by Christopher Pocchia
What is there to say about The Last Jedi that has not already been said? In this writer’s opinion, more than you might think. I have heard almost every single complaint about this movie imaginable but I have heard far fewer arguments in its defense. While most people’s opinions have already been cemented about the most divisive blockbuster of the 2010’s (or possibly ever), I felt compelled to write down why I believe 2017’s The Last Jedi to be a true love letter to the Star Wars fandom.
This film contains three major plots that occur simultaneously and join together at the very end in an epic fight of good vs. evil, a must for any Star Wars film. I will be analyzing each of these plots and how they resolve in order to make my argument in favor of Rian Johnson’s take on Star Wars so spoilers ahead!
The first, and arguably most significant, arc of the film finds Rey, the protagonist of 2015’s The Force Awakens, on the hidden island of Ahch-To. Here, The Last Jedi picks up where The Force Awakens leaves off. Rey, with her hand outstretched, tries to return a lightsaber to its original owner, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. However, to the much of the audience’s surprise, Luke immediately tosses this lightsaber behind his back and walks away. Is this the Luke we left off with in Return of the Jedi? Yes and no. Clearly something has changed. At the end of Episode 6 we saw Luke celebrating on Endor the defeat of the Galactic Empire. Now, Luke seems to have completely disavowed the ways of the Jedi. Let’s bridge that gap. It is revealed in The Last Jedi that, following the events of Episode 6, Luke set out to train a new generation of Jedi. These new Jedi younglings included Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia, Luke’s best friend and sister respectively. One night, Luke senses darkness in Ben. His mind had been corrupted by Supreme Leader Snoke. Luke sees Ben bringing an end to everything and everyone he loves. And so comes what may be the most divisive moment in Star Wars history: Luke ignited his lightsaber to kill his nephew. My question is…why is this divisive? Luke has always been driven by emotions, especially when it comes to saving his friends. Luke abandoned his Jedi training early to save his friends on Bespin in the Empire Strikes Back. Luke cut off his own father’s hand the second that Vader threatened his sister. Luke will do anything to protect his friends and family. Luke saw a threat to everyone he loved and made a split second, emotional decision to take action. An action he immediately regretted. This scene highlights not only Luke’s willingness to protect those he loves, but also the emotional trauma it can cause. Seconds later Kylo, seeing his Master fail him, destroys Luke’s new training grounds and slaughters Jedi younglings. Luke failed. Luke has failed before. This is what makes him a relatable character. People watching Star Wars in 1977 did not watch a great and powerful Jedi Master. They watched a farm boy who dreamed of something greater. In The Last Jedi, audiences found the same character, albeit this time around he knew far too much about the history of the Jedi religion (see Star Wars episodes 1-3) and the consequences of his power. Luke is human. Luke made a mistake. Luke paid the price. Many Star Wars fans hated this representation of their childhood hero but I argue they should look closer. Luke did not abandon his friends. He says himself that he believes (whether it is true or not) that his presence would create a greater danger for his companions. He did it to protect them in his mind. It may not be true, but do we not all make decisions we think will be best for those around us even if they are not the best solutions? It is an emotional response, something we’ve seen Luke do again and again throughout the original trilogy. If we had a perfect Luke Skywalker, we would have a completely different character. Luke is inherently imperfect and this is why audiences have loved him for decades. We even see him revert back to his farm boy ways, drinking fresh green milk and fishing for food. None of this is new. It is Luke going back to a time when life was simple and his actions did not have consequences that could ruin the entire galaxy. Lastly, I want to reiterate the importance of the history of the Jedi religion. Luke learned the ways of the Jedi from Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, two of the most powerful living Jedi at the time Palpatine instated the Galactic Empire. These two Jedi mention nothing to Luke in their teachings about how the hubris of the Jedi led to Palpatine’s rise. They let Luke make the same mistakes. Now, one might argue that Luke was trained in the original trilogy, a series of movies that was released before the prequels where Palpatine’s rise is chronicled. However, it is well known that George Lucas planned out the basic backstory of Star Wars before making the original trilogy. He even made sure Obi-Wan references the Clone Wars in the original Star Wars. Therefore, it can be assumed that this is information Obi-wan and Yoda knowingly kept from Luke. Thus, in The Last Jedi, we find that Luke has come to a point where he realizes the Jedi way needed to end. He realizes that their pride and lack of emotional connections led to the rise of Palpatine and the fall of his own father, Anakin Skywalker, to the dark side. We find that Rian Johnson has taken into account all of the stories told in both the prequels and the original trilogy to write what may be the most natural progression of Luke’s character. All of this information was placed in front of us, and yet almost nobody expected Rian Johnson to put all of these puzzle pieces together which leads to a general feeling of shock when we see Luke toss the lightsaber behind him.
