There has been a great disturbance on the internet... the kind of which only Star Wars can cause! As we move at light-speed towards Episode VIII, we’re getting even more details about what to expect from the eagerly awaited installment, and speculation is rife over the highly ominous subtitle: The Last Jedi.
Many have understandably assumed that it is hinting at the fates of certain members of Skywalker dynasty — however, it could be foreshadowing even bigger changes which will shape the galaxy far, far away...
“Dealing in Absolutes...”
There is a definite finality about the title of Episode VIII, since that “last” certainly implies that something — or someone — is coming to an end. Luke Skywalker (#MarkHamill) may be the only remaining Jedi Knight, but is his life the only thing that will end during the course of the movie? Could the Star Wars we know and love forever change?
Let’s explore this a little more. As we all know, #StarWars focuses on the battle between the light and the dark sides of the mystical Force. In the light corner, we have our good guys, the Jedi, and in the dark corner we have the Sith. The thing is, they are polar opposites, and to be in stark contrast to something else, there has to be some sort of extremism in their qualities.
Indeed, to paraphrase Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi are defined by their selflessness, knowledge and resistance to emotion. In the days of the Old Republic, Jedi were taught to devote themselves to philosophy, and strive to preserve peace and justice. In doing so, they have to forgo their emotions and they were forbidden to have attachments to others.
Sure sounds tricky, but they’re the good guys right? That’s undoubtedly the case, but putting these ideas into practice is definitely a difficult undertaking.
"Your Arrogance Blinds You..."
As we saw throughout the prequels, Anakin struggled against these strictures, which became a factor in his turn to the dark side. And, let’s be honest here, the Jedi themselves can definitely be too harsh and a little bit morally dubious.
In The Phantom Menace, we’re introduced to a failing Republic, a Jedi Order at their height, and Anakin Skywalker as a slave. Brought before the Jedi council midway through the movie, he had just left the only people and place he’d ever known, with people he’s only just met. A wise and principled teacher Yoda may have been, but come on — reprimanding an understandably scared boy for being scared? That isn’t cool man. But this case is only symptomatic of the misguided Order itself.
Indeed, in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars novel by Karen Traviss, Count Dooku points out to Darth Sidious that the Jedi Order’s increasing lack of attachment has made them insular, and actually alienated them from serving the galaxy’s best interests:
"The Jedi Order's problem is Yoda. No being can wield that kind of power for centuries without becoming complacent at best or corrupt at worst. He has no idea that it's overtaken him; he no longer sees all the little cumulative evils that the Republic tolerates and fosters, from slavery to endless wars, and he never asks, 'Why are we not acting to stop this?' Live alongside corruption for too long, and you no longer notice the stench."
Then again, this is not to say the Sith are any better. These dark users of the Force prize passion, power and individualism, with undeniably worse results.
In essence, it could be viewed many fans that by pertaining to the extremism on either side of the Force — dark or light, Sith or Jedi — is ruinous to the galaxy.
But are these the only paths that Force users can traverse?
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“The Light and the Dark. I'm the One in the Middle.”
If the light and the dark are opposites on a spectrum, then that surely means that there is a middle ground which incorporates parts of both the Jedi and #Sith approaches. Some fans may balk at this suggestion, and say that this undermines what it means to be a Jedi or Sith, yet a neutral approach is not an unprecedented thing in the saga.
After all, in the old Expanded Universe, following the Battle of Endor, Luke had seemingly learned from the brittleness of the Jedi Order’s past, and he went out of his way to relax many of its strictures. The rigid master/padawan structure was dissolved, and he even allowed his Knights to have more meaningful relationships with their close ones. Indeed, Luke even got married!
Although this history is now defunct, the current continuity has nevertheless seen a continuation of this theme. In #StarWarsRebels, the enigmatic and powerful Bendu claimed that he had shunned both the dark and the light sides of the Force to operate in the centre ground.
Plus, by the time of The Force Awakens, neither of the Sith or Jedi orders are flourishing, and tellingly, #JJAbrams revealed that whilst the Knights of Ren, Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Ben Solo (#AdamDriver) are all certainly hard-line users of the Dark Side, they are not Sith Lords. This distinction could be crucial, since it means that the saga’s focus has shifted away from these competing polar opposites. Indeed, #TheForceAwakens stressed the fact that Kylo Ren was struggling between the light and the dark urges he felt.
Similarly, instead of Luke’s fully trained Jedi order, we have a collection of virtuous characters who happen to be Force sensitive, including Maz Katana, General Leia Organa (#CarrieFisher), possibly Finn (#JohnBoyega) and, most importantly, Rey (Daisy Ridley). Yes, it does seem very likely that she will adopt Luke’s teachings in The Last Jedi, but whether she follows through with them remains, as yet, unclear. #DaisyRidley seemed unsure of where her character would ultimately stand:
"I don’t know if I am a Jedi… I don’t think I am. We’ve had this debate as to whether Leia is because she uses her Force powers. Just because she’s not like, ‘Oh I’m going on an adventure’ like Luke doesn’t make her any less Forceful."
We could therefore surmise that Rey is going to receive Jedi training from Luke, but ultimately not follow in her master's footsteps, instead becoming a different kind of Force user.
But how would this fit in with the rest of the story?
“The Last of the Jedi, Will You Be...”
In Return of the Jedi, as he lay dying, Yoda confirmed that he and Luke Skywalker were the last of the Jedi Order, which was the case again by the time of The Force Awakens. Following Ben Solo’s conversion to the dark side, and his purge of the new order, Luke exiled himself to the planet of Ahch-To, in deep sorrow, and in search for the original Jedi Temple...but why would he want to go there?
Many people have assumed that, in light of Luke's discoveries, Episode VIII will reveal even more details about the workings of the Force. However, could Luke have traveled there as part of a larger plan? Has he traveled there to learn all he can about the ancient ways of the Force, so that he can renew the Jedi Order? Or maybe...an entirely new order itself, in the middle ground of the Force, combining the teachings of Sith and the Jedi but remaining attached to neither?
There's certainly evidence in The Force Awakens that Luke is no longer the confident Jedi that he once was. Plus, it stands to reason that after Ren’s purge, Luke could have become sick of the endless conflict between the #Jedi and the Sith, and he now hopes to combine the two to prevent more death from occurring. And, as the master of a new order, he truly would become the last of the Jedi.
Surely this would be too much of a drastic change to the format of Star Wars? Well, lots of people criticized The Force Awakens and even Rogue One for playing things too safely, so it stands to reason that the filmmakers may want to please the fans and throw a few game-changers our way.
Could the age-old simplistic good vs evil plots of Star Wars be re-imagined? Will the franchise's examination of the two be more complex, in line with our heroes' more nuanced approach?
And, would this finally mean that the Force would become balanced, as the prophecy of the prequels foretold?
As ever, until #StarWars8's release in December, its going to be, in the words of Yoda: “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future."