Warning: Spoilers! If you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, then don’t read on.
Last week, I discussed how Kylo Ren’s development in The Last Jedi made sense when putting it into context with both The Force Awakens and the latest installment of the Star Wars franchise. From what viewers witnessed by the time the two and a half hour film hit the credits, they could make a safe guess that Snoke was never meant to be the main antagonist for the new trilogy; instead, the role was intended to be solely Kylo Ren’s. His fate was sealed the moment Rey rejected his offer to join him. What, then, about the more ambiguous endings for a couple of characters in The Last Jedi?
Luke Skywalker and His Transformation
Over the course of the past couple weeks since The Last Jedi’s release, Mark Hamill, the actor who portrays the character, Luke Skywalker, has come out to say that he doesn’t agree with the direction where Rian Johnson took Luke in the new film. He even went on to offer the media his thoughts on the matter:
Jedis don’t give up. I mean, even if he had a problem, he would maybe take a year to try and regroup, but if he made a mistake he would try and right that wrong, so right there, we had a fundamental difference, but, it’s not my story anymore. It’s somebody else’s story, and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective.
Mark Hamill has more recently came out to say that publicly criticizing the movie may not have been the best approach. He tweeted to his 2.2 million followers: “Creative differences are a common element of any project but usually remain private.” While Mark Hamill’s concerns in regards to Luke’s character in The Last Jedi can be understood, I think that Rian Johnson made the right call. Luke has been through a lot since The Return of the Jedi, and I personally don’t think–Jedi or not–anybody can get over those traumatic events so quickly, especially since Luke decided that going into exile was the best idea. Being alone and away from others similar to him more than likely altered his personality, and his will to move on.
Remember: Luke was the reason that Ben Solo decided to end his training and join up with Supreme Leader Snoke. Luke saw a terrible future for Ben, one that he couldn’t afford to risk having be a possibility. I think the fear Luke felt from Ben in that tent had much more of an unconscious pull for him: he was scared that Ben would turn into someone like his father, Darth Vader. In that moment, when he pulled out his lightsaber to kill his Padawan, he effectively created Kylo Ren, the one outcome he was trying to avoid. After that, Luke was forced to live with the fact that he was responsible for creating a monster similar to Darth Vader. There’s poetry here; Obi-Wan Kenobi felt the same sense of responsibility for Anakin after he was turned to the robotic killing machine, Darth Vader, by Darth Sidious.
And like Ben Kenobi (Obi-Wan), Luke met a similar fate. After exiling himself from the force and everyone else he cared about because of the unforgivable mistake he made, he was met unexpectedly by Rey. Her presence pushed him to remember what it meant to be a Jedi, what it meant to have a person to confide in and vice versa. I think that Mark Hamill is attached to the Luke Skywalker that was but is forgetting about the Luke Skywalker that is, the person who was created by the memory of his mistakes.
Like Darth Vader “killed” Ben Kenobi in A New Hope, Kylo Ren caused Luke to use every bit of energy he had left in order to trick his former Padawan that he was physically present for their battle, “killing” him in the process. What does that mean for Luke moving forward? Will he become a ghostly presence like Yoda or Ben Kenobi? And if he does, will he assist Rey in defeating Kylo Ren once and for all? There’s no knowing for sure at the moment, as The Last Jedi is still only 12 days old. It could just be that Luke will never appear in any shape or form in the Star Wars universe again, but I don’t think that would make sense. Luke redeemed himself for rejecting the importance of his past (Hmm… sound familiar anyone?), and, so, I don’t see why–if he had the ability to appear like Yoda or Ben–he wouldn’t help Rey.
The legend of Luke Skywalker also lives on as “the spark” that will eventually tear down the First Order, a saying many characters were saying in The Last Jedi. His act of selflessness did more than save those trapped in the Rebel base, it ignited the hope that the First Order had been squeezing out of people since their reign began. The boy–whose name is Temiri Blagg–grabbing his broom with the force and wielding it like a lightsaber in the movie’s final moments showed that Luke’s legacy will live on even if he doesn’t reanimate as a force-ghost to guide Rey.
Captain Phasma to Arise from the Flames?
Another of the more ambiguous deaths in The Last Jedi was that regarding the First Order commander, Captain Phasma. A hardened warrior, fans should’ve seen her appearance coming (besides knowing because of seeing her in the movie’s final trailer) after being dumped in a trash compactor by Finn and Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Defeat has clearly never been an option for the Stormtrooper commander, so what makes her dying a possibility?
Sure, Phasma fell into a pit of fire, but who’s to say that there wasn’t anything beneath that to break her fall? After surviving the events of the first movie, it wouldn’t come out of left field that she survived her fall. In a post-screening Q&A with Rian Johnson, he joked that “Phasma is the Kenny from South Park of this series.” Mark Hamill even said that “she’s got to survive… She falls through the flames and lands on a big pile of rubbish.” Like Luke vanishing in thin air, possibly transforming into a force-ghost like his Master, Phasma may also not be gone just yet.
The hints given from Johnson and Hamill suggest that Captain Phasma could make a return for Episode IX, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. I think that Rian Johnson left Phasma’s death as ambiguous as possible just in case J.J. Abrams decides that bringing her back makes the most sense for Episode IX. Either way, I’m not convinced that fans have seen the last of her yet.
Captain Phasma was only in one scene in The Last Jedi: the battle in the First Order hanger where Finn, BB-8, and Rose were forced to fight their way to safety. There hasn’t been a lot we learned about Captain Phasma from both films (although, if one is interested, then a novel on the character, titled Phasma, is available to purchase), making it hard to believe that that was the moment where fans saw the last of her. When Finn smacked her across the face, revealing a single, blue eye hiding underneath the mask of the mysterious character, viewers were left with a glimpse of the humanity that has remained hidden in Stormtroopers since Finn changed sides.
Stormtroopers were always a mystery until they were revealed to be the clones of Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones. That was well before the rise of the First Order, before a human that wasn’t a clone took to the mask. The parallels and differences between the clone army and the troopers of the First Order are an illuminating tool to use in understanding Finn’s change of heart, and the humanity residing within Captain Phasma. In a way, the First Order’s Stormtroopers could be compared to Fett’s clones: both were raised from birth (yes, the clones’ birth was a little different) to become soldiers, conditioned to follow the orders of their superiors without question. The difference, though, was that those in the First Order were real people. As much as the First Order tried to strip away their individuality, there was bound to be one strong personality to break free form the chains of their oppression (Finn). But where does that leave Phasma?
Her identity as a leader within the First Order must’ve, at some point, fully eclipsed her individuality. Wearing a mask and hiding her true face every day made following and commanding ruthless orders that much easier. For Captain Phasma, having one’s true face exposed was a crime against the First Order. Remember when she yelled at Finn near the beginning of The Force Awakens for having his mask off? That makes me think that when her single eye was exposed to Finn, a small part of her individuality leaked out for him to see too. Countless experimental studies have suggested that wearing a mask or uniform time and time again strips away one’s identity (i.e. The Stanford Prison Experiment done by Phillip Zimbardo). So when Captain Phasma was exposed to the one person who saw her as a merciless leader, maybe a part of her changed. Because of this possibility, her dying and surviving that moment could both make sense.
If she died, then she went out knowing that her facade as a fearless warrior had been exposed. There’s irony in that and made for a solid ending for her character in The Last Jedi. Yet, if she survived, then how she rises from her time in the limelight to Finn could make for an interesting character development come the next film. The problem here, though, is that there may not be enough room in Episode IX for that sort of development to unravel, especially for a relatively minor character.