This explains why Luke Skywalker left his friends to stay on the island…but why did he never come back? Why did Luke never see the error of his ways? His nephew became the leader of the First Order. His best friend, Han Solo, was murdered. Here, I have two arguments. The first is simple: Luke cut himself off from the Force. Luke wanted nothing to do with these galactic fights and found his presence to be harmful. Yet, Luke makes reference to another, much deeper theme: his status as a legend. Thus, my second argument is that Luke is simply human. Luke says it best himself when he looks at Rey and utters the words “You think what? I’m gonna walk out with a laser sword and face down the whole First Order?” Rian Johnon saw Luke Skywalker the myth as seen by the fans and instead he simply gave us Luke Skywalker. He gave us the Luke we all fell in love with. He gave us the Luke we knew before he ever blew up the Death Star or encountered the Emperor. Therefore, the Luke that we got was one who believed his mythic status was not enough to save the galaxy because he wholeheartedly (and arguably wrongly) believed based on emotional instinct that Luke the human could do nothing. So while I can see why audiences were not fans of their childhood hero’s portrayal in The Last Jedi, I would like you, dear reader, to consider that perhaps this was not only a natural story progression from The Force Awakens, but also a natural story progression for our beloved Luke.
Now that I have analyzed Luke’s mentality in this film, it is time to apply this knowledge to how his story interacts with that of newer characters Rey and Kylo Ren. As previously mentioned, at the beginning of the film Rey finds herself on the island of Ahch-To ready to be trained by the great and powerful Luke Skywalker. Alas, she is heartbroken to find that Luke is not willing to train her in the ways of the Jedi. However, Luke (in what might be better fan service than anything we have seen from JJ Abrams) finds himself back on the Millenium Falcon where he encounters his old friend R2-D2. Here, R2 shows Luke the distress call Leia sent to Obi-Wan all the way back in the original Star Wars. It is after this message that Luke chooses to train Rey, but not in the ways of the Jedi. Luke wants to show her why the Jedi need to end. Luke’s first message may be one of the most significant lessons in a Star Wars film. He claims that the Force does not belong to the Jedi. He claims that just because the Jedi die does not mean the Light side of the Force goes with them. The Force belongs to everyone and everything. The Force belongs to the galaxy. It is in Luke’s first lesson that we see Rey get tempted by the dark side. She experiences the Force and feels the Dark Side call to her, offering her information she so desperately desires: knowledge of how she fits in with the Star Wars universe. It is here we see her begin to be pulled towards the middle of the Light/Dark spectrum of the Force.
On the opposite end, Kylo Ren is finding himself at a similar crossroads. Kylo Ren is a Darth Vader fanboy who is striving to showcase his abilities to Supreme Leader Snoke. When we first see Kylo, he is being reprimanded by Snoke for his failure to stop Rey and the Resistance from destroying Starkiller base. Snoke insults Kylo’s helmet and berates him for having too much of his father (Han Solo) in him. Kylo proceeds to smash this helmet and get into a ship in order to continue killing his past. Having killed his own father he now finds himself a button push away from blowing a whole in the Resistance ship that would kill his mother (Leia Organa). Here, Kylo hesitates. Ultimately, another First Order fighter does the work for him. Kylo refuses to kill his own mother because he, like Rey, is being pulled to the center of the Light/Dark Force spectrum. The two characters both approach a gray middle ground.
A First Order fighter blows a hole in the ship and Leia goes flying out into space. Due to the passing of Carrie Fisher, many believed this would be her ultimate fate. However, Leia suddenly finds herself using the Force and pulling herself back towards the ship looking sort of like Mary Poppins. I understand the sentiment of hating this scene. However, my essay is meant to show why this movie was a loving tribute to the fans and this scene is included. Never before had we seen Leia use Force powers other than telepathically communicate with Luke. Now, we see her having Force-based survival instincts in a completely possible scenario because just getting sucked into space does not immediately kill you. If you watched Guardians of the Galaxy, did you think the same way when both Peter Quill and Gamora found themselves floating in space without a helmet on? They came close to death, but both survived in the end. People without Force powers cannot pull themselves back into the ship, but now we see that Leia has had Force training since we last saw her in Return of the Jedi so this scene should really come as a triumphant surprise more than a poor attempt at a fakeout death.
Next, we come to Rey and Kylo’s Force dyad. In my opinion, this might be the greatest addition to the Star Wars universe in the sequel trilogy. Watching the way the two of them communicated using the shot-reverse-shot method while in separate locations was tense and intimate for both characters. But what does this contribute to the story and the greater Star Wars universe? First, we get to see a brand new Force power, something the movies very infrequently introduce due to the possibilities of messing with established lore. I personally argue that if Force powers were limited to the powers we saw in the first film, the Original Trilogy never would have reached the iconic status it holds today. Yet, Rey and Kylo’s relationship in this film represents something stronger than a new Force power. They are two newcomers in the fight for the galaxy and find themselves drawn toward the opposite side of the Force from the one they are expected to fight for. Rey, searching for answers about her past, is drawn to the Dark that could offer her answers. Kylo, struggling to kill his past, is drawn to the Light. The two are joined together in intimate moments of dialogue where only they can see each other and feel each other as they try to find answers in each other. In fact, these two come closer to joining forces than any other two Light and Dark using characters in the history of the franchise (not counting Anakin as he fell from the Light to the Dark under Palpatine’s influence).
