Star Wars: The Last Jedi Jimmy Kimmel Live

“This is not going to go the way you think.” – Luke Skywalker

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams sought to prop up and revitalize the most popular film franchise in movie history, to preserve its qualities in amber for a new generation. The Force Awakens was very concerned about what you, the moviegoer and fan, thinks about Star Wars. It wants to please you. It wants to be comfort food. And it’s very, very good at that.

But with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson wants to burn Star Wars to the ground. Not because he harbors ill will toward it, but because he loves it. He loves it so much that he wants to cleanse the garden and allow something fresh and new to grow. The Last Jedi is not concerned about what you, the moviegoer and fan, thinks about Star Wars. It wants to challenge you and make you question what Star Wars is and what it can be

(This post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.)

The Last Jedi questions

An Answer to the Ellipsis

Star Wars: The Force Awakens concludes with one helluva cliffhanger. The Force-sensitive Rey arrives on the planet Ahch-To, tracks down the elusive Jedi master Luke Skywalker, and offers him his long-lost lightsaber. Luke’s face flashes with a dozen different emotions. You can practically feel the words crawling up his throat. And then the film ends, to be continued in two years. It’s a grand moment. An epic moment. A perfect finale for a film built out of questions and mysteries, a film about legacies and the shadows they leave behind.

And when we return to that scene in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skwalker accepts the lightsaber from Rey, examines it for a hot second, and casually tosses it over his shoulder. From its opening scenes, The Last Jedi makes it very clear where it stands – everything you thought this movie was going to be is incorrect. The symbols you hold dear, the symbols that J.J. Abrams held so dear in your stead, are being deliberately stripped of their power. If that shakes you, if that upsets you…well, that’s just Rian Johnson preparing you for what’s next. Abrams left him with an ellipsis, a “to be continued” that felt like a specific path. And Johnson takes a hard left turn in his land speeder, breaks through a fence, and goes off track into the wilderness.

Star Wars has gone off the rails. Either you’re going to be on board for the bumpy ride to a new place or you’re not. But the intentions are made early and they’re made perfectly clear.

Star Wars The Last Jedi reviews

Legends Bleed

Mark Hamill famously disagreed with Johnson on the direction of Luke Skywalker when he first read the screenplay for The Last Jedi, and it’s clear why. Luke, the farm boy who became a war hero who became a warrior knight who became his father’s savior, has fallen into disgrace. While The Force Awakens featured a Han Solo falling back into his old scoundrel ways (a position of comfort for those worried about a watered-down take on a character who was at his best when he wasn’t playing nice), The Last Jedi features a Luke Skywalker that is unlike anything we’ve seen before – a broken shell of a man who believes that everything he fought for and achieved was for naught. By telling young Rey that none of this matters, he’s also telling the audience the same thing. The stuff you love? The details that have reshaped pop culture and created a geek language that everyone speaks? Yeah, they’re wonky. Or rather, they’re broken. Your faith was flawed.

Luke’s hopelessness is especially affecting because the film is clearly on his side. This is not a movie where a plucky young Jedi-to-be shows up at the old master’s doorstep and teaches him how to hope again. This is a movie where a flawed old man with a lifetime of victories and regrets informs the decisions of a new generation of young heroes who need to find a new way to hope. Clearly, the old ways didn’t work because darkness rises again and there are still tyrannical man-babies trying to be the next Darth Vader. There’s a flaw in the system, buried too deep for most to see, and the only solution is to burn it all down.

The Last Jedi chooses to make this literal, as Luke Skywalker, wild and enraged, moves to burn down the ancient tree housing the ancient Jedi texts. But he doesn’t get to do it. Instead, the ghost of Yoda, the wizened master who trained him decades earlier, arrives, summons a lightning bolt, and does the job for him. This Yoda (once again depicted with a physical puppet after years of being a CGI creation) is very much the character we first met in The Empire Strikes Back – eccentric and wise and silly and profound in equal measure, the kind of old weirdo who has found grace and power in just letting go.

