Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Last Jedi: A Hero's Journey With a Dark Core [Contributor: Melanie]

“This isn’t going to go the way you think.”

That might as well been directed right at the Internet, who has spent the past two years coming up with theories and speculations and 12-minute long YouTube videos where they claimed to have the definitive answer to all the questions posed at the end of The Force Awakens. The final trailer for The Last Jedi dropped this week (while we were all forced to watch the most boring football game in history), and it appears we’re leaving a good deal of the camp and fun behind in this installment in favor of a sinister look at the dark side of the Hero’s Journey.

Star Wars has always prided itself on roots in mythos. Whether we’re equating the Skywalker lightsaber’s call to Rey with the Sword in the Stone and a young King Arthur, or Darth Vader with Paradise Lost’s rendition of a fallen Lucifer, this series has always been one about the epicness of storytelling. And now, it seems we’re getting a darker look at what there is to face in the journey of a warrior hero.

But, let’s break the trailer down in bits shall we? There are some questions left to be answered and some opened up by the two and a half minutes of of scream-worthy shots in the trailer.


What is Rey?

“I need someone to show me my place in all this.”

And you thought asking yourself if she was a Skywalker was complicated enough. It looks like might be in for a bigger question than we realized. After all, director Rian Johnson spoke positively of the story behind Rey’s parents and the subsequent importance she has in the galaxy as a whole, saying “she deserves it.” Luke, it seems, wants little to do with her but Snoke seems to be very interested in what she has to offer — if the blip of what appears to be a torture scene at the end of the trailer is any indication.

I stand by my belief that Rey is a relative of the Skywalker family, though this trailer might have pushed me back in the direction of camp Solo. Ren and Rey are compared a few times in this trailer, — most notably for their equal “raw strength” that even Luke notes is rare among Jedi. Sharing the same Force-sensitive mother might be one answer to this riddle. Leia has always been stronger with the mystical elements of the Force than her brother, who was all for saber arts.

It is still highly likely that Luke is her father (the battle between the son of the daughter and the daughter of the son would make for an epic cousin showdown), in which case he will be up at that podium with his own father to accept the award for Worst Parent Ever. Did he purposely abandon Rey because of her power? Did he hope it would go unknown the rest of her life?

A neat little tidbit to add to this is the consequences of the planet of Jakku in her life and the very likely possibility that whoever left her there chose that planet with a purpose in mind. Jakku, according to the Aftermath novels I’ll reference again below, is a very precarious place. It had an ancient history as a lush place that somehow went sour, a Sith presence on the planet, and a Force that seemed to radiate Light side energy from something Palpatine referred to as a “spark of life.” Rey may have soaked up all those good vibes (literally) during her coming-of-age on the planet not unlike young Kal-El soaking up the Sun’s radiation in his formative years and becoming Superman as an adult.

We can also see in the trailer, as part of her journey, she’ll be studying the fabled Journal of the Whills — a document that, in behind-the-scenes land, goes back to the very first drafts of A New Hope. In universe, it deals with the nature of the Force. Most notably, it contains this poem:

First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say,
Is only made right
By the resolving of gray
Through refined Jedi sight.

No matter what, the trailer has underpinned this much: where she comes from — whether it’s Skywalkers, no-name parents, or the Force itself (ha, revenge of the midichlorian plotline) — matters.


Becoming Kylo Ren

“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”

Just when you thought patricide was enough for Ben Solo, this piece of trash continues to amaze. In his journey to the Dark side, he now has his sights set on his own mother — with what looks like a lot more conflict and hesitation on his part. The tie-in novel Bloodline hints that Luke and Leia being outed as Vader’s children was, in some way, directly connected to Ben betraying his uncle and turning to Snoke. While we never get to see his reaction (for obvious reasons), Leia is consistently concerned throughout the back half of the novel over what he’s going to think or do with the information.

Turns out, not anything good. As Kylo was forced to sever ties with his own father, he’s now left with his mother, who is standing on the opposite side of a literal and political battlefield to him. There were rumors a while back that the film would feature an assassination attempt on Leia, which still might be possible, but it looks like Kylo is taking a direct root in targeting his last true connection to the Skywalker past. But being the mama’s boy he probably is, it’s not so easy. On top of that, she is the reason he’s connected to Vader in the first place, so even in the context of his twisted logic, her murder is a tough sell. Some dialogue from Kylo in Battlefront II hinted that things would go this way (“I’ll handle the princess”). But it’s clear this won’t be as easy as offing the father he never felt a connection to in the first place.


Black and White

“When I find you, I saw raw, untamed power. And beyond that... something truly special.”

I’m going to start this one out with calling MAJOR B.S. I see you, editors, and your ability to mismatch two scenes that have similar enough lighting to trick me. I’m 99% sure Rey’s voiceover is an extension of her speech to Luke, earlier in the trailer, asking for help. While the immediate shot of Ren holding his hand out to her looks close enough, I also know there is no version of any event in the history or past that would make Rey say: “Gee, I wonder if I should ask Kylo’s opinion on all this?”

