After months of waiting (and the rampant speculation that comes with it), we finally have a trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The teaser debuted at Star Wars Celebration 2017, which had already given us a lot of big details about Episode VIII, and gave a real taste what director Rian Johnson was adding to the galaxy far, far away.
The trailer is – typical of the previews for the previous two Disney Star Wars films – very light on spoilers with a greater focus on iconography and general mood. Breaking it down, though, does reveal some plot details; it essentially shows Luke’s training of Rey on Ahch-To, the Resistance’s escape from their base on D’Qar interrupted by the First Order, the Battle of Crait between walkers and speeders and Luke’s declaration that “it’s time for the Jedi to end”. All very exciting, all very teasing.
Going a little deeper and looking at everything shown on a macro scale, however, there’s one other thing the trailer seems to reveal: it looks like The Last Jedi will have an awful lot of parallels with classic trilogy middle entry The Empire Strikes Back. One of the biggest criticism of The Force Awakens was its similar plot structure to the original Star Wars, and these moments suggest that Episode VIII will be a similar repeat. Should fans be worried? Let’s take a look.
The Empire Parallels
So what are the parallels? Well, pretty much every one of the key plot points we discussed earlier has some direct link to Episode V, and a good chunk of the other Celebration reveals tie into it.
For starters, the First Order/Resistance conflict looks to be evolving rather similarly to how the Galactic Civil War did in Empire. Both films pick up with the evil forces recovering from the major blow of their superweapon’s destruction, which has if anything emboldened them; they’re on the attack, and because the previous film saw the destruction of organized government (the Senate’s dissolution and destruction of Alderan in the original, the Hosnian system being blown up and the Republic with it in The Force Awakens) this puts the good guys seriously on the back foot.
Both movies look to open in the same way from this setup. The Last Jedi will begin with the Resistance trying to escape their base on D’Qar (which survived destruction by Starkiller base but is still a big target) a la the Rebels on Hoth, only to be impeded by First Order forces. This skirmish will go down in space, but that doesn’t mean the AT-AT/Snowspeeder battle won’t be referenced – later on in the film, after the Resistance (or part of it) has escaped, they take up refuge on the planet of Crait, only for the First Order to attack from the ground. The new AT-4X (colloquially known as Gorilla walkers) are bulkier versions of the Empire’s ground transport, while the pole riding speeders are a clear parallel to the Rebel’s Hoth vehicles. Not much more is known about the Resistance side of the film, but that’s hitting a lot of marks.
The parallels are more pronounced on the Force side of the movie. Following on from The Force Awakens cliff-standing ending (Mark Hamill’s joke), The Last Jedi will focus on Luke’s training of Rey. Per Daisy Ridley, things don’t go as Rey expects at first (like how Yoda is initially skeptical of Luke) but eventually Skywalker starts training the young Force user (as with Luke and Yoda) on the remote planet (which is rocky, but just as isolated as Dagobah’s swamps) with a focus on spirituality over physical combat (ring any bells). It even looks from the teaser’s opening like Rey will experience an unexpected Force vision akin to Luke’s experience in the cave.
The biggest link in the Jedi training, however, is what at first looks like a difference. The trailer culminates with Luke announcing he plans to destroy the Jedi, which is as far from Yoda as you can get. But it leads into an essential part of the original trilogy: Master-Apprentice conflict. In Empire, Obi-Wan and Yoda believe wholeheartedly that Darth Vader is beyond redemption, revealing in Return of the Jedi that their ultimate plan is for Luke to kill him. Luke, on the other hand, is in tune with his emotions and, upon learning the truth, attempts to redeem his father; the original trilogy is essentially him correcting the sins of the previous generation. Quite what the end of the Jedi means in Episode VIII is unclear (it’s probably not indicating a turn to the Dark Side) but it sure provokes an ideological divide between Luke and Rey.
Then you have what is probably the most pronounced link: parentage reveals. Although it’s a complete mystery where it’s going (at this point, it seems highly unlikely she’ll be a Skywalker or a Solo), Johnson’s confirmed that we’ll get an explanation of who Rey’s parents are, a very obvious parallel to Empire’s instantly-iconic “I am your father” reveal. Can’t get more remake-y than that.
Is It Actually Going To Be A Remake Though?
