The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson discusses controversial new Force abilities and other plot twists

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WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE LAST JEDI

As you may have heard earlier, there are a lot of people really upset about Star Wars: The Last Jedi right now. Like, really spittle flying everywhere bring me my soapbox upset. The reasons for their anger are myriad, but a lot of it has to do with how they feel writer-director Rian Johnson changed the rules of how this universe, and specifically the Force, works. But here’s the thing: For him to have broken the rules, we would first need to have rules clearly laid out.

By its very definition, the Force is a mysterious and only partially understood energy in the world of Star Wars which beings can tap into, some more than others. Not even great masters like Yoda understood all its secrets, which is why ever since George Lucas first introduced us to this galaxy far, far away, we’ve been continuously discovering new aspects of it. And yet, it’s suddenly a problem now for some fans – and I really hesitate to use that term here now – who cry “Heresy!” at every new thing in The Last Jedi.

One of these heretical abilities is Supreme Leader Snoke showing off some long-distance Force manipulation by linking the minds of Kylo Ren and Rey despite them being worlds apart. Johnson didn’t just throw this new application of the Force into his script willy-nilly though, as he had actually had to run it by Pablo Hidalgo and the rest of the Lucasfilm Story Group whose job it is to maintain narrative cohesion in this vast universe. As Johnson explained during an interview with the LA Times, “if the story required it and if it felt like it stretches into new territory but doesn’t break the idea of what the Force can do, Pablo was down — I got the blessing.”

It was always through the demands of the story. With the Force connections between Rey and Kylo I thought, “OK, I need to get these two talking. But if I put them face to face they’re going to either fight, or one of them has to be tied up.”

So I knew I wanted them to talk, and to talk enough to where we could go from “I hate you,” to her being forced to actually engage with him. That’s where the idea of these “Force connections” came from, which is kind of a new thing. It’s a little bit of a riff on what happens with Vader and Luke at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back,” but it’s entirely new in some regards.

Johnson also continued to reiterate the fact that what the Force can do has been constantly changing in the movies.

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.

One of those new abilities we see is Luke Force-projecting himself onto the planet Crait to fight Kylo Ren when he was actually on the other end of the galaxy on Ahch-To. Johnson describes this as “a hardcore variation of what Kylo and Rey have been doing the whole time” but makes sure to stress that they didn’t want this ability to be too powerful. This means that Luke’s Force-projection couldn’t actually physically interact with anything (You’ll notice he leaves no footprints in the salt surface of Crait). This doesn’t mean that all incorporeal Force beings can’t influence the physical world though.

The one point where we do introduce a bit of a twist in terms of Force ghosts is where Yoda calls down the lightning onto the tree. That, I think, is a tantalizing hint of the potential of someone who is a Force ghost interacting with the real world.

There is of course precedent for this “new” ability, as Obi-Wan Kenobi famously told Darth Vader during their duel that “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.” The ability was even foreshadowed a bit in Star Wars Rebels with The Bendu essentially using the Force turn himself into a giant raging storm.

Where there was really no precedent though, was for Carrie Fisher’s Leia using the Force. Well, at least in the movies. In the now-defunct Expanded Universe novels, Leia not really using the Force to the extent of Luke despite her potent Skywalker heritage is addressed quite often. In those stories, she does use some Force abilities though, but they’re rather minor as she makes the conscious decision to not explore them. The movie version of Leia is never really shown to go through that process, but she’s still a Skywalker so that potential has always been there. Because of that when Leia is blown out into space by a First Order torpedo strike to the bridge of her ship, it makes sense that she would tap into everything she has to try and survive.

That was something [Lucasfilm President/producer Kathy Kennedy] was always asking: Why has this never manifested in Leia? She obviously made a choice, because in “Return of the Jedi” Luke tells her, “You have that power too.” I liked the idea that it’s not Luke concentrating, reaching for the lightsaber; it’s an instinctual survival thing, like when you hear stories of a parent whose toddler is caught under a car and they get superhuman strength, or a drowning person clawing their way to the surface. It’s basically just her not being done with the fight yet.

