Our son’s name is Luke. I have a ring I wear at all times with his name on it in his memory after he was stillborn nine months ago. And while there were plenty of Luke’s that could have, and did, inspire our son’s name (including the Biblical Luke as well as Lukes Danes and Kuechly), I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t named after Luke Skywalker. It was such an obvious name choice for me that it was set in my mind long before I ever met my wife, and despite never discussing it my best friend still accurately guessed it before we made the name public. My point in all of this is so that when I say that Luke Skywalker is my favorite character from anything I have ever watched, read, seen, or experienced, you understand the depth of what I mean. I’d pick Luke Skywalker over the countless characters who have meant so much to me, from Atticus Finch to Data, more than Hermione, Neville, and Luna, beyond River Tam or Buffy Summers, past even WALL-E or Casey Newton. Luke Skywalker helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life, through depression and isolation. He taught me about storytelling, sparked my love of movies and fanned the flames of my love of reading. So needless to say I had a lot of fear going into Star Wars: The Last Jedi over how my favorite character and my son’s namesake would be treated and used. Ultimately, directory Rian Johnson made a completely different choice than I would have at every possible turn, and the result was a bold, thrilling, adventure that advanced Star Wars in unexpected ways filled with new depths. But I have many, many thoughts to wrestle out with regards to Luke Skywalker that simply couldn’t be discussed in a spoiler-free review. So read on for a more in-depth SPOILER-FILLED look at not only Luke’s story but other aspects of The Last Jedi worthy of discussion.
Seriously, SPOILERS AHEAD!
I want to start at the end. I told a coworker before going to the movie that if they killed Luke Skywalker I would walk out of the theater. I didn’t walk out, but nor did they exactly kill him. My biggest fear was a repeat of Han Solo’s end (which I actually thought was both fitting and predictable, and which didn’t bother me in the slightest), which would have been entirely the wrong way for Luke’s story to end. Like many fans, I wanted to see a story with Luke as the central hero once more, and I kept hoping for that moment in the second half of the film once Rey had left Luke’s island. Both consciously and unconsciously I kept waiting for Luke to sweep in and save the day, like a Deus ex Machina, and I repeatedly thought “ok, this is it, here it comes.” First it was during the Rey/Snoke/Kylo scenes, then as the shuttles were fleeing to the surface of Crait. Once the Resistance sent their message to their allies I thought for sure Luke would arrive in his X-wing surrounded by his old Rebel allies to drive back the First Order and save Leia. But instead Rey and Chewie and the Porgs were the only backup.
But instead Luke showed up not with a bang but with a whisper, spending a heartfelt moment with Leia before heading out to confront Kylo Ren. I knew something was off right away, thanks to his sudden haircut and the wrong lightsaber clipped to his belt (as a blogging buddy of mine put it), so I figured Luke wasn’t really there. There were other clues of course, from Luke’s lack of footprints to the way he only dodged Kylo’s attacks. Instead, he had astral-projected across the galaxy in order to give the Resistance an opportunity to escape as well as to teach Kylo one last lesson.
It was not what I wanted. I wanted Luke, with his green lightsaber from Return of the Jedi, damn it, defeating Kylo Ren only for the villains to escape at the last moment. I wanted Luke triumphant, the hero pilot of the Rebellion and the last of the Jedi. But as Luke says in the film, “This is not going to go the way you think.” My first instinct on seeing how all of this played out was similar to Mark Hamill’s upon reading the script: “I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character.” But as I watched it I became at peace with The Last Jedi. I’ve been trying to put my finger on just why The Last Jedi worked so well for me when my expectations and even demands were constantly dismissed, subverted, or ignored. And while this goes for the film as a whole, how The Last Jedi handled Luke and my reaction to it is representative to my response to the rest of the film.
