***Yar! Here There Be Spoilers!***
I enjoyed The Last Jedi, but it is still a movie with problems. Some of those problems are minor, in my opinion – just flaws like every movie has. The slowest chase scene in the galaxy; no need for Phasma; that kind of thing. Others are problems that can be explained away: theorycraft around Holdo weaponizing hyperspace, and why that wouldn’t just become what everyone does in every space battle, for example.
One problem, though, is a core problem to the story. It can’t be explained away, I don’t think, and it does far more damage to the story than any good it might do. That problem is the big reveal of what happened between Luke and Ben Solo. It is, in a word, an utter failure. It is a moment that the film did not earn, or even attempt to explain. It comes at what is supposed to be an emotional climax for the film, and falls utterly flat. It violates what we the audience know, or think we know, in a way that isn’t subversive or iconoclastic but rather hand-wavey in the worst way.
I paused during a recent conversation online about this scene, and easily came up with eight ways this could have been handled much better.
- All of these are about actually earning the moment where Luke makes his biggest mistake and falls from grace. Here are some ways they could have earned that moment, but kept the iconoclasm and subversion they were clearly going for:
Luke doesn’t wield power well, but is corrupted by it.
We all know power corrupts. Luke has at least a couple of decades during which he is a galactic hero, the only living Jedi, and during which there are no Sith anyone knows about. It doesn’t take a genius storyteller to tell the story of a hero falling from grace through hubris.
The galaxy is better off without Skywalkers.
Maybe go harder with this theme of subversion – the Star Wars saga so far has been explicitly about the Skywalker dynasty, but show that their dynasty is fundamentally corrupt. The whole idea of dynasties is corrupt. People demand heroes and Chosen Ones, and it always turns out awful in the end. Make the Skywalkers the emblematic example of this. Luke realizes that there is something wrong with a dynastic family that dominates the galaxy’s destiny for generations, and goes into hiding in order to end it all.
Snoke deceived Luke.
Snoke is there in the background, manipulating things. Maybe something Luke does, or fails to do, opens him up to Snoke’s influence. We already know that one Sith Lord can manipulate an entire Temple full of fully-trained Jedi. Maybe Snoke is ancient and knows Force secrets that Luke has hardly guessed at. Maybe this is how Snoke developed the Force-connection technique that he used on Kylo and Rey. And if Snoke deceived Luke at the height of Luke’s powers, then it’s really true that Luke can’t save the galaxy. Then who can? Oh, right, our new heroes. Rey has her Wonder Woman moment, is like “You can’t save the galaxy, but I can.” Bam. The baton is passed.
Luke buys into his own hype.
He comes to see himself the way the galaxy sees him – the hero and savior. But then Ben Solo demonstrates even greater power, even greater talent with the Force. He starts to sway Luke’s students away from him, and they start calling themselves the Knights of Ren. Luke can’t teach them, can’t compete with Ben. Ultimately, it comes to a head.
Luke is telling the truth, but Rey doesn’t believe him.
She feels she has this deep connection with Kylo, and that she can be the one to redeem him. Hell, it’s what Luke himself did with Vader! But “This won’t turn out the way you think!” She confronts Luke, they have their fight, and she leaves to go rescue Kylo. Later, Kylo reveals that it was actually worse than Luke thought. Luke was leaving things out, but it was to save Rey from the full horror of what happened. And damn, Kylo can play the long game, and isn’t just a tantrum-throwing dweeb. He manipulated Rey to get here right where he needed her for his coup. And Rey has learned that she can make big mistakes too, just like Luke. Character growth.
Any deep misunderstanding between Luke and Ben that isn’t stupid.
Delve more deeply into the lore and philosophy of the Jedi. Luke and Ben have very different experiences, very different takes on it. Ben doesn’t understand the danger of the Dark Side, perhaps, because he grew up in an era of the New Republic. He’s like a Baby Boomer, basically, born to affluence and taking it for granted. Kylo tries to stage a coup against Luke, but is defeated, because Luke is more of a baddass than we’d thought. This would also foreshadow his later coup against Snoke, and echo the tradition of Sith betraying their masters. Luke decides that it is the philosophy itself that is incomplete, or fatally flawed.
Luke is too dogmatic.
Luke tries to rebuild the Jedi temple and religion as it was before Palpatine’s purge. He works from ancient Jedi texts that he barely understands. And remember that Luke himself was barely trained at all. He was basically a very skilled, too-old padawan who had the advantage of being Darth Vader’s son and the galaxy’s literal only hope left. But he wasn’t a master in the way that Obi-Wan was, or Yoda was. He could come to embody everything bad about a college sophomore – overconfident about his shallow understanding. Maybe he realizes, too late, that the Jedi philosophy is fundamentally flawed. The Light gives rise to the Dark (as Snoke intimated in TLJ) inevitably. But his realization comes too late to save poor Ben Solo. Because Luke holds back in their inevitable fight, he ends up buried under rubble and utterly dejected. And that explains why he decides to go to the first Jedi temple to ensure that no one makes his mistake ever again.
Han and Leia are not good parents.
This would be more iconoclasm, and was already strongly implied by The Force Awakens. Han is back to scoundrel-ing, and Leia is a Big Damn Leader now, and maybe neither had time for little Ben. They sent him off to study with Uncle Luke when all he wanted was love and attention. Maybe Luke sticks up for Ben’s parents, is offended by Ben’s bitterness, and Ben has his first Force-powered tantrum, burning down the temple. This explains a lot of how Kylo is presented – desperate for Snoke to be the father he never had. Easily manipulated. Unable to control his emotions or deal with frustration and setbacks. And it ends up being precisely what Luke manipulates in their climactic showdown. It explains why Kylo had no idea Luke was an illusion the whole time.
All of these are better than what we got in The Last Jedi, and I’m not even that good of a writer. I think these ideas pull in the core themes of TLJ better, and connects this core moment to other parts of the film. I think when I re-watch, in the back of my mind I’ll just think about these and other alternatives when this scene comes up, and imagine the better moment that could have been.
What are preferable ways to handle this falling out that you’ve come up with?