OK, so there’s a lot of parallels in story and theme – The Last Jedi even promises to be an overall darker entry in the saga than its direct predecessor – but does that automatically predicate it being a remake? Not exactly.
It’s definitely worth noting that much of what we see in the trailer and otherwise know about the film comes from the first act; the Resistance escape and Rey’s training are both the opening gambit, meaning that the overall plot of the film could be going in any number of directions and these parallels may be minor in the larger tapestry, used only because they’re a good marketing hook. After all, there’s a big difference between homage and regurgitation.
Indeed, the only real evidence of anything in the teaser from after the first forty minutes or so is the arrival of Kylo on Ahch-To, seen briefly with Rey igniting her saber as she runs into action and the lone shot of Adam Driver, a sequence that is definitely different to Empire; it’d be like Vader really coming down to Dagobah. With factors like that still unelaborated on, it’s simply too early to tell what story we’re dealing with, and based on rumors (especially those about Finn and the Resistance side of the plot) there’s going to be some fresh ideas at play.
In fact, it’d actually be rather hard for The Last Jedi to use Empire’s template much more than the few moments we’ve discussed seeing as a lot of it has already been cribbed. The Force Awakens was ostensibly A New Hope, but it also took liberally from Episode V: Snoke was basically the Emperor from that film, as was Kylo’s wrestling with his parents and later saber duel. Many of the bigger elements of Empire have already been co-opted by the sequel trilogy, leaving an open playing field for Episode VIII.
Why This Isn’t A Big Problem Regardless
Let’s play Sith’s advocate, though, and assume that Disney are really steering into this repeating approach for the whole sequel trilogy. Well, if they are, then it’s not immediately disastrous.
It’s worth remembering that it’s only in the past couple of decades or so that the notion of sequels being more than cash-grab retreads has become locked in. Previously, there just wasn’t the same studio push or audience belief that the original could be improved on and so in many cases sequels were attempts to scrape a bit more money from an IP. As such, these films were usually flagrant narrative repurposings. This is even true of great sequels; Indiana Jones (both Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade), Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (especially Terminator 2 in fact) are overtly reusing the plot of the previous films, albeit to do something new. Total exceptions exist – The Godfather Part II and Empire chief among them – but a sequel leaning on the original’s structure isn’t as eternally long-standing nor as fundamentally flawed as some criticism suggests.
Like any franchise, Star Wars has formula – each movie hits marks ranging from quoted lines and filmmaking style to story structure and character beats – and because we’re dealing with a forty-year-old, multi-generational one, that formula covers trilogies as well as individual movies. George Lucas famously stated during the prequels that his saga was “like poetry” and each trilogy rhymed with the other. This is evident heavily in Episodes I-III (and has spawned increasingly complex theories, such as Ring Theory) and with the talk of “balance in the Force” (and idea from The Phantom Menace) at the forefront of the sequels it’s clear some of those ideas from the maligned second set of movies are being used in the Disney era. As such, it may be that the Empire parallels are there in The Last Jedi to again honor the “rhyming” ideology and build up the greater Star Wars whole.
It certainly worked with The Force Awakens; for all the remake complaints, J.J. Abrams’ reboot has been roundly praised by fans and casuals alike. That’s probably because, for the most part, the rhyming worked. Familiarity gave franchise shorthand for the new heroes and – especially when considering it was the return of Star Wars after such a long hiatus – helped provide the foundation for a fresh-feeling adventure. The only real problem with the repetition was the muddled handling of the galaxy’s political state and introduction of Starkiller Base, and those were problematic more because of strange pacing and editing choices than they were familiarity.
If we are getting repeated elements in Episode VIII, there’s surely going to be a deeper purpose. Indeed, just as the prequels used the differences between Anakin and Luke to tell its story, the sequels appear to be playing up both the parallels between Luke and Rey and the contrast between Kylo Ren and Darth Vader. Rhyming tropes and structure highlight these similarities and ultimate differences, allowing for a stronger exploration of the series’ core theme of recurrence across generations; it makes the Star Wars saga a purposeful epic rather than just any old ongoing series.
Even after a single trailer, The Last Jedi has some unavoidable parallels to The Empire Strikes Back, but that needn’t mean it’s going to be a beat-for-beat retread of Episode V. We’ve seen only a carefully curated snippet of the film, and based on that many of the similarities are simply part of the bigger Star Wars formula. There’s no need to have a bad feeling about this just yet.
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