation for Carrie Fisher and the powerful legacy she left as Leia. The film is also very much in line with my Buddhist beliefs, because Rey and Leia have this mentor-disciple relationship, which in Buddhism means that the mentor trains the disciple to carry on the legacy of kosen-rufu, or world peace, and even surpass the mentor in their efforts. President Ikeda was a disciple of Josei Toda in the early days of the Soka Gakkai, and Mr. Toda wanted Mr. Ikeda to continue his mission to foster a better world through peace, culture and dialogue. Even though Mr. Ikeda doubted his capabilities along the way, Mr. Toda encouraged him to not give up and trained him along the way. Mr. Toda saw Mr. Ikeda’s sincere and tireless efforts to propagate Nichiren Buddhism and help Mr. Toda with his failing business even when his other coworkers lost faith in Mr. Toda.

Similarly, even though Leia knew Rey was the granddaughter of the evil Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious) she trained Rey because she saw her heart and spirit, the character of a true Jedi. When Rey is frustrated and tries to discard her lightsaber, Luke Skywalker appears as a memory and tells her she is better than that, telling her that she needs to confront her fear or herself and her heritage because the destiny of a Jedi is to confront fear. This ties in well to the concepts of “changing karma into mission” and overcoming “fundamental darkness”. Karma from a Nichiren Buddhist perspective is the accumulation of causes we have made in past lifetimes and in this present lifetime (through thoughts, words and deeds) that manifest themselves as effects at certain times and in certain conditions. We cannot fathom our karma from past lifetimes because it’s deep and hard to reverse what we did in the past. We may not know why we are have a certain personality trait or why we work with certain people at our jobs or why we are born in the families we are born in. This karma continues on to our next lifetimes. It may seem like fate, that we are doomed to our karma and must suffer through it. But when we change karma into mission (in the Lotus Sutra teaching on which Nichiren Buddhism is founded, this is called “voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma”) we come to understand that certain events in our lives happen for a reason, namely so we could encourage other people who are suffering. President Ikeda says, in An Introduction to Buddhism, that bodhisattvas (a Sanskrit word for beings who strive to attain Buddhahood, or enlightenment, by helping others achieve this enlightenment as well) gained rewards for their next lifetimes because of the good causes they made in the past, but these bodhisattvas chose instead to give up these rewards and be born in an age where human beings suffer so that they can teach people about the Lotus Sutra and help them overcome the suffering they endure due to negative causes they might have made in their past lives. When we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and help others do the same, we come to realize that we go through hardships so that we can lead richer and more profound lives and show our friends, family, coworkers and others that if we can overcome our suffering, then they can, too. We can experience joy even when suffering the worst karma and this can give other people who are going through problems hope that they can also become happy even when in painful circumstances.

We don’t know what causes Rey made in her past lifetime for Emperor Palpatine to have been her grandfather, or why her parents got killed, or why her life is the way it is. But even though she has this karma to grapple with, Luke reminds her that she has this mission as a Jedi so she can not only save the world, but also so she can help inspire other people. In a way Luke helps Rey awaken to her Buddhahood to win against Palpatine, because he himself had to awaken to his own Buddhahood in the fight against evil (Buddhahood is the compassion, wisdom and courage that is innate within each individual. Everyone is a Buddha and reveals this Buddhahood through their actions in daily life). She awakens to her mission to save the world from suffering at the crucial moment when Emperor Palpatine forces her to kill him so that she can take the throne, his disciples cheering her on to do it. But because Kylo Ren (who by this point has awakened to his identity as Ben Solo, Han Solo’s son) can read her mind, she sees him in his mind and his expression tells her, without him saying anything, that they can both overcome this evil, so instead of using her lightsaber to kill Palpatine, she passes it on to Ben so he can fight the bad guys, and she pulls out a spare lightsaber to fight Palpatine. When the Emperor knocks her and Ben down, Rey hears the voices of all the past leaders of the Jedi (Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker, among many others) telling her to not fear Palpatine because the Force of all the Jedi leaders lies within her and all of the causes that these Jedi leaders made in the past to fight constant evil has led to this one battle, this one chance for Rey to prove to herself and others that she is a true Jedi. To me, the Force is a symbol for Buddhahood because like Buddhahood, the Force lies within each individual and it has tremendous potential. According to George Lucas

the act of living generates a force field, an energy. That energy surrounds us; when we die, that energy joins with all the other energy. There is a giant mass of energy in the universe that has a good side and a bad side. We are part of the Force because we generate the power that makes the Force live. When we die, we become part of that Force, so we never really die; we continue as part of the Force.

George Lucas during a production meeting for The Empire Strikes Back. Quoted on “The Force” article in Wikipedia.