The reality is, I could easily be one of those angry white men on the internet, writing petitions calling for The Last Jedi to be stricken from the Star Wars canon. But I’m not. As much as Luke Skywalker means to me personally, I don’t own him, nor do I own Star Wars. No one is under any obligation to make the movie I want. But beyond that, I’m not so arrogant to assume that the vision I had in my head for how Luke’s story should go is either the best or the most meaningful story for the character. Nor is my sense of masculinity so fragile or toxic for me to feel threatened that the supreme white, male hero of Star Wars was “sidelined” or “made a pussy” while women and people of color got bigger, more overtly heroic roles.
But I actually loved Luke’s storyline in The Last Jedi, and I thought it was perfectly in character with what we’d seen from him. Luke was prone to making mistakes, and he knew the dangerous lure of the Dark Side, having surrendered to it in his final battle with Vader before ultimately rejecting the darkness inside himself and tossing his lightsaber aside, ready to die at the Emperor’s hands rather than fight back in anger. It was this decision that ultimately redeemed Anakin, demonstrating that there is a path back from the Dark Side, and in a way it also brought the final balance to the Force. Luke remained the last Jedi, but he was a Jedi who had tasted both sides of the Force and chosen the light. But it’s easy to see how this experience could have colored his point of view, as his brush with the darkness would have left him fearful of the potential darkness in Ben Solo. He knew firsthand how hard it was to turn back from the darkness, and in a moment of weakness he considered killing Ben. It was a fleeting weakness, but it was all Ben needed to react in anger and let the darkness out.
So we’re left with a broken Luke Skywalker, who in his failure has removed himself from the galaxy and closed himself off from the Force. It’s what he thinks is safest for everyone, and he blames himself for Ben’s fall just as Yoda and Obi-Wan blamed themselves for the fall of Anakin and the Republic. The Last Jedi is all about what it really means to be a hero, and Luke’s story fits right into that. He may not be a villain, but his bitterness and withdrawal leave him as a hero in need of redemption. Rey takes him most of the way there, awakening his interest and his connection with the galaxy. R2-D2 reminds him of the necessity of hope, of believing that things can get better if we fight for them, rather than just vowing to do nothing to make them worse. Chewie busts his door down to get his attention. And Yoda gives him the kick in the pants he needs to choose a different path, rather than double down on his condemnation of the Jedi and his desire to end it.
In fact, Yoda’s appearance doubles as a message to Luke and a message to the audience. Luke Skywalker is not the most important man in the universe. As the “Last Jedi”, Luke felt that everything rested on his shoulders. He felt the responsibility to murder Ben, even if only for a moment, in order to save the galaxy. He removed himself from the equation for the same reason, so that he wouldn’t be the cause of any more suffering. He refused to train Rey, despite her already knowing so much, to avoid repeating his mistakes. But Yoda reminds him that we learn from our failures and Luke has one more lesson to learn. He’s not the center of the universe, just one of many pieces. And in fact, his time is coming to an end. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda tells Luke, meaning that Rey, and the others, will take his place. Luke’s death would not be the end of the Jedi, any more than Leia’s will be the end of the Rebellion, because we have new heroes capable of leading the way, making their own mistakes, learning from them and becoming better. Yoda even takes the choice of burning the Jedi books away from Luke, calling down a lightning strike on the tree in order, I believe, to cover Rey’s theft of them. Yoda has seen his generation be replaced by Luke’s and knows that it wasn’t the end, and he’s going to get Luke to that revelation no matter how many times he has to whack him with his cane.
So that brings us back to the finale, with Luke’s final confrontation with Kylo Ren. It’s not at all the showdown I had envisioned, but it’s something more mature and meaningful. Luke uses all of his power to buy the new heroes time to escape, the ultimate Obi-Wan move, while leaving some parting shots and wisdom at his enemy. It brought Luke’s story full circle, while simultaneously advancing that of Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and the rest of the Resistance. It’s a moment that’s badass in how pacifist it is, the ultimate ideal of the Jedi: self-sacrifice for the greater good through peace rather than combat. I’m sure Obi-Wan would be proud.
