What do a rebel princess and an orphaned scavenger from a galaxy far, far away have in common with a pious housewife in fourth-century Africa? A lot, from my point of view.
The central conflict of the Star Wars sequel trilogy (Episodes VII-IX) stems from the “fall from grace” of Kylo Ren (born Ben Solo), the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, a “prodigal son” archetype like St. Augustine. Opposite Kylo, the other main protagonist in the sequels is Rey, who, like St. Monica, has no formal education or training, but possesses deep faith and demonstrates astonishing spiritual power.
When St. Monica’s feast day rolled around last year, it struck me that Leia and Rey’s relationships with Kylo Ren resemble Monica’s relationship with Augustine in the years before his conversion. The story of Star Wars is a story of hope and love, and the fictional characters of Leia, Rey, and Kylo can embody those virtues held by the historical figures Saints Monica and Augustine.
(Spoiler alert: This piece discusses events in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.)
Mother and Son
There are similarities in Leia and Monica’s family dynamics, starting with their marriages. Both women married men who did not share, believe, or understand their religion. Monica, a Christian, was married to a pagan, Patricius, who mocked her piety and was not keen on her raising their children in the Christian faith. Leia Organa, a Force-sensitive woman, married Han Solo, who initially did not believe in the Force. Patricius and Han both experience some kind of conversion before their deaths. Patricius was baptized on his deathbed. By the time of the sequels, Han fully believes in the Force and the truth of the Jedi legends.
Both couples send their gifted sons away for school, hoping that the pursuit of knowledge will lead to spiritual truth and wisdom. But Augustine and Ben instead wander into dissolution and depravity. Augustine adopts a hedonistic lifestyle and spends years exploring false religions. Ben turns to the Dark Side and becomes a murderer in the service of the First Order.The mothers spend years in mourning, not only physically distant from their sons, but also recognizing that they are spiritually and morally lost. Both mothers long to be with their sons and see them return to lives of faith and virtue. Most importantly, they battle against despair, choosing to hope that their sons will return and reform.
Over time, Augustine and Kylo both hone their talents and gain power and prestige. Augustine works as an orator for Emperor Valentinian II and a teacher of grammar and rhetoric; Kylo is an apprentice for Supreme Leader Snoke and the master of the Knights of Ren. But despite their worldly gains, the young men remain restless and unsatisfied. In his Confessions, Augustine writes that he wasted years of his life “letting my own desires carry me away on a journey that was to put an end to those same desires” (Confessions Book V Chapter 8, Pine-Coffin). That could just as well sum up Kylo’s arc over the course of the sequel trilogy. At the end of The Last Jedi, Kylo achieves everything he thought he wanted—the people he most feared and hated are dead, and he has ascended to the greatest political and military power. But it does not feel like a victory. Both men ostensibly achieve their goals, only to find that their deepest desires, namely truth and love, remain unsatisfied.
Rey and Monica both hold impressive spiritual and intellectual power, equal to their male counterparts, despite not having a formal education as the men did. In The Force Awakens Kylo regards Rey with a kind of awe when she demonstrates her power, turning his mind-probe back on him and telekinetically summoning the Skywalker legacy lightsaber. This is not unlike how Augustine reacts to Monica’s sharp intellect, with astonishment turning into genuine respect and esteem. In The Last Jedi it is hinted by multiple characters that Rey and Kylo are equals in power. After his conversion, Augustine similarly believes Monica to be on equal intellectual footing with him and his friends, despite her lack of training. He holds her in such high regard that he invites her to participate in philosophical dialogues with his friends, which make up On the Happy Life and On Order. Though Monica was not formally trained in rhetoric, philosophy, or theology, Augustine recognized that she possessed great wisdom, equal to that of the philosophers he studied and admired.
Visions of Conversion
Something Leia, Rey, and Monica all have in common is that they each experience a vision that encourages them to continue in the hope that the prodigal can return. Augustine recounts Monica’s dream in his Confessions: “She dreamed that she was standing on a wooden rule,” and a young man approached to ask why she was so unhappy. “When she replied that her tears were for the soul I had lost, he told her to take heart for, if she looked carefully, she would see that where she was, there also was I. And when she looked, she saw me standing beside her on the same rule” (Book III Chapter 11 Pine-Coffin). This is exactly the kind of assurance Rey and Leia receive, through similar means, regarding Kylo.
Midway through The Last Jedi, Rey and Kylo both have visions concerning each other, which convince them that the other will convert to their side. The visions give Monica and Rey new, unshakeable confidence that the prodigal will come home. Frustratingly, when Monica and Rey describe their visions to the men they concern, Augustine and Kylo have similar reactions: they try to reinterpret the visions to indicate the reverse of the women’s expectations. Augustine suggests that Monica’s dream indicates she will one day share his beliefs, to which she sharply replies, “No! He did not say ‘Where he is, you are,’ but “Where you are, he is’” (ibid). When Rey tells Kylo that she saw his future and predicts that he will “turn” with her help, he answers, “I saw something too. Because of what I saw, I know that when the moment comes, you’ll be the one to turn. You’ll stand with me.” In a way, both are partially correct: Kylo does turn on Snoke, and Rey does stand by him, but at the end of The Last Jedi, neither of them fully embraces the other’s cause.
Leia also has a “vision” of sorts that reassures her that her son is not lost forever. At the climax of The Last Jedi, when Leia finally sounds defeat, her long-lost brother Luke appears in what is eventually revealed to be a Force projection. Leia says, “I held out hope for so long, but I know my son is gone.” Luke responds, “No one is ever really gone.”
A Place In This Story
Star Wars is, by design, a myth—a story meant to convey truths about human nature. Much like the parables of Jesus, we have a stake in this story because it is about us. We are the prodigal son when we squander our inheritance. We are Kylo and Augustine when we rebel against parental authority and turn away from God.
But we can also be a Leia, a Rey, and a Monica. Like them, we can persist in hope and prayer, provide spiritual guidance, giving the prodigal child opportunities to come home, and welcome them when they finally do.