Star Wars: The Last Jedi Has A Really Cool Take On The Force

Last night, a bunch of us went and saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Today, three of us sat down and talked about it.

On this bonus episode of Kotaku Splitscreen, I'm joined by my co-host Jason Schreier as well as our colleague Heather Alexandra to talk about the highs and lows of writer/director Rian Johnson's far, far away adventure. Listen here, and be warned, there are spoilers!

And now here are some WRITTEN spoilers about the movie, so I will warn you yet again!

Below is a lightly edited transcript of an exchange from the middle of our chat, where we all talked about what we made of the new film's slightly more nuanced, interesting take on the Force:

Kirk: I think [the lessons Luke taught Rey about the Force] are very interesting. Particularly the first one, which was when he totally owned the fact that on the Jedi's watch, all this bad shit went down. The Jedi were responsible for everything going wrong. There was this continual notion brought up that basically, every time there's a really powerful light side of the force, there's also a really powerful dark side, and vice versa. Like how Snoke says, when Kylo Ren rose up, "I knew that there would be a counterpart to you on the Light (side)." And how both Kylo and Rey, in the end, look at each other and say, we can do this differently.

Even the way that Rey was trained. The way that Rey became a Jedi was very different than the way that Luke was trained. She's this different kind of Jedi, it seemed to me. She's more ambiguous, more comfortable [with that]. She just jumped into the dark side hole, she explored that, went right for it. It wasn't quite the same kind of conflict.

And Kylo Ren, as much as he's Supreme Leader and he's a bad guy, he's also a different kind of Supreme Leader, a different kind of bad guy. He said as much himself. I think that idea, of this generational handoff and these new people who embrace the Force in a different way than has clearly not really worked that well for the last however many hundreds of years, was really interesting.

The movie seemed like it really understood the force. Rian Johnson really understands the Force, with his script, in a way that is more mature and nuanced than, actually, George Lucas did in the originals, even though Lucas paved the way for that.

Jason: I think that's a good parallel for the movies themselves. Because I think the first six Star Wars movies, the originals and the prequels, are all kind of… they're fantastic, don't get me wrong, but they're all kind of poorly made in a lot of ways. The acting is not great, the dialogue… I mean, the original trilogy has aged well as far as nostalgia, but if you go back and watch those movies or you sit down with someone watching them for the first time, they're gonna be like, "What? This is what all the fuss is about?"

All these corny lines, and there's a lot in there that's not mature filmmaking, that's not good filmmaking. And now, we have this slate of movies that is all up there with what you would expect from a movie made in 2017. High quality production values, great scripts, punchy dialogue, and all that stuff. It is a good parallel to the evolution of the Force.

Kirk: Heather, what did you make of this movie's take on the Force?

Heather: I liked it, mostly. I enjoyed the way that Yoda describes the force in Empire Strikes Back a lot. This idea that it's this thing that flows through us, that we sort of generate but we also have come into us, and come out of us. But it's not necessarily completely well explored in those movies, in the sense that, you know, Luke sits down [with Rey] and says, here's what the Force is. Do you feel this stuff around you? And then Rey's like, yeah, but what is it? And then Luke finally sits down and says, ok, picture all of these opposing forces. Now picture the tension between them, and the things that connect them. And that's sort of what the Force really is. It's not just these diametrically opposed poles of light and dark energy, it's this interweaving, connected web of cause and effect, and tension, and push and pull…

Jason: And Midichlorians.

Heather: Yes. Well, Midichlorians never bothered me that much, but I know I'm in the minority there. But I do like the way that they approached it here. I think that they could've taken more time to explore that, as opposed to… I think it's interesting for Luke to say the Jedi failed, and all this stuff happened on their watch. I think there's this part of me that really likes the philosophical aspect of this Force, this sort of semi-Taoist thing. But I think the movie did a really good job with it overall.

Kirk: Yeah, you're right, and your description of how Luke describes it is really on point. In the film, it was a beautiful description of what I've always understood the Force to be, anyways. And it was nice to hear the movies actually say it explicitly, even if like you said, I was a little frustrated that they didn't explore it.

I guess this movie is a blockbuster movie, it has to have a lot of action scenes, but it would have been cool for there to be a little more discussion of that concept. That the things that connect us, the tension between the various poles of existence are not inherently good or evil, and that viewing it that way is a mistake. That even the Jedi religion was kind of a mistake, which is what they were saying, in a way. That none of this is right or wrong, it's just what [the Jedi order has] been trying to do for all these years. That's so ambiguous and so interesting that the movie could've gone into that a little bit more.

Listen to the full episode for the rest of the conversation. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at [email protected] with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.