It is not until the end of the film’s 2nd act where we learn that this Force dyad was created by none other than Supreme Leader Snoke. Rey leaves her training with Luke after Luke refuses to help her fight the First Order and save her friends. Luke tries to give her advice that Luke only has now in hindsight: finish your training. Luke himself left his training with Yoda to save his friends and he lost a hand and almost lost his best friend. Rey ignores Luke’s pleas and gets on the Millenium Falcon with Chewbacca and R2-D2 to try and restore the good that she still sees in Ben Solo that Luke believes is fully gone. Rey thenn allows herself to be captured and is brought to Snoke’s throne room. Kylo is expected to strike her down. And, as Snoke predicted, Kylo turns his saber to kill his “true enemy.”
It was at this moment in the movie theater my jaw hit the floor. Kylo turns his saber and murders Supreme Leader Snoke by cutting him in half, leading to an intense team up between Kylo and Rey as they fight all of Snoke’s Praetorian guards. Upon killing them all, Kylo reveals information audiences waited to figure out since The Force Awakens…Rey’s parentage. This scene, in my opinion, represents what Star Wars is all about. Kylo reveals that Rey’s parents were….nobody. Audiences theorized for years about whether Rey was a Kenobi or a Skywalker or of some other Star Wars lineage. Yet, this was the best possible answer. Why? Well let’s jump back to the original Star Wars yet again. Who was Luke in 1977? Nobody. A farm boy. We knew very little about him other than vague mentions of an ancient religious cult from Obi-Wan. Now we know he is the son of Darth Vader who was once Anakin Skywalker, an incredibly powerful Jedi. Now we have a new hero, Rey, with no last name and no lineage. She was chosen by the Force. The story is that simple. What does this really say about Star Wars though? Anyone can be the hero. Anyone can be the ‘chosen one’. Star Wars heroes are no longer limited to the Skywalker family. Imagine, if you will, you’re sitting in a theater in 2017. Rey and Kylo just beat the guards and Kylo reveals that Rey is the illegitimate daughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi. What does this add to the story? Suddenly this story about the generation of characters post-Luke, Han, and Leia is now reaching into the era of the prequels and reveals that Obi-Wan broke the Jedi code and completely turns focus onto a character with no place in this story. Rey being nobody was a subversion of expectations, but not for no reason. It was for the purpose of bringing back the focus of Star Wars to characters who the audience can relate to: the characters who have to figure out on their own how they fit into the greater story of the galaxy. It is here that Kylo reaches out his hand to offer Rey a place at his side. A nobody could rule the galaxy with the son of Solo and Skywalker. Kylo reveals his deepest intentions to “Let the past die.” This is where I find that many people have an issue with this film. Many argue that this film’s message is to kill the past. This is the villain’s perspective. This is who the audience is meant to disagree with, no matter how hard it might be at points considering Kylo is a sympathetic character; a Vader fanboy who can’t live up to his own lineage. Kylo reaches out physically and emotionally towards Rey and….Rey refuses. We could have seen our two main characters rule the galaxy together and kill off the past, but Rian Johnson chooses that the past is equally as important as the present. Rey realizes her place in this story. Rey chooses to be good. She was not born into the light side. She may not be a Skywalker or a Kenobi or a Solo but she was chosen by the Force to be the hero. She sees her friends, the remnants of the Resistance, being decimated and she chooses to save them: exactly what Luke would have done. She already left her training early to try and save Kylo. Now she leaves to save her friends. Kylo, on the other hand, fully surrenders to the Dark side. Kylo becomes the new Supreme Leader of the first order. Kylo makes a choice to be the villain and to kill the past. This is why I question the decision to bring back Emperor Palpatine in the Rise of Skywalker (amongst many many other questionable decisions). Right here, the trilogy’s villain was fully formed.
I would like to quickly address one of the most common criticisms I have heard about the sequel trilogy as a whole: the concept of Rey being dubbed a “Mary Sue”. A Mary Sue is a character who, without any significant training or reason is suddenly able to use great powers to defeat their enemy. This is seen pretty clearly in The Force Awakens with Rey being able to use Jedi mind tricks and matching Kylo Ren blow for blow in a lightsaber duel when she had never held one. However, in The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson seems to recognize this fact and makes significant effort to course correct. In this film, we see Rey training on Ach-To. However, this training is not solely with Luke Skywalker. We also get to see her practicing with both a staff and a lightsaber on her own. We see her lightsaber abilities are extremely similar to her abilities with her staff, the weapon she has been using her entire life. It is sensible that, after being abandoned by her family as a young child, Rey has needed to use this staff to defend herself for years. Now, when wielding a lightsaber, it is her first instinct to fight the same way. In her fight alongside Kylo against Snoke’s guards, we even see her swinging her lightsaber around as if it were a baseball bat. Rey cannot fight well. She has had some training, but she is relying on what she knows from her time surviving on Jakku to fight off the guards in Snoke’s throne room. Her lightsaber style is unrefined and sloppy because she has not had proper lightsaber training. However, it is effective since she knows how to defend herself. It is also important to remember that she left her training with Luke early. She did not receive all of his lessons. She abandoned her training just like another young Jedi did in The Empire Strikes Back in order to go save the people she cares about.
