Rose Tico once said that we’re going to win not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love. That wisdom is pertinent for Star Wars fans; amidst seemingly incessant criticism, I want to spend time actually liking Star Wars. I love all Star Wars, so in this series, I’ll walk through each of the films identifying five things I love about it. That’s not to say there are only five, but I’m limiting myself to five here. One note: because I think John Williams’ work on every Star Wars film is fantastic, I’m going to essentially assume that would make every list, thus I’m leaving it out intentionally. But without Williams’ music, we don’t have Star Wars as we know and love it.
We continue today with the movie that is my personal favorite in a franchise full of them, The Last Jedi.
1. Everything about Luke Skywalker’s arc
My favorite thing about The Last Jedi is the very thing that some people most disliked. I get that. But it is my opinion that this film’s treatment of Luke Skywalker is one of the best things to ever happen to the Star Wars franchise, and I’ll attempt to explain why I think it works so well.
When we first meet Luke Skywalker, he is in self-imposed exile on Ahch-To, having cut himself off from the Force. When Rey learns of this she responds, “of course you have,” and that should be the audience’s response too: “Of course he has!” That was really the only option. As I explained in my post on things I loved about The Force Awakens, for Luke to have sensed Han’s impending danger and not rushed to save him would have been far more out of character for the Luke we knew in The Empire Strikes Back. So the only possible explanation was that Luke had cut himself off from the Force – but why? We come to learn that it’s because of his conviction that the best thing for the galaxy is for the Jedi to die. We quickly realize that he thinks he’s doing the noble and heroic thing. He’s seen the failures of the Jedi, and he’s not wrong. After all, the prequels were in many ways movies about the Jedi’s failures. They had become such legends, and yet even as their ability to use the Force decreased, they refused to let anyone know for fear of being found out. In arrogance they held too rigidly to their traditions and ways, in the process missing the compassion needed to help those most in need of it – like Anakin Skywalker (or also Ahsoka Tano). Luke knew all of this, and he was right: it was a Jedi who was responsible for the training and creation of Darth Vader! But Luke was the last Jedi, the last hope of the Order, and Yoda’s dying wish was that Luke would pass on what he had learned. Luke eventually got around to doing just that, training his nephew, Ben Solo. By this point, Luke had fully bought into the legend of Luke Skywalker, the legend of the Jedi, and thought he was strong enough to stop the rising darkness in Ben. In other words: Luke had stumbled into some of the same errors as his predecessors. And he concluded that the whole thing needed to go.
Remember, Luke isn’t saying that the Force itself is evil and needs to go. In fact, Luke has a far better and more nuanced view of the Force than most of the Jedi we’ve met before, because Luke realizes that the Force isn’t just for the Jedi. He’s absolutely right when he says that “to say that if the Jedi die the light dies is vanity.” The Jedi don’t have a monopoly on the Force; it flows through all living beings. Luke is right there, and he’s right about the failures of the Jedi. But where he’s wrong is in thinking that the solution is to let the Jedi die.
For Luke, the failure has become much more personal, because he failed Ben Solo. But again, of course he did, because he actually was acting exactly as he always had! Luke attributes it to his hubris, and he’s right. Think about Luke’s life. In Empire, he sensed the impending death of his friends, so he rushed in to prevent this fate from happening. And he did. In Return of the Jedi, Luke thought that if he went to his father, then Anakin Skywalker would return. And he did. And, while less of Luke’s perspective is known here, it seems that the same thing happened in The Mandalorian: Luke sensed Grogu in danger, and rushed in to save the day. And he did. In other words, Luke Skywalker has always been able to sense what’s coming, and he’s always been able to stop devastating results from happening. So when he walks into Ben Solo’s hut that fateful night and senses the total destruction and pain that Ben would bring, Luke’s gut impulse is that he can fix it and keep it from happening – because he always has before! So in a moment’s instinct, Luke draws his lightsaber and stands above his nephew, contemplating taking his life to save so many others. This too is in character for the Jedi we’ve always known, and in fact this shot in the film is intentionally styled after the moment from Return when Luke stands above Vader, lightsaber ignited, contemplating for a brief moment whether to end his life. In both cases, Luke quickly chose the honorable thing. Luke arrogantly thinks that he’s strong enough to prevent the future he senses from happening. He always has before.
