Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Force Awakens, and hopefully, The Last Jedi.
The first teaser trailer for The Last Jedi, the eighth film in the nine-part space opera that is the Star Wars franchise was released April 14. Take a look below:
The trailer seems to begin not long after we left Rey standing on a very small island holding out Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber to him. We see Rey training with Skywalker, much like he trained with Yoda in the original second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back. Beyond a few short montages of explosions, people running around, and ships flying, however, there isn’t a lot to glean as to why Skywalker is training Rey. After all, The Force Awakens ends with the characters from the original films, and the new ones, destroying the base of the First Order, the latest incarnation of authoritarian evil in the Star Wars universe. But the film’s newest villains, Kylo Ren and Supreme Leader Snoke, are still out in the galaxy somewhere, leaving them as a threat that Skywalker, and his new protégé, Rey, presumably need to face in this film and the next.
While there isn’t a lot of information on how this will actually happen, this trailer hints at what may well be Disney’s endgame with the saga of the Skywalker family. In the meager dialogue in the trailer, Skywalker asks Rey to breathe, and what she sees. ”Light, darkness; the balance,” she responds, while images of Princess Leia, Kylo Ren’s crushed helmet, and an old book with the logo of the Jedi on it play out. Skywalker responds, “It’s so much bigger.” After a moment, he continues: ”I only know one truth—it’s time for the Jedi to end.”
The first six films have dealt with the fulfillment of a prophecy, that a Jedi will be born who will bring balance to the Force. This is believed to be Anakin Skywalker, and by the end of Return of the Jedi, with his death and the toppling of the Empire, it seems that after all the evil he’s committed as Darth Vader, he has finally fulfilled that prophecy. But when The Force Awakens begins 30 years later, it doesn’t really seem like much has changed: An evil, militaristic, group is threatening to overthrow the democratic government of the galaxy, with new Jedi and Sith characters fighting on each side.
It seems, that after his failed attempt to restart the Jedi order in the intervening decades, and after his self-exile to a very small island in the middle of nowhere, Luke Skywalker has come to realize that perhaps the true way to bring balance to the force is not by constantly trying to fight Jedi against Sith (or some variation thereof), but rather to destroy both religions altogether.
What’s interesting about this realization is that Skywalker is not actually the first person in Star Wars canon to have it. There are other beings, beyond the Jedi and the Sith, that are sensitive to the Force, but aren’t constantly striving toward controlling this mythical energy that no one really seems to understand all that well. And there’s a sense that Disney is trying to hint at the notion that balance in the Force doesn’t actually mean the same as “the good guys wining”—life, even in far, far away galaxies a long time ago, is more nuanced than that.
Star Wars Rebels, a cartoon airing on Disney XD right now, about—unsurprisingly—a group of rebels in the time before the original trilogy takes place, gives an indication of where the franchise may be heading. Kanan Jarrus, the leader of the group, a Jedi-in-hiding (much like, Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi), is training a young orphan in the ways of the Force, and comes across a giant being called Bendu on the base planet of the rebels. Like the Jedi and Sith, Bendu can manipulate the Force, but claims to be entirely neutral, unswayed by either side. He does not care when the Empire discovers the rebels’ base, but when Jarrus calls him a coward for not helping to fight back, he becomes enraged, suggesting it was possibly the will of the Force to eradicate the Jedi “and all your kind.”
When creating the Star Wars universe, George Lucas was fascinated by Eastern philosophies, religions, and film. The original film was inspired by famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The concept of balance through opposite forces working in harmony pervades the films. Good and evil, light and dark, rebellion and order. When it was said that Anakin Skywalker would bring balance to the Force, it does not mean that that good would prevail. It means that there would be good and evil in the universe, light and dark, in equal parts, in constant struggle.
Throughout the prequel trilogy, we see a Jedi order that is overly bureaucratic, militaristic, and primarily concerned with its own self-preservation. They believe Anakin to be the “chosen one” and yet worry that he’s too arrogant, and needs to make sure he jumps through the requisite training hoops before he can be given certain ranks. They’re fixated on eradicating the Sith, and after Anakin falls to the dark side, he becomes obsessed with eradicating them.
But, decades later, his son has seen what happens when there is too much good (the bloated, ineffective old Republic Jedi) and too much bad (the Empire) in the world. It seems that by the end of the ninth film, we may well see what the Force wills, as Bendu suggests.
Disney has started dropping characters and ideas from its other Star Wars properties. Chopper, the droid that accompanies the group in Rebels, made an appearance in Rogue One. And the character Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker in the film, actually first appeared in another Star Wars TV show The Clone Wars that ran from 2008 to 2013. This could possibly be a cynical move by Disney to engage viewers across different media (your favorite character in Rebels is in our new spin-off movie, so buy a ticket, and maybe some merchandise!) But it also suggests that Disney is seeding out hints, and plot points for the main saga that encourage people to watch the series, and to get a deeper understanding for the motivation of characters, races, and groups in the Star Wars universe beyond the Skywalker family.
Luke Skywalker’s comment in the trailer seems possibly to be setting the series up for a bloody, fatalistic finish, where these characters must die—it is as the Force wills, but the actors are also getting pretty old themselves. Killing off the Skywalker family would bring closure to the series, and most likely balance to the Force, as no Jedi or Sith will remain.
It will also leave the door open for all sorts of new stories, in any time period, anywhere in the galaxy. Disney plans to keep spin-offs, TV shows, cartoons, and other series around the Star Wars universe going long after those who watched the first film in theaters in 1977 will be dead. The rich expanded universe can be explored by characters that might more accurately reflect the demography of the people watching Star Wars (the original trilogy had exactly three women characters with speaking lines in it, and both it and the prequels had almost no people of color.) There will always be religious offshoots, sects of people fetishizing the past (much like there is in this galaxy), and Lucasfilm (the production company behind the franchise) will always be able to create new films based on these same Star Wars tropes if it wants, away from the Skywalker family. But there could also be stories tied to the videogames that Lucasfilm has produced, such as Knights of the Old Republic, set thousands of years before the events we’ve seen on film. We could go even further back in time, to when, as fan legends suggest, the earliest Jedi used actual swords (not lightsabers). Lucas could realize his own dreams and actually make a samurai Star Wars film. The possibilities are endless.
The Last Jedi is only the penultimate film in the series, but even from its name, and just this one short trailer, it has weight of something grand coming to a close hanging over it. But it is very likely that even after the final Skywalker film airs in 2019, we won’t be done with the Star Wars universe for a long, long time. As Obi-Wan once said, “The Force will be with you, always.”