At the same time as this incredible struggle between Light and Dark, we find our Resistance heroes facing their own struggle. Star Wars, after all, is not only about the Force. First up: Poe Dameron. Who is Poe Dameron? Those who watched The Force Awakens would have no clue since he was hardly in the film, a complete waste of Oscar Isaac’s talent. However, he is the first of the main heroes the audience encounters in The Last Jedi. The movie opens with the Resistance evacuating their base after being discovered by the First Order. General Hux stands on the bridge of his ship getting ready to blow their forces to smithereens when suddenly his ship is approached by a single X-Wing piloted by none other than Poe Dameron. Leia advises against Poe’s approach but allows him to make an attempt. Poe makes contact with Hux and begins distracting him with arrogant humor, pretending not to be able to hear Hux and making jokes about his mother. The First Order, distracted by Poe’s shenanigans, ignores the escaping Resistance. As Poe’s boosters charge up he immediately flies around the First Order dreadnought in a dazzling array of maneuvers that only an ace pilot could accomplish. He systematically takes out each of their canons and alerts Resistance bombers to get into position. Leia advises against this plan. Her forces are extremely limited as it is. She believes Poe has bought them time to escape and that is more than enough. Poe turns off his comms and ignores these direct orders. Resistance bombers fly out towards the dreadnought, ready to drop their payloads right on their target. However, almost every ship is tragically blown up in seconds. Poe watches the fleet fall apart except for one who is able to destroy the dreadnought as the rest of the Resistance escapes. Poe is then confronted by Leia who immediately demotes him. Poe failed as a leader. Yes he accomplished his goal, but at what cost? The Resistance has half the soldiers and ships that they started with thanks to Poe’s plan. The audience watches as the ships fly off into hyperspace….before being immediately followed by the First Order. Hyperspace tracking was thought to be impossible. No one is prepared. However, this scene should not come as a surprise to the audience. Seconds before the First Order arrives, Leia shows off a tracker she is holding for Rey to find her way back to the fleet after she meets with Luke. This is a perfect example of “show don’t tell.” The audience is not told how the First Order found them, but they are given every piece of the puzzle. To save the day, Poe decides to do what he does best. He runs to his X-Wing to try and fight the First Order. He is an expert pilot after all. However, Poe’s X-Wing is swiftly destroyed leaving Poe with…well, nothing. What is a pilot without his ship? Who is Poe without his X-Wing? This film needs to take the time to develop Poe’s character and make him a serious leader in the Resistance. How does Rian Johnson choose to do this? By incapacitating Leia and placing a new leader in charge.
After rescuing herself from being blasted into space, Leia finds herself in a coma for a significant portion of The Last Jedi. In her place, Vice Admiral Holdo takes charge. I don’t want to spend more than a sentence on this nonsense so I will get it out of the way now: just because she is a purple-haired woman does not mean Disney is trying to push a feminist, liberal agenda. Now, Holdo takes over Resistance leadership and Poe is not too happy. Why not? She’s a perfectly qualified leader who has proven herself in the past. Poe even recognizes her name from her past battles. Well, Poe wants to know what her plan is. I have heard over and over again people asking why Holdo did not tell Poe the plan. Audiences have claimed that this makes her a bad leader and that she should have told him the information or that withholding the information from Poe was just a way of keeping the audiences from knowing until the right time. I could not disagree more. Consider the facts of the situation. The First Order just tracked the Resistance through hyperspace, something no one believed was possible. How? Nobody knows. It is more than reasonable to assume there is a spy onboard this ship. However, this is never directly stated as Holdo’s reasoning. We cannot necessarily assume that. What we can see clearly, however, is that Poe just got half of the Resistance fleet destroyed through his leadership. We see that Leia demoted him and that he is clearly too cocky for his own good. Holdo is not a plot device to keep the audience from knowing what happens next. Holdo is a fully-fleshed out character with her own motivations and purpose in this narrative. Her ultimate goal is to teach Poe what it means to be a leader, but for the majority of the film she is in charge. Some pilot who just got demoted has no reason to know the plan. The only reason Poe seems important is because he is a main character to the audience. To Holdo, he is just a pilot with an overactive trigger finger. It is also reasonable to assume Holdo might not have had a plan at the time. Her troops and fuel supply are both running low. She needs time to formulate a proper plan.