Only this time, he fails. He’s actually the impetus behind Ben’s decisive fall to darkness. It’s not just that Luke failed in this one moment; it’s that everything Luke thought he was and could be collapsed around him. The great Obi-Wan Kenobi hadn’t stopped Anakin Skywalker from falling to the dark side. The great Luke Skywalker hadn’t stopped Ben Solo from falling to the dark side. And in both cases – at least in Luke’s mind – it was the master who was responsible. So why bother any further? Luke had bought into the legend, but no longer. He was through with it. He was disillusioned no more. I love the deleted scene where Rey angrily tells him, “That legend of Luke Skywalker that you hate so much, I believed in it.” That’s exactly where Luke is at: he has come to resent the very legend that gives every other hero in the film hope. The spark of hope that the Resistance needs – one could say the very spark that keeps them alive – is the legend that Luke Skywalker hates. He thinks he’s in the right, but he’s misguided.
So over the course of the film, there are a number of encounters that help draw him back to believing in the legend. (1) First, he discovers that Han Solo is dead. He, of course, didn’t sense this, and it hits him hard. There are very real consequences to what he’s done. (2) Second, he has a bit of a nostalgia trip with R2-D2 aboard the Millennium Falcon. In a beautiful moment, Luke reconnects with his old friend, and R2 plays Leia’s old message. This is the spur that Luke needed to actually begin training Rey. He hasn’t fully come around, but he’s willing to train her – if only to show her why the Jedi need to end. (3) Third, after Luke opens up about his failures, Rey tells him that he didn’t fail Kylo, but Kylo failed him. She will later come to say otherwise, but in this moment, she seems to strike a cord with him. (4) Fourth, Luke finally reconnects himself to the Force – a massively significant moment – and connects with Leia. This is actually the moment where he initially decides to leave the island (according to reference material that fills in gaps), and he rushes to find Rey – only to discover her communing with Ben. Afraid of repeating his failures, Luke orders her to leave and refuses to go with her. (5) And so fifth, and most decisively, he talks once again with Master Yoda – and the wise Jedi teaches Luke some important lessons (more on that in a bit). What Luke comes to learn in this film is that the true sign of greatness isn’t a person who has no failures, but a person who can move on from them and pass them on to others. “The greatest teacher, failure is” Yoda tells Luke. Yes, he lost Ben Solo. But he must not lose Rey.
And so finally, Luke embraces the larger-than-life legend. Finally, Luke understands that the failure of the Jedi don’t mean they should end. Finally, Luke is the spark that Leia, Rey, and the entire Resistance so desperately need. He reconnects with Leia in one of the most beautiful scenes in the entire saga, and then he marches out to face the whole First Order with a laser sword – something he had explicitly mocked earlier in the film. As he does so, the remaining Resistance members look on in awe as the legend returns. Accompanied by some of John Williams’s finest work and some absolutely stunning cinematography, Luke Skywalker walks out, alone, to face the First Order. Kylo Ren, looking like he’s seen a ghost, orders every single gun to fire on him – but it doesn’t even phase the Jedi Master. Mark Hamill brushing off his shoulder like it was nothing is legitimately so great. So Kylo goes down to face him. Drawing lightsabers they face off, but Luke never clashes blades. He lectures his former apprentice that, “The Rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.” Kylo tries to strike him down, but fails – and that’s when he and the audience realize that Luke isn’t really there. In a stunning display of Force mastery, Luke is projecting himself across the galaxy – and we come to realize that this is, without a doubt, the most Jedi-like thing we have ever seen in the Star Wars franchise. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, but never for attack. A Jedi is a keeper of the peace, not a soldier. Luke himself realized this when he threw away his lightsaber at the end of Return of the Jedi; he won by refusing to fight any longer. In a bit of an ironic twist, the film that has Luke Skywalker directly confronting the myth and legend of the Jedi is the same film that indirectly has the audience confront myths and legends of what they think the Jedi should be, but that actually aren’t founded upon the films.
