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With the episode title of Star Wars VIII finally revealed, the internet has been abuzz with speculation about the significance of the title The Last Jedi. It’s kind of confusing since the entire original trilogy is essentially about Luke being the last Jedi. If you want to get especially anal, you could argue that Obi Wan and Yoda were the last Jedi in the original trilogy until they transferred that title on to Luke. The most obvious thing is that the last Jedi in Episode VIII is referring to Luke who set himself into self-imposed exile after Kylo Ren slaughtered his new Jedi in the academy. Presumably, he’s going to try and train Rey who will take on the titular mantel of The Last Jedi. But wait just for a second there. What if we were to propose a far more radical significance behind the title of the Last Jedi? What if it’s in reference to the extinction of the entire Jedi order and Sith orders?
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Let’s look at the pragmatic facts here. Disney spent $4 billion dollars buying out Star Wars. So far, they’ve made their money back on that investment, but Disney is less a media conglomerate and more like the Catholic church in terms of how they plan out their legacy, and the Church doesn’t see things in mere years or decades. They plan centuries in advance. While that might be a bit bold to propose something that vast, the fact is we’re going to probably be seeing new Star Wars films from now until the end of civilization. Just look at what they’ve done with Marvel and how they’ve managed to ramp up production on that. We went from just getting one Marvel movie a year to the point where now we’ll be seeing three movies a year. So far Star Wars is in the yearly cycle, but you’d be dead wrong if you thought it’ll just remain like that.
So when you're planning for something to run for that long, it means that it’s going to have to reinvent itself so it can remain interesting for such a vested period of time. That means you can’t just spit out the same cyclical story and keep repeating the story beats from the original trilogy over and over again. Even die-hard nerds will get bored of it eventually; look at The Hobbit trilogy. I never thought I’d see fantasy nerds tired of seeing Tolkien adapted for big screen, but The Hobbit pretty much did it. Let’s face the truth; the novelty of seeing lightsabers and X-Wings on the big screen is only going to last for so long. Ultimately if Stars Wars is going to have the same legs as something like the MCU, it needs to mix things up and add new elements and what could be a bolder move than moving away from the strictly binary dynamic of Jedi and Sith. The dark and light side of the force are just too cut and dried.
The thing is, introducing shades of grey can work really really well in a fantasy series. Look at The Legend of Kora. For the entirety of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Air Nomad bending was pretty much defined as the most peaceful and nonviolent style. Pretty much everyone except me was convinced that air benders were all a bunch of extra crunchy granola pacifists. And then we got Zaheer, the violent revolutionary with a deep connection to the spirit world and the only air bender we’ve ever seen on screen reach such a deep connection with his school that he was able to up the game and achieve flight. So much for that whole non-violence thing. My point is, I would kill to see a sociopathic, emotionless Jedi, someone so convinced of the rightness of their actions that they serenely use the Jedi Mind Trick to break people’s sanity or just outright kill people for the greater good. Remember, just because you’re at peace, doesn’t mean you’re a good person.
To go back to the original Avatar series, one thing that the two creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino managed to do throughout the three seasons and the Legend of Korra spin-off was to continue to find new interesting evolutions of each elemental bendings style. As the series progressed, new sub-styles like metal bending and lava bending were discovered. Basically Jedi are laser sword wielding psychics and not much else. The Sith are virtually the same, except they can shoot lightning from their fingers sometimes. We need new force powers or at least interesting new ways to manifest force powers to keep the iconography fresh.
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The biggest evidence that we might be seeing some new radical elements in Episode 8 are the more experimental stuff Dave Filoni has been doing in his Clone Wars cartoon as well as Star Wars Rebels. One of the most controversial and bold storylines in Clone Wars was the Mortis arc. Here we saw Obi-Wan and Anakin go to a remote planet where they encountered godlike beings, who served as the manifestations of the force. Known only as The Ones, they are led by The Father, who keeps his two children, The Son and The Daughter, who each represent the literal manifestation of the light and the dark side. They are so powerful that the father keeps them sequestered so they don’t tear the fabric of the universe apart. They also can transform into a weird griffin and bat monster. That still kinda weirds me out.
What the Mortis arc represented was one of the most experimental deep dives into the fantasy element of Star Wars that we’ve ever seen. Because one thing you have to fundamentally understand is that ultimately Star Wars is a space opera and not hard sci-fi like, say, The Martian. That is one of the big reasons for the series ubiquity and larger success. While the storyline remains a bit of a controversial point amongst the Star Wars faithful, it’s the kind of risk-taking that’s needed to keep things fresh and interesting. Another new enigma recently introduced by Dave Filoni and his crew is the Bendu in the third season of Star Wars Rebels. Essentially, it’s an ancient creature that does not see the force as having just two opposite binary points. The Bendu exists in the middle, in a grey spectrum, and uses its neutral position to provide guidance to Kanan and Erza.
So bringing things back to Episode VIII, what if Luke put himself into exile because he ultimately knows that as long as the galaxy maintains the Jedi/Sith dynamic, it’s always doomed to repeat the same mistakes? Over thirty years have passed since the end of the original trilogy, and somehow despite all the effort of everyone’s favorite heroes, the status quo is completely the same. The evil empire is back, and evil Sith-like beings seemingly rule the galaxy building even more planet killing super weapons. So what if Luke is contemplating a new path outside of the light and dark binary, something he will teach Rey, who won’t become the Last Jedi, but possibly the beginning of something new.
What if Luke is the last Jedi we ever see in the current Star Wars timeline, and we see Ray pick up the mantel and become some new kind of force wielder, and create a new order who utilizes the force in a completely new way? We’ve seen some experimentation with the Bendu and the celestial beings in Mortis. The fact that this installment is written and directed by sci-fi wunderkind Rian Johnson goes to show that Disney is willing to take risks after playing it safe with Episode 7. That might be what we need most, as much as we love to see iconic stuff like lightsabers, ultimately for things to be fresh, we need to be ready to accept new and sometimes radical changes to our favorite formulas and The Last Jedi could possibly be signaling one of the biggest changes we’ve ever seen in Star Wars.