Director Rian Johnson has a tremendous responsibility on his shoulders with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. From a creative standpoint, Johnson wants the movie to function as a standalone adventure that doesn’t merely set up what’s to come. But at the same time, it’s still the second in a trilogy. It’s also the next chapter in a franchise that Disney hopes will continue for decades into the future.
With that in mind, some of what we’ve heard so far about The Last Jedi reveals a lot about where Lucasfilm is hoping to take Star Wars over the next 10 years and beyond.
Here’s what we know about how The Last Jedi will shape the future of Star Wars.
1. It won’t answer all of our questions
As is typical of a J.J. Abrams project, Star Wars: The Force Awakens left fans with plenty of unanswered questions. Since then, viewers have theorized about Rey’s parents, Snoke’s origins, the destruction of Luke’s Jedi Academy, and much more. Fans will have to keep those theories rolling after The Last Jedi, as the movie apparently leaves some things from The Force Awakens unanswered.
“He doesn’t answer all the questions. I will say that up front,” Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said in a recent interview. “But there are certain questions he does answer in a really wonderfully provocative way, and I think there’ll be some surprises that people aren’t expecting.”
This suggests that the Star Wars franchise will continue to rely on mystery going forward and will string out some questions until at least the end of this trilogy. Although the Star Wars series has always left bits of backstory ambiguous, it has never been quite as heavy on the mystery as it was in The Force Awakens. This approach is something Johnson evidently retained.
Kennedy did not say which questions The Last Jedi answers. But judging by the various interviews with the cast and crew we’ve seen over the past year, it sounds like the movie explains Rey’s parentage, but not Snoke’s backstory, for instance.
2. It will further develop characters who will continue beyond ‘Episode IX’
When Lucasfilm announced that they were working on a new trilogy of Star Wars films, it was not entirely clear what their plans were for beyond Episode IX. Would they continue to make “episodes” after that, or would they just focus on the spinoffs like Rogue One? And if there was an Episode X, would it follow the same characters from the new trilogy? Or would it jump forward in time and follow a totally new storyline?
Well, Kennedy recently confirmed that the new characters will appear beyond Episode IX. “We’re sitting down now, we’re talking about the next ten years of Star Wars stories, and we’re looking at narratively where that might go,” she said. “Future stories beyond Episode IX with these new characters: Rey, Poe, Finn, BB-8.”
So although The Last Jedi is just one movie, Johnson’s job was not only to tell a satisfying individual story but also to sustain characters who will live on for potentially another decade or more. He did so by presenting them with challenges, as he explained in an interview earlier this year.
“I wanted to know more about each of them, and that doesn’t just mean information or backstory,” Johnson said. “Figure out what’s the most difficult thing each of them could be challenged with now — let’s throw that at them and dig into what really makes them tick by seeing how they handle that.”
3. It will take the story in a new direction
According to the cast and crew of The Last Jedi, Johnson went to great lengths to take the story in a new direction. This will keep the audience on their toes and set the precedent that Star Wars does not merely provide the same thing over and over again.
That’s something that Lucasfilm has emphasized in all of their marketing for The Last Jedi and that the cast has made clear in interviews. We’ve heard that The Last Jedi will be different even outside of Lucasfilm’s official marketing, though. In September, Slashfilm’s Peter Sciretta reported that The Last Jedi is “different, and it’s going to probably not sit well with some Star Wars fans. It’s going to be divisive.”
As excellent as The Force Awakens was, some have criticized it for adhering too closely to what viewers expected. So with The Last Jedi, Lucasfilm has completely pivoted and promises something new and original, which suggests that the reliance on nostalgia is not something that will define the future of Star Wars the way it defined The Force Awakens.
Kennedy also emphasized this desire to go in new directions with Star Wars in a recent interview. “We’re also looking at working with people that are interested in coming into the Star Wars world and taking us to places that we haven’t been yet,” she said.
4. It will introduce new characters
The Last Jedi will also introduce Star Wars fans to a whole new set of characters, some of whom will presumably continue on into Episode IX and potentially future movies beyond that. Rose Tico, played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, seems to be the most prominent of these characters. Rose is a member of the Resistance who goes on an adventure with Finn in The Last Jedi.
On that adventure, Rose and Finn will come across another one of the new characters: DJ, played by Benicio del Toro. Though we know very few details about him, we do know that Rose and Finn meet him on the casino world of Canto Bight, and he goes undercover in the First Order with them.
Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern, is another new character. She serves in the Resistance in the movie and is an old friend of Leia’s, with the two having met when they were kids. She hasn’t been officially confirmed for Episode IX, but it would not be surprising if this character took on a greater role in that movie now that Carrie Fisher has died and must be written out of the franchise. The movie also, of course, adds in several new alien species, including the Porgs and the crystal foxes.
In the same way that The Force Awakens had to introduce many new characters who would captivate audiences for movies to come and sell action figures, The Last Jedi must do so as well. The Last Jedi was rewritten to give a larger role to fan-favorite characters after the reception of The Force Awakens. So the reception of the new characters in The Last Jedi could fundamentally shape the future of Star Wars.
5. It might add more depth to the Star Wars mythology
If there’s one thing that’s clear in Star Wars, it’s that the Dark Side is bad and the Jedi are good. The story thus far has been a fairly black-and-white struggle between good and evil, with the Sith presented as clear villains and the Jedi as purely good heroes. But it sounds like The Last Jedi might complicate the situation a bit.
After all, the teaser features Rey talking about “light,” “darkness,” and “the balance,” while Luke Skywalker says that “it’s so much bigger.” Maybe he came to some sort of conclusion about the relationship between the Jedi and the Dark Side, suggesting that one is not 100% good and the other 100% evil.
Daisy Ridley also suggested this in a recent interview with Yahoo Japan, which was translated by ComicBook.com. She said
What you should pay attention to is that The Last Jedi is putting out the message that things might not always be so clearly black-and-white. The dividing line between good and evil is becoming more and more ambiguous, and you could say that the relationship between Rey and Kylo symbolizes that.
Of course, the full theatrical trailer also supports this idea, as it teases that Rey and Kylo might team up. At the same time, that doesn’t mean Star Wars is suddenly going to decide that there’s no such thing as good and evil. When asked if Star Wars is going to abandon good and evil in favor of “ambiguous gray mush,” Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo said on Twitter, “That doesn’t sound very Star Wars to me.”
So we should still expect clear heroes and villains going forward, but our perception of the Dark Side and the light might just become more nuanced in The Last Jedi.
6. It will reveal ‘shocking revelations of the past’
It seems that The Last Jedi might recontextualize the previous Star Wars movies, setting up a future of Star Wars that’s a lot different than the franchise’s past. In an official plot synopsis for the film posted on StarWars.com, Lucasfilm describes the movie by saying that “the Skywalker saga continues as the heroes of The Force Awakens join the galactic legends in an epic adventure that unlocks age-old mysteries of the Force and shocking revelations of the past.”
The common theory among fans is that while on Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker came to some sort of a revelation about the nature of the Jedi and the Force. Luke has a small library of books on Ahch-To, including the Journal of the Whills, a record of events in the Star Wars universe. So perhaps he learned something in there about the history of the Jedi Order or of the Force that would cause him to believe it’s time for the Jedi to end. Will Luke realize that the Jedi were wrong in some way and that a new order must rise — one with a different belief system or different methods of training its students?
Alternatively, the “revelations of the past” could have something to do with Rey’s parentage or perhaps Luke’s experiences between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. But that doesn’t explain what “age-old mysteries of the Force” refers to.
Either way, it sounds like this movie, and potentially movies after it, might make us look back on the Star Wars films that came before in a new light.
7. It might revisit a location from the prequels
Star Wars: The Force Awakens essentially ignored the prequel movies entirely, with the only real connection being General Hux’s brief mention of a “clone army.” But the forthcoming movies, including The Last Jedi, might draw upon the prequels slightly more.
For instance, as reported by Star Wars News, there’s a rumor that The Last Jedi will return to Mustafar, the planet where Obi-Wan and Anakin had their duel at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Rogue One already brought us there, as that’s where Darth Vader’s castle is located. The rumored purpose of showing this scene in Rogue One was to set up a scene in The Last Jedi where Kylo Ren visits his grandfather’s castle.
This would suggest a future in which Star Wars content is less afraid of drawing upon the prequels, despite their negative reception at the time. Granted, that already happened with Rogue One. But this was almost unavoidable seeing as the movie took place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. A prequel planet showing up in a sequel movie, as opposed to showing up in another prequel like Rogue One, would go a long way towards blending the trilogies together.
In October 2017, a fan on Reddit claimed that he met J.J. Abrams and that Abrams told him that Episode IX would be “the film which unites all three trilogies and brings everything together.” There’s no way to verify the quote, but this does seem to be where Lucasfilm is heading. A Mustafar scene in The Last Jedi would be confirmation of that.
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