What Luke Skywalker manages to do here is staggering: he halts an entire enemy army in their tracks and saves the surviving Resistance without so much as laying a single finger on anyone. In doing this, I feel totally confident and consistent in saying that Luke Skywalker has become the greatest Jedi we have ever known. But the film puts him through a journey. We actually see him wrestling with things. We see him confronting failure. We see him bitter and broken. We see him embattled and disillusioned. We see him having lost hope, and it’s jarring to us – because that’s not like Luke Skywalker. But the film as a whole is better for this, because instead of giving us an immortal hero with no faults, it gives us a greater hero who fails, has doubts, and has lost hope – yet finds the courage to persevere in spite of it. That’s a needed lesson for all of us. He provides a spark of hope for us, just like he does for the Resistance and the galaxy.
That’s why the very last scene of the movie is of a young boy on Cantonica hearing the tale of Luke Skywalker’s heroics on Crait, then walking out and raising a broom like a lightsaber while he stares up at the starry sky: the legend has inspired him. That’s in many ways the entire journey of the film: Luke Skywalker, the legend everyone wants except him, learns to become the spark of hope that the galaxy needs. Temiri Blagg is just one example of this. So yes, while Luke Skywalker dies in this movie (while staring out against a binary sunset; it’s like poetry, it rhymes), he is filled with peace and purpose. He is Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. A legend. And like Rey said, the galaxy may need a legend.
I’ve written enough about Luke Skywalker here to make its own separate article (and I have before too), but I’m going to include another moment with Luke here. I’m convinced this is one of the great scenes in any Star Wars film (The Last Jedi has a lot of those), as Luke talks with the Force ghost of Jedi Master Yoda once again. Just as he was about to join Rey and leave the island, Luke saw Rey communing with Kylo Ren and ordered her to leave. Luke watched the Millennium Falcon leave and finally (maybe) steeled up enough resolve to burn down the Jedi temple… only to be met by an old friend. What follows is one of the most touching scenes, yet also one filled with incredible wisdom. This scene includes some of my very favorite lines and wisdom from the entire Star Wars saga.
There’s plenty of humor here. When Luke loses his resolve and doesn’t burn down the temple, Yoda calls lightning from the sky and does it himself. Luke is bewildered and aghast at this, and Yoda merely sits laughing, saying, “Oh, Skywalker. Missed you have I.” When Luke surmises that Yoda thinks it’s time for the Jedi to end too, and Yoda says it’s time to look past the pile of old books, Luke starts to protest: “The sacred Jedi texts!” To this, Yoda responds, “ooh, read them have you? Page turners, they were not.” Yoda uses this to then talk about Rey, saying that there was nothing in the library that Rey didn’t already possess (which, of course, is also because unbeknownst to Luke, Rey took the books). And it’s here that we get some of the most real and raw emotion, as Luke processes his failure. He admits that he can’t be what Rey needs him to be, and Yoda encourages him that he must not lose Rey like he lost Ben Solo. Yoda tells Luke that he’s still looking to the horizon – so, in other words, Yoda sees what the audience should have seen too: Luke is the same guy he’s always been. Some things have changed, but much still remains the same. Luke is still looking to the horizon, and missing what’s right in front of him. And all of this leads us to what I think might be the most poignant and wise statement in the entire saga (it’s certainly up there):
“Heeded my words not did you. Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”
This is Yoda teaching Luke and helping him process his failures. We rarely get to see this – maybe in part because we rarely get to see heroes actually have to confront their ‘failures’ at all – and it connects directly to what Yoda told Luke in Return of the Jedi. Yoda instructed him to pass on what he had learned, and Luke took it upon himself to do so. But Luke feels that he failed, which surely feels like he failed Master Yoda’s final wishes too. Yoda’s gentle rebuke, however, is that Luke was only trying to pass on his strengths without realizing that people would learn from his failures as well. There is the burden of masters that Luke has learned, and who better to help him process this than his own Master, one who had trained countless Jedi during his life?