Throughout the rest of the film, we see Poe try every possibility in order to take charge. He sends Finn and Rose on their own mission to help save the Resistance and goes as far as to start a mutiny on board the ship, as he believes Holdo to be causing more harm than good. Poe discovers that Holdo is emptying the remaining fuel from the ship into the much smaller transport ships. Poe is furious and believes this to be a cowardly decision and tries to stop her before he himself is stopped by Leia, fresh out of a coma. Now, what was Holdo’s full plan? This is another hotly debated issue for Star Wars fans so I will dissect the importance of her strategy. Holdo decides to place all of the remaining Resistance members on those transport ships to escape to a nearby abandoned Rebel base on Crait. Holdo, however, stays with the ship in order to pilot what many fans have deemed the “Holdo Maneuver.” Holdo uses her remaining fuel to jump to lightspeed and sacrifice herself by ramming into the First Order’s fleet. This upset many fans for multiple different reasons. First, many claim that this breaks Star Wars. It does not. Just because writers had not thought up this idea in the past does not mean by adding it that it suddenly breaks Star Wars. What about Force pulling? Luke does not use a Force pull until The Empire Strikes Back. Does this break established Star Wars rules? No. It is a beloved franchise constantly being given new stories and sometimes those stories need fresh ideas to keep their audience interested. Some will then retort by claiming this could have been used in past space battles. This is an argument I cannot really disagree with. At no point in the film is this specified to be some kind of one in a million shot for Holdo to make nor is it specified that only certain ships can pull this off. However, I would like to consider the possibility that perhaps destroying a ship that can jump to lightspeed is not their best option in most scenarios. Neither the Rebels nor the Resistance were well-funded militaries. Wasting an entire ship of that size just to win one battle is not necessarily a practical strategic decision. A jump to lightspeed usually means safety for those on board. It is not until The Last Jedi that the heroes have actually been tracked through hyperspace. However, there is another problem that tends to irk fans here. If this was her plan, why not tell Poe? Why not tell the entire crew? If you feel this way, consider Poe’s character. He may be arrogant, but he is also selfless. If he saw that the only way for the Resistance to live to fight another day was to sacrifice himself, he would have fought to be the one to do it himself. So might a large portion of crew members on board. By not telling Poe the plan, she did risk a mutiny and she did risk alienating her crew, but she knew that in order to be a leader you sometimes need to make the decision that nobody wants to make. Holdo had to recognize that the smartest outcome and the highest likelihood of success came from leaving most crew members in the dark.
The last arc to discuss before we reach the film’s conclusion is that of Finn and Rose, possibly the most universally frowned upon arc by the Internet Star Wars fandom. Yet, there is plenty to gain from this arc that I find too many viewers overlook. First, let’s return to the opening moments of The Last Jedi. Poe sent in his bombers and one bomber survives to destroy the dreadnaught. The bombs were dropped by a pilot named Paige: the sister of Rose Tico. Paige dies while Rose was on the main ship of the rest of the Resistance. What a powerful start to Rose’s character. We don’t meet Rose for another several minutes, but we witness Paige die a Resistance hero. As Paige dies, she clutches a necklace she’s wearing. When we meet Rose, she’s wearing a matching necklace, indicating their connection and her loss. Simultaneously, Finn awakens from his coma he fell into at the end of The Force Awakens. His first word? “Rey!” He runs into Poe. His first question: “Where’s Rey?” Leia informs Finn of Rey’s location and…Finn decides to hop into an escape pod holding Leia’s tracker and get as far away as possible to ensure Rey’s safety. In the escape pod bay, he encounters Rose Tico, sister of the recently deceased Paige Tico. Rose is mourning the loss of her sister until she meets Finn…”THE Finn” as she refers to him. Rose sees Finn as a Resistance hero after the events of The Force Awakens. However, in Finn’s mind, he had done everything for his own survival and for Rey. This is a significant dynamic for Star Wars as all the main characters of the series have tended to be celebrated war heroes. Finn is the only one who knows he does not deserve this praise. After discovering Finn’s desertion plans, Rose temporarily paralyzes him and takes him to Poe. It is here the three concoct a plan to shut down First Order trackers so the Resistance can escape.
In what appears to be the most universally hated arc of the film, Finn and Rose head to the casino planet of Canto Bight. Here, we witness the richest characters in the galaxy gambling and living in luxury. Finn is mesmerized by the lifestyle while Rose is frustrated. Rose knows what this planet’s foundation was: child abuse and war. Rose and Finn seek out to find the master codebreaker who can help them on their mission. Unfortunately for our heroes, they are swiftly arrested for a poor parking job. In prison, they encounter DJ, a potential replacement codebreaker. Finn and Rose escape the prison via underground tunnels while DJ runs off with BB-8, Poe’s droid who traveled with Finn and Rose. Our heroes emerge in a stable of Fathiers run by child slaves. Finn and Rose assure the children that they are with the Resistance and, with the children’s help, they will continue fighting for freedom. The children help Finn and Rose who subsequently ride those Fathiers through Canto Bight, destroying everything in their path. They rush towards their ship which is destroyed before their eyes as they are chased by local police. At the last possible moment they are saved by DJ and BB-8 in a stolen ship. On this ship, Finn has a conversation with DJ who points out that the previous owners of the ship sold to both the “bad guys” and the “good.” He then utters the words “Live free, don’t join.”
