When Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi came out in 2017, I was transfixed. So much about the film resonated with me. In particular, how the characters deal with the feeling of intense loneliness. The theme carries throughout the film, and manifests differently in each character.
Poe’s loneliness manifests in his sense of duty, and how it changes throughout the course of the film. He starts out as the cocky “leader” who thinks taking on a dreadnought head to head is the height of leadership. As the film progresses, and Poe tries to mutiny against Holdo, he finally begins to understand what Leia said after fleeing D’Qar: “There were dead heroes. No leaders.” Seeing Holdo’s sacrifice, Poe continues his journey to become the leader the Resistance needs, not just a hot-headed pilot, but someone who sees the whole picture, and all the pieces on the board.
Loneliness in his uncertainty about himself and his place in the Resistance is what defines Finn’s character arc in The Last Jedi. Taking place immediately after The Force Awakens, Finn is just a day out from his defection from the First Order. His way point in the Resistance is finding Rey again, and making sure she is safe. He does not yet see himself as a rebel, not until the climax of the film when he faces—and defeats—his demons in the form of Captain Phasma. Rose sees Finn as a hero of the Resistance, and when he lets her down at the start of the film, it serves as a way to galvanize him to embrace the rebel within.
Losing her sister in the opening of the film, Rose’s loneliness is rooted in her grief. Not just the pain of losing Paige, but the pain of what happened to her own homeworld at the hands of the First Order. Meeting Finn, and seeing that he is not a grand hero of the Resistance as she thought, brings her back to a fundamental understanding of Finn’s own loneliness. It leads to a change in how Rose views him, and herself. She understands now that it is not about “fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”
Rey’s loneliness manifests in how she views herself: as “no one.” She spent her formative years on Jakku trying to scrap an existence out of sand and Imperial remnants, not knowing that she herself would eventually be revealed as a sion of the Empire. The Force bond that manifests between her and Kylo Ren gives her a connection to another, the first meaningful connection she’s had in years. Rey sees herself in Kylo Ren, in his rage and pain. She understands his pain, but not the source. Rey would give anything to have the family support and love that Ren has run from. She thinks that she can turn Ben Solo back, and when he asks her to join him, she finds out that he isn’t ready to turn away yet, that he is still Kylo Ren. Rey understands that it is up to her to save the Resistance and make her own family in the galaxy. Family isn’t just blood relation, but those we choose to give our hearts to, making them a family of choice.
On the flip side, Kylo’s loneliness comes from his choices, and the dark path he walks. Kylo tries to forcibly cut away all evidence of his birth family, aside from his connection to Vader. He’s given everything he has to Snoke, in his quest to be a worthy heir, a “new Vader.” Kylo tells Rey that he is a monster, and he believes it. Instead of pushing him further into the Dark Side, the murder of his father has marooned Kylo on a island of his own making, adrift from where he thought he would be. He continues to try and force his will on others, taking the mantle of Supreme Leader, and hunting the Resistance. He finally comes face to face with his choices, kneeling on the ground in the abandoned base, truly alone because of his own hubris and fear.
Luke is the physical manifestation of loneliness. He has isolated himself on the planet of Ahch-To after nearly murdering his own nephew, Ben Solo. Luke gives into a moment of fear, but comes back to himself before acting on it. Overcome by grief, regret, and shame, Luke flees into exile, cutting himself off so completely from the Force that he fails to feel the murder of Han Solo. By the climax of the film, Luke has found purpose in his loneliness, and joins the Force at peace, after his sacrifice allows the Resistance to escape Crait.
Leia is the emotional manifestation of loneliness. She is constantly surrounded by members of the Resistance, but she has lost her homeworld, her government, her Senate seat, her husband, and her son. She nearly loses her life, and finds herself on the edge of giving up all hope. In this, her darkest moment, Luke appears to her and reminds her that “no one’s ever really gone.” He kisses her forehead, the Skywalker twins reunited. As the Resistance flees Crait, Leia sits with Rey and tells her that “we have everything we need” to continue the fight.
The film ends with the Resistance sheltering on the Millennium Falcon, a small ragtag band of survivors alone in the galaxy. Things look lonely, bleak even. In the closing moments, we see the stable children on Canto Bight, and know that the story of the Resistance is spreading. The spark is lit. Hope lives in us, and in the galaxy.