- A few more random thoughts on Luke before I move on to the rest of the movie. I loved Luke’s sense of humor. I know people have complained about the humor in the film generally but I thought it was great. Luke has always been a bit of a smartass and a bit of a showoff, and so many of his moments fit right into that. I particularly loved Luke tossing his old lightsaber away, and brushing his shoulder off following the First Order assault on his image. I appreciated that Luke got a scene with almost every returning character from the original trilogy (poor C-3PO). The Luke and Leia scene was just heartbreaking in the best possible way, and I loved that the film made it clear that they were finally once again on the same page. I also loved the chemistry between him and R2, a difficult character to write, in their brief scene together. And Luke and Rey played so well off each other, and I particularly loved the way she challenged him at every turn. It was such a reversal from the way he behaved toward Obi-Wan and Yoda. It’s a shifting dynamic that really embodies the current generational shift in our society.
- Moving on to the rest of the film, I want to make it clear that there are legitimate reasons to dislike The Last Jedi if you are so inclined. No one is saying you have to love it or even like it. But the trolls manipulating review scores and creating petitions in order to change the narrative really need to get over themselves. Like Luke Skywalker, they’re not as important to the future of Star Wars as they think they are. There are times when sequels, particularly to older films, disregard defining characteristics of the originals (I’m looking at you, Jurassic World and the new Star Trek movies), but this is not one of those times. There’s an entitlement generally in fandoms that really frustrates me, a demand to only be given the stories that “I” want, without any thought for artistic vision or a message worth telling. But it’s compounded by sexism and racism in a way that is horrifying. You don’t have to scroll very far in threads complaining about The Last Jedi to find people complaining about “SJWs” at Disney who are more interested in pushing feminism and diversity than in honoring the white male heroes that are so important to these jackasses. If you can’t stand the idea of women and people of color taking over your favorite series, then just stop going to the movies. Diversity is not only societally important but it’s the wave of the future and it makes money. My message to those claiming The Last Jedi “ruined” Star Wars is: It’s not about you. None of this is about you. You don’t “deserve” to have the story told your way. You’re perfectly entitled to dislike the movie, and even loudly proclaim that opinion. But you have in no way been wronged by the movie, and no one owes it to you to either listen or to fix it. Get over yourself.
- I love how The Last Jedi challenged the idea of what it means to be a hero, both generally and specifically in how it relates to heroes in the Star Wars universe. It’s a big deal from a storytelling standpoint that all of our heroes are allowed to fail at the things they set out to do. Rey fails to recruit Luke and fails to turn Kylo Ren to the light. Rose and Finn’s excursion to Canto Bight is a disaster that ends with them captured by the First Order. The Resistance fails to escape and to call for reinforcements. Every plan of Poe’s fails. But these characters are all allowed to learn from their failure and come out stronger on the other side. Poe, in particular, has to learn what it means to be a leader and to get his head out of his cockpit. Poe’s story in particular is almost a commentary on the heroes of the original trilogy, with Han, Luke, and Leia often flying by the seat of their pants and jumping in without thinking. Leia makes it clear that for the Resistance to survive it needs more than just dead heroes who struck an exciting but otherwise meaningless blow against the First Order. Blowing stuff up isn’t going to cut it, they’ll need Poe to learn that retreat is sometimes the better option and that there’s more to winning a war than winning battles, and that sacrifices are only worthwhile if they advance or protect the cause.
- Watching it a second time, I really appreciated how Rian Johnson not only wiped the slate clean for future movies in many ways, but he did it in ways that felt natural and tied to the characters. Luke is killed off, but he dies in a way that not only allows Rey to become the new “Last Jedi”, but which actually propels her story forward now that she has a legacy to carry. It actively downplays the past, and while Kylo Ren may tell Rey to “let the past die, kill it if you have to” as a way to try to recruit her, it’s a phrase that is eventually freeing for her. And for the audience it’s a message to stop worrying about how things tie together and what’s come before. Rey’s parents don’t have to be someone we recognize in order for Rey to be important. The Rebellion can carry on without Luke, Leia, and Han when it has Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose. And it ultimately doesn’t matter who Snoke is because his backstory wouldn’t affect the story we’re watching. Let go of the Expanded Universe, let go of looking for links to the original trilogy or the prequels, Star Wars is more than just ties to the familiar. It’s so well set up that when Luke tells Kylo Ren that “The Rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi,” it’s equally a message to the audience that Star Wars will survive and even thrive without all of those things that you think define it. It’s in good hands and it’s just getting started. It’s a message I was more prepared to hear the second time around.
