Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film about letting go of the past — about letting it die, and even killing it if you have to, as one character puts it. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie in many ways tears down and refutes the entrenched wisdom of the Star Wars franchise.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.]
In (seemingly) resolving the question of Rey’s parentage, The Last Jedi takes the largest step yet in democratizing the Force, the fundamental magic of the Star Wars universe. And the film ends with a beautiful coda that signals a wider future for the franchise. It feels like a surprising theme for the eighth mainline entry in a 40-year-old series, but when you consider that the franchise must and will continue on, it makes perfect sense.
There’s one more film left in this new Star Wars trilogy, but we now know that it won’t be the last triad — Lucasfilm and Disney announced in November that Johnson himself will develop a fourth trilogy. However J.J. Abrams concludes the Skywalker saga in 2019’s untitled Star Wars Episode IX, the series will live on.
Disney and Lucasfilm said that in addition to creating the new trilogy alongside producer Ram Bergman, Johnson will write and direct the first film. The companies’ announcement offered very little about Johnson’s plans, saying only that he will “introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored” and that the trilogy will be “separate from the episodic Skywalker saga.” (Note that Lucasfilm and Disney already did away with the “Episode” nomenclature for the current trilogy — the seventh and eighth films’ official titles are Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, respectively, with no Roman numerals to be found.)
The nine-film story that began (chronologically) with Anakin Skywalker as a boy now has — as far as we know — just one person from that Force-sensitive bloodline left: Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo. Ren, a leader of the evil First Order, attempts in The Last Jedi to seduce Rey to the dark side of the Force. As a child, Rey was abandoned by her parents on her home planet, Jakku, and discovering her strength with the Force only heightens her desire to find out who they really were. It turns out that they were nobodies, at least according to Ren: ordinary folks who sold her for drinking money and now lie in pauper’s graves on Jakku.
The Force Awakens evoked Episode IV: A New Hope in many ways, and one of the key echoes was the character at the heart of each film: Rey and Luke Skywalker. Both movies began with their respective heroes as desert-dwelling orphans with no apparent greater significance; by the end, Luke and Rey were wielding the Force with aplomb. It wasn’t until Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back that we learned about Luke’s legendary pedigree, and the lack of a similar reveal for Rey in The Last Jedi represents a major departure for Star Wars.
Rey isn’t Star Wars’ first equivalent of a Muggle-born wizard. Yet it has massive implications for the series if a person who comes from nothing actually ends up as one of the most powerful Force users in the history of the galaxy, which is the storyline we thought we were getting with Luke. (Sure, Anakin Skywalker was the son of a slave, but note that he has no biological father because he was apparently conceived by the Force.)
Rey — who has grown up hearing the legends of the Skywalker family, since they’re fables from the galaxy’s recent history — is consumed by thoughts of her parents. (She’s not the first lonely kid to search for some proof, some outside validation, that she’s more than a mere scavenger in the desert.) Even when she demonstrates a strong affinity for the Force, it doesn’t wipe away those self-doubts — or the lingering questions of who her parents were and why they abandoned her.
In pushing Ren to kill Rey during a pivotal scene in The Last Jedi, Supreme Leader Snoke tries to persuade him with the idea of fulfilling his destiny. But once Ren frees Rey from the baggage of a Force-sensitive lineage, she has no fate but what she makes.
The final shot of The Last Jedi further impresses upon the viewer that the Force is open to anyone. A stable boy, seemingly one of the destitute children tending to the equine beasts in Canto Bight, uses telekinesis to pull a broom into his hands.
The expanded universe
The casino town of Canto Bight debuted in The Last Jedi (and the books leading up to the film), so it may not appear in Rian Johnson’s different-corner-of-the-galaxy trilogy. But it’s smart for Johnson to suggest that no-name Force users could be anywhere in the cosmos. After all, he has an entire trilogy to populate: a new conflict with new heroes and villains and mercenaries and smugglers and empires and rebellions and droids and lactating alien animals.
Star Wars is the story of a universe sustained by space magic, with the light and dark sides of the Force balancing each other out. And that universe seems bigger when the Force isn’t restricted to the privileged few.
Of course, tearing down the Force aristocracy isn’t the only reason to open up the franchise. The Walt Disney Company didn’t spend $4 billion to acquire Lucasfilm just so it could finish out George Lucas’ original vision for the Skywalker saga and stop there. No, we’re going to get new Star Wars films, video games, books, television shows and more, every year for the foreseeable future. And that means it’s simply a smart business decision for Disney and Lucasfilm to make it possible for anyone in the universe — one of any species, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability — to be the next great Star Wars lead.
That’s not to say that a character needs to be Force-sensitive to drive a Star Wars story forward; consider Han Solo, who didn’t even believe in the Force until he saw it in action. But that power is the guiding light of this universe, and it doesn’t make sense if it’s restricted to royalty or secret societies.
Johnson has spoken about the creative freedom that Lucasfilm and Disney afforded him, saying that the companies didn’t maintain “draconian studio control” over The Last Jedi. So it’s possible that the idea to democratize the Force didn’t come from on high, and originated as a creative decision rather than a financially driven one. Either way, the net result is the same: an exciting, wide-open future for Star Wars.