Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow below.
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we finally get Luke Skywalker’s long-awaited return. While fans were primed and ready to revisit Mark Hamill’s iconic character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, filmmaker J.J. Abrams decided to hold Luke back and focus on Han/Leia, instead building to an iconic reveal in the final minutes of the movie. We saw Daisy Ridley’s Rey discovering Luke in seclusion at Ach-To, handing him his long-lost lightsaber. The look on Luke’s face was one of bewilderment, then a mix of frustration and anger. And then, credits.
This teed up writer/director Rian Johnson in an intriguing way for The Last Jedi, as Abrams and Co. did not write what happens next—that was up to Johnson. So the Looper and Brick filmmaker decided to dig into Luke’s decision to seclude himself, and in Luke’s first Last Jedi scene, he takes the lightsaber and promptly throws it over his shoulder, showing how little he actually cares about Jedi nonsense at this juncture.
It’s a memorable moment to be sure, and one that catches the audience by surprise—especially since we’ve been spending two years waiting to see what happens next. So when Collider’s own Steve Weintraub recently spoke with Johnson at a press day for The Last Jedi, he asked the filmmaker about the construction of the scene. Johnson says he did realize that moment would be surprising for some fans, but his motivation behind it was not to simply subvert expectations:
“It wasn’t coming into it and thinking, ‘Okay, they’re expecting this. Let’s have him toss the lightsaber. Ha, ha, ha.’ The reason he did that was because I can’t imagine any other honest reaction from him to that moment.”
Johnson says when he signed on to The Last Jedi his first big piece of business was answering the question of why Luke had made the decision to disappear:
“So, if you think about where Luke is at the beginning of this movie—and by the way, the cracking for me where Luke is at in this movie was the first big thing I had to do coming into it, where his head was at here, and there were fewer options than you would imagine. The thing we know about him from The Force Awakens, the big thing, is he’s taken himself out of the fight. His friends are fighting the good fight, he’s exiled off to an island alone. Knowing that Luke is a hero, knowing Luke from growing up, I know he must think he’s doing the right thing by taking himself out of the equation. And because he’s the last Jedi, by taking the Jedi out of the equation, by saying, ‘I’m taking the Jedi out of this fight,’ he must think that’s the best thing for the galaxy.”
From there, Johnson followed logic to come to the conclusion of having Luke toss the lightsaber over his shoulder:
“So, that leads you down a really specific path in terms of where his head is at. And if he’s done that and if he’s made this huge Herculean effort to pull himself out of the fight, to hide in, like he says, ‘The most unfindable place in the galaxy,’ it took an entire movie for the most heroic, smartest people in the galaxy to even find him, he’s put himself away. Then some kid shows up that he doesn’t know and shoves this thing that is everything that he has made this huge effort to step away from into his face with this look in her eyes of expectation like, ‘Here you go,’ and what is he going to do? Take it and say, ‘Great. Let’s go save the galaxy.’ He’s made this choice. He’s there for a reason. I knew it was going to be shocking, but I did it because it felt like, obviously it’s a dramatic expression of it, but it’s an expression of honestly the way that he is going to react to that moment.”