Okay before we begin, I want to be clear: I am basing this off the first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. This is in no way a commentary on the film itself, which I have not seen…yet. I’m only breaking down the marketing methods behind this:
Okay – I hope this avoids any confusion, should you be reading this after the film has been released. With that in mind…let’s dive in.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out in theaters six months ago and the impact of its release is still being felt. To say the film is controversial appears to be an understatement. Some claim it is the death of Star Wars, a film worse than all the prequels (really?) that shreds the source material. To others, including myself, it is a breath of fresh air and maybe the first true Star Wars “sequel” in quite some time.
One of the main reasons that I love Last Jedi is that the movie generates conversation. I saw Solo last week and am already forgetting it. It wasn’t a terrible film by any stretch, nor was it really good. Solo just exists, checking off all the boxes it has to without feeling particularly inspired or warranted. I feel like there was no deeper subtext or character development. Spoilers: Han Solo is a scoundrel but a good guy. Did I really need to spend $16 just to confirm that?
With Last Jedi, I felt like I was watching a movie that wasn’t content to simply check boxes. It didn’t care that it was a “Star Wars film” and spent more time trying to be a genuine movie. The result is an experience that gives me something new every time I watch it. Here are some of the thoughts and readings I’ve had while watching Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi:
Luke Skywalker is George Lucas
I know, shocker right – that Luke S. could mean Lucas? Watching Mark Hamill in Last Jedi is fantastic. True to the series’ Kurosawa roots, Luke is no longer the bright-eyed boy on Tatooine but a grizzled, jaded Jedi master. Unlike Harrison Ford’s Han Solo from The Force Awakens, Hamill’s Luke feels different from when we last saw him. His character has been appropriately aged along with himself.
When I was last watching the movie, I paid attention to Luke’s dialogue – in particular his self-loathing. Luke Skywalker did the impossible, he redeemed Darth Vader. Bear in mind, Luke is still fairly young in Return of the Jedi – at most 30. It’s not everyone who saves the galaxy before they can even qualify for a midlife crisis.
Therefore, it’s easy to see how Luke made mistakes. In his hubris, he felt he could do anything after that. It’s a very human reaction. Some would say it’s exactly what happened to Star Wars creator George Lucas after he made the original trilogy.
The struggles of George Lucas in making Star Warshave been widely documented. He had to fight on every decision and ultimately had to shoulder more than his share of the work. Lucas saw someone few people did, perhaps that nobody else did: that Star Wars could be a hit. And he did it. When everyone doubted, George Lucas did it. The man created a property that has impacted the lives of millions and created a devote following (to say the least).
To quote Hamill’s Luke from Last Jedi: he “became a legend.”
Then the time came for George to duplicate his massive success. The year was 1999 and the world was hungry for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Then the movie, and its two sequels came out and…well…lighting did not strike twice. With the introduction of characters like Jar Jar Binks and concepts like midichlorians, many fans thought that Lucas was destroying his creation and tarnishing his legacy.
And not to mention the Special Editions that are widely held as inferior to the original theatrical cuts. On all fronts, it seemed like George Lucas could do no right. Yet still he forged ahead. Why? Because he was George Lucas…a legend.
Until, one day, older and definitely with some bitterness, George Lucas sold Star Wars and retired to his home, essentially becoming a grizzled old hermit himself and completing the character arch that he envisioned for so many of his Jedi heroes.
Did Rian Johnson write Luke S. as a metaphor for Lucas? Who knows. But the similarities are uncanny.
Kylo Ren really is a Star Wars fanboy
When I first wrote my article declaring Kylo Ren a Star Wars fanboy, I had no idea how right I’d be. In a movie script obsessed with subverting history, Kylo Ren is the character most consumed by it (even more than lonely Luke). Despite his vocal claims to the contrary, Ren cannot let go of the past.
He sees himself as the central figure in the story, a view he asserts on Rey in the following line:
“You have no place in this story; you come from nothing. You’re nothing.”