- There’s a fair amount of politics in The Last Jedi, though it’s all fairly general and easy to ignore if you’re so inclined. It’s sad that actively working towards diversity is considered a political statement, but given the reactions by some “fans” it clearly is. The Resistance is filled with women and people of color, fighting back against the white, male (though not exclusively so) First Order. But when you add in the state of the US these days, everything takes on another layer of political context. Even the term “The Resistance” has been adopted by those opposing the current administration. The message of “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” is a strong message that there has to be more to any movement than just opposition to another movement. We must fight for something better, for things and people we love and believe in. Rose’s story is the most political in the film, with plenty of commentary calling attention to the people, animals, and resources exploited by many who are normally looked upon as wealthy and successful, as well as those looking to make a profit out of conflicts, no matter who gets hurt in the process.
- I love that the Resistance/Rebellion is still defined by strong women. Leia was the face of the Rebellion in the original trilogy, with Mon Mothma another strong presence in Return of the Jedi, even as the military leaders were mostly men. Amidala was in many ways the founder of the Rebellion in the prequels, seeing what had happened to the Republic and working to inspire others to resist. Mon Mothma and Jyn were the leaders of Rogue One, and of course The Force Awakens had General Leia. In The Last Jedi the General is still in charge, but when she’s sidelined her replacement is Vice-Admiral Holdo, who I loved and who is more than capable. I also appreciate how many pilots and those on the bridge of the cruiser were women, including Leia’s assistant/second in command and Lieutenant Connix, played by Carrie Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd. I hope Connix gets to continue to have more screen time, alongside a new generation of Rebel women including Rey and Rose. I’m sure Poe will grow to be more of a leader in the next film, especially after Carrie Fisher’s passing, but I hope he continues to be surrounded by strong Rebel women.
- Ok, enough discussion of themes, because I’ve written too much already. Time to hit some specific plot points and developments in the film, as well as some general observations. I’ll start with porgs: loved them. They’re adorable, and I especially enjoy how much they annoy Chewie and I love the thought of the Falcon being perpetually infested by them for as long as it continues to appear in Star Wars movies.
- I thought the battles were much more exciting in The Last Jedi than those in The Force Awakens. Poe’s assault on the Dreadnought was thrillingly filmed, and the bombing run was straight out of a WWII documentary. The Crait battle was visually striking, with the red salt plumes, and the Falcon’s flight through the caverns felt very reminiscent of the Death Star II battle.
- I loved Poe messing with Hux as a stalling tactic, faking communication difficulties. It was absolutely something Han would have done (and did do on the first Death Star), and I appreciated how Hux was turned into a bit of a punchline in this film. He was so blatantly Hitlerish in TFA, and it was nice to see him brought down a peg this time around. I’m fine with the First Order being powerful and dangerous, but also filled with whiny, mediocre, white men who will inevitably fail in the end and discover they’re not as important as they think they are. (And I say this as a whiny, mediocre, white man, myself.)
- I appreciated the fakeout over Leia’s death. I didn’t really think that would be the end, but I wasn’t expecting her to pull herself back to the ship with the Force. I thought it was a great moment, fittingly badass for Carrie Fisher’s final outing, and even a slight nod to the EU where Leia had some Force abilities. As for Carrie Fisher’s death, I can only imagine the next film will jump forward a bit in time and we’ll discover that Leia nobly sacrificed herself in some way to ensure the survival of the Resistance. Honestly, Holdo’s death would have been a great way for Leia to go out.
- Holdo’s heroic blaze of glory was simply stunning. There were many audible gasps as the audio cut out and Holdo’s cruiser cut through the First Order ships in both showings.
