All this week, in lieu of a longer review, we’ll be publishing a series of spoiler-filled micro-essays about different aspects of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, which, to our surprise, has become the most controversial film in the series. Today, we’re here to discuss a particularly contentious moment for a lot of invested fans. Of course, SPOILERS follow.
Yeah, I’m going there.
The best moment in The Last Jedi is when Kylo Ren breaks free from the control of his master, Supreme Leader Snoke, and murks his ass in order to save Rey’s life. A lot of people disagree with me, of course, but I’m really curious as to why. Are we really disappointed that we didn’t get to find out exactly how Snoke came to power, and how he manipulated Kylo Ren in order to destroy the New Jedi Order? Is it because people spent the last few years scouring the Expanded Universe in order to find out anything they could about the leader, only to have it all undone in front of them in a matter of seconds? Yeah, it’s probably that, actually.
But it’s a twist in line with the movie’s new emphasis on its characters, and it frees Kylo Ren to be something we haven’t seen in the whole series: A Dark Side apprentice who is able to control his own evil destiny. That’s a pretty solid change, because we get to have a unique and dynamic villain for once.
You see, we’ve only ever seen one character have control over the direction of the Dark Side, and that’s Emperor Palpatine. All of the memorable antagonists that we’ve seen over the years, from Darth Maul all the way through to Vader, have been subservient to a larger and shadowy figure. It’s a story that we’ve seen played out all the way through and through over the course of the last six films, and one that looked like it was going to continue well and through the new trilogy. But the new films also go out of the way to point out that the Sith are pretty much dead as an order, that Snoke and Kylo Ren are just dark side villains who don’t necessarily adhere to that specific ideology, and so the “master/apprentice” balance isn’t needed once again. I’d trade all of that in for a dynamic villain, in control of a gigantic army, fueled by an impulsive hatred and totally free from the saga’s cliches. And it is a cliche — take a look at the beloved original expanded universe: We had clones galore! The whole EU was a search for a powerful and interesting villain, different than the one we’d already seen (we even pulled in creatures from outside the galaxy who would later go on and kill Chewbacca!). And now that we have it, the fans just want the same.
Of course, the specifics of the scene will undoubtedly piss people off: How did Snoke not realize that Kylo Ren was manipulating Rey’s lightsaber? He’s reading his mind, shouldn’t he be able to tell? I’d argue the answer to that is in the phrasing: He’s performing two actions at once, and concealing that saber action behind the one that Snoke has ordered him to do, which is executing Rey. His expansive and seemingly unlimited powers do, in fact, have a limit, especially when manipulated by someone who’s skilled enough in his hatred to mask his motivations. There’s a poetry to how Ren figures out how to beat him at his own game, and it parallels well with a number of child abuse narratives that we’ve seen in popular storytelling. That, in essence, is the true heart of the Snoke and Kylo “partnership.”
Whereas Vader’s relationship with Palpatine was just as much defined by manipulation, there’s an extra venom to his grandson’s apprenticeship that just didn’t work. We see Snoke dress down Kylo multiple times over the course of the relationship in an extraordinarily cruel fashion, and we know just how unstable Kylo is: He’s not weighted down by guilt or depression in the same way that Vader was. His subservience was the product of his actions, and his arc is resolved by his freedom from that anguish. It makes sense that their story would have a different ending, given how partially unrepentant Kylo is with regards to his actions, and how uncontrollable he is. Vader, for all of his rage, was a stable and committed veteran by the time he’d turned to the Dark Side. Kylo’s still a kid.
It is always going to be difficult for Star Wars fanboys to accept change in any way, shape or form, but this move away from the traditional dynamics of the saga finally allows for new stories to be told. The Skywalker journey is finally in uncharted territory, and we can thank the split corpse of a CGI villain for pushing us into new and fresher waters. It’s not like you won’t ever be able to find out exactly where Snoke is from in the Unknown Regions or why he wanted the First Order to rise to power, or what his favorite food is: That’s what the novels and encyclopedias and cartoons are for. They will always be there, along with the Original Trilogy and the stories that you know and love. But we can have so much more now, and thank Jesus that Snoke is dead.
Image via Lucasfilm.