Charming. Such a wonder why Rey promptly runs away after that exchange. Kylo Ren’s delusions of grandeur aside, his character typifies the negative perception that Star Wars fans feel they “own the trilogy” more than anyone else. This belief (to varying extents) was represented in the documentary, The People vs George Lucas where the filmmakers made the argument that fans owned Star Wars more than its creator.
The story of Star Wars has become so ingrained in pop culture that most everyone knows at least the basics. The heroic Skywalker stands at the center of the galaxy, reshaping it in his image. For both Luke and Vader, this perspective holds weight and no doubt Kylo Ren sees himself as simply a continuation.
He knows how the story will go, how could he not? He believes himself to be the main character. This fits with a large viewpoint in the Star Wars fandom that family lineage matters. Even in the Expanded Universe, the focus was largely on Luke, Han and Leia – not to mention all of their children and spouses.
This idea runs so counter-intuitive to the message of the original film, which showed that heroes could come from anywhere – even a nowhere like Tatooine. Kylo Ren has done very little to declare himself a hero, yet he still clearly sees himself as one.
His expectations and actions based around how he believes the “story” will go reflects the controlling nature of fandom. The cry for newness while wallowing in the familiar. Kylo Ren must be the hero because…well, that’s how he wrote it in his head.
The toxic masculinity of Poe Dameron
When I first saw The Last Jedi, I had problems with Poe Dameron’s subplot. Specifically, I didn’t understand why Admiral Holdo didn’t just tell him the plan. Was she worried about a spy? Was it subversion just for subversion’s sake?
Since then, I’ve noticed quite a few things in Poe Dameron’s dialogue. Holy hell, is he an asshole. Never mind that he gets nearly the whole bomber fleet killed at the beginning of the movie (an action which gets him justifiably demoted), he refuses to treat Holdo with respect.
His first “not what I expected” conveys a personal disappointment. The feared military hero, Vice Admiral Holdo, is nothing more than a skinny, older, soft-spoken woman who doesn’t convey bravado or really anything. She just sets about doing her job.
Watch Poe’s first conversation with Holdo, look at what he’s saying:
Poe: “Vice admiral? Commander Dameron. With our fuel consumption there’s a very limited amount of time that we can stay out of range of those star destroyers.”
Holdo: “Very kind of you to make me aware.”
Yes, because there is no way that the Vice Admiral of the Resistance fleet already understood the very basic situation. If you’ve ever wondered what “mansplaining” is – this is an example. Poe, who was recently demoted for screwing up royally, still feels entitled to assert himself.
His lack of faith in his superior officers translates into a loss of hope and a dangerous turn that gets more people killed. The First Order learns of the rebel plan partly through Poe’s actions.
Remove the fact that Holdo is a woman and treat it like a standard military operation: A demoted officer immediately undermines his superior’s orders because he feels left out. Granted, we never see if Holdo tells anyone the plan because we’re confined to Poe’s view point.
We see him rebel again and again, not to further any real cause but his own desire for control. It is a subplot that I did not fully pick up on the first time through – mainly because I was so surprised to find it in a film like this.
Visual storytelling: Snoke and Hux
One last point I want to make before I wrap this article up. When I saw Force Awakens, I didn’t have to think about my least favorite characters: Supreme Leader Snoke and General Hux. Snoke, despite the performance of Andy Serkis, came off as Emperor Palpatine 2 – a character who served the story because, well, it’s a Star Wars movie and those need a creepy old dude in a chair.
Hux, by contrast, had the personality of an evil brick. I had no sense of these people as characters, merely as roles. Snoke was the leader and Hux was a general. Got it. Last Jedi greatly improves this without taking serious script time and Johnson does it through visual storytelling.
First, Snoke: Look at that robe! Who wears a fabulous glitter gold robe complete with slippers while overseeing a military operation? Someone who is very arrogant and very much in control – a.k.a. the dear Supreme Leader. By the simplest wardrobe change, Snoke takes on some of his own character and becomes less of a Palpatine clone.
