The Last Jedi: A Cinematic Journey of Balance, Failure, and Redemption

05 June 2023
"The Last Jedi," directed by Rian Johnson, stands as the eighth installment in the iconic Star Wars saga. Released in 2017, the film sparked both fervent praise and intense debate among fans and critics alike. 

To fully appreciate its impact, it is crucial to delve into the film's thematic underpinnings, which contribute significantly to its narrative depth and artistic vision. Rian Johnson drew inspiration from various sources, including the works of esteemed filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, as well as other notable directors, adding further layers of influence and meaning to the film's themes. 

By exploring these thematic influences, we can gain a deeper understanding of the thought-provoking elements that shape The Last Jedi.

themes of the last jedi

Overview of The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi continues the story immediately after the events of "The Force Awakens." The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, is on the brink of annihilation as the tyrannical First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke and his apprentice Kylo Ren, tightens its grip on the galaxy. Rey, a powerful Force-sensitive scavenger, seeks out the legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker on the secluded planet of Ahch-To, hoping to convince him to return and help the Resistance.

The film explores the struggles of Rey as she grapples with her newfound abilities and seeks guidance from Luke, who is haunted by his failures and reluctant to train her. Meanwhile, Finn, a former Stormtrooper turned Resistance fighter, embarks on a mission with a spirited mechanic named Rose Tico to disable the First Order's tracking system. As the Resistance faces overwhelming odds, internal conflicts arise, challenging the ideals of heroism and the traditional notions of good and evil.

Upon its release, "The Last Jedi" received widespread critical acclaim for its bold and subversive approach to the Star Wars mythology. Critics praised Rian Johnson's directorial vision, thematic depth, and character development. However, the film also proved to be divisive among the Star Wars fanbase. Some fans appreciated the film's willingness to take risks and explore new territory, while others expressed dissatisfaction with certain narrative choices and character arcs. The ensuing debates and passionate discussions among fans further emphasized the film's impact and the weight of its thematic exploration.

Themes Explored in "The Last Jedi":

Deconstruction of Heroes and Legends:

"The Last Jedi" goes beyond the conventional hero narrative by deconstructing established characters and challenging their traditional roles. Rian Johnson's approach subverts expectations and invites audiences to examine the complexities of heroism, failure, and leadership.

One of the most significant deconstructions in the film is that of Luke Skywalker. As a central figure in the Star Wars saga, Luke is viewed as a symbol of hope and righteousness. However, in "The Last Jedi," he is portrayed as a disillusioned and guilt-ridden hermit, cut off from the Force and the galaxy. This portrayal challenges the idea of the infallible hero and explores the emotional toll that comes with the weight of expectations. Luke's character arc is driven by his internal struggle with the failures of the past and his reluctance to take up the mantle of hero once again. This exploration of Luke's vulnerability and self-doubt adds depth and realism to his character, making him more relatable to audiences.

The theme of failure runs throughout the film, affecting not only Luke but also other characters. Johnson emphasizes that failure is an intrinsic part of the journey towards growth and self-discovery. Characters like Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron all experience setbacks and make mistakes, forcing them to confront their own limitations and learn from their failures. By portraying failure as a necessary step in the process of becoming a hero, "The Last Jedi" challenges the notion of flawless protagonists and provides a more nuanced perspective on personal growth and resilience.

Additionally, the film explores the complexities of leadership. It questions the idea that leadership is solely determined by lineage or position and delves into the importance of inspiring hope, making difficult decisions, and fostering collective strength. Leia Organa, a revered leader of the Resistance, faces the challenge of maintaining morale and unity in the face of overwhelming odds. Vice Admiral Holdo, introduced in the film, presents a different approach to leadership, emphasizing strategic decision-making over direct action. 

These characters showcase diverse leadership styles and highlight the multifaceted nature of guiding a movement. By challenging traditional notions of leadership, "The Last Jedi" prompts audiences to question their assumptions and reevaluate the qualities and responsibilities of leaders in our own world.

Balance and Dualities:

"The Last Jedi" delves into the theme of balance in the Force, exploring its significance and challenging traditional notions of light and dark, good and evil. Rian Johnson's approach in the film emphasizes the interconnectedness of these dualities and blurs the lines between them.

The concept of balance in the Force is a central theme throughout the Star Wars saga, and "The Last Jedi" builds upon it by suggesting that balance is not achieved by eradicating one side in favor of the other, but by acknowledging and harmonizing the existence of both light and dark aspects. This is exemplified through the character of Rey, who possesses a raw power that draws from both the light and the dark sides of the Force. Her journey becomes a search for balance within herself, as she grapples with her own desires, fears, and the influence of external forces.

