The Force Awakens closes with a spine-tingling moment: Rey handing the mythic lightsaber back to its original owner, Luke Skywalker. The Last Jedi picks up where Force Awakens ends, then tosses it all behind.
After taking the lightsaber from Rey, Luke gazes at his old weapon for a few precious moments. This is the legacy character I was most excited to see back on the big screen. This is the legendary hero who will restore the Jedi order.
Luke throws the lightsaber over his shoulder, epitomizing what this movie will do for the next two and a half hours — subvert every expectation I had for a 40-year old franchise. Luke Skywalker becomes the “wise teacher” for Rey? Not happening. The reveal of Rey’s parents? Not important. Luke himself warns Rey:
This is not going to go the way you think.– Luke Skywalker
The statement might as well be directed at the audience. Despite seeing the lightsaber toss and hearing Luke’s words, my mind struggled to catch up with the reality playing on the screen.
If Force Awakens was a Star Wars love letter invoking nostalgia ad nauseam, then Last Jedi is an X-wing blasting to the opposite end of the galaxy at light speed. The Last Jedi doesn’t content itself with thrusting Star Wars into a new direction; it deconstructs the wonder, the myth, the legends.
And that’s a good thing.
Ski speeders rip through Crait’s white crust of salt to reveal ruby mineral plumes. Vice Admiral Holdo turns the Resistance cruiser into a weapon, destroying Snoke’s flagship in complete silence. Kylo and Rey work together in a beautifully choreographed lightsaber fight against Snoke’s guards while a red curtain burns down behind them. The Last Jedi is both delightfully wacky and jaw-dropping gorgeous.
Not everyone agrees, and that’s okay.
The Last Jedi might be the most divisive science fiction film of all time. Some reviewers want more Snoke; others want less Canto Bight. Instead of arguing why some scenes fell flat or defending why they worked, I want to step back and zoom out. All the way out to the director and writer, Rian Johnson.
No one asked Rian Johnson to take the creative risks he did with the most beloved series in the world. But he did. Rian could have created a crowd-pleaser or bent to fan service. But he doesn’t. Instead, he takes characters to the breaking point. He turns well-worn plots inside out. He breaks out of the what-could-have-been cyclical storyline and breathes new life into it.
In short, Rian creates a subversive story no one expected, much less could have predicted. And when he makes those bold changes, he holds our hand through every step of the way, whether it’s a Jedi tree burning down or Luke’s lightsaber being torn in two.
As Kylo Ren tells Rey:
Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.– Kylo Ren
In one sense, Kylo is right. For Star Wars to stay exciting and fresh for a new generation, it can’t repeat the same storylines over and over again. And for someone who is lovingly obsessed with this galaxy far, far away, Rian understands this.
Rian made the Star Wars movie he wanted to see, putting his fingerprints on every scene. While watching The Last Jedi, it’s clear how personal this film is. Maybe Episode XIII resonated with you, maybe it didn’t. But without a doubt, Rian had a blast.
Rian’s contagious joy makes me want to craft my own bold stories in strange places, not afraid of what others think. In the end, this is the truest form of storytelling. And it’s why The Last Jedi finally won me over.