I’m a Star Wars’ fan, especially the first and last trilogy. In fact, one of my favorite film moments comes in the Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. It’s only about 3 minutes of film footage, at the very end of the film. But it brought tears to this crone storyteller's eyes, and it stays in my mind and heart during the dark days we live in. Why? I’ll get to that moment, but before I do, I think it’s best to start a bit earlier.
Finn and Rose, two Resistance members, are sent on a mission to find and disable the First Order’s tracking device. This is a new system that can track Resistance ships in hyperspace. (If all this already seems too much to follow, please watch the films or check out a written summary.) This quest takes them to a casino town called Canto Bight searching for the hacker DJ. Canto Bight is a tourist planet with a casino. (This part of the film brings back memories of when Luke and Obi-Wan go into the bar.) This casino is also filled with beings from all over the galaxy engaging in all manner of gambling. Soon everything goes amiss and the three find themselves chased by local security. In a surprising turn of events, they receive help from some orphaned children who work as stable hands at the racetrack. Rose convinces the child, Temiri Blagg, to help them escape in return for her Resistance ring. Blagg and some other orphans then release a herd of fathers (a four footed, ridable animal), which stampedes through the streets of Canto Bight. As the animals are released, Finn, Rose, and DJ escape. The film progresses with many losses for the Resistance. Luke Skywalker appears to confront the First Order and his nephew Kylo Ren. Luke gives the Resistance time to escape and then dies or becomes one with the Force (depending upon how you see it). So that should be the end of the movie, but the director decided to add another brief scene. To me, it is the most important scene of all.
It’s an image of the slave children still working in the stables of Canto Bight. (Some say their slavery was the price paid for their parents’ gambling debts.) They are sitting in a circle and there is a doll that appears to be Luke Skywalker. One of the children is telling the story of Luke Skywalker, the Jedi Master. The other children look at him in awe. This is the story of Luke’s final battle, a hero’s journey certainly and one in which he prevailed against all odds. It is a tale that inspires them. Then their master returns and puts them back to work. We next see Temiri Blagg going outside. A broom seems to fly gently toward his hand. He sweeps slowly and then gazes off into space. On his finger, is the Resistance ring. We know he’s dreaming of a better day. He’s remembering how Luke won the battle and thinking of how perhaps he can too. As the viewer, we now know that Luke’s legacy will continue. The Force will prevail as long as the story is shared. As long as the story lives, the Force will be awakened in others.
The scene almost didn’t make it into the film. But I’m so glad it did. "To me, it was really important to have that final scene, because it turns what Luke did from an act that saves 20 people into an act that inspires the galaxy," director Ryan Johnson explained. "The notion that what we're setting up here is something big in the next chapter. And when Leia says, 'we have everything we need,' she's talking about everyone on the Falcon, but also about what we see next, which is we now have a galaxy that has seen this beacon of hope and is getting inspired to fight the good fight." That galaxy comes together in the final film of the trilogy.
There is another tale that’s similar, of a young boy sent off to tell a story. It comes from the book The Once and Future King by T.H. White. It’s a literary story based on the folklore surrounding King Arthur. I give you the last few pages of the book. It’s retold beautifully in the film “Camelot” with Richard Harris playing the role of King Arthur (should you wish to watch it). The scene begins before the final battle when Arthur will die (or sleep, depending upon legend).
T.H. White writes- Arthur proved that he was not quite done, by lifting his head. There was something invincible in his heart, a tincture of grandness in simplicity. He sat upright and reached for the iron bell.
"Page," he said, as the small boy trotted in, knuckling his eyes.
The King looked at him. Even in his own extremity he was able to notice others, especially if they were fresh or decent…
"My poor child," he said. "You ought to be in bed."
He observed the boy with a strained, thread-bare attention. It was long since he had seen youth's innocence and certainty.
"Look," he said, "will you take this note to the bishop? Don't wake him if he is asleep."
As the live creature went, he called it back.
"What is your name?"
"Tom, my lord," it said politely.
"Where do you live?"
"Near Warwick, my lord."
The old man seemed to be trying to imagine the place, as if it were Paradise Terrestre, or a country described by Mandeville.
"At a place called Newbold Revell. It is a pretty one."
"How old are you?"
"I shall be thirteen in November, my lord."
"And I have kept you up all night."
"No, my lord. I slept a lot on one of the saddles."
"Tom of Newbold Revell," he said with wonder. "We seem to have involved a lot of people. Tell me, Tom, what do you intend to do tomorrow?"
"I shall fight, sir. I have a good bow."
"And you will kill people with this bow?"
"Yes, my lord. A great many, I hope."
"Suppose they were to kill you?"
"Then I should be dead, my lord."
"Shall I take the letter now?"
"No. Wait a minute. I want to talk to somebody, only my head is muddled."
"Shall I fetch a glass of wine?"
"No, Tom. Sit down and try to listen. Lift those chessmen off the stool. Can you understand things when they are said?"
"Yes, my lord. I am good at understanding."
"Could you understand if I asked you not to fight tomorrow?"
"I should want to fight," it said stoutly.
"Everybody wants to fight, Tom, but nobody knows why. Suppose I were to ask you not to fight, as a special favour to the King? Would you do that?"
"I should do what I was told."
"Listen, then. Sit for a minute and I will tell you a story. I am a very old man, Tom, and you are young. When you are old, you will be able to tell what I have told tonight, and I want you to do that. Do you understand this want?"
"Yes, sir. I think so."
