Everything in The Last Jedi leads to hope being straight up strangled, stabbed in the back, forced to drink green milk directly from a Thala-siren, and left for dead, not just for its characters, but for the audience as well. And it might be my favorite thematic aspect of the film. But don’t worry, neither The Last Jedi nor I are soulless and evil, because this desecration of hope leads into its brilliant resurrection by the very end. Let’s take a look.
Needless to say, full spoilers ahead for The Last Jedi.
In 2015’s The Force Awakens, Supreme Leader Snoke made it clear that if the Jedi were allowed to rise again, if Luke Skywalker came back, hope would return to the galaxy and everything the First Order had set out to do would be outdone. While that film ends with plenty of hope, as Luke Skywalker has been found and the terrible Starkiller Base is now a lovely new sun, it’s 2017’s The Last Jedi‘s job to utterly destroy any and all of that first film’s hope, for good reason of course. It succeeds in this job so well, it might even be too well, as not only do the characters feel a growing lack of hope, but we as audience members get pulled along as well, as one unexpected development after another makes one wonder how the good guys could survive until Ep. IX, while getting a win at the end seems like a certain implausibility.
The destruction of hope plot-wise is what pushes the characters, new and old, on necessary journeys which will forever change their destinies (and the galaxy at large), a necessary and crucial component of any good piece of media, regardless if it’s film, TV, books, etc. Could the characters in The Last Jedi have gone down similar journeys without hope’s light being snuffed out throughout? It’s possible, but we’ll never know and I won’t theorize, so instead I’ll look at what we have by uncovering how the film takes away hope and what it means for our principal characters.
From the opening moments, it’s clear the film is headed in such a direction. The Resistance’s efforts to buy time for their escape from D’Qar and the First Order ends with an unnecessary amount of lost lives, even if the First Order Dreadnought is destroyed, thus coloring what is normally a celebrated success in a Star Wars film. While plenty of pilots died taking on the first Death Star, A New Hope didn’t spend any time on said negative, instead focusing solely on Luke’s successful destruction of the battle station (hello medal ceremony), and by calling out Poe’s reckless disobedience and its consequences, TLJ is asking us to focus on more than one aspect of an outcome. But TLJ isn’t done, oh no, it’s never too early to keep piling it on: not only does the First Order track them through hyperspace with new tech, thus making escape impossible at this point especially due to low fuel, Kylo Ren destroys their remaining fighter contingent while his fellow pilots take out the senior leadership (Leia only being unconscious, thankfully), leaving a vacuum of authority where a new leader is assigned (Vice Admiral Holdo) and another thinks it should be his (Poe Dameron). Poe wants a plan, to take action, but Holdo doesn’t care nor is willing to share whatever she has in store, soldiering onward anyways. With no means to escape, no refueling to come, no clear plan for survival, the Resistance’s chances feel slim to none, both for us and our characters, which helps the audience buy into Poe’s insistence something should be done, thus making Finn and Rose’s journey to Canto Bight seem like a necessary detour to ensure the good guys’ survival. While Finn and Rose’s time in Canto Bight offers a smidgen of hope (freeing the fathiers), their mission ends in utter failure, with them being captured and ready to be executed. What hope does the Resistance have now?
Elsewhere, we pick up where The Force Awakens left off, as Rey extends her hope, and the Resistance’s, that Luke will return to the fight, only for him to unceremoniously throw his father’s lightsaber over a cliff and stomp away. It takes Rey’s persistence and a cheap move by R2-D2 to even convince the Jedi Master to train Rey, despite him stating he both came to the island to die and thinks the Jedi should too with him. I sure felt hopeless as a viewer, seeing Luke Skywalker bumming around an island, believing his part in the galaxy’s drama was over, and Rey does too, looking for hope elsewhere, in both Ahch-to’s dark side cave and Force-chats with Kylo Ren, searching for a way to bring what was once a promising Jedi pupil back into the light, and fight, if the last remaining Jedi isn’t budging. Rey charges towards Kylo, and his master, Snoke, and while she hits enough nerves to see Kylo do something worthwhile (the whole throne room being the film’s best scene, for me at least), only for him to turn his back just as her Force vision’s version of a hopeful ending seemed assured. Her insistence and perseverance makes us hope and believe her vision will come true, but Star Wars should’ve taught us better by now that Force visions never turn out the way anyone who has one expects.
While Holdo and Leia’s plan is finally revealed, and it offers some hope, the Resistance’s numbers dwindle as they haul ass for a potential sanctuary, sending out a plea for help that falls on deaf and unwilling ears. This is the point in the film where General Leia, yes, the same Leia who didn’t mope around and kept fighting after the destruction of her home planet, actually gives up on hope as well. I felt the moment seep through my bones, seeing the strongest, most resilient woman the galaxy has ever known sit down and give up. As the Resistance’s attack to stop the First Order from blowing open their door fails and their pleas go unanswered, now General goddamn Leia is ready to face the music? Hope, at this point, might as well be dead, or under the influence of plot device go-to tetrodotoxin, because there aren’t any porgs left for anyone to pull out of a hat. This is how hope dies in The Last Jedi, to no applause.