When people pass away, death does not take away their Buddhahood; instead, their Buddhahood transmigrates to their next lifetime. Buddhahood isn’t a realm separate from that of society, even though many Buddhist sutras before the Lotus Sutra was taught believe this; it is one of the ten states of life we can experience at any given moment. Just as Rey was in both a hellish environment and in a life state of Hell when fighting against Palpatine, she was in the world, or life state, of Buddhahood when she heard the voices of the Jedi leaders and won the fight against Palpatine, because she realized her potential to overcome her inner battle with herself. Fundamental darkness means that we cannot see our own Buddhahood, or our own life’s potential to overcome our problems and become happy, and so when this ignorance of our life’s worth clouds our perception of our environment, it’s hard to see the Buddhahood in other people and that their lives have worth, too. The devil king of the sixth heaven causes this fundamental darkness to make it hard to see our inner potential and functions to obstruct our Buddhist practice and sap the wisdom, life force, courage and compassion we need to become truly happy in life. Emperor Palpatine is a manifestation of the devil king of the sixth heaven because he does everything in his power to sap Rey of her life force and prevent her from beating him and the other evil people in his empire. He tells her she is worthless and that she has no potential to beat him. The devil king does not lie outside of us, but is a manifestation of the fundamental darkness in all of us. In a similar scene, we see Kylo Ren overcome his fundamental darkness and regain his identity as Ben Solo, when a memory of his father Han approaches him during his battle with Rey, and he tells Kylo that his identity as Kylo Ren is dead to him and that he will always see him as his son, Ben Solo, who has the potential to fight his inner evil rather than succumb to it. This scene shows how even evil people like Kylo Ren have the state of Buddhahood within them, and can awaken to this Buddhahood within their lives with the help of people who tell them they have potential to awaken to the courage, wisdom and compassion within them. Only when Ben awakens to his Buddhahood is he able to see Rey’s Buddhahood, too, and help her fight against the evil forces that want to destroy society.

This scene is also a metaphor for the concept of “casting off the transient and revealing the true”, which happens when we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of our Buddhist practice, lived at a time in Japan when people believed various Buddhist teachings and the problem with these teachings were that they didn’t teach the number one truth expounded in the Buddhist teaching of the Lotus Sutra: that everyone can attain enlightenment just as they are, and that Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment in his past lifetimes rather than just in his present life in India. When he spoke out against these teachings and propagated the Lotus Sutra, the authorities persecuted him, even attempting to execute him on a beach at Tatsunokuchi (on the outskirts of Kamakura in Japan). Just as the executioner was about to behead him, a comet flashed through the sky, and the soldiers, frightened by the light, abandoned Nichiren and failed to go through with his beheading. At that moment, Nichiren saw that, in triumphing over what is called the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, he was more than just an ordinary unenlightened person with all this karma he had to deal with from past lifetimes. While keeping his form as an ordinary human being, he awakened to his original true identity as a Buddha with unlimited wisdom and courage. This revelation manifested itself in his daily behavior towards others and so he inscribed the mandala that we chant to, called the Gohonzon, so that everyone could awaken to the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in their own lives just as he did. Ren casts off his transient status as an evil Supreme Leader and awakens to his identity as Ben Solo, a Buddha that, without changing his form as an ordinary human being, can triumph over both the darkness in his mind and the darkness in society.

The movie also is a metaphor for the concept of unity in Nichiren Buddhism and in the Soka Gakkai International. Members of the Soka Gakkai International work together through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, studying Buddhism together, sharing Buddhism with their friends and family, and making efforts at their workplaces, schools and homes, and each of these actions work in harmony with one another to foster a more just and peaceful society because through these actions, each member in the SGI can become happy and help others achieve that happiness. If there is any discord within the organization, it disrupts the unity of the SGI. It is hard to continue practicing this Buddhism without the encouragement of others, let alone the encouragement of Daisaku Ikeda and Nichiren Daishonin, so that is why we have an organization so that each person has that network of support they need to continue in their practice. Likewise, one of the movie’s key themes is the importance of unity in the face of evil. When Poe and the rest of the Resistance are in the air fighting the Final Order fleet, Poe doubts the team’s capability to win, but Lando brings reinforcements to help combat the First Order. Earlier Poe told the Resistance that good people will fight if they lead them, and indeed they did. This scene showed that sticking together is important when fighting against evil forces. This scene also illustrated the concept of “many in body, one in mind” in Nichiren Buddhism; “many in body, one in mind” means that individuals have different personality traits, different physical characteristics and different social identities, but when they come together to spread the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism through dialogue, culture and education in their communities, they can achieve a more peaceful society. In The Rise of Skywalker, individuals in the Resistance come in many shapes, sizes, and genders, and also speak various languages, but they work as a team to fulfill their desire to bring justice and peace to the galaxy. Had Rey, Poe or Finn tried to do everything by themselves, they would not have worked out their disagreements or even reached the goal of galaxy peace because their egos would have gotten in the way. When the Resistance sticks together they achieve so much, and when Rey’s heart is united with her mentors and her teammates in the Resistance, she defeats Palpatine. Rey lost her parents when she was young, so she feels like there is no one she can turn to, but she can always count on her friends to support her in tough times. Likewise, she has their back when times are hard, especially during the final fight scene.

Throughout the movie I kept thinking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the similarities between them. Lord Voldemort and Emperor Palpatine both look creepy, and the scene where Rey’s lightsaber is pushing back against Emperor Palpatine’s lightning reminded me of the scene in Deathly Hallows when the power from Harry’s wand is pushing back against the power from Lord Voldemort’s wand. Harry and Rey also have similar stories; both their parents got killed by bad guys (Voldemort and Palpatine respectively), but they have a great group of friends to lean on. Also, when the army of wizards gather on the Hogwarts ground to point their wands to the sky and vanquish the sign of Lord Voldemort in the sky reminded me of all the backup Lando summoned to help Poe and the Resistance fight the First Order.

I know this review was SUPER long, but I was so enthralled by the film and its connections to my religious philosophy. Star Wars is very much connected to religion in its themes, so this was a chance for me to bring my own faith perspective to it. Also, kudos to John Williams for all the profound and beautiful scores he brought to Star Wars for so many years. The score was brilliant, as always, and I wish I was one of those orchestra musicians who were playing on the score for this movie because it was TIGHT! šŸ™‚

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