"Put it like this. There was a king once, called King Arthur. That is me. When he came to the throne of England, he found that all the kings and barons were fighting against each other like madmen, and, as they could afford to fight in expensive suits of armour, there was practically nothing which could stop them from doing what they pleased. They did a lot of bad things, because they lived by force. Now this king had an idea, and the idea was that force ought to be used, if it were used at all, on behalf of justice, not on its own account. Follow this, young boy. He thought that if he could get his barons fighting for truth, and to help weak people, and to redress wrongs, then their fighting might not be such a bad thing as once it used to be. So he gathered together all the true and kindly people that he knew, and he dressed them in armour, and he made them knights, and taught them his idea, and set them down, at a Round Table. There were a hundred and fifty of them in the happy days, and King Arthur loved his Table with all his heart. He was prouder of it than he was of his own dear wife, and for many years his new knights went about killing ogres, and rescuing damsels and saving poor prisoners, and trying to set the world to rights. That was the King's idea."
"I think it was a good idea, my lord."
"It was, and it was not. God knows."
"What happened to the King in the end?" asked the child, when the story seemed to have dried up.
"For some reason, things went wrong. The Table split into factions, a bitter war began, and all were killed."
The boy interrupted confidently.
"No," he said, "not all. The King won. We shall win."
Arthur smiled vaguely and shook his head. He would have nothing but the truth.
"Everybody was killed," he repeated, "except a certain page. I know what I am talking about."
"This page was called young Tom of Newbold Revell near Warwick, and the old King sent him off before the battle, upon pain of dire disgrace. You see, the King wanted there to be somebody left, who would remember their famous idea. He wanted badly that Tom should go back to Newbold Revell, where he could grow into a man and live his life in Warwickshire peace—and he wanted him to tell everybody who would listen about this ancient idea, which both of them had once thought good. Do you think you could do that, Thomas, to please the King?"
The child said, with the pure eyes of absolute truth: "I would do anything for King Arthur."
"That's a brave fellow. Now listen, man. Don't get these legendary people muddled up. It is I who tell you about my idea. It is I who am going to command you to take horse to Warwickshire at once, and not to fight with your bow tomorrow at all. Do you understand all this?"
"Yes, King Arthur."
"Will you promise to be careful of yourself afterward? Will you try to remember that you are a kind of vessel to carry on the idea, when things go wrong, and that the whole hope depends on you alive?"
"It seems selfish of me to use you for it."
"It is an honour for your poor page, good my lord."
"Thomas, my idea of those knights was a sort of candle, like these ones here. I have carried it for many years with a hand to shield it from the wind. It has flickered often. I am giving you the candle now—you won't let it out?"
"It will burn."
"Good Tom. The light-bringer. How old did you say you were?"
"Sixty more years then, perhaps. Half a century."
"I will give it to other people, King. English people."
"You will say to them in Warwickshire: Eh, he wor a wonderly fine candle?"
"Aye, lad, that I will."
"Then 'tis: Na, Tom, for thee must go right quickly. Thou'lt take the best son of a mare that thee kinst find, and thou wilt ride post into Warwickshire, lad, wi' nowt but the curlew?"
"I will ride post, mate, so that the candle burn."
"Good Tom, then, God bless 'ee. Doant thee ferget thick Bishop of Rochester, afore thou goest."
The little boy kneeled down to kiss his master's hand—his surcoat, with the Malory bearings, looking absurdly new.
"My lord of England," he said.
Arthur raised him gently, to kiss him on the shoulder.
"Sir Thomas of Warwick," he said—and the boy was gone.
Two different stories. Two youths serving as a kind of vessel to carry on an idea. As Arthur said, “when things go wrong, and that the whole hope depends on you alive” can you be that kind of vessel? Both Temiri Blagg and Thomas of Warwick fit the bill.
Joseph Campbell outlines the story of the hero in his “hero’s journey” cycle. After the hero is initiated, faces challenges, and is transformed, he/she must return. Ultimately, it is the hero’s responsibility to go back to the beginning and share what was learned from the quest. Luke Skywalker was in a fight against the First Order, a fascist, military group seeking to control the galaxy. King Arthur was also fighting for his ideals: justice, equality, chivalry, and honor. Camelot was a utopian society, at least for a while. But what happens if the hero is unable to return? Both Luke Skywalker and King Arthur died in the story; and yet, it was still important that their lives, their ideas, and their message continue.
This is where the storyteller comes in. In the dark ages of Ireland, the storyteller was as important as the king, for the history and culture of the people were contained within his memory. In fact, the death of the storyteller required the same punishment as the death of the king. Our ancestors understood the importance of the story. King Arthur’s first written reference was as a 5th century king. His legend continues today, over and over again, with each new retelling. There are no signs of it stopping, for the spark within that tale still holds meaning for us many centuries later. Today, as forces try to silence some stories, as history is rewritten, and books banned; it’s important to remember why stories were told and recorded in the first place.
Ben Okri writes in the book A Way of Being Free, “It is easy to forget how mysterious and mighty stories are. They do their work in silence, invisibly. They work with all the internal materials of the mind and self. They become part of you while changing you. Beware the stories your read or tell: subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”
The candle must burn long and strong. Stories that are held in our hearts, can never be extinguished.
White, T.H., The Once and Future King. New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1939. "Star Wars, the Rise of Skywalker," J.J. Abrams, director. San Francisco, CA: Lucas Films, 2020.
For more about these stories, listen to my podcast of the same name published on September 2022).