Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the most unconventional mainline Star Wars film to date, thanks largely to the fact that Disney handed the reins to Rian Johnson, a talented director with a specific penchant for twisting convention (just look to his first film, Brick, as an example of how Johnson approaches a genre piece). Even with the largest entertainment franchise in the world and one of the most protective corporate bosses to answer to, Johnson fills The Last Jedi with surprises, whether it’s a small action here or there, or a dramatic departure from Star Wars‘ traditional storytelling.
That tension of being snuggled up in a blanket of nostalgia while Johnson tugs and snips away at familiar threads is what will separate The Last Jedi from the rest of the series, and what’ll probably spark a lot of commentary – both positive and negative – from fans. Some of those unexpected swerves led to moments in the theater where our mind started spinning just trying to figure out how we felt about what was happening on screen. These are 5 different times that Star Wars: The Last Jedi made us second guess our gut reaction and search our feelings.
1. Luke Milking an Alien
This one is incredibly minor, but it was an emotional journey of its own. In the first act, Rey follows Luke around his isolated island on the planet Ahch-To, trying to convince him to join the rebellion. In a short sequence, Rey tags along as Luke completes his daily routine, walking the craggy shoreline, spearfishing and otherwise being a grumpy old hermit. The sequence ends with Luke finding a group of bipedal, manatee-like animals, and then professional filmmaker Rian Johnson deliberately holds the camera on one alien’s nipples (a sight to behold on an IMAX screen). For possibly one full second at least.
The movie by this point has had a few silly moments so we figure “sure, Star Wars loves being playful with their creatures, I’ll allow it,” but before we’ve fully accepted the situation, the camera cuts to a serious close-up of Luke milking the creature and guzzling down its milk. Why? Explain this to me, Rian. This film has thousands of moving parts, why are we getting so intimate with Luke’s milk fetish? That’s a practical effect! That means that on multiple takes, someone had to refill those udders. How many man-hours went into designing and crafting prosthetic nipples, Rian?
It took us until a few seconds after the end of the scene to register what Johnson’s doing: From Rey’s perspective, Luke is just some looney old coot, like Yoda first was to Luke a long time ago on Dagobah. It’s beautiful. Disgusting and beautiful. And after learning about Luke’s downfall later in the movie, this is the Luke we wish we still had; an eccentric, goofy old crazy person with milk running down his beard.
2. Leia’s Space Jesus
Leia is in many ways the emotional core of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Han is gone, and Luke has cut himself off from his past. But Leia is still fighting, still leading the Rebellion. Carrie Fisher’s memory is all too present in the new trilogy, and The Last Jedi treats her with a touching, powerful reverence. With Fisher having passed away, we knew that Leia would probably get written out of the story in this one, so when the bridge of Leia’s rebel cruiser is blasted away early in The Last Jedi we thought it was a gut punch, but a necessary and well-written way to do it: Kylo Ren, who couldn’t will himself away from killing his father, hesitates just a second too long from pulling the trigger for his mother, but he’s helpless to stop his copilots from taking the shot and can only watch in a daze as it all unfolds.
We resolved not to draw attention to the tears in our eyes and steeled ourselves for the next scene. But for some reason, Johnson cuts back to Leia’s body floating in space. A tasteless abuse of Fisher’s likeness, we thought. Our anger flared up quickly, and then… Johnson pushes in closer and Leia’s still alive. Our reaction evolves into something else entirely as General Organa floats back onto the ship. While Poe and the gang rush Leia to a medical bay, we realize this is probably one of the biggest shows of force power in the mainline Star Wars series, and frankly, we love that.
The Last Jedi is a movie about people faced with the notion of losing their faith. The rebels lose in scene after scene, and all of our heroes seem to question pushing forward one after another as the opposition looms greater and greater overhead. But Leia is the personification of the rebellion, of hope itself, and something as fleeting as mortality can’t kill hope.
When Luke’s unforgivable mistake is revealed, he melodramatically moves to burn down an old tree housing the last remaining Jedi texts. It’s disappointing: We wanted to see a grizzled Luke Skywalker weathered by time and wisdom, not the same whiny kid from Tatooine sporting a beard. But Luke hesitates, and a familiar green creature appears and burns it all down anyway.
Yoda’s appearance in The Last Jedi is startling. One of the few times that CGI betrays the movie, the first few shots of Yoda as a Force Ghost are not pleasant to look at, and he shows up at a time where the story’s already started rolling. This is not the time to start introducing more old friends to the story, Rian. And it’s definitely not the time for comic relief.
But there’s a beautiful seamless moment where Yoda’s CGI ghost transitions into practical puppet work, and it’s around this time that we notice Frank Oz is very specifically evoking Old Yoda’s voice, rather than the Yoda we heard in Episodes I – III. In fact, nothing about this Yoda is the springy lightsaber-ready councilor from the prequels. This is the enigmatic Yoda Luke trained with decades prior. And of course it is – Luke didn’t know the Yoda who met Anakin Skywalker.