    All the interactions with the Jedi's, including Kylo and Snoke were the high points of the film. For me, maybe because I am older, where they took Luke didnt upset me. It made complete sense. Would I have liked a different future for him, perhaps, but given the whole point of the film was about letting go/killing the past, everything came back to that for me. So many people seem to forgot who you are in your idealistic 20's is not necessarily the same in 60's. He was weathered and lost all because of a fleeting moment of the Dark Side. Audiences of this generation know good and bad dont exist as blakc and white, like was popular then, now there are different opinions. Good people are capable of bad, and likewise the other. Many many different versions of grey.

    I had no problems with the Luke 'projection'. Because we used to see Vader and Luke have a conversation in different parts of the universe. So its not a stretch to believe that Rey and Kylo could see each other, and that they could manifest it into touch, then next extension of that was projecting oneself. I liked that it had a cost for that action.

    I am not convinced we have seen the last of Snoke. That was my only disappointing part for as good as that moment was, I just want to know more about him why as he so formidable etc.

    I grew up with the originals and truly believe its time to unshackle the story from the past. Even with Chewy and the droids but not the Falcon. I would never be ready to lose the Falcon.

      Spoiler alert. Snoke was a decoy/clone. :)

      I think the Luke problem is there was hype. The opening crawl of The Force Awakens was all The First Order won't rest until they find Skywalker. Leia is desperate to find Luke to gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy. It's all a big mystery.

      In the end, he's of no threat to the First Oder and has no interest in helping Leia or restoring peace and justice to the galaxy. He's thrown away everything his character was in the OT and he didn't redeem that.

      Essentially he didn't defeat the empire. He didn't bring about the Jedi. Being jaded and realising the Jedi were kind of crap is fine. Despite a whole plot of coming to terms with his father being Darth and redeeming him. He creates the new Darth Vader and then just gives up.

        you do know people are different from when they are in their 20's to when they are in their 60's. History is full of religious Saints and martyrs who did exactly what he did. What do you mean he didnt redeem his actions?

        Or he did do was save his sister, and the last standing members of the resistance, stand down and strike a blow against the main Sith threat. All the while acting as the spark to light the real rebellion (you know that spark that they kept talking about) inspiring people across the universe to join the cause. All by sacrificing his life to do so, yeah your right he did absolutely nothing.

        he was never ever going to defeat the Empire. that sort of idealism is best left in the 70's and 80's. The reason why he didnt bring about the Jedi was because they were all already there, like the bomber lady at the start and the kid at the end, oh and Rey. In solitude he finally found that the old thinking of the Jedi/Sith were flawed. The force didnt belong to 'religions' but to the every day people, the reasons why people didnt try and tap into it is because to the masses it was all rubbish.

          But Luke's inaction was a huge problem for them. When he finally decided to save the day all he could do was commit suicide by projecting himself way too far. They were relying on him for so much but all he accomplished was buying them time. I like where they went but they could have kept him alive and had him do some major stuff in the next movie.
          Hopefully in the next movie they at least throw all the weight that was meant to be on Luke onto Rey. It would be interesting to see her thrust into that position. The Rebels looking to her to win the war alone while the public hate her for being a Jedi.
          Although I'll admit I'm mostly just annoyed that Luke didn't causally use the Force to drag the First Order AT-ATs to their knees as he walked towards Kylo Ren's ship. I know the Force isn't really represented like that in the old movies but it'd be brilliant. Luke, Kylo Ren, Rey and Snoke are meant to be super powerful even for Jedi and that would have shown it. Sort of like that Revenge of the Sith scene where Yoda takes out Palpatine's guards.

        I think there was something poetic and refreshing about Luke fucking up.

        Like you said, he didn't defeat the Empire, he failed to pass on his Jedi Wisdom and let his school become destroyed by creating this new Vader.

        To me the most jarring thing was he ghosted the galaxy and abandoned his own sister. But, by the end of the film, he makes amends with his sister, he dies allowing the Rebellion to survive and he passed on his ideals of the force to Rey, who will continue the Jedi order.

        I think his story in this film is of redemption. And redemption can only occur when you start off in a vulnerable, low and shameful place. Sure, he was still a guy who was hyped in the OT as being a pure hearted hero, and in this film he contemplates killing his own Nephew, but I don't see a problem I'm happy with the consequences that has on the story and his own journey.

    Were we ever told that the Force is made of midichlorians? Or just that Annakin had a high force sensitivity and that was visible by his midichlorian count? Is it possible that midichlorians are just attracted to force sensitive individuals (rather than being what the force is) and therefore getting a midichlorian count is just a yardstick?

      Nope. Like D2 says, the midichlorians are what allow a Jedi to manipulate the Force not the Force itself. The Force itself is what was Luke described in Last Jedi. So yeah, midichlorians are just a yardstick. The raw potential a Jedi has to work with. I guess there could be other ways to manipulate the Force too. There are tons of creatures and species that manipulate the Force without thinking.