How does this methodical deconstruction and murder of hope affect the characters’ journeys?
- For Rey, it forces her to seek help elsewhere to learn about her powers (the Dark Side cave/Kylo) and to consider the possibility, with optimism regarding an always uncertain Force-vision, she can do what Ben Solo’s father and Master couldn’t: bring him back to the light and take down the First Order, thus saving the galaxy. Had she not lost hope in Luke, who had lost hope in himself some time ago, who knows what would’ve happened, but what we get instead is her taking reckless chances with whomever or whatever will work with her instead. She loses hope that her parents were ever worth anything/coming back, but she realizes the family she needs, she already has. She fails with Kylo and doesn’t get anywhere with Luke (or so it seems at first), but realizes just as she’s been doing all her life, she really didn’t need anyone to help her…she can help herself.
- For Poe, the dwindling chances of the Resistance’s survival mixing with his cockiness/impulsiveness pushes him to consider a crazy plan, with untrained operatives, as a sound one if it means a chance to escape the First Order’s tireless pursuit. However, his failures and the guidance of two of his superiors helps him go from thinking with his cockpit to thinking like a leader.
- For Finn, since the First Order has them in their sights and his friend Rey will be trapped when she comes back, he agrees to go on the Canto Bight mission with Rose to prevent the latter from happening. But his desire to only save one person, without any allegiance to a specific side, leads him to trust an unknown slicer which leads to their mission failing…hard. Defeating Phasma serves as catalyst to turn him into rebel scum, but it’s Rose who shows him how important is to care for something more (and still care for someone).
- For Rose, seeing the little injustices of Canto Bight up close leads her to punching her fist right through the town and pairing up with a dubious replacement slicer which leads to a total mission failure. And as the assault on the First Order’s battering ram canon fails, she comes to realize fighting the things one hates (Canto Bight, the First Order) isn’t as important as saving the one(s) you love.
- As for Kylo, things go in the opposite direction for him. Most of the film, one could say a version of hope grows in him, as he has the Resistance where he wants them and he begins to convince the powerful scavenger Rey to help him in his quest to kill the past. Once he has Rey in the throne room, Kylo can do what he’s been hoping to do for a while: take down his Master, something his grandfather never accomplished. The moment he actually fulfills this plan is around/near the same time most characters start to learn from their mistakes and toughen up despite a lack of hope, but for Kylo it ends with him not learning from his mistakes, only compounding them. Rey turns away from him and he’s left alone in the galaxy, besides a pasty subordinate who’d rather kill him than work with him. No one wants him, no one feels he’s accomplished anything worthwhile, both things he hoped would happen once he lived up to Vader family expectations, and he believes going further still will bring him the things he desires. Out of all the characters, he’s the only one who seeks hope for personal gain, while everyone else is looking to bring hope to help others. And when hope scorns him, he decides to try to make it heed his wishes, not learn from it. And that is why he fails and falls further down the dark side.
But after hope’s been dead way longer than 3 minutes, it is resuscitated with the biggest defibrillator in the galaxy: Luke Skywalker. Holdo gets a rather powerful moment (the visuals in her final scene are stunning) to jolt everyone with a dose of hope, but it’s Luke’s appearance on Crait and standing up to the First Order which brings hope officially back from the dead, like it was a zombie and he had invented the cure. To get to that moment, he had to find his own hope too, as he lost hope in himself and the symbolic status of the Jedi due to his failure with Ben and not believing he could ever live up to his legend because of it. But thanks to Rey’s insistence the galaxy will still believe in him and a helping dose of wise words from Yoda to back her up, he finds the hope in himself to be the legend the galaxy needs again. He was once a new hope, helping the Rebellion take down the Empire and attempting to bring the Jedi back, and he re-embraces the legacy of being a new hope once again, as his actions not only give the Resistance the time they need to escape, but they help grow belief in the Resistance around the galaxy, as evident by the Broom Boy seen at the very end (his name is Temiri Blagg, but Broom Boy sounds better). Just as the Force awakens the last Jedi, the last Jedi awakens a new hope.
To so systematically destroy hope over the course of the film, only for it rise like a phoenix from the ashes, was one of many brilliant things Rian Johnson did with TLJ. There is a lot more going on than what I’ve pointed out here, but it’s something that jumped out at me and I couldn’t help but want to explore. In the end, hope dies over and over again in The Last Jedi, but what characters do as hope dwindles is what defines them, taking them and audiences into new and exciting directions.
“Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.”
The Last Jedi (by Ryan) | The Last Jedi (by Chris)
The Curious Case of Force Ghosts
Phasma (novel) | Leia – Princess of Alderaan (novel) | Captain Phasma (comic miniseries) | The Legends of Luke Skywalker (novel)
Through Luke’s Eyes: A Creative Character Analysis (by Trinity)
Rey and the F Word (by Trinity)