The film challenges the notion of binary thinking by presenting characters who embody shades of gray. Kylo Ren, in particular, is a prime example of this. He is torn between the dark side and his conflicted conscience, showcasing a complexity that blurs the lines between good and evil. His character demonstrates the potential for redemption and the capacity for change, suggesting that individuals are not defined solely by their alignment to one side of the moral spectrum.

"The Last Jedi" encourages a more nuanced understanding of morality by challenging simplistic notions of good and evil. It suggests that individuals can be shaped by their experiences, circumstances, and personal choices, rather than being inherently good or bad. This theme is reflected in the actions and motivations of characters like DJ, a morally ambiguous hacker, and Luke Skywalker, who confronts his own mistakes and the consequences of his actions. The film prompts audiences to question the rigid dichotomy of light versus dark and instead consider the complexities of individuals and their capacity for growth and redemption.

Failure and Redemption:

"The Last Jedi" prominently explores the theme of failure as a catalyst for character development and growth. The film emphasizes that failure is not the end, but rather an opportunity for reflection, learning, and redemption.

Characters in "The Last Jedi" grapple with their past mistakes and are forced to confront the consequences of their actions. Luke Skywalker, haunted by his failure to prevent Kylo Ren's turn to the dark side, has isolated himself on Ahch-To, consumed by guilt and remorse. However, through his interactions with Rey and the teachings of the Force, Luke learns that failure is an essential part of the hero's journey. 

the last jedi luke skywalker

Mesa thinks Yoda may have da helped with dis!

Similarly, Kylo Ren, formerly known as Ben Solo, is a character deeply entwined with themes of failure and redemption. He is torn between the light and dark sides of the Force, and his actions have caused immense pain and destruction. Throughout the film, Kylo Ren struggles with the consequences of his choices and his internal conflict. His journey toward redemption is a complex one, as he grapples with his desire for power, his relationship with Rey, and his conflicted conscience. The film raises questions about the potential for redemption and offers a glimpse of the internal struggle faced by characters who have fallen from grace.

He also quite fancies Rey...

Thematic Influences on The Last Jedi

Akira Kurosawa's Influence:

Rian Johnson has openly expressed his admiration for Akira Kurosawa, and the influence of the renowned Japanese filmmaker can be seen in various aspects of "The Last Jedi." Johnson pays homage to Kurosawa's storytelling techniques, visual composition, narrative structure, and moral ambiguity.

One of the notable elements that Johnson borrows from Kurosawa is his visual composition. Kurosawa was known for his meticulous attention to detail in framing and composition, often using wide shots and dynamic angles to capture the grandeur and intensity of his scenes. Similarly, in "The Last Jedi," Johnson employs visually striking cinematography, showcasing epic landscapes and battles that echo the cinematic style of Kurosawa. This visual homage adds depth and a sense of visual poetry to the film's storytelling.

Another area where Kurosawa's influence is evident is in narrative structure. Kurosawa often employed nonlinear storytelling and multiple perspectives to reveal a layered and complex narrative. Similarly, Johnson utilizes nonlinear storytelling techniques in "The Last Jedi," interweaving various character arcs and subplots to build tension and provide a more comprehensive exploration of the film's themes. This narrative structure adds depth and richness to the storytelling, allowing for nuanced character development and thematic exploration.

Furthermore, Kurosawa's films frequently embraced moral ambiguity, presenting complex characters with conflicting motivations and blurring the lines between heroes and villains. "The Last Jedi" follows this tradition by portraying characters with shades of gray, challenging traditional notions of good and evil. Kylo Ren, for example, embodies the moral ambiguity often found in Kurosawa's characters. This moral complexity adds depth and realism to the story, encouraging audiences to question preconceived notions of heroism and villainy.

Influence of Other Filmmakers:

Rian Johnson's approach to storytelling in "The Last Jedi" also reflects the influences of other filmmakers, contributing to the film's unique blend of homage and innovation. Several notable directors have had an impact on Johnson's filmmaking style and thematic contributions.

David Lean

Johnson has cited David Lean, the British filmmaker known for epics such as "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai," as an influence. Lean's films often explored grand narratives, epic landscapes, and complex characters. In "The Last Jedi," Johnson incorporates elements of grandeur and epic scope, capturing sweeping landscapes and intense battles that evoke Lean's cinematic sensibilities. This influence adds a sense of scale and visual richness to the film's storytelling.