    I am another who really didn't have a problem with midichlorians.

    They're completely compatible with the existing lore and the descriptions of the Force as detailed in TLJ (et al).

    The Force is an all pervading "energy" in the universe, part of every atom etc. Midichlorians are the thing that allows things to interact with and manipulate the Force.

    Maybe they took away some of mystery of the Force with the introduction of Midichlorians, but as a mechanism to explain why some things can interact with the force and other things can't, that isn't just reliant on being sentient and exerting will, it's not the worst they could have come up with.

    I mean, if you look at reality, we have a lot of symbiosis with various bacteria and other organisms to allow us to do things that our actual bodies couldn't do on their own with our basic cells etc.

    I absolutely loved the movie even though I left wanting just a little more. There was only one part that didn't sit well with me, and that was Princess Leia 'pulling' herself back into the ship after being blasted into space. It just looked wrong and seemed out of place. A small complaint which didn't hamper my enjoyment of the movie.

      In one of the books they have regalar people talking about the Jedi/Luke and one Imperial officer claims Luke was jumping from Star Destroyer to Star Destroyer taking them out like they were nothing. I figured it was just the truth from his point of view, but when I saw Leia out in space it made me wonder if they'd actually do it.

    This film was so obsessed with subverting expectations and cramming the next generation of Disney mascots down our collective throats that it trampled established characters and made them do things they never would have done and told an incoherent and, at times , downright pointless story. It sucks hard and I'm not sure how JJ recovers it from here.

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    If you like the way the Force and Rey's training are treated in The Last Jedi a lot of the new books, as well as Clone Wars and Rebels, touch on the idea that post-Republic Yoda, Obi-wan, Qui-gon and even Ahsoka have seen the flaws of the Republic era Jedi. It's why so many people thought that in this movie Luke would disband the Jedi and train Rey as some sort of new thing. Instead he trained her more along the lines of a Grey Jedi.

    In the prequel era the Jedi were serving the Republic, not the Force. The Jedi always seemed to make that mistake but during that time they went even further. They led the Republic's army against the people of the galaxy. They don't explore it much in Phantom Menace, and people don't really watch it enough to notice, but Qui-gon is realy rebelious.
    He doesn't go as far as to become a Grey Jedi, Dark Jedi or even Sith but he didn't follow the councils lead. He walked his own path and that's probably what led him to be the first Jedi to be able to merge with the Force while still maintaining a unique personality and the ability to communicate with the outside world. He saw the Jedi Order's mistake but the scope of it wasn't revealed unitl the end of the Clone Wars. It would be interesting to see his reaction to the Jedi leading the Republic's army.
    As the Clone Wars raged on it became clearer. After the Clone Wars and the formation of the Empire most of the remaining Jedi saw this too. Part of the reason they went into exile was because the Jedi Order had failed. Yoda had discovered that after centuries of training he still had a dark side, because it was part of everyone and no amount of discipline would ever remove it. They realised that Light alone wasn't enough to be balanced.

    So when it was time to train Luke he taught him about the Force more than the Jedi Order. After bringing Anakin back from the Dark Side everything changes. Luke became a Jedi Master, by Yoda's new standards, and opened an academy to train other Force sensitives but it wasn't the same as the Republic era Jedi academies.
    Over the years Luke did expirement with the Dark Side and how to use it without falling to it. Much like how Mace Windu used the Dark Side as part of his lightsabre form. In exile Luke was forced to confront his idea of a new Jedi Order and that's why he response to Rey with a new outlook on it all.

    I like the idea but it sort of devalues the Sith and some core components of Return of the Jedi. The Dark Side is meant to corrupt the user. It's meant to draw you in and hook you. Anakin's rejection of the Dark Side wasn't just a decision to stop Force Choking people. It was fighting against the Dark Side itself. Although I do like the depth it adds to Yoda and Obi-wan's exile. They've tried to explain it a million times but this one feels like it might actually work.

    Really cool take on the Force? You mean the Force is now a plot device, a mutant, X-Men like power and lacks logic and consistency? Why do people keep insisting that just because it is fantasy (Star Wars stopped being science fiction a while back) it does not need to make any kind of logical sense?

    Last edited 18/12/17 4:10 pm

    The way people froth over what is essentially a way to sell merchandise via crass fan service, astounds me.
    This franchise stopped being about solid film making in the early 80s.
    When a creative endeavour is 100% about pandering to salivating fandom, it loses all meaning.
    I wish more people could see this.
    It’s exactly the same with the marvel/dc films.
    The films are not critiqued on their own merits. It’s cynical and frustrating as a film fan.

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