The first teaser trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” ends with a very heavy note. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) says over images of darkness and shadow, “I only know one truth: It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
After decades of “Star Wars” movies focused on the conflict of the Jedi, guardians of the Light Side of the Force, and the darkness-dwelling Sith — that’s a powerful statement to make. The films have always been predicated on the idea of the Jedi as protectors: “The guardians of peace in the galaxy,” as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) put it in the very first “Star Wars” installment.
But “The Last Jedi” is already suggesting something more nuanced than the traditional stark take on good and evil. Luke has seen the Jedi fail at every turn. Obi-Wan and Yoda failed Luke when they lied about his father. Obi-Wan failed Anakin Skywalker when he fell to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. The Jedi failed countless people when they allowed Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) to take over the Old Republic and turn it into the Galactic Empire.
And notably, Luke failed Ben Solo (Adam Driver). He apparently tried to restart the Jedi Order by training his nephew in the ways of the Force. And Ben became the evil Kylo Ren.
The Jedi’s rules have a tendency to turn regular people into evil supervillains who bring ridiculous destruction to everyone around them. All of Luke’s lines in the trailer suggest a deeper look at the Force than we’ve ever seen in the films. Not just good versus evil and the balance thereof — as Luke says, “There’s so much more.”
Luke abandoning the Jedi for a deeper understanding of the Force is, frankly, refreshing. And if “The Last Jedi” is daring enough to risk turning “Star Wars” lore on its head to go somewhere new, it might give us the movie we all thought we were getting in the last Disney foray into a galaxy far, far away: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Marketing for “Rogue One” suggested a very different movie than the one fans finally got. Centering largely on Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), it suggested a Rebel Alliance split on action and philosophy. Saw was a former Rebel Alliance hero who was basically kicked out for becoming too radical. In the movie, we see him as an insurgent fighting the Empire on Jedah, fully willing to sacrifice innocent civilians in a mission to take down an Imperial convoy.
When we meet Saw, we see a broken man, paranoid and cruel. He uses a chest-mounted rebreather to keep himself alive, and his legs have been replaced by robotic components. He is, very obviously, the Rebellion’s version of Darth Vader — a man twisted into something dark, despite his good intentions.
But “Rogue One” doesn’t pursue any of the ideas or implications raised by Saw’s presence. The real question of “what should this Rebellion be,” and “what means are acceptable to reach the ends of defeating the Empire” are important, interesting injections of nuance into a war that’s always just been painted as good guys against bad guys.
“Rogue One” had a chance to broaden and deepen the stories of “Star Wars.” But the filmmakers and Lucasfilm apparently backed away from those implications at the last second, resulting in a movie that was nothing like the trailers used to promote it.
The same thing could happen to “The Last Jedi,” of course. If we learned anything from “Rogue One,” it’s that trailers aren’t to be trusted. But if we take Luke at his word in this first teaser, we get the suggestion of a look at “Star Wars” that might, for once, embrace the gray area between Light and Dark.
And really, the struggle between good and evil is often about that gray area. It’s about intentions, about how actions affect people, and about what kind of galaxy the heroes want to leave behind when their war is finished. As “The Force Awakens” suggests, no amount of heroism in the original trilogy was enough to really save the galaxy. Things are as bad 30 years later as they ever were under the boot-heel of Emperor Palpatine.
We’ve seen “Star Wars” movies about struggling and ultimately falling to the Dark Side, and ones about redeeming people through heroism and sacrifice on the Light Side. Now what we need are “Star Wars” movies that challenge characters to figure out who they want to be, and why, in a way that goes beyond simply labeling them Jedi and Sith.
With “The Last Jedi,” it looks like “Star Wars” could finally grow up a bit in how it treats its world, its characters, and its notions of good and bad. Maybe this is movie that will do what “Rogue One” couldn’t.