Rian Johnson, writer/director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, has insisted that ending the Jedi was “not really a valid choice.”
One of the core themes of The Last Jedi was the nature of our relationship with the past. Kylo Ren, for example, is on a quest to reinvent himself. He insists that you must destroy the past. Even Luke Skywalker has come to doubt the wisdom of the Jedi Order. His quest to learn the ways of the Jedi has led him to understand that their arrogance allowed the rise of the Empire. As a result, he’s headed to the remote world of Ahch-To in order to die, aiming to bring the Jedi Order to an end once and for all.
According to The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson doesn’t believe that was a valid choice. In a lengthy quote, he discusses Luke’s desire to bring an end to the Jedi Order.
“When Rey shows up, the first and foremost thing is she needs a mentor. In looking at this grand plan from ten miles up in the air, Luke is missing the thing right in front of his nose. Here’s somebody who needs you, who needs your help. If you think you are throwing away the past, you are fooling yourself. The only way to go forward is to embrace the past, figure out what is good and what is not good about it. But it’s never going to not be a part of who we all are. And that includes Rey, who grew up hearing the legends about the Jedi. So the notion of, ‘Nope, toss this all away and find something new,’ is not really a valid choice, I think.”
It’s a fascinating quote, not least because it yet again subverts our expectations. The Last Jedi treated the Star Wars legend with a degree of irreverence, seeming to discard countless classic tropes. What fans haven’t considered, though, is that the idea of rejecting the past was never propounded by the film’s heroes.
Kylo Ren desires to remake himself, and believes he can do so by killing the past. That is part of his descent into the dark side. Luke Skywalker has fled, lost to his own grief and self-hatred. Rey’s role in this is to bring him back, to force the Jedi Master to confront his past and return to the galaxy. In doing so, Luke finds peace, and is able to become one with the Force.
The challenge facing Johnson was not to “end” the Jedi, but rather to create an opportunity for them to be reinvented. For Rey, that meant recovering the Jedi Order’s most ancient texts, which she retrieved from Ahch-To. When she has a chance to read through them (something Luke never did), she’ll absorb the knowledge of the Jedi, but with a fresh and critical eye. Rey knows the flaws of the Jedi and understands where they’d gone wrong. Most notably, she’s learned that Luke’s own fear of the dark side drove his apprentice to the dark.
Marketing for The Last Jedi had left fans speculating that Rey would be the beginning of something new. There’s a sense in which that’s the case. But there’s another sense in which the “new thing” is actually the same as the “old thing,” reinvented in light of the lessons of the past. Time will tell what will happen when we pick up in Episode IX.
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