The Subtle Optimism of ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’


In A Galaxy…

Two winters ago, Star Wars fans anxiously awaited J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The third trilogy starter was the end result of several years of careful plotting, scripting, and tweaking – and it would either set right the lukewarm reception of the Prequel Trilogy or bury the franchise under the weight of its own great expectations.

Fortunately, The Force Awakens was a major hit, setting box office records and reawakening fans everywhere. Although not everyone fell in love with the seventh film in the Skywalker saga, it’s familiarity and lore kept alive the mystery and wonder of the galaxy far, far away and set up some major questions – ones hopefully revealed in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII, which just received its title: The Last Jedi.

As with other recent Star Wars movies, the title is both evocative but intentionally ambivalent, meant to stir up speculation and keep super fan’s conjuring up arcane theories like Darth Jar Jar.

Let’s Back It Up A Bit

Its predecessor’s title, The Force Awakens referred to Rey, Luke, and Kylo Ren, all force sensitive, all reawakening from their slumber – in addition to the sleeping giant of the Jedi Order. Similarly, Episode I: The Phantom Menace hinted at the coming conflict in the film, but more so, the spectral menace of the Dark Side, which tore down the Old Republic with its shadow hands, rebuilding it as the Galactic Empire. The third and final member of the Original Trilogy, Return of the Jedi was also strongly suggestive, heralding Luke’s transformation from farm boy to warrior of the Light Side and also hinting at the eventual rebirth of the Jedi Order and the return of Anakin Skywalker from his long, dark place.

In a similar fashion, The Last Jedi seems to connect directly with Luke Skywalker, who at present is quite possibly the last living Jedi. At the same time, Jedi – as in the Jedi Council – can also be plural, possibly referring to Rey’s transition from a raw, if talented, Force user into a skilled and (hopefully) judicious warrior.

Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker.

Of course, the title is also tinged with tragedy: the continuing Skywalker legacy – revealed at a glance through Episode VII and Lucasfilm’s supplemental materials like Star Wars: Bloodlines and Aftermath: Life Debt – paints a picture of the hardships and heartaches the clan has endured. Luke, as the final member of an ancient order, has lost his nephew to the dark side and then his best friend to his former pupil. He’s also quested through the cosmos to fill in the gaps of knowledge left by the Sith uprising and their Great Purge, which scattered Force users throughout the galaxy.

Luke’s attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order before his downfall was left intentionally vague in The Force Awakens, and other recent supplements. However, what is clear is that his efforts were hindered by Supreme Leader Snoke, who recruited Kylo Ren and his Knights. After Luke’s efforts to rebuild were scuttled by Ren and his band, the last Jedi Master fled the known galaxy, going into a self-imposed exile (much like Obi-Wan and Yoda before him).

Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren and Rey final battle

Owed in part to its Sith-y red lettering, The Last Jedi has an ominous ring to it. At worst, the eighth film teases the death of Luke, leaving Rey to carry on the mystical sect’s work. At best, it paints a picture of two solemn warriors taking on an unstable violent clutch of Dark Side adepts – including Luke’s own blood relation, Kylo Ren.

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom…Hopefully

Aside from the downbeat trend with middle Star Wars films, Episode VIII’s title has a subtle, optimistic edge to it. Admittedly, most films with “the last” in the title imply a finality – no more samurai, houses on the left, action heroes, or tangos in Paris. At the same time, “last” also has a sneaky, semantical twist to it.

‘Last’ can also refer to the most recent event or a preceding element in a sequence. Last Jedi before what? is the optimistic edge to the film: does the title imply the end of the Order or the beginning of a new group or way of being for the ancient religion?

Lucasfilm and director Johnson may not have tipped their hand to anyone thus far, but if the latter trilogy proceeds similarly to George Lucas first six Star Wars films, Episode VIII could theoretically match up with Episode II: Attack of the Clones – which despite its foreboding climax, actually ended with the Jedi triumphing over the Separatist droid army (for the time being, anyway).

Of course, after the shocking climax to The Force Awakens, things could get pretty hairy for Luke and Rey. A confrontation between one or both of them and a renewed and rage-fueled Kylo Ren is inevitable. Perhaps even the aging master will lose himself to his compassion like his friend Han, and his father before him, or sacrifice himself like Obi-Wan.

Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens.

Somehow, Rey, and maybe even Luke, will survive the battle wills (or Whills?) and carry on their fine tradition. Rey’s training will begin in earnest, bringing her closer to the surge of Force energy within and beyond her, as well as making her more of a tempting prize for the Dark Side. No matter what happens in The Last Jedi, the Skywalker saga, like the cycle of life it mimics, will begin anew.

Disney may decide to end the intergalactic family drama after Episode XI, however unlikely, but the adventurous space opera will continue on indefinitely with or without them. The last of this generation’s Jedi have the potential to create generations more Force adepts, even if merely in the imaginations of those of us bitten by the urge to travel back in time and far across the cosmos.

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