‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ and the Problem with Fan Theories

     December 18, 2017

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Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follow below.

Fans have been patiently waiting two years for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but judging by some very vocal reactions, writer/director Rian Johnson’s sequel was far from what some were expecting. In this day and age we should be celebrating that a massive piece of blockbuster filmmaking can be this surprising, but some are outright rebuffing the twists and turns of The Last Jedi. Given that many have spent the past two years intensely speculating, theorizing, and predicting the character and plot machinations of the film, it’s hard not to think some expectations were set going in that, as it turns out, The Last Jedi filmmakers had no intention (and had made no promise) of meeting. While fan theories can be fun, as evidenced by some intense reactions to The Last Jedi, they can also lead to major problems.

Coming out of The Force Awakens, one of the big questions that a lot of fans seemed to hone in on was the nature of Supreme Leader Snoke. Before we get too deep here it’s important to note that this entire new Star Wars trilogy was not mapped out from the very beginning. J.J. Abrams has been very clear about the fact that Force Awakens evolved while he was making it, and he wasn’t necessarily building to some foregone conclusion. Moreover, one of Johnson’s stipulations of signing on to direct Episode VIII was being given the freedom to come up with the story himself, and to address, build on, or disregard what he felt was necessary from The Force Awakens. So when Abrams made The Force Awakens, there was not already some lengthy, convoluted backstory built for Supreme Leader Snoke. There were ideas to be sure, but nothing was set in stone.

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Image via Lucasfilm

Regardless, folks began speculating on who, exactly, this Snoke dude was. We really only knew for sure that A) He was leading the First Order; B) Kylo Ren was his apprentice; and C) He was really, really ugly. Innumerable posts and YouTube videos were made speculating on Snoke’s true identity, his backstory, his mythology, where he fits into the franchise, etc. So imagine the shock when, in The Last Jedi, Snoke is swiftly murdered by Kylo Ren without nary a word about his tortured upbringing or turn to the dark side.

In the film, this turn is shocking to be sure, but makes perfect sense. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), confronted with the fact that he’s been emotionally manipulated, makes the decision to “kill his past” and, really, murder his second father. He wants to start anew, rise from the ashes and reign himself, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) beside him. This is a terrific plot development that also sets up an exciting Episode IX. Instead of moving towards the well-worn territory of Conflicted Apprentice and 100% Evil Master, our main antagonist is Ben Solo. A complex, emotionally conflicted, and most importantly empathetic “bad guy.” That is far, far more interesting than leading to a VFX-driven lightsaber battle with a CG baddie who is just a snarling, venom-spewing villain with a semi-interesting backstory involving acid or something.

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Image via Lucasfilm

So as it turns out, the energy spent theorizing about Snoke’s identity and backstory ultimately wasn’t fulfilled in The Last Jedi. While this may have been a bummer for folks who were extremely invested in this particular character, the story and character choice by Johnson was inspired, and thematically on point. Moreover, no one involved with these films ever promised the audience that Snoke was going to be a big deal. In the lead up to The Last Jedi, Johnson went out of his way to say that Snoke’s backstory was not ultimately important:

“We got the whole story of Palpatine’s rise to power in the prequels, but in the original films he’s exactly what he needs to be, which is just ‘The Emperor’. He’s a dark force: the scary thing behind the thing. That was entirely how I approached Snoke. I wasn’t interested in explaining where he came from or telling his history, except where it serves this story.”

The other major point of contention seems to be the revelation of Rey’s parents. Now, it’s possible Abrams could come up with an Episode IX reveal in which Kylo Ren was lying to Rey about who her parents are, but Johnson and Abrams have gone on record stating that The Last Jedi answers this question. Rey isn’t a Skywalker. She’s not a Kenobi. She’s nobody. Her parents were junkers who sold her off to make a quick buck. Again, two years of theorizing about how Rey is related to the rest of the characters doesn’t really pay off with any major connections.

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Image via Lucasfilm

But again, this reveal is not a twist for twist’s sake. It’s actually in lock step with the entire theme of The Last Jedi, which is that heroes can come from anywhere. You don’t have to have noble blood or important parents. The Spark that ignites the rebellion can be an orphan from Jakku with inconsequential heritage. This is underlined time and again throughout the film, from Rose’s entire arc to the closing shot, which is of a young boy on Canto Bight who we see is Force Sensitive, and who looks to the stars with hope in his eyes.

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