What a difference a week makes.
Shortly after I watched The Last Jedi, I decided to compile a list of some serious and not-so-serious questions that I had after viewing the movie. Rather than include them in my spoiler-free review, I had decided to write a new post, one that would go up on December 29, thus giving the few folks who stumble across my little corner of the Internet time to view the movie for themselves.
But then I decided to delete my post and write a new one.
Why? Because there’s been something of a backlash about the latest Star Wars movie. Some fans love it. Some fans hate it. And there have been a plethora of opinion pieces written about whether or not The Last Jedi is a betrayal of the spirit of Star Wars or a worthy successor of it. I’ve been poking around some of the controversy and been thinking about it, and I came to the realization that asking those questions wouldn’t be helpful, especially since the more I’ve been thinking about it, the more I’ve been coming around to the “worthy successor” side of the debate.
But if I’m going to explain why, I first need to post this warning:
That’s right, folks, I am not going to protect any of the surprises in The Last Jedi. If you haven’t seen it yet and want to go into the experience with your expectation unsullied, well…what are you waiting for exactly?
So the controversy seems to boil down to a few questions that arose in The Force Awakens: who are Rey’s parents? Why did Luke leave everything behind to go hide on some island? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? There were a lot of fan theories bouncing all over the Internet for the last two years about those questions and others. And there was a lot of time spent explaining why Rey was really a Solo or a Skywalker or a Kenobi or some other prominent family in the Star Wars universe. And people went through all sorts of mental gymnastics over who Snoke might be, whether it’s Darth Plagueis (the Sith Master of Darth Sidious) or a clone of the Emperor (ala the “Legends” story Dark Empire) or some other thing like that.
And we got answers in The Last Jedi. Who are Rey’s parents? Nobodies who died on Jakku after selling their daughter as a slave for drinking money. Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? Doesn’t matter, ‘cuz the dude’s dead now. Why did Luke run to Ahch-To? Because he entertained the thought of murdering Ben Solo, only to get caught and have Ben fall to the Dark Side (the very thing that Luke was trying to prevent).
Are those answers satisfying? I think the answer to that question largely depends on how invested you were in your particular fan theory on the subject. If you were absolutely convinced that Rey was secretly Han and Leia’s long lost (and apparently long forgotten) daughter, then yes, finding out that she’s the daughter of nobodies would be disconcerting. If you were convinced that Snoke was really a fallen Mace Windu or still alive Darth Plagueis, only to see him chopped in half by his apprentice with no further revelations, yes, it would be a little frustrating.
Truth be told, as I was leaving the theater, I turned to some of the other members of the audience and asked, “Who was Snoke? WHO WAS SNOKE!?!?!?”
But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize: the theme of The Last Jedi can best be summed up by one of Kylo Ren’s lines, one that was slipped into the middle of the trailers:
This movie is all about new beginnings, leaving behind what came before and striking out into new territory. That’s why it’s better for Rey to have nobody parents. If she was a Solo or a Skywalker or a Kenobi or any of the other established Jedi lineages, she would be a connection to a past that needs to be left behind. If a major part of the plot was how Snoke was this person or that person from the past, it would bog down the movie’s forward momentum.
And besides, in the cases of Rey’s parents and Snoke’s identity, what happened in The Last Jedi is well within the bounds of what Star Wars has done in the past.
Let’s start with Snoke and compare him with another big bad from the previous movies: the Emperor.
Think about what we knew about the Emperor when he appeared in Return of the Jedi. Basically, we knew nothing. We knew that he was called the Emperor, that he apparently had a thing for black robes, and hey, he can shoot lightning out of his fingers. That’s it. The name “Palpatine” or “Darth Sidious” weren’t uttered in the original trilogy at all. Instead, he was a creepy guy who showed up via hologram in Empire Strikes Back and then in the flesh in Return of the Jedi. He cackled, spouted some threats, and then got chucked down a giant pit by his former apprentice. The only reason why he’s become more prominent is because of his role in the prequel trilogies.
Snoke is following that pattern in the new movies. His background doesn’t matter; he’s not the focus of the movies (whereas Darth Sidious was part of the main plot in the prequels, hence why we learned more about him then). He’s simply there to be killed by his apprentice. The genius movie, I think, is that his death occurred sooner than anyone expected and, rather than marking the moment of his apprentice’s redemption, it actually serves to mark when Kylo Ren surpasses his grandfather. He literally does “finish what [Darth Vader] started,” to lift a line from The Force Awakens, only in this case, it’s not just trying to destroy the Jedi, it’s also ascending to a place of supreme power.
