Well, I wrote some time ago about the powerful symmetry that the existing Star Wars films express across trilogies, including J.J. Abram’s masterful take on The Force Awakens (from a symmetry point of view). I also detailed a list of symmetries that should be upheld in The Last Jedi, if new director Rian Johnson could ‘carry a tune,’ as it were.
Now, having seen The Last Jedi, I’ll admit that I’m quite conflicted about how I feel overall about the film. However, as a follow-on, let’s review [SPOILER ALERT] how he did with the film’s symmetry:
Thematic Recapitulation in Episode VIII
So, here is the updated list of things (or variations thereof) that we really should have seen in The Last Jedi in order to preserve thematic continuity, along with how the film ultimately did in achieving it.
These beats include:
- The title of Episode VIII must be four words. (See: Ep. II, Attack of the Clones; Ep. V, The Empire Strikes Back.) — Well, “The Last Jedi” is only three words. This is a continuity break that grated on me, but I was willing to go with it. Verdict: Failed.
- Rey must have force visions of someone dear to her in pain.(See: Ep. II, Anakin of his mother being tortured by Tusken Raiders; Ep. V, Luke of Han Solo and Leia being tortured by Darth Vader.) — Okay, in The Last Jedi, force visions – while not of someone in pain – are not only included but taken to a whole new level between Kylo/Ben and Rey, someone who she cares for as a redeemable ‘soul’ based on what she senses within him. In a sense, this Force Telepathy borrows strongly from/evolves the Luke-Vader and Luke-Leia Force Telepathy seen in Ep. V, which can be considered a clean evolution of the ‘theme.’ Verdict: Passed Strongly.
- Rey will be admonished by her Jedi Master (presumably Luke).(See: Ep. II, Obi-Wan to Anakin after losing his lightsaber; Ep. V, Yoda to Luke after failing to extract his X-Wing.) — This mark is cleanly passed, as Luke strongly admonishes Rey after her first ‘Force lesson’ for willingly exploring/failing to reject the darkness calling her beneath the island. Verdict: Passed Strongly.
- Rey’s visions must propel her to an ill-advised rescue attempt.(See: Ep. II, Anakin to Tatooine and then to Geonosis where he is captured; Ep. V, Luke to Bespin where he is lured into a trap by Darth Vader.) — In a clever variation on a theme, Rey is indeed lured to Snoke’s command ship (with nearly no training!) by her vision/telepathic experiences with Ben/Kylo, believing based on her visions that she can redeem Ben Solo. To her apparent surprise, she is captured upon arrival and taken prisoner by a resolved Kylo to face the Supreme Leader himself. Verdict: Passed Strongly.
- The rescue attempt will be against the explicit wishes of her Jedi Master.(See: Ep. II, Obi-Wan orders Anakin not to leave Tatooine; Ep. V, Yoda and Obi-Wan implore Luke not to leave Dagobah.) — Here again, it seems clear that Rian really does ‘get’ the themes in play, as Luke does indeed try to prevent Rey from going to redeem Kylo/Ben, e.g., “This is not going to go the way that you think!” Verdict: Passed Strongly.
- This rescue attempt will not be completely successful.(See: Ep. II, Shmi Skywalker dies shortly after being freed; Ep. V, Boba Fett escapes with Han Solo aboard the Slave 1.) — Rey does manage to ‘free’ Kylo/Ben, though not as she expects. Instead of turning to the light, Kylo assassinates his master and ascends to the First Order Supreme Leader ‘throne’ himself. Verdict: Passed Strongly.
- As an ultimate price for her impulsiveness, Rey must finally have a hand cut off by a red-lightsaber-wielding baddie (presumably Kylo).(See: Ep. II, Anakin by Count Dooku; Ep. V, Luke by Darth Vader.) — Well, here we see a complete break in tradition. Rey emerges with all of her limbs, as does Kylo. People may have simply tired of seeing dismembered limbs, or maybe this is another confirmation that she is not in any way related to a Skywalker. On a related note, the Skywalker lightsaber is ripped in half, which instead recalls Anakin losing his lightsaber in Ep. II and Luke losing his in Ep. V. (Different symmetry). Verdict: Failed.
