It’s been just under a month and a half since Star Wars: The Last Jedi hit theatres, and whether they loved or hated the movie, many, many people have had questions about the things that happen in it. Rian Johnson has been asked about these things… and has done a pretty good job explaining them.
Johnson has been quizzed on a veritable gamut of things about this movie. He’s had to explain specific choices he made for the plot, and he’s had to elaborate on things already established in the movie. He’s defended, discussed, even cheekily dug back into Star Wars lore in response to the barrage.
But as infuriating as it can be to see the director dragged into polarising arguments about the film, Johnson’s presence in the post-TLJ discourse has also given us some of the widest and most intriguing access to a creator’s thoughts on his process – perhaps more than we’ve ever had for a big blockbuster movie like this. So without further ado, this is what Johnson has been asked to weigh in on about The Last Jedi… thus far, at least.
Why it’s ok for Star Wars to have jokes
Star Wars films have always had light moments, but some fans bristled at The Last Jedi‘s frequent moments of levity among its darker material. When asked by StarWars.com about the film’s sense of humour – after a cavalcade of angry fans saw the film’s jokes as the director not taking this extremely serious franchise about laser swords and space magic seriously enough – Johnson had this to say:
…there’s a lot of just oddness in the film, and there’s a lot of humour in the movie. I mean, we have jokes. We have flat-out jokes in the film. [Laughs] We have funny creatures. I think the part of the fan base that’s closer to my age, you tend to start thinking of what you’d want in a Star Wars movie in terms of the opera of it, and the seriousness of it. That’s a big and important element of it and I think we definitely served that in this movie, but it’s important to then remember, you know, Salacious Crumb [laughs], and it’s important to remember the other side of these movies, which is fun.
Why Rey’s parents are nobodies
One of the film’s biggest reveals included Kylo Ren confronting Rey about her mysterious past, getting her to admit to him – and herself – that she’s always known deep inside that her parents were nobodies who abandoned her. The reveal skewered what had been at that point years of , the reveal makes sense as something that Rey (and the audience) would be challenged to accept, even if she already knows it’s the truth:
For me, in that moment, Kylo believes it’s the truth. I don’t think he’s purely playing chess. I think that’s what he saw when they touched fingers and that’s what he believes. And when he tells her that in that moment, she believes it.
The easiest thing for Rey and the audience to hear is, ‘Oh yeah, you’re so-and-so’s daughter.’ That would be wish fulfillment and instantly hand her a place in this story on a silver platter. The hardest thing for her is to hear she’s not going to get that easy answer.
Why Lando Calrissian wasn’t in the movie
If Star Wars fans love asking anything about the sequel movies, it’s about the returning status of past characters. After Billy Dee Williams was absent from The Force Awakens, fans kept assuming he’d be a shoo-in for The Last Jedi… and then, he wasn’t. But, as Johnson told The Playlist, Lando almost was in the film, before the director decided it probably wouldn’t have worked out too well:
Of course I’d love to see Lando. In terms of Lando, I briefly considered – would he work in the Benicio [del Toro] part, [DJ].
I don’t think you would ever buy that Lando would just completely betray the characters like that and have that level of moral ambiguity. Cause we love Lando and you’d come into it with that [expectation]. And also, DJ, the character that they met, for the purposes of Finn’s character, had to be a morally ambiguous character that you’re not sure about, that you’re guessing about, and we already know that we love the character of Lando so it just wouldn’t have played in that part story wise.
Why Luke looks the way he does in the final battle
The Luke we see on Crait — eventually revealed as an elaborate Force projection – is very different to the one we spend most of the movie with on Ahch-To. He’s had a haircut, he looks younger, and he’s wielding a lightsaber that, at that point, no longer existed. Why bother with a quick glow-up for part of Luke’s final act? Johnson told IGN a simple answer: To annoy the hell out of Kylo Ren.
[Luke] is basically tailoring this projection to have maximum effect on Kylo. He knows that Kylo’s Achilles heel is his rage, and so that’s why he kind of makes himself look younger, the way Kylo would have last seen him in their confrontation at the temple, and that’s why he decided to bring Kylo’s grandfather’s lightsaber down there – the lightsaber that Kylo screamed at Rey, ‘That’s mine, that belongs to me.’
