After audiences saw Luke Skywalker for the first time since Return of the Jedi at the end of The Force Awakens in 2015, no one knew what his reaction would be to seeing Rey offer him his father's old lightsaber. In his first moments on screen in The Last Jedi, Luke tossed the saber over his shoulder, which some audiences dismissed as merely being nothing more than a cheap physical gag. Writer/director Rian Johnson, on the other hand, explained just how important that moment was for Luke and what it expressed about his past, present and future.
"This kid he doesn't know comes up to the top with this big gleam in her eye like, 'Here you go! and hands him this symbol of everything that he has done this gargantuan feat of will to step away from and shoves it in his face with this expectant look, what's he gonna do? Fire it up and say, 'Okay, I guess you found me, let's go,'?" Johnson shared with the Bullseye with Jesse Thorn podcast. "No, if you're actually tracking where his head should be at, I don't know, it's obviously a big, dramatic gesture. In terms of that, it didn't even seem like, 'Oh boy, this is really gonna test the waters,' it just really seemed like what he would do."
The filmmaker might not have thought much of the gesture, but everything leading up to the gesture was taken into consideration.
"If you take Luke Skywalker seriously as a character, in terms of the one thing we know about him from The Force Awakens, which, we don't know much, the one thing we know is that he's taken himself out of the war and he's on that island," Johnson noted. "And why is he doing that, that's the first question I had to answer for myself. Not what do I want Luke Skywalker to be, not what I would love to see Luke Skywalker doing, what would I, if I drew a picture of Luke, what would he look like?"
Being a lifelong Star Wars fan himself, creating those motivations were easier said than done.
"I had to figure out, from that piece of information, why has this person, who I grew up with him as one of my heroes, why is he there? Why's he doing that?" Johnson questioned. "And as I started doing that, very quickly, it became evident to me that he's gotta be there for a reason. He's gotta be there because he genuinely believes in removing himself and thus the Jedi, because he is the last Jedi, from the equation, is a positive thing for the galaxy."
After cracking the code on this piece of information, everything else about Luke fell into place.
"Once I kind of hit that and realized he genuinely thinks that if he brings the Jedi back, it might satisfy the galaxy's, for lack of a better word, 'fanboys' who wanted to see Luke back, but I'm gonna do more harm, ultimately, than good, it's gonna start up the same cycle," the filmmaker admitted. "That he needs to remove it so the light can rise from a worthier source and then it's a burden that he's taken on his shoulders of taking himself out of the fight. He's essentially doing what he couldn't do in Empire, which is to not jump back in when he hears the cries of his friends in danger, but keep himself where he needs to be, in his mind, at least."
Ultimately, Luke's journey ended up reflecting the journey of the concept of Star Wars in general, with Johnson proving that sometimes you have to let go of the past if you hope to move forward.
The Last Jedi is in theaters now.