Depending on how much time you’ve been spending online lately, reactions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi have been quite strong. Indeed, while the film is making boocoos of money and reviews are wildly positive, there’s a very vocal contingent who appear to feel personally slighted by the film, specifically its rebuffing of expectations in favor of charting new territory. Indeed, The Last Jedi goes to some uncomfortable places when it comes to beloved characters like Luke Skywalker, but each and every one of writer/director Rian Johnson’s decisions is firmly rooted in furthering the development of the characters and theme of his The Force Awakens sequel.
While some may contend Johnson planned on “shocking” fans all along, the filmmaker has been pretty candid that that was never his intention (indeed, he wrote the script before The Force Awakens even came out). And he’s now taken to Twitter to not only state his intention, but make a very good point about the conversations that are happening now:
The goal is never to divide or make people upset, but I do think the conversations that are happening were going to have to happen at some point if sw is going to grow, move forward and stay vital.
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) December 21, 2017
Mark Hamill recently came out and elaborated on his disagreements with where Luke Skywalker goes in this story, but he also said this is Rian’s story, and he was there to serve the vision of this filmmaker. And indeed, I think Johnson’s point here gets to the heart of the matter—these new Star Wars films are not the story of Luke, Han, and Leia. The protagonist of The Force Awakens is Rey (Daisy Ridley), who we now know is not a Skywalker (at least until J.J. Abrams decides to retcon that parents reveal in Episode IX). The other main characters are a stormtrooper and a Resistance pilot, again none of whom are related or even intimately connected to the Skywalker clan.
Given that the crux of this new trilogy is rooted in new characters, Johnson’s decisions in The Last Jedi set up Episode IX as a conclusion to the arc of Rey, Finn, Poe, and of course Kylo Ren, who is a Skywalker but who serves as the trilogy’s antagonist. It’s a fascinating character dynamic, and Johnson reshuffled the deck in a way that sets Episode IX up to be an incredibly emotional affair. Basically, every decision Johnson made in The Last Jedi furthered our investment in all of these characters—including Kylo Ren—and that makes the stakes for Episode IX so much more compelling.
And he’s right, this is a conversation that was going to happen sooner or later. As soon as George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, the Star Wars movies ceased to be his stories. Indeed, Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy essentially threw out the outline Lucas created for this new trilogy and started anew, paving a path that would A. Create an entire new generation of fans and B. Yes, sell lots and lots of toys, merchandise, and theme park tickets. If Lucasfilm wants to make a Star Wars movie every year until the end of time, these can’t be insular films. They have to expand and grow far beyond not just the Skywalker clan but the entire mythos surrounding that story.
The Force Awakens set up curious although ill-defined expectations, as Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was a major character in that film. But The Last Jedi confirms the story of Han, Luke, and Leia concluded in Return of the Jedi. They’re ancillary characters now, passing the baton to a whole new series of characters and storytellers. It’s hard to imagine Star Wars without them, but it has to happen, and The Last Jedi was a major step in that direction.