Rian Johnson believes that symbolism and the meta aspects of a film are just as important to conveying the overarching message of the story as what the characters are doing and saying. As such, his works often feature an internal commentary on themselves. An example of this is the episode of Breaking Bad called The Fly. The episode is about Walter White trying to get the fly, but on a symbolic level it serves as a commentary on Walter chasing his own tail throughout the series. There is some interesting evidence that the Last Jedi also contains symbolism that is meant to be taken as a commentary on the movie itself. That piece of symbolism can be found in the planet Crait.
What’s special about the planet Crait that makes us think it’s symbolic of the Last Jedi?
First of all its covered in a layer of salt. Rian Johnson included a rather odd scene of a Resistance soldier taking a taste of the ground only to declare “Its salt.” Rian Johnson included that line to ensure beyond a shadow of a doubt that the audience knew that the ground of Crait was covered in salt. Not snow, not sand. Salt. But more importantly the salt of Crait in shown to only be a thin veneer. Beneath the white salt is something very different, red crystal. And the Falcon’s flight through the caverns shows that the red isn’t just a thin layer, it goes to the core.
To understand the symbolism of Crait we first need to look at the symbolism of the color red throughout the movie.
It actually started well before the movie came out. Many of the posters featured the color red prominently. Even the title card has Star Wars written in red.
In the film itself the color red is featured prominently in two settings: Snoke’s throne room and the caverns of Crait. Both of these scenes feature direct callbacks to Return of the Jedi. The scene where Rey is taken to Snoke’s throne room is an almost beat for beat repeat of Luke being taken before the Emperor.
The Falcon flying through the caverns of Crait features several callbacks to the Falcon flying through the internal structure of the Second Death Star. Even the same musical cue is used.
So we have the title Star Wars in red and the scenes created to directly reference the previous movies are all drenched with red. What we can take from this is that Rian Johnson wants you to see red and think of Star Wars with all of its traditions and tropes. To Rian Johnson the color red represents the soul of the saga.
This brings us back to Crait and its mineral strata. Crait is symbolic of the Last Jedi: The heart and soul of the saga hidden beneath a thin layer of pure salt. The salt in this case being the many seeming subversions of the film. However, just like Crait, if you scratch through that salty surface there is something very different underneath.
First of all, it’s important to note that film makes regular use of the unreliable narrator trope. The flashbacks are there to show us that any information given to us by Luke and Kylo can’t be taken at 100% face value. Luke leaves out major details and Kylo tells things from his own very twisted perspective.
One bit of salt is when Luke tells Rey that he came to the First Jedi Temple to die. But if he just wanted a quiet place to live out the remainder of his days in self imposed exile there are a multitude of sparsely populated worlds he could have taken up residence on. Also the Last Jedi visual dictionary says that Luke was performing some sort of ritual when Rey first showed up. What isn’t he telling Rey (and by extension the audience)? Did he actually have a greater purpose for journeying to Ahch-To?
Another area of salt is during the second and third flashbacks when we see that Luke drew his lightsaber on a sleeping Ben Solo. But again the question must be asked: What isn’t Luke telling us? We don’t actually know what Luke saw in Ben’s mind that made him react the way he did. Is there something he could have seen that would make his reaction be very in character?
Could Lucasfilm have borrowed a bit from the old Expanded Universe stories and Ben Solo had something to do with the death of Luke’s wife? We have previously speculated that Ben Solo was in some way responsible for the event where Luke’s wife was killed and Rey was abducted and left on Jakku. This theory would make Luke’s action in drawing his saber very in character for him as the only time we’ve seen him attack a family member was when Vader threatened Leia.
Another layer of salt is Luke’s bitter attitude. Has he really become so jaded? Or is it as Mark Hamill implied at least partially an act? One that he drops when Rey isn’t around. We’ve theorized that Luke isn’t quite so bitter as he appears and his attitude is really an emotional defense mechanism. He thinks his daughter died, but now here’s this girl that is so much like her right in front of him. That puts him on the verge of an emotional meltdown. So he puts up emotional walls to try to keep her at arm’s length.
One area of salt that shows the color symbolism particularly well is Kylo telling Rey that her parents were junk dealers. First let’s back up a bit. We theorize that the Last Jedi uses the color red to highlight the scenes that are clear callbacks to the earlier films. Something very interesting happens in the throne room though. After Kylo kills Snoke he and Rey fight the Praetorian Guard and the red curtain of the room burns away. So just prior to the reveal that Rey’s parents are nobodies every last scrap of red in the room is gleefully destroyed. So if a wall to wall red room signals a clear callback, the destruction of all of that red signifies that the story has gone off script as far as the callback is concerned and that what follows is not in fact a callback at all. So you have the reveal scene with Rey and Kylo that looks like a callback to the Vader reveal in the Empire Strikes Back, but the color symbolism implies that it is actually a subversion of a callback. If the Empire Strikes Back was a true reveal then what does that say about its subversion?
It’s important to remember that the flashback shows that Kylo likes to twist the truth to suit his own wrapped perspective. We believe that what Kylo is doing during the reveal is playing a very twisted game of two truths and a lie with Rey. He breaks eye contact, a classic tell of dishonesty, when he says, “they sold you for drinking money.” As it turns out though there is one character in the Saga that could be considered a junk dealer that just so happened to also end up in a pauper’s grave in the desert: Shmi Skywalker.
We hope that as you are rewatching the Saga to prepare for the release of The Rise of Skywalker that you will consider this interpretation of the Last Jedi and scratch through the salt to see the red for yourself.