Seeing Yoda show up and talk to Luke would have been amazing enough, and probably would have warranted inclusion on this list regardless. But this scene is not only a nostalgic moment, and not only is it a pivotal scene in the narrative of the film, but it also presents us with astounding wisdom that transcends Star Wars.
3. Rose Tico
It is notable that, in the end credits, the first musical piece that plays following the main Star Wars theme is Rose’s theme. That’s in part because it’s a beautiful piece of music written by John Williams (what else is new?), but it also underscores just how central Rose Tico is to The Last Jedi. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: she brings a joyful life and excitement to the screen that’s contagious, she establishes herself as a heroic character willing to give her life for the cause she believes in, and as a great new addition to the saga. But if that’s all we mention about Rose, we’ve missed the whole point of why she’s in the film in the first place (and, I’d argue, many have). In many ways, Rose represents the very heart of this movie and the meaning it’s conveying.
First, so much of The Last Jedi is about the survival of the Resistance. Kylo Ren thinks that it’s time to let old things die, but keep in mind that he’s the villain. He’s not necessarily right. In fact, the movie is a compelling argument against his conclusion; past failures don’t mean it’s time to stop fighting and let things die now. The opening sequence of The Last Jedi is a riveting space battle, seeing the heroics of Poe Dameron – and then we see it turned on its head by realizing that Poe, by defying General Organa’s orders, had let other Resistance members die. This movie sees Leia seeking to train and grow Poe as a leader, and he’s got to learn the important lesson that leaders have to look out for those whom they’re leading. Winning by losing the entire bombing fleet shouldn’t be seen as a victory worth celebrating. Before long, the Resistance is decimated and just struggling to survive, trying to escape the oppressive reach of the First Order fleet. Kylo Ren would have us think that it doesn’t matter if they’re wiped out, but we learn otherwise. And one of the prime ways we do so is Rose Tico. How so? Remember, Poe learns that what really matters as a leader is people. People like Rose. People who have seen the horrors of the First Order and decide to do something about it by fighting for what they believe in. People who are mechanics on a ship, not the heroes on the frontline, yet who are as invested as anyone in the cause. Rose represents the best of the Resistance. She’s someone who has endured many losses yet who nonetheless maintains hope (sounds like a certain General, doesn’t it?).
But second, Rose also serves as a foil for Finn. When we left Finn in The Force Awakens, he was motivated solely by his concern for Rey. That’s why he went to Starkiller Base, after all. So, understandably, when we first meet him in this film he’s still motivated by saving Rey – and that, to him, means escaping so that she doesn’t return to a decimated fleet, and so that he’s actually around for her to come back to. And that’s when he meets Rose. Rose, who is mourning the death of her sister, yet still relentlessly hopeful. She can’t fathom why this Resistance “hero” would possibly be running away. What’s established is that she’s fully committed to the Resistance, whereas Finn isn’t yet. He’s loyal to his friend, but not to the cause. But through a conversation with Rose, Finn takes the first step, leaving the beacon with Poe and heading off with Rose to Canto Bight, to find the master codebreaker. Here, Finn experiences the luxurious life, but Rose isn’t swayed away by it. She sees through it. Long story short, they then meet DJ, a shady character whose motives aren’t clear right away. But as the film goes on, we see that Rose is the angel on Finn’s shoulder while DJ is the devil on the other one. DJ shows Finn exactly what it looks like to be on your own, not committed to any cause. Rose shows what it looks like to be bought in to a cause you believe in. And so it’s through Rose that Finn comes to really embrace this fight, to embrace the Resistance, and to take that step to becoming the true Resistance hero that she always thought he was. (This is why, by the way, it’s absurd to suggest that Finn doesn’t have anything to do in this movie.)
