Last week, after seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with writer/director Rian Johnson and we delved deep into spoilers. Naturally, I asked Johnson about subverting fan expectations with the storyline involving Supreme Leader Snoke, and the idea of “killing the past” to move the Star Wars franchise into the future. Read on to see what Johnson said about subverting Snoke expectations in The Last Jedi.
Naturally, spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow.
Can you talk about subverting fan expectations in this film, and in particular, the decision to kill Snoke?
Yeah, I guess the first thing to say is coming into writing this or any story the object is not to subvert expectation, the object is not surprise. I think that would lead to some contrived places. The object is drama. And in this case, the object was figuring out a path for each one of these characters, where we challenge them and thus learn more about each of them by the end of the movie.
So that having been said, Kylo’s arc in this movie, besides his relationship with Rey, I saw as the big arc for Kylo breaking down this kind of unstable foundation that he’s on and then building him to where by the end of the film he’s no longer just a Vader wannabe. But he’s stepped into his own as kind of a quote-unquote villain, but a complicated villain that you understand, right? So with that in mind, the idea that Kylo would get to that place by the end of it led me to think, well, then what is Snoke’s place at the end? And does that work with him just kneeling before Snoke at the end? No. If Kylo’s gotta get to a place of actual power the ultimate expression of that would be him ascending beyond his master.
And that also then gives the opportunity to have a great, dramatic moment that you don’t expect of getting Snoke kind of out of the way. So that really is where it all stemmed from. It was thinking about Kylo’s path, thinking about where I wanted him to be at the end of the movie to set him up for the next film. And thinking okay, that means we’re gonna clear away this slightly more familiar dynamic of the Emperor and the pupil. Clear the boards from that, and then that’s much more exciting going into [Episode IX], the notion of now we just have Kylo as the one that they have to deal with. You can no longer take a rational guess at how the Snoke-Kylo thing is gonna play out in the next movie.
Yeah, I have no idea.
I know…it’s exciting, isn’t it?
In the film, Kylo advises Rey to “kill the past.” It seems like your movie is kind of also kind of representative of that. Like for Star Wars, to move on to the future of the franchise, you kind of have to let go of…
Well, it’s an interesting aspect of it. It’s an interesting theme. And it’s for me the balance was…Kylo is saying that, and interestingly to me, Luke is kind of saying his own version of that as well. And it’s really Rey who is the balance and Rey is where my heart lies in terms of that theme and where we end up at the end of the movie. Because I do believe that I understand the kind of that fiery instinct of burn down the past, cut off from tradition, forge forward in your life. Don’t look back. Every one of us has had the example in our life where we’ve felt that or acted that out in some way.
I also think if you think you’re leaving the past behind or cutting it off, you’re fooling yourself. The real way to move forward is by building on the… is by realizing what you take and what you leave from the past, not holding onto it too closely. Like the lesson of Luke and the tree with Yoda. But building off of what it’s worth and moving forward from there, which is what Rey lands on. And that ultimately is where my heart’s at. […] Hopefully, it still feels like a Star Wars movie and pays some things off, but also does some things that are unexpected and takes us some new places.