The Brilliance of Rian Johnson’s ‘The Last Jedi’

I continue to say it. After The Rise of Skywalker, my appreciation for The Last Jedi (even its flaws) has grown exponentially. There’s no denying the fact that Johnson worked hard on this movie, throwing detail after detail while ultimately conceiving a Star Wars movie, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. However, in essence, The Last Jedi is simply an ultra-fancy and well-written rehash of The Empire Strikes Back, but instead of J.J Abrams’ tactic which led to The Force Awakens literally copying A New Hope‘s playbook, Johnson reverses what we come to expect, delivering a powerful storyline that’ll leave one flabbergasted at the end.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a side-to-side comparison of each film’s structure from beginning to end and how Johnson manages to tell a story that deserves the praise it received.

The Rebels Take a Beating

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In The Last Jedi, Johnson speeds up the process of the rebels getting their you-know-what’s kicked by having this space battle take place at the very beginning of the movie but it resembles the moment the rebels are attacked on Hoth who also are forced to retreat if they are to survive.

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But what makes Johnson’s version more moving storywise are the layers he brings to the scenario. We’re talking about Paige’s heroism which leads to an unfortunate death, Leia’s shaky control on Poe and her anger with his cockiness/brashness that ends up leading to the rebels’ ultimate defeat (rather than a win), and beneath all of this, General Hux’s failure and his inadequacy as a leader of the First Order is also displayed. All of this is fleshed out in the span of an epic space battle.

The Jedi Student Finds the Master

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Of course, we all know that Rey’s journey to find Luke at the end of The Force Awakens was reminiscent of Luke’s journey to find Yoda so Johnson had to find a way to make Rey’s story stand out. How did he do this?

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By making Luke a grumpy hermit whose desire to train new Jedi had long fizzled out. There’s a saying, “You should never meet your heroes.” That is the basis of Rey’s relationship with Luke in this movie. Here she thinks she’s going to meet this legendary man who’s going to teach her the ways of the Force and help her become a true Jedi Knight.

Instead, she meets a man who has given up on the galaxy, has cut himself off from the Force, and despises the very notion of the Jedi. That complicates things, doesn’t it?

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No, this isn’t Luke and Yoda all over again. This is a different story. One that impacts Rey and Luke in large ways.

The Gang is Split Up

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Like The Empire Strikes Back, Johnson decided to split his main characters up, forcing them to evolve without each other and obtain greater storylines down the road. But Johnson always takes things to the next level.

He not only keeps Rey apart from her friends for pretty much the duration of the film, but he also takes Finn away from Poe, forcing him to partake on this journey with Rose which ends up becoming a partial romance. Poe must learn an important lesson in leadership in a way we’ve never seen before by starting a mutiny against his own fellow rebels.

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And throughout all of this, we are still given a storyline with Kylo Ren whose ties with Rey become the Han/Leia parallel of the trilogy, for they become the most important romance in the overall story.

But Johnson doesn’t play their romance like something we’ve seen before. There’s a tenseness and an intensity that’s far more intriguing than two rebels bickering and flirting throughout a film. Rey and Kylo are ultimately enemies but their despisal of Luke Skywalker, as well as their longing for love, finds them gravitating toward one another in a way that led to the creation of the Reylo community.

It’s not a typical romance with kissing scenes and declarations of love but it’s undoubtedly one of the most eye-widening, if not the most eye-widening, romance in the franchise.

The Chase

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In The Empire Strikes Back, we see Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO chased across the galaxy by the Empire after they escape Hoth. In The Last Jedi, the entire Rebellion is involved in a slow chase as they are ambushed by the First Order. Just another interesting parallel.

Yoda’s Wisdom

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Yoda has some of the wisest sayings in cinema, my personal favorite being, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” Rian Johnson recreated the iconic legend of Yoda by incorporating him in The Last Jedi in a profound way. And yes, he was still the master. 😊

The Force Visions

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Like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, Rey would have to confront the dark side during her training and as such Rian Johnson decided to tell a deep story involving her and identity, mirroring Luke’s self-identity conundrum.

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In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke has a vision in a cave. He sees Darth Vader, the man he fears deep down, and when he cuts off his head he sees his own face. It is a powerful moment that has an ambiguous meaning. On one hand, the vision could be stating that Darth Vader is Luke and Luke is Darth Vader, bluntly stating to him that he is related to the man behind the mask. Or it can be said the vision showed him that if he falls down the dark path Vader’s fate will become his as well.

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Rian Johnson wanted to create a vision just as powerful but one that is the antithesis of Luke’s vision. Instead of seeing what she wants to see, an image of her parents, she finds herself staring back into her own eyes. Her parents are gone and she is alone. It’s a heartbreaking fact, one that nearly breaks her, but Rey is strong, a fact realized when Kylo offers her his hand later in the film.

The Parent Reveal

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We all know the famous line, “No. I am your father.” It’s one of the greatest lines in modern history, shocking the world with a revelation that no one saw coming. Darth Vader, one of the scariest villains of all time, was Luke Skywalker’s father. The ripples are still being felt to this day, leading many to conclude that The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the franchise.

Johnson wanted to mirror that same jaw-dropping announcement but in a way that felt original. So, instead of revealing that Rey belonged to some important lineage, he concluded that she was a nobody. A daughter of drunkards who sold her and died somewhere in the desert. Yikes.

Suddenly, the idea that you have to be a Skywalker or a Palpatine or a Kenobi, or even a Bridger for that matter, to be important in the story of Star Wars became irrelevant, which I thought was a really nice touch by Johnson. Unfortunately, the reveal was walked back in The Rise of Skywalker and now we know she’s the granddaughter of Palpatine. Boo.

Betrayal

This was a blatant parallel to The Empire Strikes Back, with DJ replacing the role of Lando as the crook who betrays his allies. Of course, DJ is nowhere near as lovable as Lando and the betrayal doesn’t really sting. In fact, I’m always like good riddance by this point in the movie, for he’s one of the few things about the film that didn’t work for me.

Luke Skywalker vs. Kylo Ren

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And last but not least, we have the greatest parallel of all.

In the last act of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker faces his father, Darth Vader. In The Last Jedi, he must face his nephew, his father’s grandson, Kylo Ren. Talk about an epic parallel!

Both confrontations are incredibly riveting and both involve some of the greatest moments in the franchise. Of course, we know about the Darth-Vader-I-Am-Your-Father reveal but we can’t forget the moment we learn Luke is actually a projection on Crait. It’s undoubtedly the greatest surprise in the sequel trilogy and is one of the best moments in the franchise. No doubt.

Of course, despite these nine parallels, there’s no doubt that The Last Jedi is its own movie. Rian Johnson weaved a movie that pushed boundaries, exceeded expectations, for better or worse, and actually tried to deliver some powerful moments to move the franchise forward rather than to remain in a box that we’ve seen over and over again for the last forty years.

The Last Jedi isn’t devoid of flaws but it’s a perfectly executed story that combines the prequels, originals, and sequels together in a way that unfortunately was not present in The Rise of Skywalker.

I wonder what his finale would’ve looked like.

I thank you for reading and I hope you have an amazing day. May the Force be with you.

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