When Disney today announced the title of “Star Wars: Episode VIII” would be “The Last Jedi,” I couldn’t help but groan a little.
We don’t know anything about the movie yet, of course. But it’s impossible not to figure that the last Jedi has to be Luke Skywalker. He’s been the last Jedi for a while now, actually — since “Return of the Jedi,” when Yoda died. He was supposed to restart the Jedi Order, but for the last 30-plus years, apparently, that hasn’t gone very well. Supreme Leader Snoke referred to Luke as the last Jedi in “The Force Awakens,” so it seems pretty safe to assume that’s where things are going.
That’s a bit troublesome. One big criticism that could be leveled against “The Force Awakens” is that it rehashes a lot of the ideas of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” It made sense to do that at the time — Disney was kickstarting a new trilogy and needed to establish new characters. It also needed to convince fans the films were in safe hands after the largely panned prequel trilogy. Using “A New Hope” as a blueprint solved those problems.
But two movies into the Disney era of “Star Wars,” we’ve seen two movies that include a whole lot of retread. “The Force Awakens” borrows so liberally from “A New Hope” that it gets a little ridiculous, especially with the addition of Starkiller Base — a bigger, scarier Death Star. “Rogue One” tells another Death Star story and, while it’s a different perspective on “Star Wars” backstory, it’s also a story we largely already knew.
The title of “The Last Jedi” brings up images of “The Empire Strikes Back.” Young Luke Skywalker went out to Dagobah to find the last Jedi and train with him — a lot like Rey finding Luke, alone on his weird island. The table is set for another series of training scenes as Luke takes on an apprentice.
And that’s definitely not the way Disney should go here.
For one thing, the new “Star Wars” films need an injection of more new ideas, not more rehashes of old ones. The best thing about “Rogue One” is how it shifts perspective away from the top heroes of “Star Wars” to get a little deeper into the actual war. We see more of how fighting the Empire affects regular people. And though the movie didn’t explore it fully, the idea of the Rebellion battling its own conscience — rejecting Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and his brand of insurrection, and struggling with assassination — is maybe the most interesting thing to come out of the film franchise.
We’ve been down “the last Jedi” road before. We’ve seen the Jedi Order destroyed and only barely saved by a prodigy. We’ve seen mentors imparting Jedi wisdom while struggling with the Dark Side’s pull on their followers. We don’t need that story again.
Instead, writer and director Rian Johnson should go for a radical move: Abandon the Jedi.
In the “Star Wars” universe, the Jedi are really not that great. Their teachings are angled at helping Force-sensitive people control their power and use it for good. So often, though, Jedi fall to the Dark Side, and then they become seriously bad news for billions of people. At this point, the word “Jedi” is pretty synonymous with “failure.”
A big part of the problem is the teachings require Jedi divest themselves of emotional ties. The idea is to avoid something like what happened to Anakin Skywalker in “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” Anakin’s love for Padme ultimately led him to embrace evil. For the Sith, the ends justify the means, and usually the means wind up being evil. Jedi resist that argument, but it stifles their humanity. Seems like not everyone can handle that.
Luke Skywalker, apparently, utterly failed to kickstart a new Jedi Order, and in so doing created Kylo Ren and his band of evil dudes. Luke’s mentor totally failed Luke’s father, losing him to evil influence. The Jedi failed the galaxy when they let the machinations of a Sith Lord turn the Old Republic into the Galactic Empire. Thirty years on, what does being a Jedi actually have to offer Luke Skywalker, or Rey?
“The Last Jedi” could shake up the formula mightily by allowing Luke to reject the Jedi. He’s the last because “Jedi” is not something worth being. And instead, he and Rey could form a new order — one that embraces and attempts to understand the gray areas between Definitely Good and Definitely Evil that make up most of human life. It might result in fewer supervillains, on the whole.
At the very least, it would finally put the Disney “Star Wars” movies into meaningfully fresh territory. We’re still waiting to see the saga of a galaxy far, far away break free of the ideas it’s been circling for years. The modern era of “Star Wars” movies can’t subsist on reliving the glory of their predecessors. It’s time for something new and radical to make the story fully something new.