Star Wars: Episode VIII is now ‘The Last Jedi’ — here’s what that could mean
by Joel Hruska
Star Wars: Episode VIII now has an official title and the Internet is buzzing about what it might mean. The upcoming film will also apparently be Carrie Fisher’s last appearance in the franchise (more on that in a moment), and will be titled Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Before anyone panics, remember “Jedi” is both singular and plural — “Last” Jedi doesn’t mean that only Luke or Rey survive the film, it just means that, well, we’re obviously still pretty low on Force users.
According to director Rian Johnson, the film will pick up directly where Episode VII left off, with Rey standing on a rocky island, holding out Anakin Skywalker’s long-lost lightsaber to Luke Skywalker. “I don’t want to skip ahead two years. I want to see the very next moment of what happens,” he told USA Today in January. Rian added that “a large part of the movie” is devoted to exploring the story of what happened to Skywalker between the end of Return of the Jedi and The Last of the Jedi, as well as focusing on Rey’s use of the Force and her exploration of her own power. “She’s taking her first step to coming to terms with this thing inside her that she never knew was there and is just starting to reveal its potential,” Johnson said.
Calling Episode VIII The Last Jedi is interesting for two reasons. First, it seems to obliquely refute the title of Episode VI, The Return of the Jedi. At the time (and for decades after), George Lucas seemed to have signaled that the Jedi would thrive in the new era, returning to their role as guardians of peace and prosperity that they once occupied. The very first books in the Star Wars Extended Universe to take place after the end of Return of the Jedi basically assumed that this was going to take place — the first few chapters of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire depict Obi-Wan Kenobi’s force ghost saying good-bye, telling Luke “Not the last of the old Jedi, Luke. The first of the new.”
Yet we now know that never happened, in any meaningful sense of the phrase. Kylo Ren slaughtered the Jedi trainees, and Luke left, disappearing into self-imposed exile. While this version of the story is darker than the one Lucas appeared to forecast, it may well be more realistic (as much as Star Wars is capable of realism). Luke had no experience in training others and precious little formal education himself. Asking him to teach his students how to avoid the power and temptation of the Dark Side is asking a lot. In fact, Luke’s apparently stunning ability to learn how to use the Force is apparently very much at odds with the traditional Jedi methods of instruction, which means he was working from a double handicap. Presumably the Jedi teach children because children have the easiest time learning how to use the Force, but Luke never had that instruction. He wasn’t taught the methods that Jedi use or the philosophical underpinnings of the teaching method (pedagogy).
Luke’s instruction in the Force amounts to, at most, a week or so with Kenobi and a few weeks on Dagobah. There’s no indication that it took the Millennium Falcon months to reach Bespin, and Luke’s X-Wing doesn’t carry enough supplies for him to take a months-long flight to or from Yoda’s adopted homeworld. There’s a difference between being really good at something and being a really good teacher, and Luke’s own history positions him as the whiz kid who barely had to lift a finger in Force Studies — how well is he going to cope with students who might be on the cusp of being powerful enough to qualify as Jedi, but need a few courses in Remedial Force Lift? What would he do with students with gifts in areas other than his own? His lightsaber combat skills are instinctual, not polished. Based on his demonstrated level of Force sensitivity in Return of the Jedi, he’s best at sensing the feelings of the severely emotionally disturbed when they’re nearby (not actually a superpower) and could teach a killer course in Force Lightning absorption. It’s not surprising that he failed. What would’ve been surprising is if he succeeded.
But all of that leaves The Last Jedi* in a bit of an odd place. The movie can hand-wave all of this by saying Luke simply found a few copies of old Jedi primers or books, or it can dive into how these struggles and changes shaped Skywalker, while giving us additional insight into Rey’s character and training as well. All of this assumes, of course, that Rey and Luke are the titular “Last Jedi.” The other possibility is that we’ll see new characters introduced as potential Jedi, or that Leia herself will turn out to be the “Last Jedi” listed in the title.
This last would put the film in a difficult position and I’m assuming that if Johnson had gone this route we’d already be hearing about reshoots and reevaluation. The problem, of course, is that The Last Jedi is a thematically brilliant fit for Leia, who was teased as the alternative candidate if Skywalker failed to stop Vader as far back as The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. The principle reason it wouldn’t work, of course, is the recent death of Carrie Fisher. Lucasfilm has already said that it “has no plans to digitally recreate Carrie Fisher’s performance as Princess or General Leia Organa.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the company couldn’t change its mind, and the role could always be recast with another actress, but neither option is likely to satisfy all fans. The inclusion of two CGI characters Rogue One was controversial, even if the technology has come a long way since the Star Wars prequels.
The Last Jedi will arrive theaters on December 15, 2017.
*Admit it. It would be totally awesome if Chewbacca was a Jedi and used a Wookie-appropriate version of “Force Dis-arm” on Kylo Ren.
Originally published at www.extremetech.com on January 24, 2017.