The Last Jedi is proving spectacularly once again that the saga has always been about change.
If one line from 2015’s The Force Awakens could sum up not only the essence of the film but also the excitement and buildup in the fan community itself it would be Han’s now iconic “Chewie, we’re home”. As the dust settles on the opening weekend for The Last Jedi, it’s now obviously apparent that it has its own mantra, this time belonging to Luke Skywalker.
“This is not going to go the way you think”.
And it sure doesn’t. That’s the best thing about it.
Revenge Of The Expectations
George Lucas has stated many times that the films that make up the saga are the story of the Skywalker family. With the sequel trilogy, it has been made clear that it does not have to solely focus on the members of the family itself to continue their story. The entire galaxy is still dealing with the consequences of the past and the past choices of the Skywalker bloodline. A vacuum left from the destruction of the Empire was filled with arguably a greater evil. The Rebellion that Luke and the Rebels fought for rose to form a New Republic that has now been undone by the First Order. And the Jedi Master has exiled himself in one of the most unfindable spots in the galaxy. It also reiterates that the aspiring new Jedi Order never came to be, and that the hero the Resistance needs is no longer the same person he was three decades ago.
In fact, the major focus of the story is on Luke and the expectations that not only the in-universe characters have but also the real world audience.
But expectations can murder the experience.
Luke Skywalker finally returned, albeit for a very short scene, at the end of The Force Awakens which was his first onscreen appearance in 32 years. Instead of picking up the mantle he set aside, that of the legendary Jedi Master, he balks at the attempt by Rey to pull him out of hiding. The portrayal is that of a man very much broken and resigned to his fate as a failed teacher and mentor. The hero from the original trilogy is here revealed to be only human. And humans are subject to failure. This is not only a shock to Rey who has come to meet the legend but to the entire audience who may have expected seeing something very different.
The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and the rest of the story group at Lucasfilm have not taken the easy and predictable path but delivered an incredible story for Luke. It was beautiful and powerful, heroic and bittersweet. One of many possible roads, but in hindsight the best choice to advance the story in a poignant and meaningful way.
Attack Of The Theories
The characters with some of the largest expectations behind them are now Jedi-in-training Rey and Supreme Leader Snoke. With Snoke being swept aside to reveal that Kylo Ren has been the intended antagonist all along. Snoke was just the final hurdle to his taking up the mantle of the ultimate evil. Years of Snoke theories might have helped pass the time but for this film they were certainly irrelevant. Although it won’t be the last of Snoke or of his past for sure. In the years ahead it will be fleshed out in books/comics and possibly even other films.
It’s also hard to ignore the years of speculation on just who Rey’s parents are and the answer is just as powerful.
She’s not a Skywalker. Not a Solo. Not a Kenobi. Kylo confirms with Rey her suppressed memory of the truth she has buried within herself. Just because the viewer did not know doesn’t mean that she herself might not always have known. The message is clear; your bloodline doesn’t define you. Where you came from has no bearing on where you can go. It’s a callback to both Luke and his father Anakin. Luke a farmboy with a false story of who his parents were went on to become a hero of the Rebellion and the bane of the Empire. But not because of who his father was. It was on his own merit, with his parentage a certainly relevant part of the mythology but not what defines him.
The comparison to Anakin is more appropriate. Both growing up on dusty, sandy worlds on the outskirts of civilization. Anakin a literal slave, and Rey a slave to her lot in life. Instead of a shocking revelation, a more familiar concept is used; grounding it in traditional Star Wars themes.
And there is still so much more to process. All potentially interesting stories but the story that is playing out on screen right now is benefitting from doing without them. It is amazing that a director can deliver a story that is so much fun at first glance but offers layers of detail and philosophical thought. And the processing of the films is enjoyable in its own right. It’s ever evolving and changing. The film will look different, or rather the viewer will see it differently years from now. Both because of the years in the rearview mirror but also within the context of the saga as a whole. The Force Awakens feels much different now through the lens of The Last Jedi. Imagine how it will look after Episode IX is released.
The Familiar Strikes Back
New roads are being taken and explored, but such is the history of Star Wars. When The Empire Strikes Back was released in 1980 it was massively different from 1977’s A New Hope. Darker and deeper than before it challenged the heroes as much as it challenged everyone’s perceptions and expectations. Few would question that decision now. But despite the sometimes shiny new exterior lies much of the familiarity of the other entries of the saga.
New faces carry the same archetypes and traits of countless others from the saga. Bravery, courage and even humor in the face of danger. It is still the same lived-in galaxy envisioned so long ago. Even the musical score composed by the incomparable John Williams completes the feel of this galaxy far, far away that is near and dear to our collective hearts.
The action and excitement were top notch and incorporated some of the best elements of the films that came before. The space battle above D’Qar lived up to those from A New Hope and Revenge of the Sith and yet was its own conflict. A classic bombing run straight out of George Lucas’ World War I and II inspired playbook combined with the tension of a hurried evacuation. The mission to Canto Bight is immediately reminiscent of not only of the Cantina scenes from A New Hope but a mixing of the nightclub from Attack of the Clones and the opera from Revenge of the Sith.
For all the criticism that The Force Awakens received of being a lazy copy of A New Hope there was the fear that The Last Jedi would be a redux of The Empire Strikes Back. But that wasn’t the case at all. Sure there are comparisons to be made both from storytelling and design aspects. But like Empire The Last Jedi takes time in the middle part of a trilogy to dive deeper into characters introduced in the first chapter. The audience has met them, now comes time to open them up; to challenge them. It’s what makes Empire the fan favorite that it is and is the perfectly logical next step in the story being told now.
A New Future
Star Was has changed and is changing. It is par for the course for a franchise that turned 40 years old this year.
But first and foremost one constant remains true; FUN. This film is so much fun. For every fan who sees the movie as only the beginning of the investment into the lore, there are those who see it as just entertainment. Something to enjoy in the theater and not think about again. Neither is right or wrong but both can enjoy the fact that this film picks you up and puts you down in a flash two and a half hours later while remaining on the edge of the seat the whole time. The heart of Star Wars is still, when boiled down to its core, a feel good space fantasy. And although the climax of the film is certainly not without its sorrowful moments it still leaves off with a powerful sense of hope. Hope for the Resistance and for the galaxy.
The framework established and set by Lucas’ six films is still there in some respects but the franchise is growing beyond that. It has to. The nostalgia that fans have will always be there and no amount of new story can take anything away from that. But to grow and continue change is necessary. Change can be scary and difficult to accept sometimes but this story is already proving that it is all the better for not avoiding it. Its ability to revere what came before while fundamentally changing the way to think about it is an amazing gift to Star Wars fans new and old.
There will always theorizing and speculation. Some of the best parts of its fandom come from pouring over the films and other media. Turning all the stones over to find what may have been overlooked or to infer new meaning to something that may have been there the whole time. Essentially that is what the story group behind the new wave of Star Wars has been doing now since 2012. But fan theory and story progression from Lucasfilm are not always going to line up. The story is a ride, one best enjoyed by kicking back and just going with it. And The Last Jedi is one hell of a ride.
Star Wars is the gift that keeps on giving, The Last Jedi being the latest of many to come, so unwrap and enjoy!
Mike Harris hails from the suburbs of Chicago and has been a fan for most of his life. Working as an industrial radiographer and raising a family with his wife take up most of his time, but there’s always room for Star Wars books and podcasts! Just looking to give back to Star Wars and the fan community, it’s been a source of fun and learning for him for so long.