I think my favorite thing about Star Wars: The Last Jedi is how successfully writer/director Rian Johnson dove into the giant toy box that is the Star Wars universe and started playing. His willingness to repudiate the franchise’s nostalgia industry—to let the past die, as Kylo Ren put it—is what I think will ultimately make The Last Jedi one of the standout movies of the saga, but what made the movie rule extremely hard was him having thoughts like....
.....SPOILERS AHEAD. TURN BACK NOW IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE DANG MOVIE. IT’S ABOUT TO BE SPOILED.....
Hey, uh, what would happen if you rammed a Mon Calamari cruiser into a fleet of First Order ships at light speed? Let’s find out!
And so that scene ended up being one of the best in entire film, joined by the throne-room battle in which Johnson unleashed Supreme Leader Snoke’s Praetorian Guard:
If you’ve loved Star Wars for as long as I have, you’ve seen these guys, or at least versions of these guys, quite a lot. You’ve seen them standing menacingly in the background in previous movies, video games, and various bits of Star Wars ephemera. You know them, even if you’ve never really seen them do anything.
That’s part of what’s so fun about the Star Wars universe, right? The fact that it has always been bursting with so much mythology and richness that even the most inconsequential bits of it are recognizable and alluring. Boba Fett is one of the most famous Star Wars characters ever, and he’s in the original trilogy for like five minutes. Fanboys are currently losing their shit about the unceremonious demise of Admiral Ackbar because he had one memorable line over 30 years ago. I don’t even have to look up how to spell Bossk.
So, anyway, Johnson clearly understood that we would be enticed by the presence of Snoke’s red-armored bodyguards, and went so far as to repeatedly tease us by having them unsheath their crazy vibro weapons and drop into cool ninja poses. It was like Johnson was whispering to everyone in the theater: You noticed these guys, didn’t you? You’ve kind of always wanted to see them fight, huh? Wanna see ‘em fight??? And then they fought, and it was incredible.
Let’s be honest: After seven movies’ worth of Jedis doing battle with their lightsabers, we’re running out of fresh and fun ways for them to do so. The one-on-one Jedi duel is so ubiquitous that it’s almost impossible to film one without every beat being formulaic and predictable. And watching a Jedi deflect a bunch of blaster shots and then easily cut through some tin-can droids was never all that interesting to begin with.
This is what made the sight of Kylo Ren and Rey teaming up to slice through a squad of Sith cosplayers a thrilling spectacle that was far more than just empty fan service. It was a good-ass action scene, yes, but it was also Johnson using one of the tools that were built for him years ago to show us a lightsaber-based fight scene the likes of which we’d never seen before.
When Kylo Ren and Rey first went into that throne room, I was worried that the climax of the movie was just going to be a rehash of Return Of The Jedi’s, and I’d be seeing yet another operatic lightsaber duel with lots of tears and yelling mixed in. But then the lightsaber cut through Snoke and flew into Rey’s hand, Kylo Ren ran to her side, and those guys in red—those guys I’ve always wondered about!—closed in. Suddenly, something brand new and audacious was cracking open in front of me. What more could I ask for in a Star Wars movie?