At the end of The Last Jedi, Rose Tico does something rather rash: she crashes her speeder into Finn’s, saving his life in the process. As he asks her why she did it, she utters these beautiful words: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”
This is an important theme that has been around the Star Wars franchise for about as long as it’s been in existence. In Alan Arnold’s out-of-print book, written in 1980, Once Upon a Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of The Empire Strikes Back, he includes a quote from Empire director Irvin Keshner about the conflict between good and evil seen in Star Wars. To that, Kershner responds:
“Well, for example, Princess Leia’s Rebel forces will not do anything in order to win. They will not sacrifice lives. They do not descend to the level of the enemy. That’s the difference between the Rebels and the Empire. It’s possible to fight because you love, not just because you hate.”
The book and quote influenced director Rian Johnson, and it’s evidence of how the whole franchise has unfolded. For example, think about the prequel trilogy. In it, Anakin Skywalker comes to love Padme Amidala and wants to save her. But the Jedi’s counsel to him is simply this: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” In some ways, Anakin seems more clearly than the rest of the Jedi, noting to Padme in Attack of the Clones that attachment is forbidden, but love is not. In fact, we might say that without love, a Jedi will inevitably always lose sight of why they fight. Without love, their fight will only be motivated by hatred, which is the path to the dark side. So the irony is that it is Anakin’s desire to love and save Padme that actually leads him to hatred, as it leads him to seeking this salvation in the wrong places. Had the Jedi instead of Palpatine offered to help him save what he loved, maybe it would all have been avoided. It doesn’t excuse Anakin’s actions, but it does inform them.
Years later, we see Luke Skywalker leave Yoda on Dagobah to go save his friends on Bespin. Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi try to convince him otherwise, but Luke says that if he doesn’t go his friends will suffer and die. “If you honor what they fight for,” Yoda says, it’s worth it. This doesn’t persuade Luke, so he leaves to try to rescue them. And in so doing, it winds up leading him into the grip of Vader. So notice what’s happening: the Jedi won’t help Anakin save what he loves, which leads him to Palaptine. And the Jedi won’t help Luke save what he loves, which leads him to Vader. For Anakin, it led to him becoming the very thing he swore to destroy. For Luke, he resists the pull of darkness – but he does learn how to use his Jedi skills to save Han, whereas Anakin never learned how to save Padme.
And it leads us to the most recent Star Wars story, Andor, because that series really dives into this whole question. The series shows us that the fight against evil and tyranny is a good thing – indeed, a necessary thing – but it also explores how to fight. In fact, I would say that the whole question of how to fight is one of the most fundamental themes of the whole series. Several times during the season I found myself remembering the words of Yoda to Ezra Bridger in Rebels when he says, “how Jedi choose to fight, the question is.” And several times I found myself remembering these words of Rose as well.
This theme really shows up in the contrast between two of the main characters, Luthen Rael and Mon Mothma. Luthen does much good for the rebellion against the Empire, but is flippant with the lives being impacted. While Mothma is aghast at the suffering his actions will inflict upon people, Luthen sees it as a grim necessity. Luthen is willing to sacrifice Kreegyr’s men to preserve his political game, viewing his life as nothing more than a pawn in his bigger plans. And Luthen confesses to Lonni that he’s sacrificed himself in the process. What has he given up for the rebellion?
“Calm. Kindness. Kinship. Love. I’ve given up all chance at inner peace, I’ve made my mind a sunless space. I share my dreams with ghosts. I wake up every day to an equation I wrote 15 years ago from which there’s only one conclusion. I’m damned for what I do. My anger, my ego, my unwillingness to yield, my eagerness to fight, they’ve set me on a path from which there is no escape. I yearned to be a savior against injustice without contemplating the cost and by the time I looked down there was no longer any ground beneath my feet. What is my sacrifice? I’m condemned to use the tools of my enemy to defeat them. I burn my decency for someone else’s future. I burn my life to make a sunrise that I know I’ll never see. And the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror or an audience or the light of gratitude. So what do I sacrifice? Everything!”
Luthen admits it: he set out to fight the Empire on their own terms and in the process lost himself. Contrast that with Mon Mothma, who is also fighting back against the Empire but keeps in mind the people she’s fighting for. The Rebellion is fighting for the good of the galaxy, for the good of individuals oppressed by the Empire’s reign, for the good of others. The message of the Star Wars franchise is that good people have an obligation to fight against evil, yes. But the message of the Star Wars franchise goes deeper than that: it says that how you choose to fight matters a great deal. Are you fighting just because you hate something and want it to die? That hatred will lead to the dark side. But fight because you love something and want to preserve it, and you find the path of light. The path of Leia Organa, Mon Mothma, and Rose Tico.
So in all of this, then, I think Rose’s words represent one of the very finest summaries of what Star Wars is all about at its heart.