The Last Jedi – Symmetry Review [SPOILERS]

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.


Williams Knows More About Rey Than We Do…

Listening back to the soundtrack of The Force Awakens, it suddenly struck me that Rey’s bright but yearning theme actually maps on top of the Force theme John Williams has established across the saga. I don’t know why this hadn’t jumped out at me earlier – but the chord changes are the same, which cannot be an accident.

(For those who don’t know what this “chord changes” nonsense means, it just refers to the underlying musical design of a melody. If this is the same between two themes, it’s just how you can hum, “It’s a Small World” and “76 Trombones” on top of one-another and they’ll ‘fit’ together.)

PopSugar actually identified the relationship long ago, but they completely misidentified the themes (and botched the interpretation as a result):

What they identify as Luke’s theme is actually the Force theme woven together with Rey’s. Luke’s theme does actually show up in this clip, but it’s at the very end of the suite in the harp/vibraphone, just for a brief moment… just like Luke’s appearance the movie. (Never let it be said that Williams didn’t have a sense of humor!)

So, what does this all mean? Well, it strongly suggests that Rey is “one with the Force” in a way we’ve never seen before. And up until now, who has been the most Force-infused person? It just so happens to be another young, desert-bound prisoner of circumstance who was extraordinarily good with mechanics… and piloting. 

Yep, I mean Anakin, the alleged “Chosen One.” But, how could Rey be more One with the Force than the Chosen One? Brace for the plunge into the rabbit hole.

What we know about this Chosen One is sparse. 

  • A virgin birth arising from the Force, the Chosen One is foretold (somewhere) to be the one who will “bring balance to the Force,” whatever that actually means. (Ep. I)
  • Anakin Skywalker had the highest Force reading in Jedi history (according to Qui-Gon), and he was a virgin birth; according to his mother, “There was no father. I can’t explain it. Can you help him?
  • Believing Anakin to be the Chosen One, Qui-Gon commits Obi-Wan to training him as a Jedi, despite’s Yoda’s premonitions of danger. (Ep. I)
  • Palpatine takes specific and targeted note of Anakin as soon as he is made aware of the boy: “And you, young Skywalker – we will watch your career with great interest.” (Ep. I)
  • Palpatine reveals prior to Anakin’s fall that an ancient Sith Lord wielded the power to “influence the midichlorians to create life” – effectively to create Force virgin births! (Ep. III)
  • Obi-Wan cries out in despair that the prophesy had gotten everything so wrong about the Chosen One: “You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!(Ep. III)

Well, with all of this in mind, what Williams has done here in musical parlance is suggest that maybe it wasn’t the prophesy that was wrong… maybe it was Qui-Gon’s choice in the Chosen One.

Envision a scenario where the Jedi are duped by a Sith facsimile of a Chosen One – A corruptible Force-demigod who would be instrumental in overthrowing the galaxy if properly trained, prodded, and seduced away from the light, producing an Anti-Chosen One who destroys the Jedi and brings the entire galaxy into darkness. 

Doesn’t this look exactly like the saga we have? 

 So, by extension, is Rey the real Chosen One? This is what Williams appears to be subtly suggesting. Signs certainly seem to point in that direction.  …And the clues mount when movie details viewed through this lens:

  • The elderly ally in the Jakku village makes a point to bring up Chosen One Prophesy lingo: “Without the Jedi, there can be no balance in the Force.” (Ep. VII)
  • Even the title The Force Awakens could literally refer to Rey, herself – a Force-conceived child of prophesy – awakening to her destiny as the Chosen One.
  • Rey confounds a stormtrooper with no training and without even a hand motion – something we’ve never seen before, even amongst the most powerful Jedi. (Ep. VII)

Another interesting thing about this idea is that it’s a way out of (and a way to explain) all of the prophesy references in the prequels that don’t result in the prophesy just being plain wrong, or arm-waving it away as something Vader did when he killed the Emperor. I’ve never found that wholly satisfying.

So, while I’ve been on Team Rey-is-a-Skywalker for the longest time just in terms of symmetry, I think this musical choice has convinced me away. Rey may be something, and someone, truly new: The child of prophesy long ago foretold to bring balance to the Force. And what about her parents? Galactic nobodies, probably. (Who was Shmi Skywalker but a slave on the outer rim?)

And in this light, not only would it still be a family saga in a global sense, (Rey is 1/2 Force, like Anakin, while Luke is 1/4 Force, and Kylo 1/8th Force), but the operatic themes here ramp up the epic level to 11:

  • Son of the Anti-Chosen-One trains the Chosen One for a cosmic confrontation with the grandson of the Anti-Chosen-One in a duel for the fate of the galaxy.

Or even better in terms of Symmetry: 

  • Prequel Trilogy: Obi-Wan trains Skywalker as Chosen One, who falls to the Dark Side.
  • Original Trilogy: Obi-Wan trains new Skywalker to defeat the old Skywalker.
  • Sequel Trilogy: Old Skywalker trains the Chosen One to defeat a new Skywalker.

I’m in. I’m now Team Rey-is-the-Chosen-One. 

Will we get the big reveal in The Last Jedi? I don’t know – but now that the thought is out there, keep an eye out for the clues.