Star Wars: Rian Johnson Explains His Questionable Use Of the Force In The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi (TLJ) is proving to be as controversial as it is successful since debuting in theaters last week.

One of the major bones of contention has been the amped-up use of the Force, which can now apparently connect Force-sensitive folks across the galaxy, or project one’s self astrally across vast distances, and even protect against the vacuum of space — notably, the Force depictions in TLJ are dramatically super-sized from previous saga iterations.

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

Naturally, not everyone is down with these Force changes, as evidenced by the raging backlash in the Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic user reviews. In the original trilogy Jedi and Sith characters had limited command of the Force; they could push, pull, jump, choke, or mind-control other characters within a certain range (and a few could sense major galactic disturbances, like the destruction of a planet) — it’s this last ability that Johnson seized upon as a jumping-off point in TLJ.

Related – The Great Star Wars Debate: Does The Last Jedi Actually Stink?

Johnson spoke with the LA Times to explain how he obtained authorization for the Force upgrades seen in TLJ:

“There is a man named Pablo Hidalgo who is the sweetest dude in the universe, and he’s one of several keepers of the flame at Lucasfilm. It would always be a conversation, and if the story required it and if it felt like it stretches into new territory but doesn’t break the idea of what the Force can do, Pablo was down — I got the blessing. “

I worked at Lucasfilm several years ago in their video game division (the now-defunct LucasArts). We regularly interacted with the licensing folks, a small cadre of key decision-makers at Lucasfilm who decide what is canon and what is not. Hidalgo is one of those licensing folks, and they maintain a database called the Holocron, which is effectively the Star Wars bible, listing every item, character, event, and location from every movie, show, game, book, comic, etc. When you have a crazy idea for something, you negotiate with these folks. So, the Star Wars canon is a living thing, constantly being tweaked.

Johnson accepts that many fans are taking issue with his Force choices in TLJ, which were driven by his script:

“With the Force connections between Rey and Kylo I thought, ‘OK, I need to get these two talking. But if I put them face to face they’re going to either fight, or one of them has to be tied up.’ I knew I wanted them to talk, and to talk enough to where we could go from ‘I hate you,’ to her being forced to actually engage with him. That’s where the idea of these ‘Force connections’ came from, which is kind of a new thing. It’s a little bit of a riff on what happens with Vader and Luke at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s entirely new in some regards.”

My problem with this explanation is that Johnson came to these decisions because the script demanded it, not because it was necessarily what the characters wanted or needed — a problem that pervades TLJ.

Johnson goes on to explain that the Force has evolved, to lesser or greater extent, in every Star Wars movie:

“The truth is, because Star Wars until The Force Awakens has been set in amber and we hadn’t had a new Star Wars movie in 10 years, you forget that they were introducing new Force stuff with each movie, based on the requirements of the story. Force-grabbing didn’t come around until Empire, it wasn’t in A New Hope. Same with Force ghosts. They’d introduce new ideas of what could happen with the Force each time.”

OK, he’s got a point here. But let’s move to the three biggest issues with the Force in TLJ: Leia’s Force floating, Yoda’s Force lightning from beyond the grave, and Luke’s astral projecting — each of these has been dissected and debated online non-stop since last week. Johnson addresses Luke’s long-distance fighting style:

“When Luke shows up [on the planet Crait] he’s projecting, it’s like a hardcore variation of what Kylo and Rey have been doing the whole time and that’s why it takes so much out of him. In the version that we play, no. We tried to play really, really fair. In terms of his footsteps — we removed all of his foley — there are no footstep sounds. They never touch. And if you look, the salt flakes that are falling are sparking off of Kylo’s saber and not off of Luke’s.”

It’s a clever moment, to be sure, but when you stop to think about it for a moment, it feels like a cheap solution. Shortly thereafter Luke literally disappears in a cloud of dust, which robs our characters of more time and interaction with Luke in the future (although, he’s probably a Force ghost in Episode IX).

The major problem I have with Luke’s astral stuff, the fact that Rey and Kylo could physically interact while mentally connected, Yoda’s weather tricks, and Leia’s strange moment are all of the plot holes this creates. Can a Jedi assassinate someone while in astral form? Are Jedis indestructible, aside from lightsaber strikes? Why didn’t all of the Force ghosts team-up and smack-down Snoke and Kylo? We’ll probably never know the answers to these questions, possibly because Johnson never considered them.

At the end of the day, TLJ is just a movie, it’s not going to change the world one way or the other. However, we fans take our franchises seriously, and when someone starts mucking around with the way things work, because that’s what the story needs to have happen, it risks alienating long-term fans, who are left feeling like Johnson, Kennedy, Abrams, and the other key creators are just making this stuff up as they go along, fair or not.

Where do you stand regarding the use of the Force in TLJ? Let us know in the comments down below!

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David Kozlowski

David Kozlowski is a writer, podcaster, and visual artist. A U.S. Army veteran, David worked 20 years in the videogame industry and is a graduate of Arizona State University's Film and Media Studies.

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