Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrill to watch it for the first time.
[Warning: The following contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.]
The number of twists and turns the movie takes are enough to leave a viewer reeling. There were elements familiar to any Star Wars fan; The Resistance is on the run after a big victory. The hunt is on for Luke Skywalker. And Rey’s in the midst of Jedi training. It’s all reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, but it also changed the game for the franchise going forward. Director Rian Johnson pulled no punches as he reimagined and reinvented the Star Wars franchise, shifting the focus of the narrative to the future, rather than relying so heavily on what came before.
In The Force Awakens, director J.J Abrams undertook a near impossible task: He had to reignite passion for Star Wars after a lackluster prequel trilogy. Abrams accomplished that by balancing nostalgia with fresh adventures featuring Rey, Poe and Finn. The movie drew heavily from the franchise’s history, in terms of story as well as callbacks to characters and props, but it had just enough new material to make the decades-old franchise appealing to a new audience. It seemed like an impossible job, but Abrams accomplished it quite spectacularly.
When the sequel was handed over to Johnson, fans wondered whether he would continue to revel in the past or if he would forge something entirely new.
In the words of Luke Skywalker, “This is not going to go the way you think!” And The Last Jedi certainly didn’t.
“Let the past die”
The Last Jedi takes its inspiration from what came before — it is, after all, Star Wars — but what it does remarkably well is shed those bonds over the course of the film. One by one, those links to the past are severed. We’ve already come to terms with the death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Now, Luke Skywalker is dead. Actress Carrie Fisher’s death means that General Leia Organa won’t be in the final film of the trilogy. Our heroes are gone. Johnson is telling viewers, in no uncertain terms, that we must find new stories to tell when it comes to Star Wars. We can’t continue to rely on the crutches of familiar characters.
Nowhere is this decision more evident than in the fate of the lightsaber that Obi-Wan Kenobi kept in reserve for Luke Skywalker, handed down from father to son before it was lost in Cloud City. Anakin forged it between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Luke lost it in a duel with Darth Vader. It made a dramatic reappearance in The Force Awakens when it called to Rey. In many ways, this lightsaber has symbolized the narrative’s continuity as it was passed down from generation to generation in a cycle of failure, redemption, death and rebirth.
Yet, by the end of The Last Jedi, the hilt of the lightsaber is cleaved in two. It’s a visual representation of what this movie is trying to tell us: What happened before is not as important as what’s to come. It’s up to these new heroes to choose their own destinies. Rey’s fate is her own to make, rather than being dependent on the tragedies that came before.
Purebloods are overrated
Rey’s parentage also plays into Johnson’s focus on the future. This trilogy is her coming-of-age story, but she’s not a Skywalker. That, in and of itself, is a huge departure from the two previous trilogies. More importantly, she’s not from a “prestigious” bloodline; she’s not the daughter of the Emperor or the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi or any one of a thousand theories floating around the Internet. As we find out in this film, she’s the daughter of worthless junk haulers who traded her away and are now dead.
The one character who does represent the future of the Skywalkers, Kylo Ren, tells Rey that she has no part in this story, and according to the logic of the previous films, she shouldn’t. This is a new story. In Episode IX, which will once more be in Abrams’ hands, the only Skywalker left is the villain. There will be no redemption for Ben Solo.
Down with the Jedi
Another important moment happens in Johnson’s Star Wars tale: The Jedi are knocked off of their lofty, arrogant perch. Throughout the original trilogy, the Jedi are an ideal to be achieved. In actuality, they were an organization full of hubris, something that Luke finally recognizes in The Last Jedi. It was his failure that led directly to the Ben Solo’s fall, and only by being honest about the Jedi — as his own personal demons — can he change the story for Rey.
It gives Rey, who is now the last Jedi, the freedom to forge her own path. She’ll no longer be bound by the rules of an organization that doomed itself, thanks to its unwavering belief in its own infallibility. There’s the potential for an entirely new kind of Jedi, who can use both the light and the dark, bringing the Force into balance within herself.
As long as these narratives were tied to the baggage of one family’s generational tragedy, they would inevitably be echoes of the same story over and over. Now, like Anakin’s lightsaber, that cycle is broken. Thanks to Rian Johnson, Rey can be something entirely new — a Chosen One who forges her own destiny, rather than being doomed to repeat the failures of the past.