A large asteroid hurtled towards the Earth. It was almost a fourth the size of the Earth, and made up of iron and heavier elements that made it a powerful bullet in the skies. Its relative speed with respect to the Earth was large enough that scientists were certain it could destroy three-fourths of the planet and decimate all life on Earth in a few seconds, including the roaches. Unfortunately, the scientists only had a day to realize the danger, and powerful governments were left with no more than a few hours to take action.
But take action they did, and several variants of inter-continental ballistic missiles were launched towards the rogue asteroid in rapid succession.
Space, being as vast as it is, all of these missiles missed their targets by a few hundred miles. The asteroid slammed into the Earth and that was the end of that. No one complained.
It was the year 2049. Or as historians in later years would call it, the year when logic died, and was reborn from the ashes. Yes, historians can be so melodramatic sometimes, but insofar as the public was concerned, 2049 was like any other year that came before it, perhaps slightly more absurd, but doesn’t it always seem that each year is more absurd than the one before it, building up to a crescendo that never quite materializes?
The year began like any other, of course, but three days in, after the celebrations and resolutions died out, nuclear war broke out between two factions that hated each other. As bad as this sounds, people had gotten used to it. This was, after all, the seventeenth nuclear war over the past eleven years, and the survivors knew the drill – how to get to shelter during the thirteen minute warning period and where to go if one’s city was destroyed. Of course, everyone hoped it wouldn’t happen to them, but most understood that it was merely a matter of time. War creates survivors.
Funny thing, those thirteen minutes. The early warning system was ultimately not something built by technology, but a convention or ritual of sorts – any group that chose to launch an attack knew the thirteen-minute-warning to be an inviolable courtesy that had to be extended to its enemies, no matter what. Amazing, how sometimes these simple conventions take hold. No one had violated it – yet.
The world used to be divided up into countries, or so they say. Countries were stable political systems, each controlling its own group of millions, or even billions of individuals, through a set of societal laws. But by 2040, what remained were factions of no more than a few hundreds of thousands. It was too difficult to name them all, after a while, but the war of 2049 began between the two factions that historians have come to speak of as the Prodo and the Naagins.
The Prodo were a peace-loving faction. Ha! Who am I kidding? They were violent, merciless and cruel, just like any other group. Initially, there were a few factions that preached peace, but those were extinguished early on. Survival of the fittest. Interestingly, the Prodo believed themselves to be “peace loving”: every act of violence that they embarked upon was simply a muted response to the wrongs that they had been subjected to by their enemies over the course of centuries.
The story of the Prodo was typical. People believed themselves to be imbued with true goodness. Controlled channeling of information – aka propaganda – ensured that each faction only heard from their leaders, who were corrupt by definition because they only wanted their followers to hear and believe what they wanted them to believe. Corruption is ultimately about power, and power is in control of information. Money used to be the currency of power, but it had lost its sheen over the past three decades.
Change occurs in waves. There are two kinds of changes, they say – the first kind is a generational change that is driven by subjects that are young, new and eager to learn afresh. The second kind is called the enlightenment – when external forces hammer down upon one’s intellect until the intellect breaks free. Enlightenment occurs in older, wiser individuals who have survived the madness and come to finally realize how to separate signal from the noise.
Scientists – yes, we still have some of those – say that these two kinds of change must work in tandem to effect civilizational leaps. 2049, they say, was the year when a critical mass of beleaguered 30-somethings decided to think for themselves, overthrow their corrupt leaders and force a generational change through their institutions of education. It was the year when things that seemed inherently true began to be questioned, the followers of zealots tired in their step and looked around to see what the world was actually doing, and reality caught up with propaganda.
It was a modern rendering of the Renaissance all over again, a rise from the Dark Ages. Some say we finally made a civilizational leap, but others – mostly historians – seem to believe that civilization operates in cycles.
Spoiler alert! If you haven’t yet watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi, then you may not wish to read this post. You have been warned…
The Last Jedi is the latest Star Wars movie in theaters now, and perhaps it is a new kind of Star Wars movie. Despite the foundational plot of many individuals being connected inextricably through the Force, the Last Jedi offers the audience a slightly different, if overly realistic, take on the universe – sometimes improbable ideas do not work out, and sometimes things are exactly what they seem to be on the surface.
Consider the arc of Rey believing she could turn Kylo Ren back to the light side by espousing the conflict she saw within him. True, Kylo responds by killing Supreme Leader Snoke, but the reality is quite simple: Kylo wants power for himself – he has always wanted it for himself – and that is why he kills Snoke. Sure, he hesitated to kill his father Han, and held off from pressing the trigger that would have killed his mother Leia, but these minor conflicts are to be expected. The truth is, Kylo is not a morally upright citizen of society, and neither Snoke’s encouragement nor Luke’s disappointment had much of a role to play in setting him up on his chosen path. We all make our own choices after all.
And then there was the story of Poe, Finn and Rose, who attempt the highly improbable task of sneaking into a heavily guarded ship to blow up a tiny device that would have saved them all. The mission ends in failure because…well, it would have been a miracle if it had ended otherwise. And in retrospect, a lot of lives would have been saved if they hadn’t attempted these antics in the first place.
Luke returns in the end to fight Kylo and give the remaining few rebels enough time to save themselves. He appears in the form of a mystical Force-projection across the galaxy though, realistic enough to fool Kylo but powerful enough to inspire the next generation of Jedi.
Indeed, this brings us to perhaps the central theme of the movie. Is the Jedi religion over? Is Luke the last one of his creed? Here, we are told that the answer is far more nuanced. You may burn the Jedi temple to the ground with its last remaining sacred texts, but that will hardly prevent it from taking roots afresh. And Kylo may have believed that destroying the past was the only way to fulfill one’s true destiny, but destiny never stopped Snoke from getting sliced in half. There are no endings, truly…only rebirth and new beginnings.