Why The Last Jedi gives me (yes!) hope for Episode IX
As the Christmas release date for the next Star Wars movie approaches, and with filming now reportedly completed, the anticipation and the backlash that have both become synonymous with the franchise since the release of the prequel trilogy remain as prominent as ever.
While the reception for last year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story was less than enthusiastic, the other three films released under the Disney banner—The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi—have all earned critical praise and enormous amounts of money. This is no doubt why, despite demands in some circles, Kathleen Kennedy has not stepped down as the head of Lucasfilm.
Of course, the backlash of some fans wasn’t limited to Solo. Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran have all been unfairly ridiculed on social media since they signed on to the recent films. Both actors who portrayed Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy (Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen) have been through similar abuse and have pretty much disappeared from the acting scene as a result. Esquire posted an article which explains this nicely.
Disliking characters in a movie is one thing, but throwing that dissatisfaction at the performer who’s only doing his or her job is going way too far. Social media has always been a double-edged sword to me, and this is a perfect example of why.
Personally, I find myself really looking forward to the upcoming Episode IX thanks to The Last Jedi. When I saw The Force Awakens, I thought the new characters were likable, just like the ones in the original films. Many considered Ridley’s Rey a Mary Sue (meaning she seemed to know everything), but I thought she was a lot more lively than Natalie Portman’s Padme. Also, Ben Solo’s fall from grace is much more interesting and much less overdone than that of Anakin in the prequels.
But my problem with the film is that the storyline itself is a bit too similar to the original 1977 film. I’m also unhappy with what became of Luke, Han, and Leia after Return of the Jedi. Looking back now, just a few years later, it was probably understandable that Disney would want Episode VII to have similarities to the original film. It was, after all, the first Star Wars film released by Disney, so they naturally wanted to ensure that the $4 billion they paid for George Lucas’s empire was money well spent. Nonetheless, I came away from The Force Awakens thinking these new characters deserved a much better storyline.
But after watching The Last Jedi a few times, I feel that the future is bright for the Star Wars series. Below are some reasons why.
The Last Jedi felt to me like, if nothing else, the start of a much better storyline for Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, and newest addition Rose. It’s also nice that the three non-human heroes of the original films (Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO) are alongside them without being seemingly shoehorned in like R2 and 3PO were in the prequel trilogy. I found Last Jedi more enjoyable than The Force Awakens perhaps because the emphasis was more on these characters, and unlike the previous film, the narrative didn’t seem to have the baggage of what happened to the original trilogy’s characters hanging over it. Hence, I’m holding out hope, which seems to have become the word of choice with the Disney-produced films, just as “NOOOOO!” was the word of choice with the Lucas-produced ones.
I especially liked the climatic scene between Rey, Kylo Ren, and Snoke, which I initially thought would be a rehash of the duel in Return of the Jedi, but ends up taking a different and interesting turn. Kylo Ren’s continuous inner turmoil, which he failed to purge even after killing his father, leads nicely into what happens in this climatic moment. Rey herself also becomes a more interesting character by having moments of uncertainty about herself, despite her great Jedi skills.
This is not to say that The Last Jedi doesn’t have its flaws. For instance, I’m still unclear as to how the First Order was able to track the Resistance ship when they were at light speed. The amount of time Rey seems to train under Luke is also a bit iffy. I can also understand Mark Hamill’s dissatisfaction with how Luke was portrayed in the film. But the Luke/Rey scenes have a nice sincerity to them, and one could say they give new meaning to Yoda’s classic line “There is another!”
But the way the confrontation between Rey and Kylo plays out should make their next encounter in the upcoming film quite interesting. I also like how Poe’s commitment to his cause ends up, unintentionally, making things worse, but yet we still side with him because of that commitment as he, Finn, Rose, and the rest of the Resistance keep pressing on during the film even though the odds are definitely against them. This is probably best illustrated in the climatic battle scene where Admiral Holdo sacrifices herself by going kamikaze on the Star Destroyers in order to save the remaining Resistance members who are escaping on defenseless transports.
The moment where we see from both Luke and Kylo’s points of view how Luke lost his nephew to the Dark Side is also interesting and even sad. While we may still wonder why Luke simply gave up from what we heard in The Force Awakens, this showed that he did have reasons for becoming disenchanted with the Jedi.
I must also mention the nice touch of Yoda’s cameo. Happily, he looks more like the original puppet from Empire and Jedi, rather than the obvious CGI redo for the prequels.
Hence, I’d like to think the late Carrie Fisher would have been pleased with this film, which was naturally dedicated to her.
I’m also happy that Billy Dee Williams will finally be back as Lando Calrissian, whose unexplained absence in Episodes VII and VIII always bugged me. (At least they mentioned Q in Live and Let Die even though he didn’t appear in that film, although the book James Bond: The Legacy explained that Desmond Llewelyn was unavailable.)
From what I’ve been hearing, all the returning actors seem pleased with how things are turning out with the new movie.
In addition, considering how lucrative the Marvel characters have become thanks to Disney, everyone’s known from the beginning that the studio set out to make Star Wars more of an ongoing saga than even Lucas imagined. Episode IX has been reported to be the last entry in the series to focus on the Skywalker clan. While I’m still thinking that we’ll see Luke appear as a Jedi ghost, this would certainly bring a new dynamic to the franchise.
While Disney has put any standalone Star Wars films on hold for the time being after the failure of Solo, the ongoing series has the potential to continually reach new heights just like its Avengers series. It has appealing characters, and it’s beginning to bring original storylines into the narrative.
Star Wars itself primarily began as a homage to science fiction serials such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. The first two sequels to the original film went further than that by making the story a fall from grace along the lines of Oedipus Rex. This shift made such an impact that fans pretty much demanded the prequel trilogy that was implied when the Episode V label appeared above the opening crawl for Empire Strikes Back. Even with the dissatisfaction many felt for the prequels, this allowed the saga to thrive as the 21st century began.
With the saga now in Disney’s hands, it seems logical that such changes are necessary in order for the franchise to not become stagnant. The films they’ve put out so far have begun to lay groundwork for the different directions the series can go. Naturally, this can open the door for new characters to appear, with even more story possibilities. Rogue One was already a step in this direction, with an emphasis on completely new characters as well as an ending that was truly bittersweet, as anyone who’s seen the original film can tell you. What if future entries had endings with a similar tone? (Not that I want the series to become downbeat, but shaking things up is always good.)
For a comparison, the original Star Trek, like many shows of its era, was an episodic series. But with the exception of the first and fifth entries, the original series films had an ongoing story arc. I always felt this, intentionally or not, influenced how both The Next Generation and even Deep Space Nine ended up, as it had both standalone entries as well as prominent story arcs. This shows how Star Trek itself thrived well into the ’90s, and why some fans believe that Voyager, Enterprise, and even Discovery are simply rehashes of what Trek had done previously.
In this day and age, when the internet is a cornerstone of society, the backlash to the franchise’s direction—uncalled for or not—will always be around. But the financial and critical successes of the Disney-produced films have given the studio the clout to take things in a different direction, even if it’s one some fans weren’t planning on.
Offhand, the only red flag I can see is if Disney attempts to cross over any of its other characters, Marvel or otherwise, with the Star Wars ones.