Audiences have claimed this to be the least gripping arc of the film. Audiences have even claimed this arc only cares about saying capitalism is evil. However, like I said before, this film is a love letter to the Star Wars saga. Scenes on Canto Bight have a lot to say: war is used for profit and thus is pointless, there is no such thing as good guys and bad guys, and there is more to fight for than yourself. We see aliens of all species partying with their earnings from selling to both the Resistance and the First Order. To the audience, there are defined heroes and villains. To those living in this galaxy, there are simply warring factions. What matters is what they stand for. Both the Resistance and the First Order attain weapons via unsavory means but they fight for a cause, not for their own selfish intents. The Canto Bight scenes do not simply exist to condemn capitalism. These scenes exist to show what fighting for the Resistance means. That is not to say these scenes are perfect. Is the dialogue mediocre at times? Yes. Does the humor occasionally fall flat? Absolutely. Yet, these are faults in practically every Star Wars film, especially the prequels who seem to get more and more love as time passes. If you can love any of the wooden or campy performances seen in the prequel trilogy, you can surely find love for Kelly Marie-Tran’s passionate performance as Rose Tico. Nevertheless, what matters is the impact the Resistance’s cause has on the galaxy. I point directly to the scene with the young children who aid Finn and Rose in their escape. One boy is about to hit an alarm before seeing a ring Rose wears with a Resistance symbol. Clearly, their cause is known throughout the galaxy and has an impact on these slave children. They see this symbol as one that could lead to their freedom and choose to help. This is what brings Finn to his greater arc of the film. He was not a Resistance hero in The Force Awakens. He fought for Rey. He lied to survive. Now, he finds the Resistance is worth fighting for, something we return to at the end of the film.
Finn and Rose find their way onto Snoke’s ship in order to shut down the ship’s hyperspace tracker with DJ’s help. They steal First Order uniforms and sneak on board and make it all the way to their destination before being caught. Turns out, our heroes were sold out by DJ: the one who does not believe in joining either side, neither the Resistance nor the First order. They are captured and taken to be executed before the ship is destroyed via the Holdo maneuver. Finn and Rose escape their capture and fight off the remaining First Order troops. Finn engages in combat with his former supervisor, Captain Phasma. While Captain Phasma as a character feels a little bit underutilized, Finn’s words are very important. Phasma calls Finn “scum” to which Finn replies “Rebel scum.” This is both a callback to Return of the Jedi and an indication of Finn’s newfound allegiance to the Resistance. He kills Phasma, becoming a true Rebel in the same vein as those of the original trilogy. Finn and Rose escape, with help from BB-8 in control of a First Order AT-ST, in a stolen First Order ship as Snoke’s snip is consumed by flames.
Now we come to the film’s final act. The Resistance makes one final stand against the First Order where all of the film's character arcs find themselves come to completion. I will start with Luke. We saw Rey leave Luke on the island of Ach-To, alone with no way off. It is here that Luke decides to end the Jedi religion once and for all after seeing what Rey could become under his guidance. He takes a torch to the remaining Jedi temple holding the sacred texts and….he pauses. He looks at the temple with a face of regret and nostalgia, knowing that, despite his strong feelings against the Jedi, he will never be able to let go of his past. The hero, Luke Skywalker, is unable to kill the past. It is Kylo, the story’s villain, who wants to kill the past. Luke finds himself much more conflicted, knowing full well that he cannot do this. The camera pans away from Luke in one of the film’s best uses of fan-service to reveal the head of the Force ghost of Jedi Master Yoda. Yoda laughs as Luke struggles to come to terms with his mistakes and, on his own, burns the remaining sacred Jedi texts. Luke rushes in to save the texts but is sent flying by an explosion from the burning temple. Luke finds himself seated next to the ghost of his Master. The two watch the flames as Yoda guides Luke one final time, showing him what he is missing. Luke failed. The audience knows this. Yoda knows this. Luke knows this. However, Yoda knows that Luke is capable of much more. Yoda does not scold Luke for his failures. Yoda himself failed at stopping the rise of Palpatine in the prequels after all. Yoda reminds him that “the greatest teacher, failure is.” Yoda reminds Luke that being a Jedi is much more than the teachings in the written text. Lastly, as the two watch the temple’s flames form the symbol of the Rebel Alliance, Yoda utters what may be my favorite quote in the Star Wars saga: “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all Masters.” It is at this moment Luke realizes what he must do. Luke must become a symbol of hope for the entire galaxy one final time.
At the same time, Rey finds herself face to face with Kylo. Kylo reaches out his hand, offering her a place next to him in ruling the galaxy. Rey begs Kylo to stop his men from blowing up her friends who are fleeing to Crait. Kylo ignores her request. Rey reaches for the lightsaber originally belonging to Anakin Skywalker and Kylo reaches for the same. In one final effort the two use the Force to pull at the weapon until it breaks apart in between them. The Skywalker lineage belongs to neither of them. Neither one is meant to be the next Anakin nor the next Luke. It is here the characters can grow and move beyond the past. Kylo decides to kill that past. Rey, on the other hand, decides to use it to her advantage.
Poe and the remaining Resistance members find themselves at an abandoned Rebel base on the salt planet of Crait. They are limited to the Rebel-era tech left behind to reach out to Leia’s friends throughout the galaxy, none of whom answer. Finn and Rose’s ship crashes into the base, but they are of no added help. They have no hope. The First Order lands with advanced versions of The Empire Strikes Back’s AT-ATs. The First Order begins firing upon their base with a canon created with miniaturized Death Star technology using what I consider another example of excellent fan-service. We have Rebel-era tech for the Resistance showing how they are extremely limited and advanced versions of Empire tech to show how well-prepared the First Order is. The technology on both sides is reminiscent of weaponry and technology seen in the original trilogy, but they are used in a way to highlight just how vulnerable the Resistance is at this point.
