When it comes to satisfying movie sequels, Star Wars pretty much takes the cake. While George Lucas’s original 1977 film offered the world a thrilling and optimistic introduction to his galaxy far, far away, its 1980 follow-up The Empire Strikes Back completely switched gears, spinning a grim tale of struggle and failure at the hands of a vengeful enemy.
Audiences expecting to see Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and company march off on another inspiring underdog adventure were instead met with an impatient Luke who hastily abandons his Jedi training, the chilling reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and a dismaying conclusion in which a fan favorite character is tortured, encased in carbonite, and captured by a bounty hunter. It sounds like the perfect recipe for alienating a loyal fanbase, and yet there’s a reason why most directors tasked with helming a sequel to a popular blockbuster today cite Empire as a major source of inspiration.
The film has gone down in cinematic history as one of the best sequels of all time not because it predictably built upon the groundwork laid by its predecessor, but because it took audience expectations of what Star Wars was and turned them on their head, pulling off a risky yet intriguing tonal shift that perfectly fit the film’s dark story and deepened our understanding of characters we thought we knew. Interestingly, the next film in the sci-fi franchise, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, seems to be on track to pull off a similar feat.
The Last Jedi: Rey takes her first steps toward uncovering her family history https://t.co/KQBsIsEAjw
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) August 11, 2017
Until now, fans haven’t had much to go on in terms of news regarding the upcoming movie, aside from a mysteriously vague trailer released in April, a cover story in Vanity Fair’s May issue, and a few statements from director Rian Johnson and stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Mark Hamill. But a new story and batch of photos released last week by Entertainment Weekly offer just enough plot details for an obsessed fan to begin piecing together what the film may have in store, and it appears that The Last Jedi is poised to give audiences exactly what they’ll least expect. One of the first curveballs the film is going to throw our way will be the relationship between Hamill’s Jedi hero Luke Skywalker and Ridley’s young scavenger Rey. When we last saw the two of them at the end of 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey had finally tracked the missing Luke to the planet of Ach-To. She symbolically offered him his old lightsaber in an effort to bring him back into the conflict between the Resistance and the evil First Order, at which point audiences were treated to their first glimpse of Luke in 32 years – and nothing more. The film ended before Luke spoke a word, and fans were left to wonder as to how the interaction between the two characters would play out.
Most have likely assumed that Luke, who has evolved from a plucky farm boy into a heroic and optimistic Jedi, would welcome Rey somewhat warmly, echoing the supportive mentor role that Obi-Wan Kenobi played to a young Luke in the franchise’s first film. But one of the new photos from Entertainment Weekly suggests otherwise, depicting Rey with a look of grim determination on her face, while Luke stares at her with a distant coldness in his eyes. Both Ridley and Hamill assure fans that in the upcoming film, Luke will be anything but the symbol of hope he once was. Ridley has described him as a grumpy old man who turns his back on her when she asks for his help. Hamill has similarly indicated that Luke will be interested neither in training Rey, who recently discovered her ability to use the Force, or jumping back into the fray himself, a position which further evidence suggests may derive from a newfound sense of doubt in the ways of the Jedi. A standout moment in April’s trailer for The Last Jedi comes when Luke proclaims, “I only know one truth. It’s time for the Jedi to end.” This brash statement understandably led to a flurry of fan speculation, some of which lines up with Hamill and Ridley’s recent comments. After his nephew and former student Ben Solo turned on him to become the villainous Kylo Ren (as revealed in The Force Awakens), Luke has likely lost faith in the effectiveness of training new Jedi. But is he really intending to put an end to the Jedi altogether?
One popular theory maintains that Luke is instead suggesting the introduction of the Gray Jedi, a group of Force users who skirt the line between the light and dark sides of the Force and refuse to follow the strict requirements of the Jedi Code. The Gray Jedi were introduced in the vast collection of original novels, video games, and comic books dubbed the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Their potential involvement in the new film is supported by a shot in the trailer showing a tattered book that could be the Journal of the Whills, a volume of Jedi scripture that George Lucas originally included in early drafts of the first Star Wars. The film series previously hinted at the Journal’s existence when characters in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story referenced a religious order known as the Guardians of the Whills. If Luke does intend to begin training Gray Jedi, it would represent a curiously drastic shift in the franchise’s DNA, and perhaps a maturation of sorts. After sticking to black-and-white themes of good versus evil, Star Wars might literally be venturing into a gray area, suggesting that heroes must find an inner balance by embracing both the dark and the light within themselves. This would take the series in a vastly different direction than previous films, which focused on fearing the dark side and praising the simplistically dogmatic views of the Jedi Order. In other words, Luke’s harsh words may actually be giving fans a lot to look forward to.
