“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way to become what you were meant to be,” Kylo Ren says in The Last Jedi.
Little did we know when we heard that line in an early Last Jedi trailer that it would sum up Rian Johnson’s approach to the second instalment in the new Star Wars trilogy.
Where The Force Awakens was happy to retread the past, The Last Jedi is determined to push things forward. It changes the mythology of the series in significant ways, opening up a universe of possibilities.
MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW. SERIOUSLY.
In Empire Strikes Back, Vader tempts Luke by asking him to join him to overthrow the Emperor, which will allow them to rule the galaxy together as father and son.
In Jedi, Kylo Ren kills his father figure, and joins with Rey to overthrow the First Order, establishing himself as the new Supreme Leader – THEN he asks Rey to join him, and doesn’t seem all that bothered when she refuses (he’s more than happy to rule on his own).
This is indicative of a subtle shift of focus in The Last Jedi, which majorly changes the series’ key themes. The original trilogy was about connecting with the past, expressed through Luke resurrecting the Jedi and reconnecting with his father, Darth Vader.
The new trilogy is about moving on from the past, expressed through Ren leaving Vader behind (smashing the mask that represents his attempts to live up to his grandfather’s legend), becoming his own man and doing what Vader could not – ruling the galaxy.
In another Empire Strikes Back parallel, Luke hangs out with Yoda and discusses the ways of the force. Except, here, they’re talking about the end of the Jedi, not the beginning. Yoda, who once said the Jedi only use the force for knowledge and defence, never for attack, is literally encouraging Luke to attack knowledge – to burn down the Jedi library and allow his students to move beyond him. The fate of all mentors, this is. And, it seems, of this series.
Star Wars is going through an evolution – paying tribute to what came before (The Force Awakens was Han’s film, The Last Jedi is Luke’s, Episode IX was going to be Leia’s) while moving away from it.
In The Force Awakens, we assumed Rey was our protagonist – it’s why we all put so much weight into the identity of her parents. In The Last Jedi, it’s revealed that her ancestry doesn’t matter – her past, or rather, the past of the franchise, isn’t important – she’s not a Kenobi, or a Solo, or even a Skywalker, because those names won’t matter in a couple of movies time.
For the time being though, they do – this isn’t just the last Jedi movie, this is the last Skywalker series – which makes Kylo Ren the lead. He has Skywalker blood, the more significant arc, and he’s at the centre of every important set-piece. Rey’s just along for the Falcon ride.
All of which must have felt like a bit of a shock to the system to fans who were expecting Empire Strikes Back 2.0 starring Daisy Ridley as Luke Reywalker, being trained on Ahch-Togaba by Mark Hamill doing his best Frank Oz.
But this shift in focus and themes wasn’t the only big change – Rian Johnson has transformed the very nature of the force.
Before, you needed to be special in order to use it, or at least receive dedicated training.
In The Phantom Menace, Anakin, a child-slave, and arguably the most powerful force-user in the galaxy, had to be taken from his home and taught how to use the skill by privileged teachers.
In The Last Jedi, a different child-slave instinctively uses the force to grab a broom, a broom which he then tilts up like a lightsaber. These are the final moments of the film and they were incredibly divisive – because they were so unexpected. No Star Wars film has ever ended with a shot that didn’t feature at least one of the main cast.
Star Wars used to revolve around powerful dynasties and royal families, Rian Johnson seems to be suggesting a much more democratic future. As this series progresses, the little people will become more important – the oppressed, the underclass; the rebellion.
Where we once had wise old mentors passing down lessons, in The Last Jedi, the kids are doing it for themselves. Which is huge – it feels like Star Wars is pivoting away from the Jedi altogether (“It’s time for the Jedi to end.”), making this a series about the force itself rather than the religions constructed around it.
It’s a thrilling shift for the series – but one that’s upset some of the die-hard Star Wars geeks.
Looking at Rotten Tomatoes’ early reviews, there’s a wide gulf between critics (93%) and audiences (64%). This makes sense. Generally, critics want to see something new, and audiences want to see something they understand (that’s a bit patronising, but we are talking in generals – only a Sith deals in absolutes).
Go onto Twitter, and people aren’t just disappointed – they’re angry.
The last Jedi was quite simply insulting to every Star Wars movie before it. pic.twitter.com/Z4nL2SYVVO
— Carson Juhl (@carson_juhl) December 15, 2017
I didn't think it was possible to make a Star Wars movie worst than The Phantom Menace but somehow, Disney found a way. #LastJedi
— Notoriously Bigga (@Eggie79) December 15, 2017
During a dramatic moment of silence in #LastJedi, a man in the theater said “this is absolutely ridiculous” and that’s all I have to say
— ham for the holidays (@hannahhhbethhh) December 15, 2017
All jokes aside, the hate on the #LastJedi is blowing my mind. I love the original films and the franchise and I LOVED The Last Jedi. To me, one of the BEST movies I’ve EVER seen – I felt like a child again. It was great. Why hate on change? All haters can stop tweeting now.
— Meg V. Jones (@ItsMegNotMegan) December 15, 2017
We can sympathise, even if we don’t necessarily agree.
If you came to The Last Jedi expecting the comfort of nostalgia, then this was definitely no Rogue One. Even the way it was shot – featuring dynamic camera-moves, minimal wipes, experimental editing and Spaceballs-style sight gags – was radically different to what’s come before.
For some (us), this was a thrilling experience that reinvigorated the series. For others, it was a shocking betrayal that destroyed it.
We’re not entirely sure how JJ follows it – there’s no way he can do a Return Of The Jedi redux – but however this trilogy ends, it’ll be a continuation of this new beginning, one where every planet in the galaxy may be home to the next Star Wars hero.
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