Johnson is clearly not a fan of the militarized, commanding Yoda of the prequels and the animated Clone Wars TV show. This Yoda cackles as he burns down what remains of the Jedi religion, the court jester whose mischief always carries greater meaning. This Yoda knows what Luke knows – the order to which he dedicated his long life is gone, and trying to recapture it is a fool’s errand. Why resurrect an archaic institution that cannot serve a new generation when you can let that new generation build something new for itself? Even Luke, a noble man who believed in the hidden goodness of Darth Vader, gave into his darkest feelings and considered murdering young Ben Solo in his sleep. The old ways failed Luke. They failed Ben. They will fail the Resistance. Luke knows this through anger and regret. Yoda knows this through wisdom and perspective.

It’s important that Johnson lets Yoda burn it all down and not Luke – the passing of the torch is not just the result of the failure of an old man who learned things the hard way, but it comes with the blessing of the wisest character in Star Wars canon. Luke knows that the Jedi must end, that they do not monopolize the Force, and that evil has flourished on their watch. But where Luke saw despair, Yoda sees a chance for renewal. Where J.J. Abrams saw a warm and comforting blanket that makes you feel really good, Rian Johnson sees that stagnation is the death of all things. Stagnation leads to Empires and First Orders. Hitting the reset button, breaking the machine, leads to revolutions. And after 40 years of circling similar ideas, Star Wars could use a revolution.

That revolution feels especially well-timed, as fans discuss whether or not “Luke would have done that.” Geeky debates will always exist (they’re the reason Star Wars thrives today), but maybe we should hone in on what The Last Jedi is telling us. Maybe it’s dangerous to worship our heroes to the point of idolatry, to convince ourselves that they can never do wrong, never make mistakes, and never let their hubris create monsters that threaten a new generation. Johnson sends Luke out on a high note, allowing him one more showdown with his former pupil in a fight that is pacifistic resistance at its most grand and extreme, but it’s the final gasp of the hero we once knew. Long live Luke Skywalker…but never forget that he erred. That he done fucked up.

Star Wars The Last Jedi

Breaking Expectations

It’s easy to imagine Rian Johnson watching The Force Awakens and being thrilled. It’s a thrilling movie. It does that. It’s also easy to imagine Rian Johnson watching The Force Awakens and noting, “This Supreme Leader Snoke guy kinda sucks. I should do something about that.”

Despite being positioned as the Big Bad of the new trilogy, the overlord pulling the strings, Supreme Leader Snoke barely leaves an impression during his appearances in both Star Wars movies. His generic flavor of Almighty Galaxy-Destroying Jerk is something we’ve seen several times in Star Wars and countless times elsewhere. He’s dull. He’s especially dull when compared to the angsty, flawed, and powerfully human Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, played with such intensity and raw pain by Adam Driver.

But The Last Jedi knows our expectations. It knows that we think Snoke will remain a threat through the next movie and that Ben will find redemption. It focuses on Ben’s internal conflict as it showcases Snoke’s incredible power. As the son of Han Solo grows more sympathetic, his leader grows more godlike, revealing a command of the Force that allows him to flick enemies and allies alike around his throne room like gnats. The Last Jedi makes Kylo Ren more vulnerable as it makes Supreme Leader Snoke more unstoppable.

So yes, the death of Snoke is a disarming twist and a beautifully staged one – Snoke’s command of the Force bites him in the ass when he reads Ben’s feelings and intentions but cannot understand where they’re pointed. One little Force push from Ben Solo and Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber is activated, cutting the Supreme Leader in half and ending his reign of terror an entire movie earlier than anyone expected. It’s shocking. It’s hilarious. It’s bound to anger fans who have spent the past two years attempting to discern the identity of Snoke. Quite frankly, The Last Jedi doesn’t care about Snoke and it reacts accordingly – your Snoke theory never mattered because Snoke never mattered.

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