But don’t worry: the Reylo fans won’t be shutting up any time soon, thanks to this clever bit of editing. Even though non-consensual invasion of the mind and mansplaining should be enough to say no thank you to shipping those two — on top of their likely blood relation — I really don’t think that’s what the trailer was aiming for. But we live in a world where Tumblr treats ships like religious ideology, so prepare for a war over there.

But in the context of what could be meant with all the comparisons of Ren and Rey? About a week or so ago, Rian Johnson was quoted in an interview with the New York Times saying: “Rey and Kylo are almost two halves of our protagonist.” Leia says there’s light hiding somewhere in Kylo, and it seems like we’ll find Rey has a hidden darkness. But I don’t think that means we’re in for some sort of villain-hero role reversal. Rey’s been tempted by the Dark side once and come through on her own, while Kylo has had several chances to turn back and hasn’t. However, the Jedi and Sith operating as the only two options for a millenia didn’t work out so great for anyone in the end, so we probably won’t get clear-cut moral lines this time around.

Yes, we know somewhere — under all of that — Kylo is a tortured, MCR-blasting Ben Solo wanting to return home. Not nearly as deep or invisible in Rey is a small psychopath ready to not hold back. The Jedi principles were meant to protect people around them from the possibility of someone abusing their power. The Sith principles focused entirely on personal gain by using the Force. Somewhere in the middle, is Rey and Ren. The Jedi, for all that they were, were an institution, and turning a spirituality and ideal into a strict set of dogma never goes well. So when the Sith offered the young, chaffing Anakin Skywalker freedom to pursue his own happiness with his wife, of course he took it. And when Snoke came to Ben, who was likely having an identity crisis between his poor relationship with his barely-there father and the knowledge that his grandfather was once the most feared person in the galaxy (and possibly a bit of jealousy over a budding younger sister or cousin?), of course he jumped on an offer to find himself.

Snoke is, of course, using Kylo and he is — of course — too dumb to understand that. But Snoke seems to also want to use Rey too. In a perfect world, Rey will beat some sense into her cousin/brother/unrelated associate, drag him back to apologize to his mother, and then maybe together they can take on Snoke and his plans.

Or maybe she’ll punch him in the face and walk away into the sunset. I’m fine with either.


What Does Snoke Want?

“Fulfill your destiny.”

Where have I heard that one before? Canonical tie-in information points to Snoke being a lot older than we think. In fact, he might be Star Wars’ own version of the First Evil in Buffy. He’s confirmed to not be a Sith, but indeed a powerful Dark side user. It’s possible he was among the first Dark side users. In Chuck Wendig’s final novel in the Aftermath series, Palpatine turns his eyes to Jakku after hearing a voice call out to him and believes the planet, which had once been the site of an event of great importance centuries ago, would become important again in the future. He sets up an Imperial base there tasked with discovering the secrets of this voice and the Dark side temple once located on the planet. Possibly Snoke was slumbering there, Cthulhu style? As it turns out, Jakku’s core also boasts that “spark of life” we talked about that “disgusted” Palpatine. The planet may be both the source of Snoke’s return and Rey’s adept use of the Force, which ties those two together as well.

The Skywalkers are a unique bunch. Like or hate it, the prequels tell us Anakin was burgeoned by the will of the Force itself, having no father. This makes his descendents equally as tied to the will of the Force. Snoke may be very interested in utilizing that close connection to the Force and the power within. Some of Leia’s bits in tie-in material suggest that Snoke was after Kylo Ren’s mixture of Dark and Light and that he was seeking the right balance (he had apprentices in the past). If Ren and Rey are meant to be two halves of something, as Johnson says, Snoke might be after using them both.

All in all, it’s most likely that Rey and Ren are being used for something we don’t have enough information to fully speculate on yet. All we know is that he’s old, he apparently used to be a looker before the Dark side screwed him up big time, and that we’ll get to see him in the flesh (and really doing a number on Rey).

And finally...



What a freaking gift.


Well apart from the fact that this is going to be a LONG two months, there are some interesting points in the works. Luke turning his back on Rey out of fear of her potential can — obviously — only end well for a girl with major abandonment issues. There’s some plot rumors that Leia’s connection to Vader (and to Kylo Ren) might be called up as a way to discredit her as a leader by rivals in her own camp (rivals like Amilyn Haldo, played by Laura Dern, who is basically the Luna Lovegood of space and a fellow teen senator from Leia’s childhood). We didn’t get much Finn but we do know he’s still on the run away-with-Rey train of thought (though it appears he might be going undercover in the First Order). More plot rumors suggest there may be a First Order bounty on his head.

December 15th (technically 7 P.M. on December 14th for me) is a little over 60 days away. We’re in the final countdown kids! May the Force be with you.


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