Rose is the beacon of hope; optimistic, kind, loyal, and heroic. And she provides what is one of the best quotes from the entire saga, one of the quotes that best summarizes what the heroes are actually fighting for: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” That’s precisely what Star Wars is about. And that’s precisely the lesson that both Poe Dameron and Finn learn in this movie – in many ways, thanks to Rose.
4. The greatest few minutes
I am confident in saying that the culmination of the events on the Supremacy amounts to what is the greatest stretch in any Star Wars film. Rian Johnson establishes three separate yet connected story threads that all converge on the Supremacy, Snoke’s flagship. The Resistance is on the run, doing whatever they can to keep out of range of the ship, yet running low on fuel. This leads to a plan to secretly escape to a nearby planet, Crait. This plan would have worked, if not for another thread coming into play: Finn spills the beans on the plan as he, Rose, and DJ return from Canto Bight, having found a codebreaker and infiltrating the Star Destroyer, trying to give the Resistance a moment to escape without the First Order being able to track them. And on top of all of that, while this is going on, Rey leaves Ahch-To and boards the Destroyer, having had a vision that if she went to Ben Solo, he would turn. Instead, Ben takes her before Supreme Leader Snoke. Johnson juggles these three storylines expertly, building them up and allowing them to play out just long enough before pulling the threads and bringing them together. It amounts to a thrilling stretch that leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout, and leads directly into the final act on Crait.
You know the story. Finn and Rose are captured by Captain Phasma and brought before General Hux. Before executing them, Hux forces them to watch the Resistance transports being picked off one-by-one. Rey too is forced to watch this, seeing it unfold from Snoke’s throne room. They’re watching the spark of the Resistance being snuffed out. Well, Rey isn’t having it, and she tries to put up a fight, like a true Jedi. It’s then that Snoke orders Kylo Ren to kill her, too arrogant and overconfident to sense his apprentice turning on him. Ben strikes Snoke through with Rey’s lightsaber, killing him and calling the lightsaber to Rey while the Force theme triumphantly blares. Rey and Ben stand back-to-back, fighting off Snoke’s Praetorian Guards, in a fantastic fight sequence. But Rey isn’t the only one taking action. Vice Admiral Holdo, whose heroic actions and steely resolve have helped keep the Resistance alive to this point, takes the Resistance flagship, the Raddus, and prepares to jump to hyperspace. The First Order doesn’t realize what she’s doing until it’s too late, and Holdo jumps into hyperspace – right through the First Order fleet, tearing the Supremacy in half. These three threads converge thanks to fantastic editing by Johnson and his team, as well as a fantastic musical score by Williams, seeing the Skywalker lightsaber split, Holdo jump to hyperspace, and the command to execute Finn and Rose happen at the same time.
The ensuing silence speaks louder than music ever could, and it remains one of the most breathtaking experiences I’ve had in a theater, with everyone stunned, and audible gasps happening all over. It’s so great. And in the aftermath, Finn confronts Phasma, defeating her and finally embracing that he’s a rebel now. He and Rose then escape, regrouping with Rey and the Resistance on Crait. This stretch is simply incredible, and it never grows old. Like I said earlier, I truly think it’s the best stretch in Star Wars, with various threads converging in a thrilling way in some truly heroic moments.
5. Rey and Ben
It was in The Force Awakens that we were first introduced to Rey and Kylo Ren, later revealed to be Ben Solo, but in my opinion it wasn’t until The Last Jedi that the two of them became the clear stars of the sequel trilogy, and it wasn’t until this film that their stories so clearly became intertwined. What this film did for Rey’s character and story was fantastic, but that was even more true for Ben Solo.
