Every couple or months or so the online world will be overtaken by a continuation of the argument on The Last Jedi. I will not be talking about that film, but one scene in that film, a scene that I think is one of the best in all of Star Wars. Not only is the cinematography amazing and Adam Driver’s performance at Kylo Ren outstanding but it draws together elements from across the entire Star Wars saga to complete the story of one of the most famous characters in cinema. Director Rian Johnson made a brave decision in having this confrontation not just be another titanic light sabre battle and drew a lot of ire from the fans, but I think it was a great decision.
What’s Going On?
Kylo Ren has seized control of the First Order and brought its military might to crush the Resistance, who are all but defenceless. Seemingly all is lost until the legendary Luke Skywalker appears amongst them, last seen on the other side of the galaxy, living as a recluse. He goes out to face the First Order alone to give the Resistance time to escape. Upon seeing Skywalker, Ren orders a barrage of fire that should reduce Skywalker to a pile of ash. But as the dust settles Skywalker remains unhurt so Ren goes to challenge him in a light sabre duel. Throughout the brief duel, Skywalker refuses to strike Ren, instead dodging his blows until eventually, Ren plunges his light sabre into Skywalker. Again, to no effect. This is merely an illusion, Skywalker remains on his secluded planet, using the Force to project himself across space. But so great is the effort in doing this it causes Skywalker’s death. While this is going on the Resistance are escaping in the Millennium Falcon, but that’s not the iconic part of this scene.
Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi Craves Not These Things
When Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda talk about the Jedi to Luke they often come back to ideas of peace and justice, not adventure or glory, yet most of the films have seen the Jedi fighting and killing, even becoming generals in war. This is not terribly peaceful. As we learn Luke Skywalker had already tried violence, going to kill Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo as he was then known), and that failed, indeed, that set Kylo Ren off on his dark path. Luke failed his student and nephew. He uses this opportunity not to fight Ren but to talk to him. He won’t make the mistake of his past and he won’t do what Ren did, striking down people once close to him. This to how a Jedi should be, not charging into battle, but stopping the battle. Luke has seen this play out before – Obi-Wan taught his father, Anakin turned evil and in the end, Obi-Wan let Darth Vader kill him. When Luke faced Palpatine on the Death Star he was resolved not to fight, understanding that to give in to violence would not lead to any kind of victory.
The Rage of Kylo Ren
Kylo Ren is defeated because of his inability to control his anger. He’d brought an army to deal with the Resistance and there was no reason for him to face Luke in one on one combat but he wanted to beat him. Ren identifies with Darth Vader more than Luke and presumably would see defeating and killing Luke as not only getting revenge but taking his place as the most powerful Force user. By the time Ren realises this is an illusion and marches his soldiers in the Resistance has escaped. Everything about Ren’s fighting style and manner show us his recklessness, how he is just anger unleashed, wild swings of his light sabre and screaming at people, whereas Luke is almost blase about the whole thing. To compare Ren with Vader, the latter always seemed more in control, even when Force-choking admirals. I think Ren is still very much dealing with the betrayals and trauma he’s suffered (much of this self-inflicted), this isn’t just war and politics, he’s upset with Luke. This is Anakin Skywalker of the prequels, violent, unpredictable, emotional, demanding respect and quick to anger.
An Epic Setting
The scene looks amazing. The stark landscape outside this last base, the salt that covers the ground and when disturbed reveals the red beneath, the barrage of fire unleashed against Skywalker that throws up great plumes of red dust and smoke. They fight against the backdrop of the rows of AT-ATs behind Ren and the smouldering base behind Luke, making it look as epic as any fight scene I’ve ever seen. The reveal of the blood-red dirt as Ren slices through Luke only to realise there is no blood as Luke isn’t really there is spectacular (note for pedants: I know light sabre wounds generally don’t bleed as the heat of the blade cauterizes the wound). Ren also gets points for shrugging his cloak off in an awesome way and to make things equal Luke brushes some dirt off his shoulder after being shot 1000 times so both look pretty cool.
This is one of my favourite scenes in Star Wars. It showed a tremendous journey for Luke Skywalker – from the boy on Tatooine, to the Jedi Knight who destroyed the Empire, the Jedi Master who failed his student and nephew and finally giving up his life and winning a fight without fighting. Skywalker’s life wasn’t a simple trajectory of growing power and success, he had faltered, he made mistakes, and he had learned from these.