I wanted it to happen [for Carrie] and I knew it was going to be a stretch. It’s a big moment, and I’m sure it will land different ways for different people, but for me it felt like a really emotionally satisfying thing to see.

For some fans, one unsatisfying thing to see though was Supreme Leader Snoke getting cut – literally – from the story so early on. Despite barely even appearing in it, fan theories had been raging ever since The Force Awakens about who this leader of the First Order really was. Was he Emperor Palpatine’s master Darth Plagueis back from the dead? Was he a clone of the Emperor himself perhaps? Or maybe he was just once a very infamous Stormtrooper who didn’t watch where he was going? Well, we won’t know anytime soon, as Johnson pulled off one of the film’s biggest twists.

[Does it matter who he was?] Not in this story it doesn’t, which is not to say it wouldn’t be interesting — they might explore it in the next movie or elsewhere. I wrote this script before “The Force Awakens” came out, so when I wrote it, the “Who is Snoke?” mania hadn’t arisen with the fans yet. Even if it had, my perspective is it’s similar to how the Emperor was handled. The first three movies you know nothing about the Emperor because you don’t have to, because that’s not the story. You know exactly what you need to know. Whereas in the prequels, you know everything about him because that is the story.

In this movie, Rey doesn’t really care where he comes from, so if in any of their scenes he had stopped and done a 30-second monologue about how he is [Darth] Plagueis or whoever, Rey would have blinked and looked confused and the scene would have gone on… and we would have ended up cutting it in the editing room because it doesn’t matter to the story right now.

Johnson also elaborated further on his decision to kill Snoke in another interview with Business Insider, explaining that “when I was writing the movie, I was doing it while they were shooting “The Force Awakens.” So it wasn’t like I was reading all these theories online and being at my typewriter and going “Ha! Ha! Gotcha!” It was me coming up with a story. I was writing purely from a personal reaction to the script of “The Force Awakens” and what they were shooting. Snoke, for example, I probably would have done the same thing regardless.”

Snoke’s fate came entirely out of Kylo’s arc and realizing that in this movie the most interesting thing to me was for Kylo to be ascendant — to start by knocking the shaky foundation out from Kylo’s feet and then building him back up into a complicated but credible villain by the end of it. And one that Rey now has a more complex relationship with than just “I hate you, I want to kill you.”

And once I kind of landed on that, it quickly became evident that, OK, what is Snoke’s place in this? If I build Kylo up to that point, the most interesting thing to carry into the next movie is Kylo running things, not any echo of the emperor/pupil relationship. And you realize the dramatic potential of that, and it just makes a lot of sense from the story point of view.

Snoke’s death is only the opening strike of a one-two punch combo of plot twists in that particular scene in The Last Jedi, as Johnson also burnt down two years of hectic fan theories on who Rey’s parents were. In the end, through some prompting from Kylo Ren, she realized that she wasn’t a lost Skywalker or Kenobi or even the living embodiment of the Jedi tree (crazy fan theories are crazy, yo!) but just like Luke, she was simply a nobody from a dusty planet who found herself swept up in events much bigger than she was. But why shatter fans’ expectations like this?

It felt like the way to go because it’s the hardest thing that she could possibly hear. It would be the easy thing for her to be defined by, “yes, this is how you fit into this story — it’s because your parent is so and so!” In that moment, for Kylo to be able to use that [information] as a knife and twist it to try and get what he wants, felt like the most dramatically potent option.

Personally, I think it was the most narratively potent option as well. One of the greatest appeals about the Star Wars universe was how it showed that everybody could make a difference. If a farm boy, a smuggler and a Princess without a home could save the galaxy, then so could anybody else. Even if you have a problem with everything else that The Last Jedi does, you would be hardpressed to argue for that concept being a bad one.

 

Last Updated: December 20, 2017

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