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One thing's for sure; as writer and director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson must have done an incredible job. Lucasfilm is giving him the keys to the kingdom, asking him to write and direct a whole new Star Wars trilogy. We don't yet know much about this project, but Lucasfilm has confirmed that it won't continue the Skywalker Saga. Intriguingly, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy has referred to this trilogy as a "blank canvas." That suggests it's set in a time we've never explored before, and deals with all-new characters.
But is that really all we can say for certain about Rian Johnson's trilogy? Or is it possible The Last Jedi — and the canon novels building up to the film — are dropping hints and clues as to the direction Johnson will take?
What makes 'The Last Jedi' unique?
Right from the start, fans had known that The Last Jedi would be a unique film. After all, the central premise is that Luke Skywalker has headed to Ahch-To, the first Jedi Temple. There, he's learned secrets of the Force that the entire galaxy had forgotten. He's been able to look beyond the millennia of Jedi teachings, and discover ancient truths that it's possible the Jedi had actually buried. These have brought Luke to a disturbing place, where he believes it's time for the Jedi Order to come to an end.
The first trailer teased the nature of these ancient teachings. It revealed a book that looks to be the fabled Journal of the Whills. When George Lucas first created Star Wars, he imagined the tale told through the eyes of an all-seeing, all-knowing race known as the Whills. As he explained in the annotated screenplay of A New Hope:
"Originally, I was trying to have the story be told by somebody else; there was somebody watching this whole story and recording it, somebody wiser than the mortal players in actual events. I eventually dropped this idea, and the concepts behind the Whills turned into the Force. But the Whills became part of this massive amount of notes, quotes, background information that I used for the scripts; the stories were actually taken from the 'Journal of the Whills.'"
Rogue One took fans by surprise when it revealed the Guardians of the Whills, an ancient order associated with these omniscient aliens. We know the ancient prophecy of the Chosen One, and the idea of balance in the Force, are both associated with the Whills. And, significantly, Mark Hamill has already revealed that the Chosen One prophecy is back in play in The Last Jedi.
It seems clear that, whatever secrets of the Force Luke has discovered, they're tied somehow to the origin of the Jedi and the Journal of the Whills.
Why does this matter?
That means Rian Johnson is toying with ideas that have never been explored in the Star Wars franchise before. He's dropping hints to the ancient history of the Jedi Order itself, and perhaps even breaking the classic light/dark dichotomy.
If you've been carefully following the Star Wars franchise over the last few years, you'll have noticed that Lucasfilm like to thread a continuous, building narrative through all their projects. The last year has seen Lucasfilm carefully explore the variety of Force traditions, with Greg Rucka's Guardians of the Whills exposing us to a range of Force groups and holy texts (including another excerpt from the Journal of the Whills). Most recently, Ken Liu's The Legends of Luke Skywalker dropped tantalizing hints as to the nature of Luke's Force-quest between Return of the Jedi and the sequel trilogy. And even the comics have gotten in on the act, exposing Luke to teachings from an adherent of the Disciples of the Whills.
It's clear that Lucasfilm intends to explore the nature of the Force itself, with this concept coming to a head in Johnson's The Last Jedi. Given that Johnson wrote the film's script, it seems likely that he had significant input into shaping these revelations. What's more, given Lucasfilm tends to follow a continuous narrative thread that runs through the different time-periods, it seems distinctly possible that Johnson has been given permission to expand on The Last Jedi's Force-related discoveries.
If that is the case, we should really expect Rian Johnson's new trilogy to be set in the galaxy's distant past, in the days before the Jedi Order was even formed. Little wonder Kennedy refers to the trilogy as a "blank canvas." Precious little has been set in stone, and Johnson has freedom to craft the ancient shape and form of our beloved galaxy far, far away. With this in mind, it seems likely that The Last Jedi does indeed set the foundation for what Johnson is about to do.