The latest trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” dropped last night during Monday night football. Shortly thereafter, it appeared on the Internet, much to the delight of those who are boycotting the NFL and who just forgot to remember that the Vikings and the Bears exist.
Like the trailers for “The Force Awakens,” the most recent “Last Jedi” trailer offers us themes but not plot details. It gives glimpses of settings and hints at character arcs, but takes care to avoid revealing the story. So what has director Rian Johnson cooked up for us? Will “The Last Jedi” be any good? Let’s break down the evidence, both pro and con.
Pro: It’s the Same Story
As Joseph Campbell would tell you, the Star Wars films are, at their core, mythology—stories built around heroes sharing similar traits and following similar journeys. Episodes IV tells the story of Luke, a young man discovering his purpose. Episode V tells of his struggle with temptation, and VI tells of his triumph over adversity. Conceding for a moment that the prequels exist, they offer a variation on that story. In Episode I, Anakin, the hero-who’ll-become-villain, discovers his purpose. In II, he struggles with temptation and, in III, he succumbs and becomes the adversary.
It seems that Episodes VII-IX are telling both of these stories at the same time. Rey is the new Luke. In Episode VII, she begins to uncover her purpose. In VIII, it appears she’s facing her own temptations and identity crisis—just check out this identity crisis face:
Presumably, in Episode IX, she’ll have her victory.
Kylo Ren appears to be following the Anakin/Vader version of the story in reverse. In Episode VII, he believes his purpose is to destroy his dad, his uncle, the Resistance, and those planets we saw for three seconds before he blew them up. In Episode VIII, it appears he’ll wrestle even more with the desire to return to the light side of the force, making this morally conflicted face as it appears he’s mulling over blowing up his mom.
In Episode IX, it would only be fitting for him to cement his return to the forces of good by defeating Supreme Leader Snoke (presumably by blowing him up).
For the sake of symmetrical storytelling and to honor the Star Wars films before it, it is most appropriate for “The Last Jedi” to retell “The Empire Strikes Back” in its own way. (I’ve reverted back to form and am now denying the existence of “Attack of the Clones.”) The trailer for Episode VIII gives every indication that it will faithfully follow the middle story template, solid evidence that the film will not disappoint.
Con: It’s the Same Story
Everything I just said except the result is a movie that’s very boring because we’ve already seen it twice.
Pro: It’s a Different Story
In a recent interview, Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, described “The Last Jedi” as “radical” and “a very different film than ‘The Force Awakens.’” Likewise, Hamill says that his initial response to writer/director Johnson’s script was “I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character.” For those who view “The Force Awakens” as nothing but an overly safe rehashing of “A New Hope,” this is welcome news.
A bitter hero?
A sympathetic villain?
A conflict where both good and evil are immersed in shades of gray instead of the black and white absolutes of the previous movies? That’s a Star Wars film that hasn’t been made yet, one audiences who have come to appreciate antiheroes and moral complexity will surely adore.
Con: It’s a Different Story
Star Wars has always been a story for children—a classic heroes versus villains tale where good and evil don’t intermingle. The light side of the Force is good because Luke uses it to save people. The dark side of the force is bad because Vader uses it to kill people. If “The Last Jedi” is going to tell us, “Well, actually, when you grow up, you learn that the Force isn’t that simple,” it will have betrayed anyone who, at five years old, ran around his backyard in a bathrobe with a flashlight in hand, pursing his lips as he provided his own “b’vvvvvvvv k’chew” lightsaber sound effects.
Rick Grimes may be a more three-dimensional character than Luke Skywalker. But let’s admit what nihilistic TV shows like “The Walking Dead” have made clear. We don’t love antiheroes and moral complexity because we’re grownups now. We love them because we are a miserable, godless people so syphilitic with bad consciences that we will no longer permit our heroes to be more righteous than we are. Sadly, “The Last Jedi’s” trailer provides ample evidence that Johnson will spare fans the purity we can no longer appreciate to feed us the cynical storytelling we so tragically desire.
Con: It Has Ewoks 3.0
The biggest criticism of “Return of the Jedi” is that George Lucas corrupted the story by introducing characters for no other reason than to sell toys. As Lucas predicted, kids loved the fuzzy and goofy Ewoks, Parents, on the other hand, didn’t respond as favorably to the bipedal, creepy eyed diminutive ursidae.
Lucas revisited this merchandizing gimmick again with Jar Jar Binks in “The Phantom Menace,” this time with a far more hostile audience reaction. And while J.J. Abrams was wise enough to avoid inserting any non-droid comic relief characters into “The Force Awakens,” Johnson has apparently revived the despised tradition with something that looks like Chewbacca’s new copilot:
I hate this thing already. I hate whatever its stupid name is going to be. I hate its dilated pupils. I hate that it has surprised cartoon eyebrows for nostrils. I hate that it looks like an owl sneaking into a baby seal convention. But most of all, I hate that my kids are going to love it and beg me to buy them the toy version—the one with smartphone-controlled flappy wings and 30 pre-programmed sounds including “squeak,” “blunk blunk,” and “No can do, Chewbeaky” or whatever its stupid catchphrase is going to be.
Pro: It Has Ewoks 3.0
Christmas shopping will be easy this year.
Pro: There’s No Death Star
As David Harsanyi noted last year, the Death Star is a rather foolish concept. Although fun in “A New Hope,” it was needlessly revisited in “Return of the Jedi.” After we were all sick of the concept, Abrams tripled down on it in “The Force Awakens.” Then, with a universe of possible storylines to choose from, Disney decided that the main character in “Rogue One,” its first non-Skywalker centric Star Wars story, would be…the Death Star.
Unburdened by the mechanics of how to explode a sluggish $852,000,000,000,000,000 genocide orb, ”The Empire Strikes Back” was able to spend more time developing the Han-Leia love story and detailing the internal conflict brewing within Luke’s soul, resulting in the greatest film of the Star Wars series. “The Last Jedi’s” trailer offers no evidence of another Death Star or Death Planet or even a Death Comet. Without such a silly plot device to consume the story, it looks like Episode VIII will be able to maintain an Empire-like focus on more edifying elements, such as Rey and Ren’s inverse story arcs, Luke’s battle to regain hope, and Leia’s final attempt to save her son.
Con: I Bet There’s a Death Star
An even bigger, stupider Death Star. And I bet that bulgey-eyed little flying demon otter won’t even be on board when it gets blown up.