During the months of November and December, leading up to the release of The Rise of Skywalker and the end of the Skywalker Saga, I’ll be highlighting my favorite scene from each of the ten Star Wars movies.
Today, we’re talking about what is like the most divisive blockbuster of the 2010’s, the great subverter of expectations, and the movie that made Rian Johnson, Kathleen Kennedy, and Kellie Marie Tran the targets of undue hate: Episode VIII, The Last Jedi.
Circa 2016 or 2017, there was a point where it felt like we had reached the end of the discourse regarding the Prequels. People hated them, talked, wrote, and made videos about how much they hated the Prequels. Then, people loved the prequels, and they talked and wrote and made videos about how much they loved the Prequels. And with more than ten years after the conclusion, it felt like everything that could be said about these movies had been said.
It’s been just over two years since the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and it feels like we’ve already reached that point, or we will soon.
If you’ve been following my meta-writing about this Favorite Scenes series, at first on Twitter and then in a separate post, there’s been a bit of an arc in these posts. Simply put, I started writing about my favorite scene from every Star Wars movie, and it slowly evolved into an impassioned defense of The Last Jedi, using it as a lens to examine the previous films. Aside from my posts about Phantom Menace and the two anthology films (Solo and Rogue One), each of the posts tied somehow back into The Last Jedi.
If I can boil down the relationship I highlighted in these posts, it comes down to two things. First, there were the three movies which showed how I love Kylo Ren as an antagonist; Attack of the Clones shows unbalanced and emotional Anakin, similar to what we see of Kylo Ren. Revenge of the Sith, while the best of the prequels, makes Anakin irredeemable, which is something the sequels corrected with Kylo. And The Force Awakens shows Kylo himself, holding light and dark within him.
Second, each of my selections showed how Luke as we saw him in The Last Jedi was prepared for in the first three movies. A New Hope showed Luke’s humble beginnings, which were echoed in his perfect last moments. Empire Strikes Back showed Luke grappling with failure and learning from Yoda, both of which would foreshadow his tenure as a Jedi teacher. And Return of the Jedi showed how Luke had both darkness and light within him, but that ultimately, the light would win out… as it did in The Last Jedi.
So, what we can gather from these two patterns is that the sequel trilogy – Last Jedi specifically – have two characters of particular interest: Luke and Kylo Ren. It’s no surprise that my favorite scene in the movie was the “confrontation” of Kylo Ren and Luke at the end of the movie.
My Favorite Scene
This scene is full of great imagery. Luke facing down a dozen gorilla-walkers and still standing after they have fired upon him is amazing. It’s obviously been mentioned by everyone who praises this scene, but this is perfectly foreshadowed early on when Luke mockingly asks Rey if she wants him go face down the First Order all by himself with his “laser-sword.” The fact that it actually happens makes for quite a cinematic climax.
Kylo Ren: The Resistance is dead. The war is over. And when I kill you, I will have killed the Last Jedi.
Luke: Amazing. Every word of what you just said is wrong. The rebellion is reborn. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the Last Jedi.
This gives me chills, every damn time.
I think there’s quite a bit to like about the duel between Luke and Kylo Ren. What really enriches the scene of course is the fact that Luke isn’t there; the audience may recognize the subtle cues, but it’s a clear indication of Kylo Ren’s headspace that he does not. He’s shaved and gotten a haircut, which Kylo wouldn’t know about, but you think Kylo might recognize that he’s using a different lightsaber, one that Kylo Ren just destroyed earlier in the movie. But the best of these subtle cues is the fact that Luke is not leaving footprints in the salt in Krait. It gives this great, pseudo-Biblical image.
Another neat little indication that Luke is an illusion is that he moves in a more dexterous way than most human beings would. It’s almost supernatural.
This scene ends up being enriched by Luke’s callbacks to previous movies. His echoing of Obi-Wan’s “Strike me down now…” doesn’t end in a vague “…and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” but brings attention to the psycholgical and emotional toll of Kylo’s path to the Dark Side. “Strike me down now and I’ll always be with you, just like your father.” That’s amazing. And the cherry on top is Luke saying “See ya around, kid,” which is something that Han said to Luke and probably said to Kylo Ren as a kid.
Another thing I wanted to praise but couldn’t find a specific spot for: how about John Williams’ score? The musical score that plays as Luke enters the Resistance Base and as he walks out to face the walkers perfectly heightens the dramatic nature of the scene.
It’s important to think of where this scene fits in the movie. It’s the focal point of a few character arcs. Luke has overcome his isolation and self-loathing and is finally taking part in the war. Kylo Ren is emotionally compromised because he didn’t get what he wants. Learning from Admiral Holdo, Poe accepts Luke’s sacrifice and uses his diversion to save lives instead of fight. And all of these stories coalesce into Luke’s last stand and sacrifice. All of these characters have failed throughout the movie, and Luke ‘s sacrifice is made in order to give these characters a chance to succeed (except Kylo Ren). Poe and Finn both get a chance to preserve what they have instead of dying nobly. Rey returns to her friends after learning that Kylo’s “Let the past die” applies to her friends whom she can’t bear to lose. And most of all, Luke, after so long of refusing to be a hero, refusing to be a legend, finally becomes one.
Once December came around, this blog became all about Saturday Night Live and justifying why Luke Skywalker is a great character. The Last Jedi is the perfect cap to his arc, and this pacifist blaze of glory is quite possibly the best thing that movie has to offer.