Luke Skywalker and Ecclesiastes: What a Pessimist Looks Like and Why Qohelet is Not One

In our culture of film, cinema offers many models of pessimism. Perhaps one of the most interesting is the portrayal of Luke Skywalker in *Star Wars: The Last Jedi.* Once the passionate heartbeat of the rebellion, Luke is now depicted as the curmudgeonly downcast, hard-set against helping fledgling Rey and determined to burn down the Jedi order and its sacred texts and bring about the end of everything he restored to the galaxy. The Last Jedi gives audiences a powerful picture of pessimism in action, but it also offers an equally powerful contrast to that pessimism. While Luke can only see the need for the Jedi order to end because of their legacy of failure, the force ghost of his master, wise Yoda, while seeing the failure also, charges Luke to “[p]ass on what you have learned,” particularly the lesson of the greatest teacher: failure. While Luke is a model of pessimism and despair, Yoda is a model of resiliency and ‘realism.’
Through the lens of this perhaps unexpected co-text, the proposed paper will argue that the Sage of Ecclesiastes, Qohelet, despite much scholarly opinion to the contrary, does not cast aside traditional Old Testament theological categories in favor of a depressed, resigned, or pessimistic heterodoxy. Although it is nearly a scholarly consensus to use the label ‘pessimistic’ for both Qohelet and his conclusions, through comparison with the competing models of Luke Skywalker and Yoda, it will be argued that Qohelet resembles the latter rather than the former—he is a ‘realist,’ not a pessimist. In the face of the oppressive and painful reality that he observes around him, Qohelet refuses to discard or deny what Ryan O’Dowd has called Qohelet’s a priori beliefs. When he observes injustice, Qohelet asserts that God will assuredly judge. When he observes prosperous wickedness, Qohelet asserts the benefit of ‘fearing God.’ When he perceives the seemingly random, uncontrollable future, Qohelet still asserts that it is God who has ordered the times and does so to make all things beautiful (יפה) in their appropriate moment. These are not the conclusions of a pessimist, like The Last Jedi’s portrayal of Luke. Rather, Qohelet resembles more the ‘realist,’ Master Yoda, refusing to surrender those essential truths that failure has taught him. His failed attempts to achieve “profit” (יתרון) on his own have brought him clarity and wisdom: “Fear God and obey His commandments” (12:13).

1. Introduction: What is a Pessimist?
2. The Last Jedi: Luke Skywalker the Pessimist and Yoda the ‘Realist’
3. Ecclesiastes: A Defense of Qohelet as a ‘Realist’

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