Should we save the past or “Kill it if you have to”?

A recurring theme throughout The Last Jedi can be summed up in a line from Kylo Ren. He says to Rey, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”

For Kylo, this means destroying everything and starting over from scratch. He has no particular attachment to the First Order or the Resistance and believes both could be annihilated to start something new.

This same theme is also connected to the Jedi Order. In Luke Skywalker’s escape from the world, he too comes to the realization that it would be better if he died, thus ending the Jedi and (possibly) bringing peace to the galaxy. Even Yoda appears and helps Luke destroy ancient Jedi texts to sever ties with the past (*Update: Rey is seen at the end of the movie placing the ancient Jedi texts on the Millenium Falcon, preserving them for the future).

Is this good? Should we put this into practice in our own lives?

Yes and no.

Destroying the Old Self

In Christianity, there is a great emphasis on dying to harmful behaviors and sinful habits. St. Paul writes, “put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

In this sense, yes, we should “kill” the past, letting go of our former way of life and starting a new chapter. In order for anyone to move forward and progress along the path of virtue, a certain “death” needs to take place. This is a good thing and allows for authentic growth in a person.

This idea is also important when it comes to forgiveness. Many of us hold grudges for years and years and the only way we can forgive someone who has hurt us (or even forgive ourselves) is by letting go of the past. This allows us to move forward, not letting the past weigh us down.

While Staying Rooted in the Past

On the other hand, there are certain things from the past that we should not kill or destroy. Contrary to popular belief, there is much worth preserving in this world.

One strain of philosophy that has influenced every corner of society is that of “Futurism.” Italian poet F.T. Marinetti wrote a Manifesto of Futurism in 1909 where he wrote of this new movement, “We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind.” It was focused on liberating every realm of society (especially art) from the past.

Tradition was seen as a bad word and modern society viewed as the only way forward. Adherents to this philosophy would agree wholeheartedly with Kylo Ren and kill the past with all their might.

Christianity has always been of the mindset that we should hold on to the good traditions of the past. As St. Paul wrote, “brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Jesus himself did not reject the past, but proclaimed, “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).

Obviously Jesus was a revolutionary, radically changing the Jewish religion, but he did not destroy it. He fulfilled it, establishing a New Covenant that was an organic growth from the same tree. For this reason the Church throughout the centuries has never abolished the Old Testament. As the Catechism states:

Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New. (CCC 129)

In a similar way Christians have always been preservers of the past. Monks were experts at copying manuscripts and building vast libraries. These monastic libraries contained not only Christian texts, but also texts from Classical Rome and Greece and even pagan antiquity.

In all things it is important to hold on to what is true, good and beautiful, while letting that which is harmful, die. 

Or as St. Paul wrote, “Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Or as Rose said to Finn in The Last Jedi, “I saved you, dummy. That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

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