Poe finds a series of mono-ski speeders. Facing down the First Order head on is their only chance to win. Poe, Finn, Rose, and a series of other fighters start speeding their way towards the caon to stop it, but it is evident that these speeders are falling apart as Poe’s boot is seen knocking out a piece of its plating. The Resistance fighters are attacked by First Order Tie Fighters. When all hope seems lost, Rey and Chewbacca come flying in on the Millenium Falcon, taking out the enemy ships. Rey uses the past to her advantage. Kylo, on the other hand, wants that ‘piece of junk” blown out of the sky. The speeders continue racing towards the canon as it powers up and we see Finn face the canon head on. Poe orders the other fighters to give up, but Finn powers on. His speeder is falling apart. He is going to die. He is ready to die for the Resistance. Here, Finn ends his arc of the film. He is no longer fighting for Rey. He is fighting for the Resistance. He only lives because Rose saves him at the last second. Rose holds him and tells him that you don’t win by “fighting what we hate” but rather “saving what we love.” It is here that Rose kisses Finn in one of the most awkward kisses I have seen play out on screen. However, in writing this, I feel like I understand why. Rose is proud of Finn. Rose was a fangirl when we first met her in the film. She adored Finn, but for all of the wrong reasons. There was no romantic tension between the two. When Rose caught Finn attempting to escape, she saw him as a traitor and a coward. Here, she saw Finn ready to give his life the same way her sister did. She did not want to lose someone else that way after what it led to the first time around (i.e. all of the events of this movie). She is full of emotion that she was able to save the person she cared about this time and she kissed him. It is awkward because Finn does not expect it. In fact, he may not even reciprocate those feelings. Was this the most opportune time to kiss Finn? No. But that is not to say that Rose kissing Finn is bad writing. It feels awkward because it IS awkward. The two of them then escape and we come to what is unequivocally my favorite moment in Star Wars history.
Leia is seen back at the base, losing hope. She says that “the spark is out” as she realizes the entire galaxy has lost hope in their cause. Someone needs to reignite that spark. Enter Luke Skywalker, dressed in full Jedi robes. He approaches Leia, sharing one final moment with his sister. He knows he cannot kill Kylo, but that is not his plan. He returns Han’s dice to her that he took from the Falcon and winks at C-3PO. Here we watch Luke exit the dark and fully enter the light both physically and metaphorically. The First Order has blown a hole in the wall protecting the Resistance. This whole is surrounded by flames, separating a dark interior with a bright exterior and Luke steps out, standing down the entire First Order with a laser sword, exactly what he said he would not do at the start of this movie. Kylo spots Luke from his AT-AT and loses all composure. This was his Master that failed him. Kylo orders every gun to change targets and fire at Luke. The guns fire and the salt around Luke erupts in what looks like an explosion of blood. As the dust settles we see Luke, still standing, brushing the attack off his shoulder. Luke continues walking towards Kylo. Kylo comes down to meet him. The two face each other down across the barren wasteland that is the Crait battlefield. Kylo ignites his lightsaber in pure anger. Lule ignites his with a sense of calm. Kylo runs at Luke, ready to deliver a killing blow. Luke dodges with no intent of engaging with Kylo directly. After a Kendo-inspired series of attacks from Kylo and doges from Luke, Kylo swings his blade directly through Luke’s body. The red from the sand stains the ground as if to represent Luke’s blood on the ground. The camera pans upward to reveal Luke is still alive. He is still standing. In a final reveal and final trick from his old Master, Kylo sticks his blade directly into Luke, showing he was never physically on Crait. He projected himself across the galaxy to fight his grandson before dying once again below the twin suns just like he was first seen on Tatooine in A New Hope.
Now that I have described these events as they played out on screen, I want to analyze why this is my favorite scene in Star Wars. First, as Luke walks out, Rian Johnson has left a number of clues to indicate that something is questionable about Luke’s presence. He arrives looking the same as he did the last time Kylo ever saw his Master holding his lightsaber over him. Luke is even holding Anakin’s blue lightsaber, the lightsaber both the audience and Kylo had just seen shatter on Snoke’s ship. Lastly, we see Kylo’s movements turn the salt from white to Red while Luke is never shown changing the ground’s appearance. What makes this scene exhilarating, particularly upon first watching, is that Kylo is too angry to notice any of these subtle details and the audience becomes too engrossed in this final clash to notice either, making the reveal all the more surprising. Some critics of this film argue that Luke should have physically been on Crait for the final battle. This is an argument that fundamentally does not understand what Luke did. First of all, we know Rey left with the Falcon and Luke’s X-Wing was submerged underwater. He had no escape from the island. However, let us say theoretically Rian Johnson could have written that Luke flew his X-Wing to Crait. This would have taken away from Luke’s now fully realized character arc within this film. He made the choice to once again follow his own Master’s teachings as a Jedi. He engages his Grandson not for violence and not even for self-defense. He engages in the most passive way he possibly could: by not being there at all. He exposes and exploits Kylo’s anger towards him and, in the end, looks like the hero who was able to stand down the entire First Order. This, as we see at the very end of the film, reignites the spark of hope throughout the galaxy.