Hux, by contrast, has more of his characters conveyed through his unspoken actions. Whether it is the smug sneer he gives Kylo Ren at the start of the film or when he almost pulls a gun on Ren’s unconscious body, the audience understands the relationship between these two characters. No one ever blurts “power struggle” because they don’t have to.
This dynamic gives Hux depth and informs us better of his character.
There’s more to say on Last Jedi but I’ll save it for another day. Suffice it to say, I feel strongly about this movie and I hope Episode IX can live up to its fine example. I’m genuinely sorry for the other Star Wars fans who saw this film and thought it was the worse thing since Jar Jar – but I implore them to give it another go. No, it’s not what you were expecting – but that’s okay. This film still has a heart and, more importantly (at least to me) it has a mind clearly present in its script.
So Star Wars: the Force Awakens is out and everyone (including me) has an opinion on it. Like it, love it, hate it, or exhibit a fair amount of indifference, Episode VII is here to stay. Now, we as the movie-going public can look forward to Episode VIII… and Rogue One… and the zillion other yearly movies that Disney is no doubt already scheming over.
Now is again the time to speculate. After spending months wondering “who is Rey,” fans can now wonder “who is Rey?” until at least the release of Episode VIII in 2017. The mystery of Rey’s identity was a focus in the Force Awakens, with subtle and not so subtle hints to the character’s origins. Warning: Spoilers follow.
She is strong with the force and good at fixing things. With Kylo Ren’s Skywalker origins having been revealed, many believe that Rey’s are soon to follow. Who is she – Ben Solo’s hidden sister or Luke Skywalker’s estranged daughter? Well, what if she’s not either. The big revelation regarding Rey could very well be the lack of anything mysterious or Skywalker-related…. but that’s not fun to write about. So here is my theory:
Rey is the clone of Anakin Skywalker. On the surface, this sounds ludicrous and wildly improbable… but let’s look at what the film gives us.
Rey is exactly like Anakin Skywalker
From force prodigy to being good with machines, to growing up on a desert planet, to not knowing how to interact romantically in any way, shape, or form – Rey’s defining characteristics are awfully similar to those of our podracing protagonist from the prequel trilogy. At least the whining and natural moodiness appear to have vanished. Those improvements were probably high priority for Anakin 2.o.
Luke Skywalker has some serious explaining to do in Episode VIII. Without him, the First Order was able to destroy the new Coruscant (not actual Coruscant… for some reason) and kill Han Solo. Not to mention the countless other lives ruined by the First Order in various battles. He is a jedi, a guardian of peace and justice – seriously, wtf man?
While Kylo Ren’s fall and the actions of Supreme Leader Not-Palpatine go a long way to explain Luke’s initial disappearance, they come up short of explaining away everything. Namely – Rey is obviously important, important enough to be hidden. Or feared enough to be kept away.
If Luke Skywalker discovered a clone of his father, I’m going to guess he would have mixed feelings about it. How do you train a clone of the Chosen One? No pressure – last time someone trained this person poorly, the galaxy fell to the Sith. Kylo Ren has screwed things up enough, and he is nowhere near as powerful. After failing with Kylo, how could Luke believe that he could train Rey? Better to hide her away and then… go stare out at an ocean for the next indeterminate amount of time.
Okay, Luke’s absence still needs more explanation – moving on.
The Mention of Clones in the Force Awakens
I think there is one thing most Star Wars fans can agree on: we want to forget the prequels. While not the worst things ever (this is the worst thing ever), they were deeply flawed. For every one thing done right, at least two things made us cringe. It made sense that, while Force Awakens was deeply evocative of the original trilogy, the prequels were hardly mentioned. Of the few minor nods to Episodes I-III, by far the most explicit was General Hux’s mention of clones.
In storytelling, a plot element – especially a fantastical one, cannot be introduced out of left field. The groundwork must be laid to insure that the revelation is accepted. Part of what made the revelation of Darth Vader work so well in Empire Strikes Back was the fact that some ground work had been laid in A New Hope. Luke’s father’s death is mentioned multiple times, and Uncle Owen’s dark remarks on Luke being too like his father are allowed to take on a whole new meaning.