Stanley Kubrick

Johnson has expressed admiration for Stanley Kubrick, the master filmmaker behind works like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork Orange." Kubrick was known for his meticulous attention to detail, stylized visuals, and exploration of complex themes. Johnson incorporates Kubrick's influence through his careful attention to visual aesthetics and the meticulous design of each scene. This contributes to the film's immersive quality and enhances the thematic depth.

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg's influence on Johnson can be seen in the emotional resonance and adventure-driven storytelling of "The Last Jedi." Spielberg is known for his ability to balance spectacle with heartfelt storytelling, and Johnson emulates this approach by infusing the film with emotional depth and relatable characters. The theme of hope, a common thread in Spielberg's films, is also present in "The Last Jedi," contributing to its overall narrative arc. Speilberg famously helped with notes on ANH and famously helped with the fight scenes in Revenge of the Sith, all uncredited due to his genuine friendship with George Lucas. 

Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam, the visionary director behind films like "Brazil" and "12 Monkeys," has influenced Johnson's use of visual storytelling and surreal elements. Gilliam's films often blend fantasy and reality, and Johnson incorporates similar elements in "The Last Jedi,", particularly in sequences like Rey's Force vision and the surreal interactions with Luke Skywalker. This infusion of surrealism adds an imaginative layer to the film's narrative and enhances its thematic exploration.

These influences from various filmmakers contribute to the distinct blend of homage and innovation found in "The Last Jedi." Johnson draws from their thematic contributions, incorporating grandeur, attention to detail, emotional resonance, and visual storytelling techniques. By infusing these influences into his own storytelling style, Johnson creates a film that pays homage to the cinematic tradition while pushing the boundaries of the Star Wars saga.

rey last jedi

Impact and Controversy:

"The Last Jedi" has had a significant impact on the Star Wars franchise and the broader cultural landscape. Its release sparked intense discussions among fans and critics, resulting in a polarizing response that continues to be a topic of debate.

In terms of the Star Wars franchise, "The Last Jedi" represented a departure from the traditional storytelling tropes and themes that had characterized the series. The film challenged audience expectations by subverting familiar character arcs and introducing new narrative elements. This departure generated both excitement and apprehension among fans, as they grappled with the film's bold choices and its impact on the larger Star Wars mythology.

Let's just say they fucked over Luke Skywalker. 

The lasting impact of "The Last Jedi" lies in its willingness to take risks and explore new directions. The film prompted discussions about the nature of heroism, the complexities of the Force, and the moral ambiguity of characters. It pushed the boundaries of what a Star Wars film could be and encouraged a more critical engagement with the franchise's themes and storytelling conventions.

One factor contributing to the film's divisiveness was its exploration of themes that challenged traditional expectations. The deconstruction of hero narratives, the emphasis on failure and redemption, and the blurred lines between light and dark provoked contrasting reactions. Some viewers appreciated the film's subversion of expectations and its exploration of complex character arcs, while others felt it strayed too far from what they believed Star Wars should be.

Despite the controversy, "The Last Jedi" undeniably left a lasting impact on the Star Wars franchise and the cultural discourse surrounding it. It challenged the boundaries of what Star Wars storytelling could encompass, encouraging a more critical and nuanced engagement with the themes and narratives. The film's impact, whether positive or negative, highlights the significance of Star Wars as a cultural touchstone and the passionate investment of its fanbase.


"The Last Jedi" delves into key themes that challenge traditional hero narratives, explore the concept of balance, and emphasize the importance of failure and redemption. These themes resonate with contemporary audiences by offering a more nuanced understanding of heroism, morality, and character development.

Rian Johnson's influences, particularly from Akira Kurosawa, are evident in the film's visual composition, narrative structure, and moral ambiguity. Kurosawa's impact can be seen through the grandeur and epic landscapes, nonlinear storytelling, and the exploration of honor, loyalty, and the nature of heroism.

"The Last Jedi" has left a lasting impact on the Star Wars franchise and the broader cultural landscape. Its willingness to take risks and explore new directions has sparked intense discussions among fans and critics. While the film's divisive nature generated polarized responses, it has also prompted critical engagement and reflection on the Star Wars mythology, pushing the boundaries of what a Star Wars film can be.

Overall, "The Last Jedi" merits recognition for its thematic depth, visual artistry, and narrative ambition. It adds layers of complexity to the Star Wars saga, challenging established conventions and encouraging a deeper exploration of heroism, failure, and redemption. Regardless of individual opinions, the film's impact on the franchise and its contribution to the cultural discourse make it an important and thought-provoking entry in the Star Wars canon.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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