The wait is over. The wait for not only the first mainline Star Wars movie since “The Force Awakens,” but also the wait for the first great Star Wars movie since “The Empire Strikes Back.” Mileage will vary, and the series’ diehard fans are only just starting to see Rian Johnson’s space opus and process their feelings on the most eventful Episode in a very long time.
Nevertheless, it’s already safe to say that “The Last Jedi” has been very well received by critics who wanted the story to break free from the past and challenge the fundamental nature of the galaxy’s biggest franchise. As IndieWire’s Eric Kohn wrote in his A- review of the film: “‘The Last Jedi’ turns the commercial restrictions of this behemoth into a Trojan horse for rapid-fire filmmaking trickery and narrative finesse. The result is the most satisfying entry in this bumpy franchise since 1980.”
It’s also the most narratively significant entry since then, as well. So much happens in this movie that it’s almost hard to believe that Kathleen Kennedy let Johnson get away with it, especially in light of her recent decisions to fire the directors of “Rogue One,” “Solo,” and “Episode IX;” that suggested an unwillingness to take bold chances that some fans might find disagreeable. “The Last Jedi” explodes that argument like a Death Star, suggesting that “Star Wars” is still willing to shoot the moon, so long as it’s got the right target in its sights.
It’s hard to overstate just how radically “The Last Jedi” knocks this story out of its orbit, so we’ve gathered the film’s five biggest spoilers and tried to make sense of what they mean for the series’ future.
This should go without saying, but SPOILER ALERT!!! If you haven’t seen the movie, or don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading here.
Okay, let’s do this.
5. Yoda Returns
It’s easy to understand if Yoda hasn’t been on your mind much since the start of the new trilogy. “The Force Awakens” reintroduced a lot of beloved characters, but it did so in the service of a compelling new adventure; by the time “Episode VIII” rolled around, it felt like anyone who was going to come back was there already. Off-base, that prediction was. Yoda makes a gloriously unexpected return in “The Last Jedi,” popping up for a crucial cameo that’s electric and emotional from the first moment that his withered green head is revealed in the bottom of the screen.
Visiting Luke in ghost form on the remote island of Ahch-To, the late Jedi legend pops up to make old Skywalker feel better about his “failure” to teach Rey what she needed to know. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda intones with his typical wisdom, “that is the burden of all masters.” Not only do these words galvanize the film’s central goal of pivoting “Star Wars” away from its past, they also retroactively justify George Lucas’ prequel trilogy as a necessary step toward getting where we are today. Failure is the greatest teacher — if Episodes I-III gave the fans what they wanted, Rian Johnson wouldn’t have known what they needed.
4. Some New Friends Wield the Force
The very last shot of “The Last Jedi” doesn’t leave us with Luke, or Leia, or any of the younger heroes who we’ve already come to know and love. It doesn’t even close on an ominous image of dark BB-8, whatever that droid’s name is, sitting at the window of an evil star destroyer and threatening revenge. No, it ends back on the casino planet of Canto Bight, where we’re reacquainted with one of the film’s most forgettable new characters, a pre-teen street urchin whose name is supposedly Temiri Blagg.
After a quick brush with history, the story has already left him in the dust, as desolate and overlooked as Rey was before the events of “The Force Awakens.” But Temiri’s future is brighter than it first appears. As we learn in a shot so quick that you might miss it, he can already wield the Force. And then, in the final image, he stares up at the stars, wondering what they might portend for him. We’re left wondering the same thing. The point, it seems, is not that Temiri himself is going to play a critical role in an upcoming Episode, but rather to reinforce the idea that “Star Wars” is no longer a story about destiny and chosen ones, but rather a story about possibility, and the idea that anyone can shape the world so long as they have the will to do so.
3. Snoke Gets Sliced
In a film that’s full of surprises, none is more purely euphoric than the moment when Kylo Ren cuts Supreme Leader Snoke down to size. Just like that, one of the biggest worries about the new trilogy became one of its greatest assets. Snoke was an awkward presence in “The Force Awakens,” and fans were understandably concerned that his massive, CG presence would force the saga into regurgitating the Palpatine/Darth Vader dynamic.
How sweet it was to learn that Snoke was just a giant red herring. Nothing about him — not his powers, not his past, not his plans — mattered to his ultimate function in the story, which was to be killed by an underling who was sick of playing by the rules of a game that he was ready to reinvent. The best part is that Kylo Ren barely moves a muscle to do the deed; asserting his power isn’t some protracted fight. He does it from halfway across the room, and suddenly he seems taller than Snoke ever did.
2. Rey Is Nothing From Nowhere
Ever since the moment the lights came up at the end of “The Force Awakens,” Star Wars fans have been obsessed with the mystery of Rey’s parentage. Even Paul Thomas Anderson couldn’t wait to find out. Is she a Skywalker? Is she related to Kylo Ren? Is she Padmé Amidala reincarnated (why not)? “I need someone to show me my place in all this!” she begs. And wow, does she get her wish.
After an earlier scene in which she disappears down a slipstream during a hallucinatory dream sequence that only throws Rey’s questions back at herself, the truth is finally brought to light when Kylo Ren teases it out of her, inducing her to reveal the banal reality that Rey has always known. In a rhetorical effort to win Rey over to his side, Ren tells the young rebel upstart that her parents were… just two random layabouts from Jakku who probably “sold her off for some drinking money.” Diss. Rey, Ren argues, is beholden to no one but herself. Her future is not written in the stars; it isn’t written at all. For villains, that’s enough reason to seize power for themselves. For heroes, it’s all they need to share it with the world. Needless to say, the two don’t end the movie on great terms.
1. Luke Fades Away
Luke Skywalker dies. Of course Luke Skywalker dies. Han Solo prepared us for this. More than that, “The Last Jedi” moves towards this moment like it’s being guided there by a GPS. Luke has to die in order for “Star Wars” to survive. And yet, it’s still absolutely shocking when he fades away, leaving nothing but his cloak behind.
It’s shocking because it happens mere seconds after he’s reaffirmed his immortality, if not in the galaxy than at least in the firmaments of contemporary storytelling (Luke uses the last of his strength to project himself to the planet of Crait, where his avatar withstands a barrage of lasers in order to give the rebels some time to escape). It’s also shocking because he’s Luke Skywalker, a human emblem of “Star Wars” itself, a character who has informed so many lives that it doesn’t seem possible that he could die. And yet, die he must. He may not be there to see Rey learn the last of the three lessons he promised to teach her, but Luke knows that he laid the groundwork for the next generation. To paraphrase the film’s final line, he gave them everything they’ll need.