While Hux’s comments are nowhere near that insightful, it still serves to refresh the audience. Clones have been a large part of Star Wars, and the idea may be making a comeback in the new trilogy.
Anakin’s lightsaber Calls to Rey
Yeah the clone mention is pretty small, but how about Anakin’s lightsaber going nuts when Rey gets a hold of it. As an audience, we have never seen this happen before, not even when Luke held his father’s lightsaber for the first time in A New Hope. We are aware of force-strong artifacts and places (notably Yoda’s cave in Empire Strikes Back) that are able to create visions, but usually those visions have so far been very personal. Rey’s vision does not include her family (almost as if they don’t exist) but instead shows seemingly random events. The destruction of Luke’s temple might make a lot more sense if Rey was there, maybe it was she that Supreme Leader Not-Palpatine came looking for in the first place.
Regardless of the vision, the fact that Anakin’s lightsaber reacted so strongly to Rey cannot be ignored. It suggests an incredibly deep bond between the two, almost as if awakening the Chosen One yet again.
Star Wars is the Saga of Anakin Skywalker
While other stories may be told as side pieces, the main drive of the previous six Star Wars movies has been the life of Anakin Skywalker. Star Wars has so far chronicled his rise and fall, his life and death. With the sequel trilogy, the natural problem emerged: what then?
Life – Death – Resurrection. Star Wars has long placed its roots in Joseph Campbell’s monomyth theory. Part of Campbell’s structure includes a “Return” phase following the “Atonement” where the hero returns “victorious” in some way to their previous life. It could be argued that Anakin began his return at the moment of his atonement and that Rey represents the final step: A reincarnation back into a previous state, minus the desire for power (the fatal flaw) that plagued Anakin. Rey so far has shown none of Vader’s more destructive tendencies.
Lor San Tekka
I know what most of you are saying: no, they’re not nonsense words. This is the name of the elderly character played by Max von Sydow at the beginning of this movie. It is a small role, with Tekka dying almost immediately. It is, however, very curious. Why does he have a piece of the Skywalker map and what is he doing on Jakku, so close to Rey? Adding to it is this quote from the character:
What did he do that was wrong? Did that mistake have anything to do with Rey? It seems too much coincidence that two important people would be living on the same backwater planet for entirely different reasons. Tekka is an older man so whatever he did could be some years in the past. Did he create Rey as part of some old plot against the Republic? Who knows, but Tekka’s presence indicates that Luke had someone keeping an eye on Rey. Someone he trusted with his map… to him… that map made no sense.
The Solo Red Herring
Okay, remember how when Vader said “Luke, I am your father” and the audience was struck with surprise? Show of hands – would anyone actually be surprised to learn that Rey was Ben’s sister or Luke’s daughter? In order for a twist to work, it has to be surprising and feel like it is propelling the story forward. After Empire, every Star Wars fan would be on edge for a family connection reveal. That’s why Force Awakens simply told its audience that Kylo Ren was Han Solo’s son. Giving that reveal any build up would draw way too much of a direct comparison with the single greatest emotional moment in the Star Wars series. You can blow up another Death Star, you cannot surprise reveal another family connection.
Yet having Kylo Ren be Ben Solo, coupled with Rey’s age and natural abilities, naturally allows the audience to wonder just who Rey’s parents are, rather than wondering if they exist or not. It directs thought away from one possibility and towards another.
Rey has met Han Solo, Leia, and Luke. If she was related to any of them in the obvious parent-child relationship, you would hope it would have come out by now (especially if she is Leia’s daughter).
Who is Rey? It is a question we will ask and speculate on until the movie is bound to disappoint some of the more clever theories. But for now, consider this. Whether a clone or a messianic resurrection, it is at least plausible that Rey is Anakin Skywalker. The main character is the old villain? When was the last time a Star Wars story did that: