Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi ahead!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not The Empire Strikes Back: The Redux. It does not closely adhere to that film’s structure in the same manner as which The Force Awakens clung to that of A New Hope. This film isn’t interested in having its story beats unfold in the ways we’ve come to expect from a Star Wars movie, delivering a comfortable continuation of the setup from The Force Awakens. No, The Last Jedi upends where we think this story is going to go, defying our expectations for what comes after an evil empire is struck a blow from a ragtag rebellion or for who a gifted warrior really needs to be.
The Empire Strikes Back is largely defined by being the bleakest of the original trilogy, the film in which the bad guys win and Luke learns a dark truth about himself. It is also a film that’s focused heavily on the individual, Luke or Leia and Han specifically rather than the Rebellion as a whole. The Last Jedi isn’t having any of that. This is a film about restoring hope, redefining purpose, and doing so while taking into account the needs of the many rather than the one (to borrow from another revered sci-fi property).
Nothing Matters More Than The Resistance’s Survival
In both A New Hope and The Force Awakens, a heavily outnumbered resistance force pulls off a huge upset of a victory when they destroy the enemy’s massive, planet killing weapon. The destruction of the Death Star and Starkiller Base set up the beginnings of Empire and Last Jedi, putting the Empire/First Order in full retaliation and the Rebellion/Resistance on the back foot. But beyond that initial setup, the films diverge wildly.
Empire begins with the Rebellion on Hoth, and when their location is discovered by the Empire they flee. But after that point the story mostly sticks with the individual and personal adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han. Luke is setting off to find Jedi Master Yoda, while Leia and Han are trying to reunite with the Rebel fleet. The Last Jedi begins similarly, with the First Order having discovered the Resistance’s base and them needing to flee, but that is where the similarities end. Luke seeks out Yoda so that he can be trained as a Jedi and Leia and Han’s adventure is of overcoming adversity so they can rejoin the fight. These are important journeys for their characters that develop them in significant ways, but they are on the whole about them as individuals and not the fate of the Rebellion or the galaxy at large.
The Last Jedi approaches its characters’ arcs differently, giving them personal journeys, yes, but also keeping the focus squarely on the survival of the Resistance at all costs. Rey goes to Luke because Leia told her to bring him back to help the Resistance; Finn and Rose leave to find the master code breaker to help the Resistance escape the First Order’s tracking; Poe leads a mutiny because he believes Holdo’s decisions are endangering the Resistance; Holdo’s whole plan is to hang on long enough so they can reach a planet where the transports can escape to, carrying however much of the Resistance still survives with them; and once on Crait, the plan is to hold on until help arrives, and once it does, they use the opportunity to escape so that can live to fight another the day.
The Rebellion is never at risk of total annihilation in The Empire Strikes Back in the same way the Resistance is throughout all of The Last Jedi. In fact, after fleeing Hoth, the Rebellion is barely even a factor in Empire, making the striking back the Empire does in the film more about Darth Vader’s goal of capturing Luke than it is anything else. It can be argued that Snoke’s desire to capture and kill both Luke and Rey, as well as Kylo’s wish to turn Rey to the dark side, parallels Vader’s plans, but it’s the Resistance’s survival and not merely the survival of Rey or Luke that matter most in the end.
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