Warning: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow!
Star Wars has long been a saga steeped in legacy and family, following the lives, loves, and losses of the Skywalkers and those who happen to cross their paths. What’s more, it’s a series that has made a tradition of exploring the ideas of destiny, preordained outcomes, and prophecy. Since the release of The Force Awakens two years ago, people (like me) have dived right into countless theories about the new characters and what their lineage may or may not mean for the greater Star Wars universe. But once I finally watched the The Last Jedi, I was blown away by the powerful character choices that the film made. I can’t stop thinking about what this means for the greater galaxy, the characters we love.
The Last Jedi implodes the themes that have long defined the franchise, opening up the world of Star Wars in an incredibly powerful way, and, most importantly, finally giving its characters agency in defining their own futures. From the very first time we meet Luke in A New Hope, he’s a young man defined by the decisions of others. From his father’s choice to turn to the Dark Side to Obi-Wan’s choice to deceive him, Luke never really has a choice of his own but to do what any adult in his life tells him. Anakin, a young man crushed by the expectations others and told that he was the one hope for the galaxy, suffered a similar fate. He became so indoctrinated into following stronger, older men that he never saw the way Palpatine was manipulating him, despite all of his strength.
Rian Johnson’s film breaks apart the constraints of the saga, committing to the idea that we are the ones who control our lives, no matter where we come from or what we’ve been through. From the first time I watched The Force Awakens, I’d hoped that Rey might just be the abandoned child of junkers, left to fight for her life for no better reason than parental selfishness and cruelty. It might sound bleak, but it’s actually hopeful, seeing as how Rey turned out. She now thrives since her kindness and willingness to help others has led her on a journey of discovery. But never in my life did I actually think that Johnson would take that leap. So as I sat in the theater and watched Rey finally admit the truth she’d always known, I found myself profoundly moved.
In accepted non-EU Star Wars canon, the only successful strong women with more than one scene apiece are usually princesses or aristocracy. Of course we know Leia is Vader’s daughter and Luke’s sister, but Leia was still raised by royalty, engaged in the political landscape. And we can’t forget Leia’s mother, Padmé Amidala, an elected queen and senator. Sure, Rogue One recently gave us Jyn, who from the little we see had a tough upbringing. But her agency is inherently lacking as her only story arc and necessity to the Rebellion are defined solely by her father’s actions and intent. The revelation about Rey’s parents shakes up the accepted order. Here she is, this young woman who seems integral to the fate of the galaxy and with an incredible connection to the Force, and that’s something which is wholly her own.
However, it’s not just Rey’s journey in The Last Jedi that defies expectations. We see time and time again that true power comes from making your own choices, despite the expectations of others or what fate has foretold of you. Finn’s choice to leave the First Order in The Force Awakens was a subtle piece of foreshadowing of what would clearly become a dominant theme in the new trilogy. Finn doesn’t just save himself with that decision, but also Poe, BB-8, and, in the end, the galaxy after forcing Phasma to lower the shields on Starkiller Base. Finn is essentially the spark that sets the fire for The Last Jedi. He’s the first to define his own destiny, but he’s certainly not the last.
On the same token, Kylo’s story is defined by what other people have wanted and expected from him. It began with his parents sending him to study with Luke. Luke saw Ben’s strength and considered him as a potential protégée, only to later fear that very strength as a threat and contribute to the creation of Kylo Ren, combined with Snoke’s manipulation. In fact, Kylo never really had a chance to explore the idea of who he is or what he wants until The Last Jedi. Kylo’s decision to kill Snoke is actually nothing short of revolutionary as it demolishes our expectations of who’s powerful in the galaxy, ultimately proving that true power comes from choosing our own paths. It might’ve seemed anticlimactic to some, but it all fits into The Last Jedi’s greater message.
In the end of The Last Jedi, even the original trilogy Chosen One at long last got to choose his own path; Luke made his decision to contend with Kylo Ren, finally becoming one with the Force and disappearing while staring into two suns just as he did as a young man on his home planet. It was an ending that perfectly summed up the message at the core of The Last Jedi. Ultimately, we determine who we are, how we live, and what we leave behind and the way things are. That’s a message we all need.
Images: Disney, Lucasfilm