WARNING: The following article features Last Jedi spoilers.
It’s fair to say The Last Jedi has been a divisive movie, with the film so splitting audiences and critics that it feels like there’s been a real-life star war raging on social media for the last few days. And much of that disagreement has revolved around the direction in which writer-director Rian Johnson has decided to take the franchise.
Some have loved the way the film changes things up, deviating from decisions made on The Force Awakens to create something that feels fresh and original. Others have disliked the strange shifts in tone, and the way The Last Jedi fails to properly pay-off many of the set-ups from its predecessor.
But as Luke says to Rey during the movie, “This was never going to go the way you think.”
Rian Johnson Was Given Total Freedom
“They not only allowed [me] to make the movie I wanted to make, I was actively encouraged to find what was personal in it and go after that.”
So Johnson tells Deadline, and while you always take that kind of statement with a pinch of salt when it comes to the big studio pictures, that does seem to be the case here. And it’s best illustrated by a couple of scenes early in proceedings.
First, the opening gag which finds Poe messing with Hux over an intercom. It’s funny. It’s silly. And if audiences were expecting the serious tone of another second instalment — The Empire Strikes Back — from the off, it nicely confounds that expectation.
Then there’s the pay-off to the cliffhanger J.J. Abrams set-up at the end of The Force Awakens. Rey travels all the way to the distant island of Ahch-To to confront Luke Skywalker, and to hand him his lightsaber. And that’s where the movie ends.
The Last Jedi revisits this sequence, but rather than Luke refusing the weapon via a powerful speech about his time as a Jedi being over. Or accepting the saber via a powerful speech explaining why he must right the wrongs of his past, he takes it, then casually throws the weapon over his shoulder and off the cliff. Like something out of Monty Python or the Marx Brothers.
In turn, throwing a curveball at the audience, and again letting us know that this one most definitely isn’t going to go the way we thought.
This Trilogy Doesn’t Have an Overarching Outline
J.J. Abrams set up a bunch of mysteries in The Force Awakens. Questions that demanded answers, and which fans have been speculating over ever since. The identity of Rey’s parents is probably the big one. But there’s also Snoke, the villain we learn very little about. And the fabled ‘Knights of Ren,’ of whom we know even less.
But according to Johnson, there was no overarching plan regarding the film’s focus and storyline. As the writer-director explained to Deadline: “I was truly able to write this script without bases to tag and without a big outline on the wall. That meant I could react to what I felt from The Force Awakens, and what I wanted to see.”
If Abrams was setting up Snoke as the big bad of this trilogy, the character doesn’t seem to interest Johnson, and so we discover little more about him before he’s bumped off.
Similarly, while the Knights of Ren do get a mention, they barely play into the narrative, and don’t look like they will going forward.
As for Rey’s parents, fans had been wondering if Rey is Luke’s daughter. Or Snoke’s. Or Palpatine’s. Or Ezra Bridger‘s. Or a Kenobi. But all these theories were incorrect.
The Complicated Matter of Rey’s Parents
During The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren reveals that Rey’s parents were nobodies. Nothings. Filthy junk traders who sold her off for drinking money.
Johnson described this surprise decision to EW as follows: “The easiest thing for Rey and the audience to hear is, ‘Oh yeah, you’re so-and-so’s daughter.’ That would be wish fulfilment and instantly hand her a place in this story on a silver platter.
“The hardest thing for her is to hear she’s not going to get that easy answer. Not only that, but Kylo is going to use the fact that you don’t get that answer to try and weaken you so you have to lean on him. You’re going to have to find the strength to stand on your own two feet and define yourself in this story.”
Which makes sense for the story that Johnson is telling, though again may not tally with what J.J. Abrams was doing in The Force Awakens. But wait, there’s more.
Kylo Ren is a master manipulator desperate to turn Rey to the Dark Side. So could he be lying to Rey to bend her to his will? Johnson says that isn’t happening in his version, telling EW: “In that moment, Kylo believes it’s the truth. I don’t think he’s purely playing chess. I think that’s what he saw when they touched fingers and that’s what he believes. And when he tells her that in that moment, she believes it.”
But he also said that J.J. Abrams could view it differently for Episode IX, stating: “I can’t speak to what they’re going to do. And there’s always, in these movies, a question of ‘a certain point of view.'”
All of which means that while The Last Jedi might not have gone the way any of us thought, with the trilogy playing this fast and loose with framework and structure, that may yet change as the series progresses on into Episode IX.
The Last Jedi is currently playing in cinemas.