[This should be obvious, but in case the headline didn’t tip you off—and if not, it’s time to do some serious thinking about your reading comprehension—this post contains major spoilers for Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi.]
In addition to being a terrifically entertaining film, The Last Jedi also wisely shakes up the formula of the original trilogy. (Yes, it’s still a middle section that ends on a darker note, but there’s none of the let’s-do-A-New-Hope-again feel that defined the also-entertaining The Force Awakens.) One of the better twists comes roughly two-thirds of the way through the film, when Supreme Leader Snoke has captured Rey, and is exhorting his pupil Kylo Ren to execute her. In a clever moment, Kylo instead triggers the lightsaber at Snoke’s side, cutting him in half and thereby eliminating the ostensible primary villain of the story while simultaneously setting up Kylo Ren to be a much more powerful and menacing figure now that he’s seized control of The First Order. (Also, that reversal gives us the best fight scene of the film, when Rey and Ren team up to take out Snoke’s Elite Praetorian guard.)
And now, in a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, director Rian Johnson explains the decision to kill Snoke was essentially the driving narrative development of the entire story, the one thing he realized needed to happen to raise the stakes. “When I was working on the character of Kylo, I came to a place where I thought the most interesting thing would be to knock the shaky foundation out from under him at the beginning of this movie. By the end of this film, he’s gone from being a wannabe Vader to someone who is standing on his own feet as a complex villain taking the reins.” But in evolving Kylo in that manner, he realized something needed to be done about the former Jedi apprentice’s boss.
Once he realized Kylo’s growth would be a “really good setup going into the next movie,” it led naturally to a choice about the Supreme Leader. “That made me realize the most interesting thing would be to eliminate that dynamic between the ‘emperor’ and pupil, so that all bets are off going into the next one. That also led to the possibility of this dramatic turn in the middle, which could also be a really powerful connection point between Kylo and Rey.” It also smartly sidesteps the whole “redemption by turning on his master” idea that would’ve just echoed the end of Return Of The Jedi, instead having Kylo’s murder of Snoke be part of a larger grab for serious power.
If you had a bunch of theories about Snoke’s origin, or his plans for Rey and the First Order, Johnson doesn’t want you to feel stupid. It’s just that he didn’t see any place for it in his film. “It would have stopped any of these scenes dead cold if he had stopped and given a 30-second speech about how he’s Darth Plagueis. It doesn’t matter to Rey. If he had done that, Rey would have blinked and said, ‘Who?’ And the scene would have gone on.” (Because this is an interview on the internet, Johnson immediately adds, “And I’m not saying he’s Darth Plagueis!”) He agrees that coming up with theories about characters is “part of the fun of being a Star Wars fan,” and doesn’t dissuade anyone from doing so, but maybe let’s all be glad someone who thinks every major character needs a lengthy expository scene revealing their entire history isn’t directing these things.
Johnson also discusses things like the conclusion to Luke Skywalker’s story (as well as some words from Mark Hamill about coming to terms with the end of that character’s arc), but we’re going to go ahead and predict that Luke will show up wearing the glowing blue nimbus of a fallen Jedi master at some point during Episode IX—if only to play straight man to Yoda’s laughs again.