So why shove Yoda into this movie that arguably already features too many characters? Well, Luke has clearly spent the latter part of his life wracked by the realization that the Jedi aren’t the legendary heroes we all thought they were. It’s a discovery that rocked Luke to his core. And then Yoda appears and destroys their legacy, almost on a whim. In classic fashion, Yoda’s meditative attitude throws Luke’s fixation into stark relief: Here’s a guy who talks a big game to Rey about ending the Jedi, but when push comes to shove, he can’t follow through.
So Yoda calls his bluff: It’s done. Just let it go. It’s as much a message to fans as it is to Luke. Let the Jedi end. And just like that Luke’s exile, his decades of moping, all sorted out. The same person that welcomed Luke into the Jedi Order also effortlessly snuffed it out. And once Luke is no long holding onto that burden, two old friends are able to sit and calmly watch the history of the Jedi burn. It’s our favorite scene in the movie.
4. Kylo Ren’s Plan to Toss Away the Whole System
First of all, nobody could have guessed Snoke would die before making it to Episode IX, so that was surprise number one. But once it was evident Snoke wasn’t getting put back together Humpty Dumpty-style, we started wondering what Kylo Ren was up to. We were certain he wasn’t going to turn all rainbows and unicorns and join the Rebellion, but we aren’t going to lie either, we wanted it to happen all the same. We figured Ren would find some way to betray Rey, likely taking up the mantle of Sith Lord or beginning a campaign to kill all the Jedi, something like that. What we never expected was Ren to reveal he wants nothing to do with the Empire at all: He wants to dismantle the whole cycle of war entirely, do away with the Empire, the Rebellion, the Sith, Jedi, all of it. And when he asks Rey to join him we were caught off guard – It actually sounds like a great idea. So why aren’t we disappointed when Rey turns him down? Who’s the hero in this thing anyway? What are we all doing here, Rian?!
This is obviously one of the most important scenes in the movie so it should be a focus of our attention, but in a sentence, Kylo Ren challenges the entire Star Wars saga. What happens if the guy in charge of one side of a battle between Side A and Side B takes a hard left turn and invents Option C? The most widespread, highest-grossing, crowd-pleasing piece of pop culture isn’t supposed to make us ask these questions, Rian.
By the end of The Last Jedi Kylo Ren is acting as the new Supreme Leader, but that seems to be a temporary means to an end for him. This scene on its own completely shattered the neo-Return of the Jedi storyline we safely predicted we’d be seeing in 2019. Those expectations for Episode IX are in a dumpster somewhere now while we figure out who or what Ben Solo will be by the end of this trilogy, and that is an exciting mystery.
5. Luke Surviving an Onslaught of Laser Fire
Star Wars doesn’t always play by its own loose set of rules, but there are some general things about the force that we’ve come to understand, and the broadest one is that it doesn’t make you invincible. In the final battle, Luke confronts Kylo Ren and a frontline of AT-ATs single-handedly. We immediately understand that it will be a parallel to Obi Wan’s sacrifice in A New Hope: Luke will draw Kylo Ren down for a duel and sacrifice himself, letting Ren turn him into a pile of rags. How appropriate, we thought. But the AT-ATs unleash a barrage of heavy fire onto Luke, and when the smoke clears, he’s untouched.
This movie has spent two hours teaching us that no one is infallible and even heroes are mortal. Doesn’t this betray the entire theme? Explain yourself, Rian! But then again, this is Star Wars, it’s a fun story about space wizards. Maybe we’re reading too much into it. Okay, sorry Rian. Proceed.
Then, Luke does draw Kylo Ren down for a duel, and it seems to be going exactly how we thought. So why bother with the flashy laser blast moment? Luke delivers the classic line and prepares to be struck down… and Ren’s lightsaber passes right through him. Okay, now that’s just insulting, Rian. So now he’s God? He’s totally unkillab– Oh, he’s been a force projection this whole time. And Luke is still on Ahch-To.
…Huh. So that’s why he’s impossibly de-aged and somehow managed to find a new lightsaber? I see. Looks like he’s used the last of his energy to do this very cool, never-before-seen force technique. And I guess surviving that laser blast was a tip that something was up.
Oh and now he’s seeing a twin sunset for the last time after finding his purpose again, okay thank you Rian, I’m crying now.
We’re pretty sure this is going to be the most controversial part of The Last Jedi for fans. Admittedly, there’s some deus ex machina at play considering Luke pulled out some brand new magic in order to ‘defeat’ Kylo Ren. We could argue that it’s Johnson’s hint that maybe Jedi are more special than The Last Jedi suggests after all, but that won’t be satisfactory to some. We’re comfortable with the simple answer that it was a beautiful moment and a heartfelt send-off for one of pop culture’s most well-known heroes. Over time, the details probably won’t hold much significance.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a treasure of a movie. When the five new films were announced, we expected all the creativity and surprise to come from Rogue One and Solo, the two side stories, while the main trilogy would maintain a steady traditional pace. And Rogue One certainly made good on that prediction, but here comes Episode VIII with something just as daring and unexpected. We’re hopeful that Rian Johnson’s achievement with The Last Jedi will encourage mega-production companies like Disney to entrust more of their major properties to directors with a special vision.