When Greek theatre invented the deus ex machina, nobody thought it was a cop-out. But, how do Star Wars fans feel? Arguably, every single Star Wars movie since 1977 has pulled some space rabbits out the hat to explain or fix things last minute. The Last Jedi has a deus ex machina or two, but does this all make sense? Should it?
Spoilers follow for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But, you knew that, right? Seriously, if you don’t want to know the most shocking things that happen in this movie, PLEASE STOP READING, go see the movie. You have been warned.
Merriam-Webster defines deus ex machina as “person or thing that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty,” and notes that this comes from the practice in ancient Greek theater in which an actor playing a god was hoisted by a crane toward the end of a play to sort of come an fix everything. In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker scoffs at doing this very thing early in the film. He basically tells Rey that the idea of him showing up with a “laser sword” and saving the day is silly.
And yet, that’s basically what happens at the end of the film. Luke shows up wielding his old lightsaber and with a totally different haircut. We should have all known this wasn’t really Luke, because there’s no way he cut his hair that fast, and we’d also seen that particular lightsaber destroyed by Rey and Kylo Ren a bit earlier. Still, the illusion that Luke has returned as The Last Jedi’s deus ex machina, works because the audience wants to believe it’s really him in the flesh.
But, in the final moments of Luke’s duel with Kylo Ren, we discover Luke isn’t really there at all, and just projecting his image to fuck with The First Order. Arguably, this makes Luke Skywalker the biggest deus ex machina in all of Star Wars. Just by showing up, he becomes a slightly unearned plot twist, if only because the power to replicate a simulacrum of yourself, and telepathically project it halfway across the galaxy has never been established in Star Wars before. Luke Skywalker became a Force god over night and nobody got the memo.
Luke’s ruse cleverly disguises the other deus ex machina on The Last Jedi; those adorable crystal snow foxes, the Vulptices. In every single way, Luke’s plan is connected to these creatures, suggesting that he kind of knew they existed. And that’s because, everything about the finale of The Last Jedi rests on the idea that Poe figures out that Luke is just distracting the First Order so…the good guys can sneak out the back. How will they figure out how to sneak out the back? The snow fox Vulptices will guide them.
To be clear, these critters are introduced almost at the same time as their purpose in the plot is explained. Any way you lightsaber slice it, accepting Luke’s living fake-out ghost and the snow fox cavern navigation both amount to a very big deus ex machina. You’re either going to love this because, like the ancient Greeks you love a good deus ex machina, or it’s gonna drive you nuts because nothing about either of these plot devices was set up or remotely hinted at before they happened.
Should Luke have given his “other” self his green lightsaber, just to fool Kylo Ren and the audience a little more effectively? Probably. The lightsaber is just as fake as Luke’s haircut and beard trim, so really, it could have been any old color. Could there have been a better solution to saving the Resistance that didn’t just involve them sneaking out the back of cave? Maybe.
Logically, Luke Skywalker’s plan is flawed and downright dumb. If anyone figured out he wasn’t really there before all of this happened, the Resistance would have been toast. But, emotionally, and particularly for the children in the audience, Luke’s plan isn’t dumb. It’s crazy. Crazy like a snow fox from space.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi premieres in theaters on December 15. Check out all of Inverse’s coverage on the film right here