- There will be a temptation moment while Rey is physically vulnerable, where Kylo reveals a surprising truth in an attempt to seduce her to join forces with him to destroy a greater evil (i.e., Snoke). She will reply, “I’ll never join you.”(See: Ep. II, Obi-Wan immobilized in a forcefield, where Count Dooku reveals Darth Sidious leading the Senate and offers to join forces to destroy the Sith; Ep. V, Luke’s hand having been severed, Darth Vader reveals his true identity and offers to join forces to destroy the Emperor and rule the galaxy.) — Again, this beat is cleanly present but evolved in The Last Jedi, as after Rey/Kylo narrowly defeat Snoke’s Royal Guard, Kylo disarms Rey with the apparent truth about her parents and her insignificant lineage, e.g., “You have no place in this story.” He then attempts to seduce her into joining him to rule the galaxy together. While he doesn’t bait her with trying to destroy a greater evil (he just did that when he killed Snoke), he does carry the “rule the galaxy” bit. And while she doesn’t say the words, “I’ll never join you,” her intent in saying, “Don’t do this,” and going for her lightsaber is clearly the same. This line also echoes Padme’s plea to Anakin when he offers to overthrow the Emperor and rule the galaxy with her in Ep. III. Verdict: Passed.
- After the confrontation, Rey herself will require rescue.(See: Ep. II, Anakin by Yoda; Ep. V, Luke by Leia/Lando/Chewbacca.) — It happens off-screen, but Rey steals Snoke’s escape pod and is rescued by Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon. Verdict: Passed weakly.
- Rey must have a cybernetic hand installed by the final scene.(See: Ep. II, Anakin marriage ceremony on Naboo; Ep. V, Luke aboard medical freighter.) — Well, because she didn’t have a hand cut off, she can’t have a cybernetic one installed. Verdict: Failed.
- There will be cybernetic hand-holding/hugging at an overlook in the final scene between Rey and another main character.(See: Ep. II, Anakin and Padme overlooking a Naboo lake; Ep. V, Luke and Leia overlooking a distant galaxy.) — Same as previous; scene impossible. Verdict: Failed.
- Oh, and there should be a bounty hunter in there somewhere, and somehow, ideally a Fett. (See: Ep. II, Jango Fett; Ep. V, Boba Fett.) — While not a “bounty hunter,” per se, DJ does turn our heroes in for a reward at the end of the day, so the theme is recalled, though weakly. The betrayal also recalls Lando’s betrayal of Han/Leia in Ep. V. Verdict: Passed weakly.
So, despite my reservations and mixed feelings after seeing the film about its tone and several of the script choices made, after looking at my own list, I have to hand it to Rian. The Last Jedi hit all of the important saga symmetry beats across trilogies. While abandoning the Skywalker-hand-cut-off beats, he replaced them by adding a few different recapitulations from the adjacent (original) trilogy, such as:
1) Just as Obi-Wan did before him, Luke served as the self-sacrificing hermit Jedi Master, who became ‘One with the Force’ in service of a greater good after declaring that he would persist even if “struck down.”
2) Like Luke on Dagobah, Rey has a dark-side-induced vision after entering a literal dark cave only to discover herself staring back at her; for Luke, he found himself in the face of his enemy after being quick to initiate violence (foreshadowing Vader as a Skywalker and Luke’s peril of following the same path), while for Rey, she found only herself in the face of the shadow of her parents after witnessing an apparently infinite stream of ‘selves,’ where she was neither first nor last, neither leading nor following (not sure yet what this is truly foreshadowing…).
In sum, looking at all of this, I can only conclude that I need to give The Last Jedi another watch, because – whether I like the manner that it was implemented or not – Rian carries the Star Wars saga melodies over as he needed to in order to sustain the thematic symmetry across all three trilogies. From that perspective, The Last Jedi is an achievement.
I’ll admit that with what few plot devices are left for J.J. Abrams to work with on Episode IX, his work is cut out for him to carry the symmetry to a strong finish — but after his achievement in The Force Awakens, I think he’s up to the challenge.
I’ll have a follow-on on the necessary saga beats for Episode IX soon.