This post contains SPOILERS for The Last Jedi
Star Wars: The Last Jedi writer/director Rian Johnson has provided his explanation for Luke Skywalker's first scene in the movie, which came as a surprise to some viewers. The Force Awakens was all about the Resistance's attempt to find the missing Luke, who went into self-imposed exile on the remote planet Ahch-To following Ben Solo's transformation into Kylo Ren. J.J. Abrams ended that installment with the now-epic image of Rey holding out the Skywalker family lightsaber to its former owner, asking the galaxy's greatest hero to rejoin the fight. As we all know, the credits rolled before Luke spoke a word.
Johnson picked up just moments from where Episode VII left off, meaning after two years of build-up and anticipation, fans were finally going to witness the first conversation between the two Force users. Upon being handed his old weapon, Luke still remained silent, tossing it over his shoulder and off the cliff, much to the shock of Rey. After hearing stories of the Jedi's exploits throughout her youth on Jakku, this was far from what she expected, and that was the intent of Johnson.
In an interview with Collider, the filmmaker broke down Luke's opening moments, saying it was the only "honest" reaction Skywalker could have, considering he felt it was best to remove himself from the fight his friends are battling:
“So, that leads you down a really specific path in terms of where his head is at. And if he’s done that and if he’s made this huge Herculean effort to pull himself out of the fight, to hide in, like he says, ‘The most unfindable place in the galaxy,’ it took an entire movie for the most heroic, smartest people in the galaxy to even find him, he’s put himself away. Then some kid shows up that he doesn’t know and shoves this thing that is everything that he has made this huge effort to step away from into his face with this look in her eyes of expectation like, ‘Here you go,’ and what is he going to do? Take it and say, ‘Great. Let’s go save the galaxy.’ He’s made this choice. He’s there for a reason. I knew it was going to be shocking, but I did it because it felt like, obviously it’s a dramatic expression of it, but it’s an expression of honestly the way that he is going to react to that moment.”
Johnson isn't lying when he said this was shocking, but it definitely fit where the character of Luke was at the beginning of the film. As Skywalker says, he came to Ahch-To to die, feeling that he, nor the "Jedi way" would be of any help in the war against the First Order. The flashbacks peppered throughout the film shed further light on Luke's decision, revealing in a moment of weakness, he contemplated murdering his own nephew when he sensed the dark side had taken Ben over. It's no wonder why Luke went flying off to a place where he thought he'd go undiscovered, and all this set up a rather compelling arc. The Last Jedi's finale features Luke's awe-inspiring self-sacrifice, as he projects himself from across the galaxy to the battlefield on Crait to allow the Resistance to escape certain doom. If Luke was ready to answer the call from the get-go, his final moments wouldn't have been nearly as powerful.
Though The Last Jedi is definitely not an Empire Strikes Back retread, Luke's saber toss and daily routine sequence call to mind Yoda on Dagobah. A younger Luke had expected to find a "great warrior" on the swamp world, only to learn the one he's looking for is a frail alien. It was one of the smartest expectation subversions in Star Wars, and Luke on Ahch-To was keeping with that spirit. Much like Rey, the audience was stunned to see Skywalker have no regard for his friends' plight, but there's no denying it was an effective way of establishing his mindset and to show moviegoers this Luke was quite different from the one we remember.
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