As Luke engages with Kylo Ren, the remaining members of the Resistance are left trapped. It is none other than Poe Dameron who completes his own arc in realizing exactly why Luke went out to fight. He realized that Luke was not going out there to win. Luke bought them the time they needed to escape. Upon seeing a species of crystalized fox-like creatures, Poe realizes there must be a series of tunnels they can escape from. Poe becomes the leader the Resistance needs: a leader who understands when to fight and when to retreat in order to fight another day. Leia gives Poe control and he leads the soldiers through the tunnels to what he believes will be the exit but ultimately leads to a pile of rocks with enough space for the fox creatures to squeeze through in order to escape. Poe feels defeated, but Rey still has her tracker to find her way home. Finally, we come to the end of Rey’s character arc. She lifts the rocks with the Force. That is right. She lifts rocks. This feels almost anti-climactic considering everything we saw Rey go through in this film. However, we think back to her original thoughts on the Force to Luke. She tells him she thinks it is something the Jedi use to “control people” or “lift rocks.” Luke responded to her by saying “Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong.” We see throughout this movie that Rey is not too powerful. Rey is not some cheaply written “Mary Sue.” Rey chooses the light while Kylo embraces the dark. Rey saves her friends by lifting rocks because she understands now that the Force is now about more than lifting rocks. It is a balance that flows through all things, living and nonliving. The Force belongs to everyone, but it is what Rey does with her powers that is important. She chooses to leave her training, reject Kylo, and save her friends.
What remains of the Resistance gathers on the Millenium Falcon as it speeds off. Kylo enters the Rebel base to find the Resistance has escaped. On board the Falcon, Rey meets Poe for the first time. Rey reveals she has stolen the Jedi texts from Ach-To, showing that Yoda never actually destroyed the books. He burned the tree they were kept in as inspiration for Luke to find his way and not be hanging onto the Jedi Order’s past as opposed to paving the way for its future. Most importantly, we see one last example of Rey and Kylo’s Force dyad as the two look at each other and Rey closes the door on him, cutting herself off from his influence. The Resistance escapes and yet the movie does not yet end.
We get one final scene of the children enslaved on Canto Bight. The children are gathered around playing with makeshift figures with one telling a story to the rest. They are not speaking English, but the story is evident: the boy is telling his friends the story of how Luke Skywalker stood down the entire First Order and saved the Resistance. But why take the time to show this? The story ended. Well, Rian Johnson is showing the effect Luke’s sacrifice is having on the galaxy. We saw how the galaxy gave up hope and no one came to their aid on Crait. Luke has once again become the mythic hero he was at the end of Return of the Jedi. One last time, his heroics have spread across worlds and given people a new hope. This is an exemplary use of the “show, don’t tell” method. We just as easily could have had a last scene of Leia saying “my brother has reignited hope in the world” and moved on, but instead we got to see how children we saw earlier in the film are reacting to the film’s ending. Lastly, we see the child who told the story get scolded and sent out to clean stables. We see him grab his broom using the Force and watch as the Falcon jumps to lightspeed off in the distance. This leaves one last point of contention to address: who is this boy? What is his relevance to Star Wars? Did Rian Johnson just sign up to write and direct an entire trilogy about this random child? If you find yourself asking any of these questions at the end of watching The Last Jedi then I can only argue that you missed the point of this moment. Here we have a boy using the Force, dreaming of becoming a part of the Resistance. Rian Johnson, for the first time in Star Wars history, opened the possibility of main characters existing outside of the Skywalker lineage. In this one shot of a boy looking to the stars, we see all of Johnson’s themes perfectly wrapped up: a boy with a dream to fight for the right cause who is not a Skywalker but has been inspired by the galaxy-saving deeds of Luke who no longer holds the title of “the last Jedi.”
Many will agree that The Last Jedi is the best looking film in the Star Wars franchise. Many others will also say the music is perfect and that John Williams can do no wrong. However, Rian Johnson did not just craft gorgeous nonsense. He wrote a heartfelt story that examines how we look at the Force and how mythic status affects people we view as heroes and forces the audience to understand their own relationship with Star Wars. He created a story that showed that anyone can be a hero; he showed that heroes are not limited to a single special family. He showed that actions in the Star Wars universe have far-reaching consequences both on the scale of individual characters and the entire galaxy. He made bold choices that upset audiences upon first viewing, but upon further examination reveal a deep love for Star Wars lore, a story that reaches through the prequels and the original trilogy for its story. I did not write a 13 page essay to tell people they are wrong for hating The Last Jedi. People have had legitimate distaste for this film. No one can be forced to like a movie. I wrote this essay to provide an analysis of a film that took me years to love and appreciate as much as I do now. I hope that in reading this you might notice details you missed before and may change your mind. My love for this film cannot be overstated and I hope I may inspire another reader to feel the same way I do in the future.