Rian Johnson has delivered his first Star Wars film, but it won't be his last: after The Last Jedi, he's starting a new, unrelated trilogy of movies set in the galaxy far, far away. And Episode VIII may provide some clues as to what it's about.
The sequel to the J.J. Abrams-helmed The Force Awakens is proving to be a surprisingly divisive movie, with one vocal group of fans applauding its audaciousness and subversion of expectations just as another laments it as tonally an thematically out of step with what's come before. Whichever side you come down on in that divide, The Last Jedi unquestionably serves as a hint of what's to come for one corner of the Star Wars film franchise.
In a surprising move a little over a month before the film's release, Disney announced Johnson would be directing a spinoff trilogy that would concentrate on an as yet unexplored corner of the Star Wars universe, untethered from the ongoing saga of the Skywalker family and their allies. And now we have our first taste of what that might be right.
The Last Jedi Proves Johnson Is The Right Choice
The announcement was music to many fans' ears, the ultimate promise of Disney's plan to significantly expand the output of Star Wars films. Instead of filling in narrative gaps like Rogue One or exploring the origins of the franchise's established icons like Solo, the notion of meeting entirely new characters and stories in a galaxy far, far away offers limitless potential, and a director of Johnson's creative pedigree seemed like a dream selection to spearhead such an endeavor.
And yet some fans are likely more hesitant about that prospect in the wake of The Last Jedi's surprisingly polarizing debut. In some ways, this probably shouldn't come as a shock; Johnson is a singularly gifted filmmaker, but he doesn't have the sort of crowd-pleasing, four quadrant resume that Abrams does. Nothing about the hardboiled neo-noir of Brick or the time travel mania of Looper suggested Johnson was interested in making warm, family-friendly fare. Disney's initial selection of Johnson to helm the middle chapter of their new trilogy felt like a bold move before anyone actually saw The Last Jedi, and feels even more so in its aftermath.
Now, handing Johnson the keys to his own standalone trilogy feels like a direct rebuke of the growing consensus that Disney is uninterested in creatively ambitious filmmakers, only looking to work with directors who are good for toy sales.
The Last Jedi Tells Us A Lot About What The New Trilogy May Feel Like
So what can we infer about Johnson's upcoming trilogy from what he did with The Last Jedi? Quite a bit, actually.
It seems unlikely The Last Jedi is going to inform the plot of Johnson's trilogy in any real way (with one possible exception, which we'll get to), but there are plenty of other things that suggest a particular path forward. Perhaps the most obvious and controversial thematic element on display in The Last Jedi is Johnson's lack of reverence for the established tropes of the series. There's a decidedly looser, weirder vibe to the film than not only the original films, but also its immediate predecessor - which ironically caught its fair share of criticism for hemming too closely to the structure and tone of the original trilogy. For some people, this felt like a major flaw in The Last Jedi, but it actually bodes well for his spinoff trilogy, which will almost certainly find that sort of tonal shift both more expected and more welcomed.
Another controversial choice in The Last Jedi is the constant subversion of expectations. Luke Skywalker, once the pure, heroic paragon of virtue, has become a jaded, cranky old man who probably chugs his green milk straight from the tap when he's not entertaining guests. Supreme Leader Snoke, ominously built up in The Force Awakens as a new generation of the all-powerful Emperor Palpatine, turns out to be something of a dark joke of a character, chopped in half by Kylo Ren with a noticeable lack of moral conflict on young Ben Solo's part.
Perhaps most galling of all is Rey's parentage, which in some ways was the most obvious twist of all; her parents were nobodies. She's not a Skywalker or a Kenobi or a Jinn, she's just an ordinary girl who turns out to be extraordinary. The Last Jedi dismantles so many bedrock Star Wars concepts with such utter glee that it's pretty easy to see Johnson will be wholly uninterested in porting any of them into his new trilogy.
Does The Last Jedi Tell Us Anything About The New Trilogy's Story?
Thematic hints are all well and good, and there's plenty of evidence in The Last Jedi for where Johnson will go in that realm. Plot details, however, are understandably more scarce, though not necessarily completely absent. In one of the film's stranger tangents, Finn, Rose, and BB-8 are dispatched to the casino planet Canto Bight to track down a codebreaker who can get them access to the First Order's lead ship and disarm the First Order's tracking device. In their efforts to escape, they're aided by a group of children housed in a stable who organize a jailbreak of the alien horse creatures, which help our heroes get clear of the local fuzz and carry out their mission. At the film's conclusion, we revisit those children, one of whom summons his broom with the Force and gazes into space, wondering what his future will hold.
Despite all of Johnson's seeming disregard for the essential tropes of the franchise, it's impossible not to think of this moment in the context of A New Hope, where we see young Luke staring at the dual sun horizon, contemplating his future - a moment that's nicely echoed in Luke's final moments in The Last Jedi. Is this young child and his friends the protagonists of Johnson's trilogy? Probably not, but coupled with the revelations about Rey's lineage, they serve as something of a mission statement. You don't have to come from vaunted Skywalker blood, or be a prophesied chosen one, or endure rigorous Jedi training to be a hero in this universe. You only need to be pure of heart and willing to help those who need it, even if it's against your own interests. That's a bold new reality for the Star Wars films, and it opens up the franchise to new and exciting storytelling possibilities.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not a perfect film. It's too long, and some of the subplots involving Poe and Finn suffer from some very real logical holes. But Johnson gets the big moments right, and has realigned a surprising number of the basic tenets of this storytelling world in bracingly fresh ways without betraying the sense of hope and wonder that is essential to this particular franchise. Disney is right to entrust a new corner of the Star Wars universe to Johnson, and their faith in his vision and ambition is the surest sign yet that Star Wars is in good hands.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019