5 ways to make The Last Jedi great
Let me start by explaining where I’m coming from with respect to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. First, it’s a sequel to a movie that I had a mixed reaction to. I found The Force Awakens enjoyable and some of the new characters to be well-conceived and intriguing. However, I also thought that the movie was frustrating, in that instead of telling a new and different story within the Star Wars universe, it basically repeated the original Star Wars. In doing so, it damaged many of the aspects of the ending of Return of the Jedi, such as the relationship between Han and Leia and the hope that Luke was going to lead a successful rebirth of the Jedi order.
Other than viewing the trailer for The Last Jedi, I’ve tried to avoid spoilers and plot details for the new movie so as not to influence my initial viewing. I’m cautiously optimistic that with the foundation the filmmakers have in place, this new movie can establish its own identity and be successful in its own way, and not be an echo of Empire Strikes Back in the way that The Force Awakens was an echo of A New Hope. With that out of the way, here are some elements that I think the new Star Wars movie should contain to make it great.
1. More back-story
I know, I know: exposition isn’t the most obvious ingredient for a great Star Wars movie. Still, The Force Awakens dropped the viewer into a story set thirty years after Return of the Jedi with a lot of elements that, to put it mildly, would differ from what the viewer might have extrapolated from the ending of that film. How did the First Order arise so quickly from the defeat of the Empire to be in the position they’re in? What happened to the new group of Jedi that Luke trained, and how were they so thoroughly defeated by Kylo Ren? What caused Luke to follow the path of Yoda and Obi-Wan and go into exile after their defeat? While some questions can be overlooked in an episode that’s reintroducing the setting, they can’t be so easily overlooked by the middle chapter.
2. Don’t just copy Empire Strikes Back
Don’t use Yoda training Luke in Empire Strikes Back as the template for the mentoring of Rey by Luke in The Last Jedi. In that film, the audience hadn’t gotten much background on the Force and the Jedi up to that point. There had been a little bit from Obi-Wan in A New Hope, but it was mostly on the fly while he and Luke were in the middle of dealing with something else. The plot structure of Empire allowed the opportunity for Luke to slow things down and receive in-depth training from Yoda in preparation for an eventual encounter with Darth Vader and the Emperor. At this stage of the Star Wars saga, the fans are all familiar with the Light Side, the Dark Side, the Jedi, the Sith, etc., so a rehash of “inexperienced young Force user gets taught to beware of the seduction of the Dark Side” would not be an effective use of time. Instead, perhaps they can take a page from Rogue One and show something different onscreen about the Jedi and the Force, as they did with Chirrut Imwe, the non-Jedi Force-user there. Maybe they can show flashbacks to Luke’s training of the new group of Jedi after the events of Return of the Jedi. That would be interesting to see, since he was the first of the Jedi masters to arise from the defeat of the prequel-era Jedi. One would expect to see a contrast of styles there.
3. Answer the big question from the trailer
Namely, why does Luke think the Jedi must end? Did he mean it in the way that they made it sound? Or, was it like those old UPN Star Trek: Voyager promos where they’d quote a character out of context, or show her in a separate scene from the one in which she’d said the line to make it look like it meant something much more shocking than it really was? I’d guess that, given the way that the previous movie was called “The Force Awakens”, and that Luke is shown training Rey in the new one, that it’s not meant to convey that Luke believes following the will or way of the Force is any less important. I would guess that it means that he’s rethought the relationship of the Jedi to galactic events, and that given their recent catastrophic failures twice within a couple of generations, a new, new order may have to emerge, one that does things in very different ways from the Jedi. What would that mean? It could mean a shift away from the rigid rules we saw in the prequel trilogy from the old Jedi order. They put severe limitations on the age of trainees, and personal relationships that the Jedi could engage in, etc. So maybe Luke feels that the rigid structure and code of the old Jedi in some way led to the tragedy of his new Jedi group, and is hoping to forge something different, that’s also disciplined but not in such a potentially unhealthy way.
4. More of the minor characters
A good start with this might be Snoke, who was only in The Force Awakens for a short time, and Po Dameron, who disappeared for much of the middle. If this movie is going to slow down for some character development, then it can do it for those who made an impression but didn’t get enough time to really explore their possibilities. It’s a given that we’ll see a lot more of the main characters again, like Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren, but keep some time for the others as well.
5. A great lightsaber duel that does something new and has consequences
The prequels had an obstacle to this, in that with some of the duels, the outcome was clear before it started, because the viewer knew the future fate of the characters involved. For example, there was only one way for the Obi-Wan vs. Anakin duel to end in Revenge of the Sith, and there was no way that Dooku was going to kill Obi-Wan or Anakin in Attack of the Clones. One of the thrills of the original trilogy’s lightsaber duels, especially the one in Return of the Jedi, is that it could potentially have gone in so many different directions. Luke could have ended up fighting the emperor directly, or Luke and Vader could have done so together. And of course, the duels in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back both had revelations that affected the entire Star Wars saga. In A New Hope, we learn about the Jedi ability to become spirits, and in Empire Strikes Back we get the iconic “No, I am your father” moment.