Rian Johnson not only has Snoke and Kylo Ren follow the pattern established by the previous movies, he also subverts a key part of it in a surprising way.
And I think the same thing can be said of what happens with Rey’s parents. This follows the pattern of the original trilogy while, at the same time, subverting a part of it in a surprising way.
Think about what we know about Luke’s parents going into Empire Strikes Back: we know that his father was Jedi Knight, a good pilot, and a friend of Obi-Wan Kenobi who was ultimately betrayed and murdered by Darth Vader. But then, at the end of the movie, we’re surprised with THE MOMENT that looms so large over everything Star Wars, where it’s revealed that what we thought we knew was wrong: Luke’s dad is actually Darth Vader himself. Luke isn’t some nobody from a desert planet; he’s actually the progeny of the movie’s villain and the heir of a storied tradition.
In many ways, the question of Rey’s parents follows the same line. We’re so sure going into The Last Jedi that it’s going to turn out that Rey is a Solo or Skywalker or whatever because we think all the clues are there. Only Johnson subverts those expectations by having the answer turn out to be “No, Rey, No One (important) is your father.”
And this is part of what I realized. Star Wars isn’t about mysterious puzzles that have to be sussed out by the fans. It never has been. The big reveal about Luke’s parentage isn’t the solution to a puzzle. It’s a surprise twist that sends the story scurrying off in a new direction. The same thing is true for the question of Rey’s parents. It’s another twist, a surprise, a flipping of expectations so that the story can go in new directions.
And who knows? It may turn out that Kylo Ren was spinning a little lie to try to get Rey to fall to the Dark Side. That was the first thing I thought of when I was watching the movie.
In spite of Snoke turning into a literal dead end and Rey’s parents being a non-issue, there’s still plenty of questions for Episode IX to answer. Here are a few, just off the top of my head:
- What will happen to Kylo Ren now that he’s ascended to become Supreme Leader? Let’s face it, Snoke’s apprentice is still immature in fundamental ways. History has shown, time and again, that when immature people are given supreme power, it never ends well for them or those they rule. Will Kylo turn into a monster? Will he fall even farther? Or…
- Can Kylo still be redeemed? Everyone has assumed that the new trilogy would be about the ultimate redemption of Ben Solo. Rey believed that she would be able to bring him back to the Light. Is that still possible? Or will Kylo Ren go the route of all tyrants?
- How will Rey do rebuilding the Jedi Order? I mean, I spotted the ancient Jedi texts in that drawer on the Falcon. But let’s face it, Rey received even less training from Luke than Luke did from Yoda. Yoda seemed pretty confident that Rey would be okay, but will that be the case?
- Is there a love triangle brewing between Rey, Finn, and Rose? Rose’s declaration of love came out of nowhere and seemed to take Finn by surprise. And I’m pretty sure that I spotted a bit of jealousy lurking in Rey’s eyes when Finn was taking care of Rose on the Falcon. Will Rey’s feelings for Finn bring about a repetition of history?
- Will Finn finally stop running (either away from danger or toward death) and take a stand?
- Who will lead the Resistance? I mean, this one is a bit meta since we know that Carrie Fischer won’t be with us for Episode IX, but it’s a valid question nonetheless.
- With the Resistance so decimated, how will they stand against the First Order now? What allies will they find out there in the galaxy?
That’s just off the top of my head. I think those are enough questions to get a new story going.
Look, I get it. Not everyone has to like The Last Jedi. If you’re in the camp of “worst episode ever,” that’s fine. You don’t have to like it. I just wanted to share my thoughts as to why this movie is a worthy successor.
And I’m not saying that fan theories are bad either. I’m just as guilty of trying to sew up all the loose ends of stories into little head-canons. And yes, I even get disappointed when my theories turn out to be wrong.
Maybe the way we should look at things is this: the anthology movies (like Rogue One and the upcoming Solo) will be the interconnected, fan-service heavy funfests with callbacks, interconnections, and so on. The mainline episodes will be the new territory where we’ll be confronted with new ideas, new characters, and new adventures. After all, if Disney wants to keep moving forward with this franchise, it’s going to have to break new ground eventually. They might as well get a start on it now.