The Last Jedi
The much-anticipated Episode 8 of the Star Wars saga has landed, and much like the rest of the movie going public, I have thoughts. But rather than simply discuss my likes and dislikes, I thought I’d use this opportunity to talk about a theory I have, one that I hope – for the sake of the Star Wars legacy – is at least somewhat true.
Ready? Here we go.
First of all, I must say that my initial gut reaction to this film was less than positive. There are some good things there – and I don’t hate it by any means – but all in all, it ultimately left me feeling flat and somewhat unfulfilled. I really enjoyed The Force Awakens. At the time, I felt it was a shot in the arm the franchise needed, a great blend of old and new that set up many compelling questions and plot points that I couldn’t wait to see explored in further installments.
For the sake of time, let’s just name the big three right here: Snoke’s back story; Rey’s parents; and the Knights of Ren. Like many, I was expecting this film to center around these plot points and hit us with creative, well-thought-out, and maybe even surprising reveals for each. Instead, the film practically goes out of its way to subvert these things, relegating them to nothing more than quick little throw-away moments that failed to deliver the narrative punch I was looking for. It was like going to a buffet after a long fast and finding out that all they had was chicken wings. I like chicken wings, but damn I was looking forward to some prime rib, some mashed potatoes with gravy, some steamed greens with lots of butter.
Now, you might think that I’m here to gripe about the film. I’m not. Trust me. As I said at the beginning. I have a theory. One that – if true – will make all the things I’m complaining about here seem worth while.
So here it is.
I think that Disney might be trying to pull off the cinematic equivalent of a magic trick with this trilogy.
To help illustrate my point, I’m going to reference Christopher Nolan’s film, The Prestige.
According to that movie, a magic trick has three acts. The first one is called the Pledge. Here, the magician shows you something that seems ordinary. The second act is called, the Turn. Here, the magician makes that ordinary thing do something extraordinary. The third act is called, the Prestige. To quote a line from the film: “This is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you’ve never seen before.”
What if, The Last Jedi, is the Turn in this three-act magic trick?
Let’s think about it for a minute. The Force Awakens was the first act in this new trilogy. It was the Pledge. It showed us a familiar formula. It got us invested in the new characters. And it promised things: Snoke, Rey, The Knights of Ren.
Then comes, The Last Jedi, the second act, and it literally turns all that on its ear. We get no back story for Snoke. We get a limp and unimaginative declaration that Rey’s origins are unimportant, and we’re expected to buy the idea that she’s the greatest practitioner of the force the entire franchise has ever seen – just because. And the Knights of Ren, we get one vague line from Luke about Kylo Ren leaving with some of the other students, which I guess we’re to assume are the knights that we saw in Rey’s vision in TFA. That’s it. Nothing more. But was that by design?
Maybe, the first act, the Pledge, was designed to get us pumped about those things. To get us talking about them and fan theorizing for two years.
Then comes act two, the Turn. Were these compelling ideas purposely swept under the rug as a sort of cinematic sleight of hand? This would be a bold, polarizing act. It gets the audience talking, debating, writing blog posts. Some love it. Some hate it. But no matter what, we all have thoughts. We’re paying attention to it.
Which leads us to act three, the Prestige in this little magic trick. Is it possible that this could be the moment when the filmmakers pull a twist and actually hit us with the revelations that The Last Jedi led us to believe were now forever out of reach?
Think about it. They drop The Last Jedi in our laps. They get us thinking, booo! No back story for Snoke. No cool reason for Rey’s abilities. No Knights of Ren. This sucks! I’m mad. Pout, pout, pout. And then, BOOM! They lay it all on us in act three. How Snoke rose to power and corrupted Ben Solo under Luke’s nose. Why Rey is so strong with the force. (Was it passed down in her bloodline? Did the force just choose her at random? Come on, give me something). How Maz got Anakin’s lightsaber and why it called out to Rey, in Obi Wan’s voice none-the-less. Addressing these things in the third act would provide a potent payoff that no one would see coming.
I for one, really hope this is the case. It would justify everything that happened – or didn’t happen – in The Last Jedi. By leading us to believe that we weren’t going to get satisfying answers to these questions, it will make it all the more sweeter when we eventually do.
I think there are hints going on that speak to this as a possibility.
I’ll focus on the question of Rey’s identity. In a recent interview with the film’s writer and director, Rian Johnson, he said:
“The hardest thing she could hear is, ‘No, you’re not going to get that answer, that definition.’ In fact, the fact that you don’t have that is going to be used against you by Kylo, to try and make you lean on him. You’re going to have to find the strength to define yourself and stand on your own two feet.”
That tells me a lot. In the film, the only evidence we see that Rey’s parents were nobodies is Kylo’s assertion to the fact. Kylo could have been lying. Johnson makes it clear in this quote that Kylo was trying to use that information against Rey to get her to lean toward him. Johnson never out and out says that it’s completely true, he only confirms the idea that Kylo was trying to manipulate her. This leaves the door wide open for other possibilities.
The other evidence I see is the fact that JJ Abrams – who directed and co-wrote The Force Awakens – is stepping back in to do Episode 9. So if Disney was planning an epic three act trick, it would make perfect sense to bring back the guy who set up the first act. That guy would be in the perfect position to hit us with a first act tie up that we no longer thought we were getting, thereby turning initially perceived disappointment into ultimate satisfaction.
Act one: The Pledge – JJ. Abrams setting things up with The Force Awakens.
Act two: The Turn – Rian Johnson taking a hammer to those things in The Last Jedi, throwing us off kilter with a different tone and leading us to believe there’s no hope for satisfying answers to our burning questions.
Act three: The Prestige – JJ. Abrams coming back to blow our minds by giving us what we thought we weren’t going to get, conclusions to the threads that he created in act one.
If done right, this could be the greatest cinematic trick ever pulled on an audience and a brilliant way to round out the Skywalker saga.
So what do you think? Is The Last Jedi just playing the Star Wars version of hard to get? Did they purposely misdirect the audience here in exchange for a big payoff in the next chapter? Or will the final episode simply default to a generic showcase of wiz bangs and pew pews with no connection to the well-crafted world building that came before? Only time will tell.
Which brings me to my final question of the day. This one I’ll pose to myself: Do I like The Last Jedi?
My answer: Ask me again in two years.
Honestly, my final opinion of The Last Jedi is going to hinge entirely on what happens in the next film. If they do something even remotely close to what I’ve described here, then I think The Last Jedi will go down as a bold and compelling second act for this three film arc (silly jokes and wasteful casino planet subplot aside). If, however, the third film chooses to back up the choices that The Last Jedi presumably made (no interesting or creative explanation for Rey’s abilities, no Knights of Ren or any kind of deeper examination of Snoke’s hold over Kylo) then I am going to continue to be largely disappointed in this film and probably that one as well.
But all is not yet lost.
Until Episode 9 hits theaters, I’ll still hold out hope that the final act will give us the satisfying conclusion this epic saga deserves.
And if Star Wars is about anything, it’s hope.