An important theme in The Last Jedi, notably treated in a series of flashbacks, is Luke Skywalker's failed education of his gifted student, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (and, as is quietly acknowledged, some of his less distinguished peers). By a 'failed education' I mean here that dangerous skills are taught to somebody who will abuse these skills. The abuse consists of using the skills for wrong ends. In treating Luke Skywalker's sense of responsibility over this failure, the film exhibits herein an important sensibility often absent in many contemporary experts and professional educators, who treat skills as something neutral and the use/abuse of them as the personal responsibility of the student; when things go wrong, we point to a character flaw in the student not the failure of the teacher. (Given the low intensity of contact in much contemporary mass education that can also be defended.) Similary, in contemporary applied ethics, the inventors of (so-called) dual-use technologies are generally let off the hook for the failures in application. (One is almost tempted to suggest that the pure/applied distinction is maintained in order to absolve the theoretical innovators from any of society's ills.)
One reason why I call it an important theme, is that The Last Jedi echoes the disastrous failures of the original Jedi council in Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader's education (recall this post). The missteps of the original Jedi are a consequence of (a) their failure to adhere to their own rules (about age requirements) and (b) they do not heed the advice of Yoda who does have correct insight into Anakin's character. This failure is a consequence of their superstition. To be precise, they think they can apply prophecy to particular individuals absent determinate identifying criteria. In the Revenge of the Sith (ep III), those failures precipitates the fall of the republic and the wiping out of the membership of the priestly-military Jedi order (a kind of galactic knights-templar).
The echo of the Jedi Council's failure is captured beautifuly in a haunting scene where Luke Skywalker is in the position -- like Abraham lording over Isaac on mount Moriah -- to kill Ben Solo, but fails to do so. In response, Solo manages to kill most of Luke Skywalker's apprentices thereby dooming any revival of the Jedi as a priestly-military class. That is to say, Luke Skywalker had initially failed to learn anything from the original collapse of the Jedi order. Skywalker's self-imposed exile (mimicking Yoda's after the fall of the galactic republic) is his response to his failure.
I usually treat the risks of such a failed education in terms of the Socratic Problem because these echoe both the accusations against Socrates (and his failures with Critias and Alcibiades) and what we see exhibited subtly in some Platonic dialogues (Meno, Critias, Charmides, even Symposium). The problem is most immediately pressing in magisterial pedagogical cultures (such as the Jedi's) in which there exists long apprenticeships with particular masters (it's not just in traditions inspired by Greek/Hellenistic philosophy; a cursory glance at Mencius's treatment of the relative merits and dispositions of Confucius' students shows the issue also shows up, for example, in Chinese philosophy). The contemporary PhD is also conceived in terms of an extended apprenticiship with a particular Doktorvater/mutter (or committe/lab). But regular readers know that I think the issues carry over to non-magisterial-educational contexts, but about that some other time.
The film shows us three ways in which Luke Skywalker responds to the Socratic problem:
- Total withdrawal from the world (recall for example Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān's withdrawal from the world after his failure to educate in Ibn Tufayl). In The Force Awakens, Han Solo had already intimated this when he said that "Luke felt responsible… He walked away from everything." Withdrawal is a way to limit damage and to take responsibility for failure. It's also a way to keep purer hands, even maintain one's faith in the future. For it is notable that in so doing Skywalker piously maintains fidelity in the holy books of the Jedi, which he treats as venerable relics, and their religious rites.*
- Teaching by way of a certain species of non teaching; this is the kind of thing Feyerabend seems to have flirted with he embraces a species of anarchism. I have in mind elements of Luke's (rather) partial training of Rey. Some other time I'll say more about the specifics of such teaching by non-teaching.
- Teaching by way of modified example. I have in mind the final scene which has all the makings of a final show-down, but turns out to be an instance of fighting without violence [Gandhi (recall here and here)].** This has the down-side risk benefit that those who do not understand the true meaning of the teaching, and who imitate mindlessly, are not encouraged to use violence.
In point 3 I hint at The Last Jedi's broader understanding of the political uses of violence. This is connected to its presentation of different kinds of heroicism and nuanced attitudes toward suïcide missions. But about those topics soon more.
*The ghost of yoda burns these texts at one point and this signals an important shift from text to inner light. UPDATE (correction): several readers [thank you, Jim Kreines and Daniel Nagase!] pointed out to me that the movie shows evidence that Rey saved the holy books (see also here).
**Here, we may say that Luke exhibits the kind of strategic, practical wisdom one associates with his sister (Princess) Leia (and her brave disciple, vice-admiral Holdo.) But about species of heroicism some other time.