How Leia used the Force to survive the vacuum of space
Early on in The Last Jedi, a First Order attack gravely cripples the bridge of the Raddus, shockingly catapulting General Leia and the Resistence’s highest-ranking officers (rest in peace, Admiral Ackbar) into space. But Leia miraculously survives, using previously unseen Force powers to drag herself back into the Raddus’ breached hull. The daughter of Anakin Skywalker having Force powers was, weirdly enough, hard for some Star Wars fans to accept. Johnson expanded on his reasoning for Leia’s sudden “awakening” for Empire Magazine‘s podcast:
The idea behind that moment was that in a moment of that – first of all her use of Force in that moment is not incredibly powerful; she’s in space, which offers no resistance. So [it doesn’t] actually take much to pull her back, [as] she is in zero gravity, but also [her use of the Force] is instinctual.
That was the bigger thing for me, is that it’s the equivalent of like when you hear stories about parents who have a toddler trapped under a car and they lift the car up, they get Hulk strength. It’s that idea, “This is not going to end today. I’m not finished yet,” and that it’s almost like just a drowning person is clawing their way to the surface, the way she pulls her way back.
Why there are “new” Force powers seen in the movie
The Star Wars films have always added new Force powers for the Jedi and Sith to wield as the franchise has expanded, but the seemingly vast power of the abilities used by Luke and Leia in the movie felt like a step too far for some. For Johnson, via the L.A. Times, it was just a natural stepping stone for a series that has always iterated on the mysterious ways in which the Force works:
The truth is, because Star Wars until The Force Awakens has been set in amber and we hadn’t had a new Star Wars movie in 10 years, you forget that they were introducing new Force stuff with each movie, based on the requirements of the story. Force-grabbing didn’t come around until Empire, it wasn’t in A New Hope. Same with Force ghosts. They’d introduce new ideas of what could happen with the Force each time.
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) January 19, 2018
How Luke projected himself across the galaxy
Johnson wasn’t afraid to get a little sassy with his responses, sometimes. Eventually, after being asked about Luke’s projection ability so much, he took to Twitter to show that it’s not exactly the first time such an ability had been pondered by Star Wars tie-in material, turning to a 2010 book to prove his point, as you can see above.
Technically the book isn’t considered canonical anymore, but Johnson’s point was clear: The power is by no means a new idea in Star Wars history.
Why the Knights of Ren weren’t used in the place of the Praetorian Guards
The Knights of Ren only made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in The Force Awakens, but when Last Jedi brought with it a new line of fancy royal guards, fans wondered why the Knights just didn’t take their place. As Johnson told Empire Magazine again, the answer was simple: It saved the Knights from the grisly fate of the Praetorian Guards, giving them a chance to have their story picked up somewhere else:
I guess I could’ve used them in place of the Praetorian guards but then it would feel like wasting them because all those guards had to die. And if Kylo had some kind of connection to them it would have added a complication that wouldn’t have helped the scene… Truth is, I just didn’t see a place for them in the movie.
Why Admiral Holdo sacrificed herself
Admiral Holdo’s lighspeed-powered self-sacrifice gave us one of the most visually enthralling moments of the whole movie. That didn’t stop fans from wondering why more people in the galaxy far, far away don’t just slam capital ships into each other more often – but, Johnson told the /Filmcast recently that it’s because the Admiral’s manoeuvre was one driven out of sheer desperation, rather than tactical familiarity:
First of all, has this been done before, period? I’ve got to reserve the right for [Story Group member] Pablo [Hidalgo] to build it back into canon, if he’s like, ‘Yeah, this is a thing and they outlawed it…’
I think there’s various ways you can go with it. But it’s not like it was the plan to do this. It’s a spur of the moment thing. It’s this idea that she gets and she sits down and fucking does, and it obviously takes everybody completely by surprise. It takes Hux by surprise. The fact that Hux doesn’t see it coming means it’s probably not a standard military manoeuvre. I think it was something that Holdo pulled out of her butt in the moment.
Why Snoke’s backstory is never revealed
Supreme Leader Snoke was another of The Force Awakens‘ biggest mysteries laid low by The Last Jedi – dramatically cut short by, err, having Snoke dramatically cut short by a lightsaber being activated through his stomach. Johnson’s reasons, as recounted in a BAFTA Q&A after the movie’s release (via Comicbook.com), were more practical than creative for the lack of any details about Snoke before his demise. It would have felt clunky for him to plot-dump his Wookieepedia entry for the sake of the audience’s intrigue, rather than Rey or Kylo Ren:
In this particular story, it’s much more like the original trilogy, where with Snoke if you think about the actual scenes, if suddenly I had paused one of the scenes to give a 30-second monologue about who he was, it would have kind of stopped the scene in its tracks, I realised. Even though it could have been interesting, something that fans were interested in, as storytellers, we have to kind of serve what the scenes need to be.