- As much as I loved Rose’s arc, and how she worked with Finn, the Canto Bight sequences dragged on a bit. I wasn’t overly fond of Benicio Del Toro’s character, though I appreciate that we got a genuinely profit-motivated criminal, which is a change from the Hans and Landos of the Star Wars universe. I just felt like the sequence of get arrested for illegal parking, escape from prison, free the alien horses, be rescued by DJ could have been handled a little more smoothly. Even Maz being a badass soldier, while fun, just didn’t flow as well as I would have liked. But I wouldn’t trade Rose teaching Finn about the real nature of the galaxy for anything. Especially since that sequence led to…
- The final scene, which was just wonderful. It was acknowledgement of how ingrained in our culture the legends of Star Wars have become, and how they’re a symbol of hope for so many. I love the idea that Luke’s sacrifice, which bought time to allow Rey and the Resistance to fight on, has become a mythic showdown just like the one he predicted would never happen, inspiring a future generation of Rebels and Jedi ready to take on the galaxy.
- Also loved: the Lanais, the caretakers of the first Jedi Temple, who must really hate Rey.
- I enjoyed seeing Finn (seemingly) put an end to Captain Phasma, more for the growth of Finn as a character than for the showdown itself (although I still giggle at Finn calling Phasma “Chrome Dome”). The fight itself was well-filmed, and it was nice to see Finn finally get a victory in battle, but the real impact was Finn finally owning up to being “Rebel Scum”. Finn left the First Order and saved Poe out of self-preservation after realizing he didn’t have the stomach for the First Order’s brutality. He then connected with Rey and then helped bring down Starkiller Base, but that was only because he cared for her. His actions throughout The Last Jedi to this point have all been about Rey, also. He tries to flee in an escape pod because he wants to lead her away from the death trap they’re caught in once she returns from finding Luke. When Rose stops him he hatches a new plan to help the Resistance escape, but again it’s only because he’s worried about Rey. In fighting Phasma, however, he finally commits to the Rebellion and the cause. Of course, his motivation at this point is mostly just to bring the First Order down. But when Rose saves him at the film’s end and delivers her message about fighting for love rather than out of hate, I expect/hope that that will have a big impact on his devotion to the Rebellion going forward. Now he can finally be a believer.
- On a related note, I want everyone to hug me the way Rey and Finn hugged each other when they were finally reunited.
- I will say that while I was as thrilled as many others were to see Yoda again, I can’t help but laugh at the people cheering for the return of the Yoda puppet. I remember when The Phantom Menace came out and everyone hated the Yoda puppet. Admittedly, it looked different, as they tried to de-age him a bit, but still people generally remarked that the CG Yoda was an improvement in Attack of the Clones. It wasn’t until later that the CG backlash started to include CG Yoda, seemingly forgetting the TPM puppet. Of course, the puppet in TPM was CG’d over eventually for the DVDs and TV airings, so perhaps many have forgotten that entirely. I love puppet Yoda, and I love Frank Oz as a performer, so the puppet version in The Last Jedi was a big win to me. But CG Yoda gave us a wonderfully expressive shot from the beginning of this scene, so I’ll never hate it.
- I feel like we all knew Rey would have some kind of Force vision in the cave, just like Luke did in Empire Strikes Back. I thought it was more subtle than Luke’s, and I really enjoyed the visuals. It worked well into the theme of Rey searching for meaning and purpose to define who she is. It was meant to scare her, I believe, to show that she’s alone without parents to come to her rescue or Luke to be the teacher she wants. It ties in with Kylo Ren’s pitch to her that he can give her a place because otherwise she is a nobody. But I think it might actually be empowering for Rey in the long run, as the vision shows that she isn’t dependent on anyone else for meaning in her life, that she is free to create her own and be whoever she chooses to be.
