I’m sure I’m not the only one who caught the first teaser yesterday for the latest Star Wars film coming December 2017, Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. If you’re a fan of the Star Wars saga and you didn’t see it – then what the hell are you waiting for? Head over to YouTube right now! Check it out and get back here when you’re done if you want to hear my thoughts on it, particularly as pertaining to my number 1 interest, the story.
I admit that there wasn’t too much to see yet, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I prefer my teasers and trailers to get me hyped up, not spoil the whole experience, which is why I’ve been watching fewer and fewer trailers and TV spots for films over the last few years. Nonetheless, I’m such a Star Wars fan (and pleasantly surprised by the most recent installments), that there’s no way I could resist taking a peek this. I also thought there were some great nuggets in there as to what the actual story and its themes will entail, so let’s delve right into it, shall we?
Most of all, what piqued my interest the most was the heavy emphasis on the idea of Luke Skywalker truly being the Last Jedi. I thought The Last Jedi was a pretty good title when it was revealed a few months ago and seemed like a natural progression for the saga after the ending of Episode VII: The Fore Awakens: it had been established in the last film that Kylo Ren (along with his fellow Knights of Ren, a group I’m still curious about) had slaughtered the new Jedi Order that Luke had begun to train years ago, leaving Luke as the last Jedi left. Losing one of his own students, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, to the Dark Side of the Force and having him destroy everything he was trying to restore was a tragic and befitting fate for Luke, as well as a clever way for the writers to avoid having an excess of Jedi in the new series of films, leaving them and the nature of the Force more mysterious and magical than they were in the prequel series. And so we ended the last film with Rey (only beginning to discover her own powers) initiating her own training with Luke, the last Jedi of them all. Pretty simple and straightforward.
I did not expect the idea of Luke as the Last Jedi to have any controversial consequences, because even if the writers were to kill him off (in either Episode VIII or IX), it seemed obvious that Rey would follow in his footsteps and carry on his legacy. This teaser, however, is starting to prove me wrong and, if I’m correct, the writers for the new films might be going in a bolder direction than I expected – which I like.
Because what I enjoyed the most about this teaser was the focus on the idea of balance within the Force and this older Luke’s new conviction that the Jedi need to end. For Star Wars lore, it seems like such a bold step, it threatens to be out of character for Luke. After all, didn’t he spend a huge amount of time in the original three films trying to become a Jedi and defeating the Sith who had hunted the Jedi to the brink of extinction? Hadn’t he promised Yoda to pass on what he had learned? Unless Luke has just become such a bitter old man following the loss of his students to Kylo Ren (which it doesn’t seem to be, as he appears to be rather adamant about this belief), it seems to be a contradiction, even from a practical point of view. After all, if there are people who use the Dark Side of the Force to abuse others (in this case, Snoke and the Knights of Ren), shouldn’t there be a new group of Jedi to oppose them and heroically triumph over the darkness?
But I’m starting to think that this is not the way the writers intend to continue the saga. The idea of bringing balance to the Force, between the Light and Dark, has been present from the very beginning, but started receiving greater attention in the prequel films, with Anakin Skywalker being suspected to be the Chosen One spoken of in prophecy who would bring this balance – and, as many commenters have pointed out since the prequels were finished, it actually ended up happening. When the Jedi’s influence held the most sway in the galaxy, Anakin’s decision to join the Dark Side and his transformation to Darth Vader was a pivotal moment that ended their reign. But when the Dark Side threatened to control the entire galaxy, it was also Anakin/Darth Vader’s decision to kill Emperor Palpatine to save his son Luke that ended the Sith’s dominion as well. With both factions removed from power, the galaxy (filled with non-Force-wielding people) was free to choose its own path forward again. There was no (over)reliance on the Jedi to enforce peace on others or Sith to dominate the galaxy. Anakin ended up fulfilling the prophecy of bringing balance to the Force after all.
It is on this point, I think, that Luke’s beliefs have evolved since Kylo Ren killed his students and prevented the rebirth of the Jedi Order. As Newton’s third law states (paraphrasing here), every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It is the open use of the Force by the Jedi to enforce order, peace and stability to the galaxy that causes the rise of those who would use it for their own selfish desires of power and domination. In turn, it is the tyranny that naturally results from the egotistical, domineering nature of the Dark Side of the Force (which is focused on empowering the self over others above all other ends) that inevitably leads to a push-back from the Light Side of the Force, which desires peace, harmony and co-existence. The use of one always results in the emergence of the other.
I believe it is this conflict that Luke now realises must be resolved if there is to be a true, lasting peace. Balance between the Dark Side and the Light must be found and to do that, neither the Jedi or the Sith can continue to exist – at least not in their traditional form. That is why, I think, Luke believes the Jedi must end, hence why he should be the Last Jedi. Obviously, we see Rey practicing both her training with the Force and a lightsaber, so it’s clear Luke will be teaching her something – but I suspect he will be training her in his ways and views, not necessarily the traditions of the Jedi.
If true, I would really enjoy this direction for Star Wars: not only because it would be a markedly different chapter in the saga (and we won’t just have the same old Light Side/Dark Side-conflict we’ve had for over half a dozen films now), but also because it would demonstrate that Luke has surpassed the teachings of mentors like Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Precisely because Luke had an unusual path, he was able to break free from the limited, narrow viewpoint of the Jedi, without falling to the Dark Side either. He has achieved a greater, more enlightened view on things and has become something else entirely.
Furthermore, this emphasis on balance within the Force (something mentioned multiple times in The Force Awakens, I recall) would also highlight and elucidate the role that Kylo Ren plays within the story of the new Star Wars films. Ben Solo/Kylo Ren seems another character, like his grandfather Anakin, that was never fully satisfied by the Jedi’s teachings. His anger and passion, along with a manipulative mentor seem to have led him to the Dark Side (again, much like Anakin), but the conflict within him throughout Episode VII shows that he may not be fully committed to this cause just yet. His worship of Darth Vader and desire for guidance is evidence of this. Even Kylo’s brutal murder of his own father almost seems like a desperate attempt to prove to himself that he has chosen a definitive side and will stay committed to it – even if his doubts still continue to nag at him (in Shakespearean terms, it’s a case of “The lady doth protest too much”). If the story of the new films is about bringing balance to the Force, then it makes sense for Kylo Ren to be another character in transition: unable to accept the Light Side, but also unwilling to embrace the Dark, he instead exists in the twilight. His role may be to challenge the orthodoxies of both sides, having experienced them in equal measure. Regardless, I think we may see some interesting developments with Kylo Ren – which is good for me, because I certainly enjoyed his character a lot in Episode VII.
Nonetheless, this is still all just speculation. For all I know, the writers could have the whole ‘Last Jedi’-thing be a total cop-out: Luke may just be a grumpy old man and go back to his old self after some plucky encouragement from Rey and everything could go the way it always goes with Star Wars. But I’m getting the sense that the writers know they can’t just repeat the same old things all the time if they want to continue to draw an audience (and God knows Disney likes the profits made from these films, it’s why they bought the property). The theme of balance within the Force was something that was definitely present, but not fully explained, in The Force Awakens, so I don’t think I’m too far off the mark here. It is this spiritual and philosophical stuff and the nature of the Force in Star Wars that has made this franchise stand out (at least to me). I suspect its succesful blend of scifi, spirituality, magic, action, adventure, fun as well as enjoyable characters in addition to amazing visuals and music that has drawn generations of fans to go see these films. Here’s to hoping Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi continues that tradition in the best ways possible.