Simply put, after The Force Awakens, it was clear that Ben would probably be redeemed and that this trilogy would see his arc as a central point. But in many ways it was this movie that truly introduced us to Ben Solo instead of just Kylo Ren, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of it – indeed, of the entire trilogy. We knew coming in to the film that Luke Skywalker would have a starring, central role, and of course that was made all the stronger by Mark Hamill’s career-best performance. But as the movie developed, it became clear that these twin Force users, Rey and Ben, were the heartbeat of the film and were the heartbeat of the trilogy – helped too by both Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley delivering simply incredible performances as well.
We see Rey trying to find her place in this galaxy, as even though the Force has awakened in her she’s afraid and uncertain of what to do with it (and, of course, she admits as much to Luke). She thinks that Luke is going to be the one to teach her, but she finds that even your heroes sometimes let you down. She does learn from Luke, but not like she thought she would. So she instead searches out instruction elsewhere, turning within in search of it, and even embracing the dark side as it offered what she wanted. Rey is searching for her identity. That’s why when she journeys to the cave beneath the island, in the mirror sequence, she’s hoping to see who her parents really are. Instead, all she sees is herself. Rian Johnson has noted that the reason for this is because, just like Luke finding out that his father was Vader was the hardest thing he could hear, Rey hearing that her parents were no one was the hardest thing she could hear. She wanted to find her significance and belonging in her family. But instead, all she sees is herself – and throughout the course of the film, she comes to realize that her identity doesn’t depend on where she comes from but who she is. (And, by the way, I still think all of this is true after the reveal of her parentage in The Rise of Skywalker. Even though Rey comes to realize the full story behind her family, it doesn’t consume her identity nor alter her destiny precisely because of the journey she went on in The Last Jedi to embrace her own identity and destiny.) Rey doesn’t need to be defined by the past, but she can forge ahead with her own identity and belonging and purpose; her strength doesn’t depend on someone else but on her. Her belonging isn’t because of her family but because of her. And she comes to realize that the family she truly longs for she already has, in the Resistance, with Leia and Finn and the others.
But that doesn’t fully happen until after Rey fails (don’t let anyone sell you the false narrative that she doesn’t fail in the trilogy). She leaves Luke because she had a vision that Ben Solo would turn if she did. And it looks like he will! Ben kills Snoke and fights back-to-back with Rey, so we’re all thinking that he’s finally returned to the light… but he doesn’t. He instead wants Rey to join him, not the other way around. And Rey refuses, resisting his offer and fleeing to re-join the Resistance, leaving Ben behind. She went to him, and he didn’t turn. She was wrong. Her first hope was Luke Skywalker. Her next hope was Ben Solo. But Rey fails at bringing both of them back to the fight (or so she thinks at that point…), and so she returns to the Resistance with no one more than she left with – Chewbacca and R2-D2. But she returns more confident in herself, in her identity, and in her belonging. She isn’t bringing the heroic Jedi back to the fight – but she is that heroic Jedi she’s been looking for everywhere else. And that’s actually part of Luke’s point all along, one way in which he actually was kinda right: the Resistance doesn’t need the old Jedi Master to return so much as it needs Rey. She comes to actually learn that in The Last Jedi, even if she’s still not fully comfortable with it. And so while Luke heroically does return to save the Resistance, it’s Rey who actually provides the way of escape for them.
But intertwined so closely with Rey’s story in this movie is Ben Solo. He’s clearly conflicted, still reeling from having murdered his father, unwilling to kill his mother, and willing to kill his master. Ben is portrayed as human, a conflicted young man trying to forge a path ahead in the galaxy. We learn that he was failed by Luke Skywalker and ridiculed by Snoke. But the Force connects him and Rey, and the two become close. They become, almost, friends. It seems like they are the only people who understand the other. And both turn to the other for something they’re seeking, the belonging and purpose and identity that they aren’t finding in others. Every single thread about Rey and Ben’s relationship together, whether hinted at in The Force Awakens or fulfilled in The Rise of Skywalker, hinges on what The Last Jedi did. It humanizes them, makes us care about them, makes us love them and root for them – even for Ben, the villain of the trilogy. Maybe especially for Ben.