Why Luke went into exile
Some fans saw Luke’s self-imposed internment on Ahch-To as a cowardly act for the former hero of the Rebel Alliance, staying out of the way of the rise of the First Order and letting his sister and friends fight the good fight without him. Once again speaking to Empire, Johnson noted that Luke’s actions weren’t those of a coward, but someone trying to erase the mythos of the Jedi:
And the thing that I came to, that seemed to make sense to me… was this notion that he sees this hero worship of him and of the Jedi as something that is detrimental to the galaxy. The universe has put its faith in this false god of the Jedi and they need to basically forget the religion… so the light can rise from a worthier source, basically.
And because he’s the last Jedi and a symbol of that, it then becomes this self-sacrifice he has to do to take himself out of it when he knows his friends are dying, when the thing he’d most like to do is get back in the fight. But he’s taken the weight of the world on his shoulders by taking himself out of the equation so that the Jedi can die out so that the light can rise from a worthier source.
Why Luke tossed his lightsaber away
The Last Jedi‘s twist on The Force Awakens‘ final scene definitely defied expectations, while also disgruntling fans who saw Luke’s casual over-the-shoulder dismissal of the lightsaber that linked all three generations of Star Wars movies as a disrespectful move. Speaking to Collider, Johnson explained that the move wasn’t meant to be particularly jokey, but rather a way of showing Luke’s utter rebuke of wanting to be brought back into the galactic conflict:
It wasn’t coming into it and thinking, ‘OK, they’re expecting this. Let’s have him toss the lightsaber. Ha, ha, ha.’ The reason he did that was because I can’t imagine any other honest reaction from him to that moment.
…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.
Why the last scene wasn’t on the Millennium Falcon
The Last Jedi doesn’t end with what remained of the Resistance taking stock of itself, but with a group of children on the casino planet of Canto Bight – one of whom not only crossed paths with Finn and Rose while they were on their mission there, but who also turned out to be Force sensitive. Once again, back to Empire, where Johnson explained that he felt the scene was more important than ending with Rey, Leia, and the heroes left on the Falcon. It would show that not only were there more Force users and people sympathetic to the Resistance out there, but also that Luke’s final moment of defiance was resonating with a new generation of potential heroes:
To me, it was really important to have that final scene, because it turns what Luke did from an act that saves 20 people into an act that inspires the galaxy. The notion that what we’re setting up here is something big in the next chapter. And when Leia says, ‘we have everything we need,’ she’s talking about everyone on the Falcon, but also about what we see next, which is we now have a galaxy that has seen this beacon of hope and is getting inspired to fight the good fight.
Why it’s even necessary to explain all this stuff about The Last Jedi anyway
As the early, at-times furious response to The Last Jedi began to reach its apex in the week after the film came out, a fan took to Twitter to ask Johnson if he thought it was a good thing people were so fervently demanding answers from him about what the film did for the wider Star Wars franchise. The point, as he replied, wasn’t to divide, but to try and push Star Wars into the future:
The goal is never to divide or make people upset, but I do think the conversations that are happening were going to have to happen at some point if sw is going to grow, move forward and stay vital.
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) December 21, 2017
There’s long been the adage that if you have to have to explain everything about a movie after the fact, the movie didn’t do a good job of explaining itself in the first place. There’s certainly an argument to be made that The Last Jedi has this problem. However, the reaction to the movie, with fans ranging from effervescent love to roiling hatred, is proof enough that such an adage is extremely subjective.
In this case, it also doesn’t seem to really capture the whole context. Star Wars is one of the biggest pop culture entities on the planet right now. Its fanbase is rabid and passionate, and also forever hungry for information, be it the canonical status of a character on screen for mere seconds or behind-the-scenes insight into the creation of a universe they love. Even if The Last Jedi had become the most universally beloved piece of Star Wars ever made, people would still be asking Rian Johnson these questions. In an age when access to one of its key creators is so easy — and Johnson himself is often so willing to discuss – is it any wonder Star Wars fanatics will be asking him for info for what feels like the rest of time?