Still, part of the popularity of Star Wars comes from its ever-expanding cast of characters, and there will be much going in The Last Jedi beyond the drama between Rey and Luke. Another new photo from Entertainment Weekly depicts stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-hero Finn accompanied by a nervous-looking new character, Rose Tico. While the franchise has a history of introducing new key players in sequels, they tend to be memorably charismatic, such as charming scoundrel Lando Calrissian and cryptically wise Jedi Master Yoda.
In the spirit of defying expectations, actress Kelly Marie Tran describes Rose, a quiet and little-known Resistance mechanic, as exactly the opposite. Rose is thrilled to meet the now-famous Finn, but like Rey, her introduction to her hero will leave her disappointed. Finn is still unsure whether he actually wants to be a part of the fight against the First Order, yet he and Rose are tasked with carrying out a vital mission.
Their adventure will take them to a new locale in the Star Wars universe, a giant coliseum-like casino city labeled in a new photo as Canto Bight. The city presents another rarity in the franchise: an example of how galactic folks spend their leisure time. Aside from the holographic chess game and the classic cantina scene in the first Star Wars, the podracing sequence in The Phantom Menace, and that bizarre bubble opera glimpsed in Revenge of the Sith, audiences have rarely caught a look at what Star Wars characters do in their time off. The Last Jedi will show us an entire planet devoted to gambling, where we will also meet Benicio Del Toro’s character DJ, an expert at hacking and code breaking who comes across as somewhat sinister.
In fact, The Last Jedi will have no shortage of sinister characters, though not all may be as treacherous as they seem. While Kylo Ren was the major villain in The Force Awakens, the new movie may actually subvert expectations by weakening him instead of making him more threatening. When we last saw him, Ren was limping away from a humiliating defeat at the hands of an untrained Rey. In The Last Jedi, he will retreat to the defense of his master, the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke was only glimpsed in The Force Awakens as a shadowy hologram, but a new photo depicting his samurai-like Praetorian Guard, along with a statement from Rian Johnson, has confirmed that he will appear in the flesh in the next installment.
The Last Jedi: Supreme Leader Snoke emerges with elite Praetorian Guard https://t.co/QmJ0P41wm6
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) August 9, 2017
While Snoke promises to lend a chilling presence, Kylo Ren may be facing a crisis of confidence similar to that of Luke Skywalker. After killing his own father, Ren likely believed that his turn to the dark side was complete and that he would be truly unstoppable. But almost immediately, he was bested by Rey in her first lightsaber duel, surely shaking his faith in the power of the dark side. Perhaps in this film, both Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker will learn that fulfillment cannot be found by dealing in absolutes, but by meeting in the middle and embracing both the light and dark sides of the Force. Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see a Star Wars villain doubt his dedication to the dark side. Darth Vader would certainly not approve.
Speaking of powerful Force-users, the one character fans are most anxious to hear about is General Leia Organa. In the wake of actress Carrie Fisher’s tragic death last December, fans have been desperate to learn how her character will figure into future Star Wars installments. Though Episode IX is reportedly undergoing rewrites to account for the loss of the actress, Johnson confirmed that Fisher completed her performance in The Last Jedi. Again, however, it will not be what audiences are anticipating. Beyond merely leading the military efforts of the Resistance in the new film, Leia will also be mentoring ace pilot Poe Dameron. While Dameron has proven himself on the battlefield, Leia apparently sees in him the potential for a promising military leader and perhaps eventually a politician. This is a Leia we haven’t seen before, one preparing for a future in which she may not be around. It could be that the death of Han Solo has shocked her into realizing that her time may be limited and a passing of the torch is necessary. Regardless, it will be a bittersweet experience to watch Fisher light up the screen as Leia for the last time.
Ultimately, it seems that Lucasfilm has learned that less is more when it comes to Star Wars news. The few kernels of information they have released to the public have clearly proven juicy enough to spark the imagination of the fandom and steadily build excitement for the film’s release. And yet the most exciting aspect about the new movie is not what we know, but what we don’t know. While it can be exciting and comforting to have one’s preconceived notions about a film confirmed upon viewing it, I’m sure many fans of the franchise like myself will be looking forward to having their expectations blown to bits like a TIE fighter in an asteroid field when The Last Jedi finally finds its way into theaters this December.
The Last Jedi: Meet the porgs and ‘The Caretakers’ from Luke Skywalker’s island https://t.co/7uFAywZ8BQ
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) August 9, 2017