Rian Johnson's starting a brand new Star Wars trilogy - and could his franchise debut, The Last Jedi, be setting it all up? The Episode VIII director was just announced to be developing a brand new trilogy set in the galaxy far, far away; probably the biggest development in the franchise since Disney bought Lucasfilm and started the ball rolling on a sequel trilogy five years ago (yes, it was that long ago).
Naturally, fans are eager to get more info. Unfortunately, there really isn't any; all we have to go on is that it's "separate from the episodic Skywalker saga" and "will introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored". While we can use the framework of the franchise to figure out a possible release date, when it comes to actual content this new Star Wars is tough to crack. The near-forty-years of Legends is near-useless as a reference here and we don't really have much of an indication of what the pitch is. If only Johnson had left us some clues, perhaps in an upcoming tentpole?
Of course, the most probable link between The Last Jedi and the new trilogy is that Johnson's success with the film (we know it's the only production in Star Wars history to not have major creative troubles, and all word on actual quality is aggressively positive) gave Lucasfilm the confidence to sign off on his new venture. That's it: he made a good movie, he gets to make another.
Yet we can't shake the feeling there could be more to it than that. This is a series where the very first entry didn't just set up the narrative direction it eventually went in, but an entire galaxy of offshoot possibilities. If Johnson's done his job on The Last Jedi, then he's not just addressed threads left hanging by The Force Awakens and laid the groundwork for Episode IX but expanded the Star Wars universe. And if he's done that, then there's every possibility one of these ideas either inspired the direction he's going in or will be retroactively worked to be part of it. Indeed, The Last Jedi already seems to champion the stated ethos of the new film.
Rian Johnson Has Already Been Expanding The Franchise Away From The Skywalkers
Everything we know about The Last Jedi screams "different". Obviously, there's Luke's past and the history of the Jedi. This is a perfect example of greater expansion - not just explaining the biggest mystery left by Episode VII, Johnson's take on Luke's exile will go back to the fundamentals of the Jedi; Ahch-To is their first temple (possibly with links to the prequels), which houses early tomes from the order. It may very well see the Jedi end, but the film will certainly brush with how they started. With that comes a vast backdrop of lore that, due to the Expanded Universe's long-held origin of the Jedi Order, Sith Empire et al being made non-canon, has yet to be truly explored.
Stepping away from the Force, The Last Jedi also brings with it a focus on regular characters. Rose Tico was explicitly created by Johnson to be normal, a ground level character swept up in the adventures of our heroes. She's got two feet firmly in the real, day-to-day used universe that typically remains window-dressing. That's not to say Rose is going to lead her own trilogy, but she (coupled to a degree with Rogue One's scrappy band of Rebels) marks a shift in Star Wars away from the mythic archetypes and familial connections that have always dictated it.
And then there's Canto Bight. Star Wars' Monte Carlo, this could be read as The Last Jedi's spin on the Mos Eisley Cantina or Jabba's Palace, although the black-tie dress code and unrepentant privilege takes it in a totally different direction. This self-preserved opulence is a corner we've never brushed with; against The Force Awakens' desert planet, green planet, Death Star/snow planet, and other green planet, it's positively inspired. All joking aside, there is a whole other aspect of the galaxy that it appears Johnson's exploring here; the sequence involves D.J., the movie saga's first proper hacker and a real step away from the traditional good-evil conflict. No just shades of grey, he's apart from it all.
We're not saying any of these will be narratively where the new trilogy goes (although, blaster to head, Canto Bight's ephemera makes a lot of sense) but they do serve as clues to Johnson's approach to the franchise and how he views the injection of new.
Could There Be Anything More?
But manner of approach isn't really what we're looking for; could The Last Jedi sow exciting seeds of what to expect? How this would operate (if at all) is hard to know having, well, not seen the film in question and knowing nothing about the future, but it's definitely within the director's wheelhouse to get something. What we do know is that Rian Johnson is a deft filmmaker able to thread future plots through his imagery and themes (just see his work on Breaking Bad), and also one not above some fanboy winks - it'd be irresistible to sneak in a nod to the future if he could.
So, come December 15 is this something we could be seriously speculating on? Let's consider the timing of the project's announcement. It came hours after Disney announced their Q4 takings were low, so there's likely some executive-level balancing of books here ("sorry targets weren't hit, but look what we've got next decade"), and certainly doubles as a hype builder for The Last Jedi (if Kathleen Kennedy's given Johnson the keys to three films, she must think his first is something pretty special). This means that while it's all very new to us, it's presumably been a done deal for a while - and that's important to knowing where the idea came from.
Is this born of a general enthusiasm of working together or a specific element of The Last Jedi? Was the idea proposed once the film has locked a couple of months ago or was it on Lucasfilm's mind while Johnson was working on the edit, or earlier? The answer to these questions shape what The Last Jedi tells us and is going to be a key discussion point going forward.
For now, our guess is it's all about porgs.
- 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: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019