Ever since Disney and Lucasfilm announced that Star Wars – Episode VIII would carry the subtitle “The Last Jedi,” fans have been eager to find out what that “last” part actually refers to. Is it a metaphor or a hypothetical statement, suggesting that newly-awakened Force-user Rey could be the last of her kind if she fails? Does it imply that the Jedi are already over with in terms of the evolving Star Wars mythos? Another meaning that can’t even be guessed at, given the somewhat ephemeral nature of how everything ever having to do with The Force fits together?
Now, with the advent of the first trailer for the hotly-anticipated next chapter in the “mainline” Star Wars saga, many feel as though a surprising final line of dialogue has either answered the question, or at the very least dropped a huge clue as to what the answer will be. Following a succession of ominous line-readings and deliberately-composed images highlighting shifts in the franchise’s longstanding iconography (most of it looking appropriately worse for wear), Luke Skywalker gravely intones: “I only know one truth – it’s time for The Jedi to end.”
Given what we already know of Luke’s situation and mindset as of The Force Awakens – i.e. apparent self-exile after a bid to rebuild the Jedi Order instead ended with the birth of The Knights of Ren and the seeming turn of his nephew Ben Solo into the wannabe Sith Lord Kylo Ren – it’s not hard to see what might be implied by that statement. Luke may indeed have decided that the Jedi Order itself and/or the binary Light vs Dark view of The Force that informs its existence either cannot or should not be revived again… making him the Last Jedi.
However, the bulk of the trailer’s first goes out of its way to show (or at least make us believe we’re being shown, given some curious edits) Rey being trained in what looks very much like the Jedi arts by Luke himself. Assuming that “It’s time for The Jedi to end” is meant to be taken as a definitive statement rather than something for Luke to be “corrected” about subsequently… what exactly does that make the seemingly Jedi-like Rey? Is it possible that the “true” main arc of this new Star Wars Trilogy isn’t simply the continuation of the Jedi status quo, but rather the rise of some an entirely new sort of Force alignment?
LIGHT, DARK, BALANCE
Before the trailer gets to the action, it’s all about Rey being led through a sort of guided-meditation by Luke, who asks her what she sees. This is followed by a trio of tableaus featuring a hologram map (potentially in Resistance Headquarters?) that’s paired with Rey’s intonation of “light,” a shattered Sith helmet similarly described as “darkness” and finally an oddly organic looking bookshelf stacked with dusty volumes that upon closeup bear what looks like the Old Republic insignia. Say Rey: “Balance.”
“Balance” wasn’t an idea that got a lot of play in the original Star Wars Trilogy. Vader turning out to be Anakin Skywalker was a surprise shade of gray in the previously monochrome Force moral dynamic, but everything still came down to Luke sticking to his Light Side guns and Vader being won back over from the darkness. The idea of Balance didn’t really come into play until the Prequel Trilogy, where we learn that Qui-Gon Jin picked Anakin Skywalker for Jedi training despite his advanced age and problematic psyche because he believed in a prophecy about a “chosen one” who will “bring balance to the Force.” But not only has it yet to be fully determined whether The Prophecy is right or wrong, fans are still intensely debating exactly what “balance” is supposed to mean in this context in the first place.
After all, if The Dark Side represents absolute evil, then a mere stalemate of equilibrium between the two powers shouldn’t really be something the heroes are looking to create. Maybe, as some have theorized, the prophecy was correct but misinterpreted, i.e. Anakin did bring balance to The Force… by killing off all of the Jedi but Obi-Wan and Yoda, thus making their numbers equally balanced with that of The Sith. Or perhaps Luke Skywalker himself is the balance, becoming a Jedi who breaks with his training in order to defeat The Sith in his own way.
But now, it seems highly plausible that Episode VIII could offer a new answer that, if so, could potentially mean the most radical evolution of the franchise yet. If Luke is The Last Jedi but he’s still training Rey to master The Force, maybe the “balance” will involve the end of The Jedi as we’ve known them and the beginning of a Force alignment with a whole new philosophy… one that will begin with Rey herself.
A NEW HOPE
The anecdotal evidence that this could be the long-game of the new Trilogy feels mildly substantive. Nostalgia-fueled as it was, The Force Awakens’ actual narrative emphasized the idea of its main heroes as audience-surrogates for rising generations of Star Wars fans. Finn, Rey, Poe Dameron and Kylo Ren are all “children of Star Wars” symbolically as well as literally (Rey literally scavengers the wrecks of the Rebellion/Empire war to survive and cherishes a Rebel Pilot doll, Finn is a second-generation Storm Trooper who’d like to be more, Kylo Ren – well, we’d be here all day…), and the film’s repeating thematic motif involved characters finding themselves in “classic Star Wars moments” and having to work new ways out of them. It only makes sense that that theme would continue and become more pronounced in the sequel.
Moreover, it’s been well established that Rey and Kylo Ren – whether they’re a Jedi and Sith or not – are something like new evolutions of their respective “brands.” Rey’s latent Force abilities are so extreme (even without training) that some fans accused her of being an overly-competent “Mary Sue” figure. Kylo Ren wields The Dark Side with much greater ease than even Darth Vader ever did (stopping laser blasts in mid-arc, pulling people across the room for a force-choke) despite being frightfully immature and undisciplined otherwise. If one or both of them have evolved that far beyond their predecessors, why wouldn’t one or the other decide that some new labels are in order?
FEAR LEADS TO ANGER
At first glance, the idea that Disney would’ve paid billions for Star Wars only to decide that they were done playing with one of the franchise’s most beloved and sought-after toys sounds improbable. Who would gain control of Star Wars but decide they no longer need the Jedi to be a part of the plan going forward? On the other hand, maybe what’s more improbable is that they wouldn’t shake things up.
After all, inventing a brand new class of Force users would be a handy way to move a bunch of new merchandise all at once – just the hypothetical promise of a new Order (and the new names, logos, insignias and catchphrases that might come with it) are enough to launch a thousand new product lines. Less cynically, it would offer greater freedom to storytellers going forward to not feel constrained by the “teams” set up way back in the 70s. Besides, the “Star Wars Story” spin-off cycle means that there’s no stopping Disney from making as many future Jedi-oriented films as it likes set in the prior eras of the mythos.
Maybe it’ll be time for The Sith to go, too – not just a rethinking of what makes the Light Side the good guys, but an acknowledgment that the moral binary hasn’t been yielding great results and perhaps needs to be scrapped altogther. Consider: The Last Jedi teaser poster distributed at the premiere of the first trailer didn’t just feature an instantly-inconic rendering of Rey wielding a lightsaber, it was a lightsaber whose beam starts in Jedi Blue… but ends in Sith Red.
One thing seems certain: Fans who hoped that The Last Jedi would be less predictable than The Force Awakens may be poised to get their wish in a more extreme way than most ever could have expected.