- Speaking of Rey’s parents, I appreciate that The Last Jedi didn’t even attempt to give a certain section of the fandom the answers they wanted regarding some of the mysteries that were set up in The Force Awakens. Sorry to circle back around to this, but it’s one of the loudest complaints online. It doesn’t bother me one bit that Snoke didn’t get some complicated backstory. It would not have added to the journeys of our heroes, and would in fact have been pretty meaningless to them. It would only have been there to appease the audience, and the audience is not actually a part of the story. A similar out was taken with Rey’s parents, although that fit into the story on a more thematic level. But most movies would not be made better by a long scene of exposition explaining where everyone came from, how they tie into things you’re already familiar with, and answers to all of the riddles. The average moviegoer would only be bored by that, and if you’re a fan who needs scenes like that then I suggest you reexamine why you care so much about Star Wars in the first place. I admit that J.J. Abrams is great at setting up mysteries. He did it marvelously with Lost, and even helped sell Cloverfield on its mysterious first trailer. (Then there’s the whole Star Trek Into Darkness fakeout attempt, but I don’t want to spend any more time on that horrible movie.) But even Abrams knows that sometimes the excitement of a mystery is more important than the payoff. Mission: Impossible III, which he wrote and directed, never explains what the MacGuffin actually does, and Lost was far more interested in telling the stories of the characters than in explaining its mysteries. I know we live in a “search every trailer for clues, find spoilers, and solve every puzzle” age, but The Last Jedi loudly declares that the appeal of Star Wars to most of those who love it has never been about, and will never be about, obsessive fans working everything out in advance. Story is more important than clues and puzzles. Remember all of the debate about how C-3PO got a red arm before TFA? It was never explained, it never really mattered, and it would have only slowed things down to give an answer. Theorizing can be great fun, but it should serve mostly as a way to fill the time until a movie comes out, rather than as a way to convince yourself you know everything before it happens. You can’t ever win that way, and it’s likely to lead to disappointment in the end.
- The Rey/Kylo Ren lightsaber fight was pretty epic, and I know it’s one that many people longed to see. I thought the fighting style really helped it stand out, as did the costume and set designs. I know some people are ranking it as their favorite lightsaber fight ever, but it would probably be somewhere in the middle for me, behind battles from both the original trilogy and the prequels. Still, it was pretty badass, and a great moment of both storytelling and fanservice.
- I was so thrilled by the Kylo Ren redemption fakeout. I was pretty disheartened to think that Kylo Ren would get a redemption story so quickly, and worried that they were setting him and Rey up as some potential romantic pairing where he would turn her a bit dark and she would turn him a bit light. So I could not have been happier that all of his opening up to Rey turned out to be manipulation in order to get her help to gain power and rule together. And I’m even more happy that Rey shot him down. I want Rey to be capable of forgiving Kylo Ren because forgiveness should be a part of the Jedi way, and I don’t have a problem with the eventual redemption of Kylo Ren should it happen one day. But I’m glad they didn’t take the easy, predictable way out. Kylo Ren revealed his true colors, Rey learned not to be too trusting and naïve, and they parted ways still as enemies. Both are looking to find their place in the galaxy, but the choices they’ve made are now clear. Rey has literally closed the door on Kylo’s ambition, and even when their connection continues as the Force seeks balance she’s made her decision to choose the light. Kylo Ren tried everything he could to break her, telling her that her parents were no one in the hopes that she might choose him as a way to fill her emptiness, but it failed. (I also am not 100% sold on her parents being no one, because he could have been either lying or mistaken, but I’m perfectly fine if it’s the truth.) The battle lines have been drawn, sides have been chosen, things will have to play out from here.
- I appreciated the destruction of Anakin’s/Luke’s lightsaber. It was a great symbolic moment, with Kylo Ren and Rey fighting over the Skywalker legacy only for it to lead to the end of this last piece that father and son shared. It works so well with the messages of the movie I’ve delved into above, but like many things it’s not completely finished. I’m glad Rey ended up with the pieces, and I hope she can use them to build her own lightsaber. I’ve seen theories that she’ll work the pieces into her staff, and I’d be ok with that, but I whatever happens to them I hope she gets to put her own stamp on things. I don’t want the lightsaber to be repaired and return just as it used to be, I want her to take the pieces and build something new, something that has some familiarity to it and maintains the legacy but which takes things in a fresh direction with its own unique interpretation…. Just as long as whatever lightsaber she ends up with isn’t all sparky like Kylo Ren’s. One of those is enough.