In The Last Jedi, Rey teams up with Luke Skywalker – but he’s not the man we remember. And that’s not the only shock. Total Film talks to the key players about the Star Wars movie that changes everything.
“Luke Skywalker has vanished,” announced the opening crawl to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And vanished he remained, for pretty much the entire running time of the seventh instalment in the space saga.
Sure, his presence hung heavily over that film, the first Star Wars movie in a decade, and the first to follow on from the events of 1983’s Return Of The Jedi. Luke ended that particular film a pretty well-balanced Jedi Knight, having helped destroy the evil Empire while resolving some of his daddy issues with Darth Vader. He was last spotted at a victory celebration on Endor, watched over by the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Vader/Anakin. What could go wrong?
Cut to 30 years later and the events of The Force Awakens, and Luke is nowhere to be seen – save for a brief flashback – until the final moment when he’s handed his trusty lightsaber by Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger from the desert planet Jakku who has recently discovered Force sensitivities of her own. The long hair and grey beard can’t disguise the tormented scowl of the galaxy’s original golden boy.
This is not the Luke we remember. As Mark Hamill himself puts it to TF, “It’s shocking to hear Luke say, ‘I know only one truth: it’s time for the Jedi to end’ – the last time we saw him, he was the most optimistic character. He was sort of at the peak of his powers, and you would imagine that he’d then become a Jedi master and train other people and so forth. What has happened to him that has so traumatised him into where he is now?”
That is the question that drives The Last Jedi, aka Episode VIII. In 2015, J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens was a critical and commercial smash, putting Star Wars back on top (after the plastic prequels squandered fan goodwill), scoring more than $2bn at the global box office and an overwhelmingly positive response.
Last year’s standalone ‘Story’ Rogue One was also a hit to the tune of $1bn, proving that the world was ready for adventures outside the core episodic structure. But now we’re back to the narrative throughline of Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn, Poe… and of course, Leia and Luke. (The journey of the former, who we’ve seen go from orphan to princess to spy to senator to general of the Resistance during the franchise, is apparently unaltered in The Last Jedi, despite Carrie Fisher’s death meaning this will be her last Star Wars movie.)
“Watching the film, there’s going to be a very emotional reaction to
what she does in this movie,” says TLJ director Rian Johnson. The indie auteur behind Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper, he’s something of a Padawan when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking on this scale.
Johnson’s the only person besides George Lucas to have a solo writer-director credit on a Star Wars movie, and it seems he used that autonomy to make some pretty bold choices, even in a series celebrated for its twists.