The Last Jedi was released this past weekend to rapturous applause from a majority of the mainstream film press, as was to be expected given that the film is not only the latest instalment in one of the most beloved and popular film series of all time but also the first feature film work from critical darling Rian Johnson since 2012s Looper.
As for me, I absolutely adored it; it’s a bold, strange, wildly entertaining and stunningly photographed science-fiction blockbuster that had one of the rare effects on me that well into the film I realised that I genuinely had no idea where it was going. That’s no mean feat for a series that’s been running this long to accomplish, but The Last Jedi manages it thanks to Johnson’s capable and strong direction and the course that the film takes with its characters by placing their drive ahead of the plot.
There are many things to get into and unpack with the film, but the moment that crystallises the film for me as a true great – and possibly the first truly great film in the series since The Empire Strikes Back – is the final scene and shot of the film. To get into this obviously means going into extensive spoiler territory so if you still haven’t seen the film then I recommend you come back once you have.
But first things first; as it currently stands there is little to no point in discussing the nature of the extensive and venomous backlash from so-called fans toward The Last Jedi, as it’s an ongoing topic of discussion boiling in the pits of internet criticism as I am writing this, and has been covered extensively to varying degrees of success elsewhere on more prominent platforms.
To quote Luke Skywalker “This isn’t going to go the way you think”. That’s pretty much a mission statement regarding the film’s intentions as it systematically works through and subverts every narrative expectation expected of it. Over the past four decades since the series’ beginning and the subsequent prequel trilogy, audiences have been bringing a kind of narrative baggage of expectation in with them to see these films. The Star Wars saga is one built on ancient mythmaking, consisting of elements of prophecy, dynasty, birthright and the opposing forces of light and darkness in a galaxy far, far away...
While The Force Awakens leaned heavily into its heritage as a means of re-launching the franchise – following a structure lifted entirely from A New Hope as a means of nullifying fans anxieties through familiarity and a focus on practical effects and environments – every action that The Last Jedi takes on a narrative level is intentionally designed to play against the trappings that have contained the main saga storyline for so long. Those who have seen the film will immediately understand this, with the unexpected death of Supreme Leader Snoke midway through a declaration of its intent to shake up the status quo.
More than just a twist for twist sake, it throws out the tiresome ‘mystery box’ conceit of J.J. Abrams’ storytelling and marketing trickery in favour of making Snoke the brunt of the film’s cruellest joke. It never really mattered where Snoke came from or who he was because it wouldn’t have changed anything about the way in which the story was being told, even though he was intentionally presented as an Emperor Palpatine-like presence to fill an expected void in the binary battle between the Sith and the Jedi that has been raging since the start.
This ties into Luke’s development into a much more worried and disassociated figure than where we last saw him. Torn apart by his own mishandling of the situation with his nephew, and probably given his understanding of how the past has repeated itself in cycles, its insinuated heavily in a marvellous call-back to the ineptness of the Jedi Council in the prequel trilogy that the only reason this war continues to rage is because both the Sith and the Jedi create each other. “Darkness rises and light to meet it”, as Snoke states. In order for the conflict to end, one of them must inevitably die, and the old ways of the Jedi and their strict teachings have been a massive part of this escalation through stubborn arrogance and tradition.
The film’s symbolic destruction of the old ways through the narrative is what finally frees the story to follow its own path with the youthful cast of new (and diverse) characters consisting of maintenance workers, fighter pilots, footsoldiers and nobodies. Beyond the other interesting new things at play, from Kylo Ren finally stamping out any intention to redeem himself as the now central antagonist of the series, the meta-narrative of the sequel trilogy has been about the nature of the series and its place in popular culture. Rey and Finn hearing of the adventures of Luke, Leia and Han Solo as mythic heroes, with stories passed down the generations to the younger audiences who might not be entirely familiar with the original trilogy.
But the final scene of The Last Jedi is where this all comes together to create a greater sense of meaning; in which we cut away from the main story conclusion to a small group of children talking amongst themselves about the events of the film we’ve just seen, complete with small humanoid straw dolls as a form of re-enactment. One of the boys (who we briefly met earlier and was given a Rebellion ring as a sign of trust and revolution) walks outside, grabs a broom with the power of the force to complete his chores, and stands heroically against the night sky in a pose similar to the Jedi.
I. LOVE. THIS. MOMENT.
Not only does it offer us perhaps the single most iconic and fundamental final visual of the entire series, but everything that it is saying has a great deal of aware and progressive purpose; its the moment that Star Wars finally GETS it and grows up. By growing up, I don’t mean to mature into something more serious or disinterested, but it takes a step back in a quiet moment of contemplation and sees everything that it has done for generations of audiences in a single moment.
The children playing with the dolls that represent the characters is as good a metaphor as any for the merchandising monolith the series became. Lucas has even stated in the past that the best thing that came out of the franchise were the toys, and the inspiration it spurred in generations of children to make up their own adventures with the characters as established figures. (If you wanna go even further, could it be that everything in The Last Jedi has been a product of these children’s imaginations all along? Unlikely, but imagine that).
As they go on with their lives and responsibilities, children with chores and adults with their daily lives and occupations, just for a moment the nameless boy is able to imagine himself as one of these heroes. Taking his lightsaber substitute in hand and striking a dramatic and powerful pose in a fleeting moment of empowerment in a cruel and demanding world. It’s quite possibly the most focused and emblematic representation of what Star Wars is and always has been all along.
Also of note, his use of the force to pull the broom toward him. One of the biggest revelations of the film is that the supposed mystery of Rey’s parents is that they’re actually nobodies; no one already established, no famous Jedi, no one even important, and Rey has possibly always known this – and this is the best trick the movie pulls. The fact that she is as powerful as she with the force is a reinforcement that you don’t need a birthright to be able to use the force, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you can overcome the odds to become something that can be a force for change, and this extends to the young boy as a stand-in for all of us.
There have been people online trying to discern who the boy is and who his parents might be or if he might become significant at a later date, but this is beside the point of its significance and the film’s stance as a whole of disregarding fan theory and speculation as meaningless hyperbole. What it does is look to the future, not to the past or the rhythms of the series’ nostalgic perspective so far. We are this young boy; a nameless onlooker to the myths of our past and ongoing future who carries the flame of hope and rebellion as we live out our lives on the sidelines.
(Skip to 2:11 if all this wasn't apparent enough)