All of these gosh-wow moments extend and elaborate on powers depicted in previous Star Wars films: telepathy, mind control, and the like. In the case of Leia’s resurrection and Luke’s final trick, superhuman abilities get taken to their extreme at the moment of greatest need for the characters. If some viewers don’t buy that such powers can be pushed so drastically, the question is: Why not?
A Plot That Kills the Past
The most commonly talked-about type of twist for blockbuster fiction happens within the story itself. Characters betray one another, learn unthinkable truths, and die when no one expects them to.
Such maneuvers are well within the Star Wars playbook. Darth Vader striking Obi-Wan Kenobi down, Luke meeting his dad, and Emperor Palpatine plummeting to his doom were all iconic surprises. And they each get echoed in The Last Jedi—but the new versions land powerfully because of how they differ from the old.
The most shocking of these is Kylo Ren turning on Supreme Leader Snoke. Yet how big of a shock is it, really? The entire point of Rey going to visit the two biggest bad guys in the galaxy is her conviction that the younger of them wants to betray the older one. But Johnson gets the jump on the viewer with timing and staging.
Proving Rey right about Kylo so quickly upends the arc viewers have ingrained in them from the original trilogy: The climactic Return of the Jedi moment comes a full movie early. So there’s a wild sense of possibility that’s unleashed with the evil puppet-master figure dead.
It also helps that Kylo slays the Supreme Leader in a manner that harkens back to his murdering of Han Solo in The Force Awakens. In both cases, Kylo wears a blank expression and his target believes they’re on the same side before enduring a close-quarters light-stabbing. The intrigue this time comes from the ideological switch: In Awakens, he betrays the light, and in Jedi, he betrays the dark.
After a well-choreographed showdown with Snoke’s guards, Johnson whisks the audience back into the realm of the familiar, with Kylo making an overture to Rey that paraphrases the one that Darth Vader offers to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. Yet here, too, is a fun and shocking flip of an old memory. He informs her that her parents are “nobody,” rather than, as it had been in Empire for Luke—and as many fans had speculated would be the case now for Rey—very big somebodies.
Lots of other Last Jedi surprises work both on their own and as twisted callbacks. Luke’s phantom battle with Kylo is an obvious remix of Obi-Wan’s New Hope demise. The codebreaker DJ selling out Finn and Rose recalls Lando Calrissian’s actions in The Empire Strike Back—a fact that sets up the expectation of a double-reversal back to the good that, in a twist of its own, never comes.
What about Finn and Rose’s big moment? As the former stormtrooper goes to make like Russell in Independence Day and destroy the First Order’s big blaster in an act of self-sacrifice, he’s knocked to safety by Rose. It’s a classic, shmaltzy deus ex machina, and it allows Rose to deliver a lovely thesis statement for the Rebellion and plant this trilogy’s first romantic kiss. But I can’t think of any precedent in the Star Wars movies for this particular kind of sacrifice to prevent sacrifice, with individual love nobly winning out over the collective mission.