It’s been two years since The Last Jedi was released, changing both Star Wars and its fandom irrevocably. The ninth episode in the Skywalker saga reforged the foundation of what a Star Wars movie could be. It’s ambitious, sprawling, dark, funny, harrowing, referentially cinematic, and perhaps most of all extremely divisive. The reaction seems split down the middle, with some camps firmly in love with its hard truths and bold new characters, and others betrayed by its treatment of Luke, its shifts in storytelling language, and its sharp left turn from the safer familiarity of predecessor The Force Awakens.
There’s no need to rehash the social media reaction to The Last Jedi. Wherever you may stand in the court of opinion, there’s no doubt that writer/director Rian Johnson had plenty of ideas and messages to convey with the film. Here are five of our favorite tokens of wisdom relayed through the text and characters of The Last Jedi.
“That’s how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”
Finn is a conflicted man. Unmoored from the First Order and without Rey, his place in the great battle is tenuous. In both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, he flirts with a rogue life, one removed from the noise of war. But he’s also borne witness to the cost of inaction. He watched Han Solo die at the hands of a son shaped by his absence. He’s betrayed by D.J., who sells him out to General Hux. “Live free, don’t join,” is D.J.’s motto, and by The Last Jedi‘s final act, Finn decides to abandon that hopeless pursuit and commit to the Resistance. But that commitment goes too far when, in the Battle of Crait, he tries to launch himself into a fully charged First Order laser.
It’s a suicide run, as Poe points out; Finn is trying too hard to prove his allegiance. That’s when Rose Tico swoops in. Finn asks the charming Resistance maintenance worker and his ally throughout the film why she stopped him, and that’s when she utters the film’s iconic line. Rose, who lost her sister in the film’s opening sequence, bestows perhaps the most important message of The Last Jedi: that we mustn’t lead with hate, that we must only fight for love. “Let go of your hate,” Luke told Vader in Return of the Jedi. That line echoes through the character of Rose, who fights only with her heart.
“The greatest teacher, failure is.”
Themes of failure run through every single major story thread in The Last Jedi. Rey fails to turn Kylo Ren to the light side. Finn and Rose fail their Canto Bight mission. Poe fails… well, a bunch of times. But the greatest failure is a perceived one: Luke’s inability to tame the dark fire in his nephew, which sent him into isolation on Ahch-To, a planet in the most hidden corner of the galaxy. Rey finds him, begs him to train her, begs him to be the hero the Resistance needs, but his “failure” is so all-encompassing that he refuses the call, over and over.
That is, until Yoda shows up. Luke’s former mentor imparts words so powerful, I repeat them to myself almost daily: “The greatest teacher, failure is.” A simple reminder that nudges Luke back to action and that sends something beautiful to the audience. We are nothing if we do not fail. It’s how we respond to that failure that defines our character.
“To say that if the Jedi die, the light dies, is vanity.”
Though she is not boastful about or corrupted by it, Rey’s ego drives her motivation in The Last Jedi. It’s what tells her that she can retrieve Luke and save the day. It’s what convinces her that Kylo can be turned, so long as she does the turning. It’s most evident when she visits the dark side cave and is shown her greatest fear, one that she repeats to Kylo after defeating Snoke: That she comes from nobodies. Somewhere, in the deepest crook of her heart, she knows she isn’t a legacy, and it haunts her. She ignores it until that confrontation with Kylo; it’s her great flaw. And it’s something Luke warned her about when he spoke of the Jedi order’s vanity and hubris. The ego that comes with great power can be your undoing. Rey learns this in the end when she sets aside that vanity to help her friends on Crait. Luke also heeds his own words when he finally sets aside his failures, his own sort of vanity to buy the Resistance time and fill the galaxy with a message of hope.
“Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.”
Speaking of hope, it is the banner purpose of the Resistance, a rag-tag band of rebels formed by Leia to defeat the First Order. Due to an injury, Leia spends much of The Last Jedi in a coma, but her words and inspiration still drive every member of her fleet. When Vice Admiral Holdo stands in conflict with the hot-headed Poe, who was demoted after his pride cost the lives of several pilots, she reminds him of this General Organa motto. It’s Holdo’s coded way of letting Poe know there is a plan in place, but it’s also a salient reminder in times of darkness that the light still exists, however small.
“No one’s ever really gone.”
Luke’s parting words to Leia have several meanings. He’s speaking most directly about Kylo Ren, whose goodness Leia mourns. He’s also talking about Han, made evident when he hands Leia her lost love’s gold dice, which once hung in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. But he’s also talking about himself, for he knows he is about to use the last of his strength to “defeat” Kylo. In the end, he helps the Resistance flee by distracting Kylo, not with force or violence, but with the wisdom of a true Jedi master. His sacrifice isn’t in vain, like it would have been had he simply cut Kylo down. He acts with principle, spreading a message of peaceful resistance in place of malice or anger. As we see from the final frames of The Last Jedi, word of Luke’s nobility has spread through the galaxy. When our goodness prevails, we are, indeed, never really gone.
Images: Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd.
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