It’s official: Lucasfilm has announced the title of the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII film, due out in theaters this December. Regardless of the title, there was bound to be speculation about the next installment of the franchise, but Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a doozy. Already social media is swamped with people concerned for the well-being of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Fans already lost Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in The Force Awakens, and the untimely death of Carrie Fisher left a Princess Leia-sized hole in the galaxy. The idea of losing Luke as well is too much for many to bear. And while there is a distinct possibility Luke won’t see the end of the new trilogy — he is mortal after all — there are other plausible explanations for the title. Most notably, one about the nature of the Force.
When Star Wars first hit theaters back in 1977, the galaxy far, far away might have been vast, but audiences only saw a small slice of it. As the years wore on and more films appeared, the wider ongoing conflict between the Jedi and the Sith came into focus. Here were two sides — one believing in detachment and selflessness, the other relying on self-preservation and embracing emotions — engaged in a never-ending battle. Black and white. Right and wrong. Good and evil. But the real world rarely deals in absolutes and under the guidance of Dave Filoni, who’s served as the executive producer of both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, Star Wars took its first canonical* steps towards coloring the universe in shades of gray.
*The now defunct Expanded Universe also dealt with the moral ambiguity of the Grey Jedi, as well as introducing species such as the Voss that did not distinguish the Force as being split into different factions, but existing as a whole.
First in the animated The Clone Wars and more overtly in the recent Rebels, Filoni and his team have questioned whether extreme, rigid beliefs set their followers up for failure. After all, Anakin Skywalker was not the first Sith recruited from the Jedi Order. Many would-be Jedi found themselves chafing, unwilling or unable to follow the strict detachment required by the Order. But without a more moderate sect to join, the only option for wayward Jedi, as far as they could tell, was to become Sith. Another extreme with another set of rigid rules. Two sides of the same coin. From the strange gods representing the Light, the Dark, and Balance to Yoda’s experience with the five priestesses, The Clone Wars made it clear the Force is bigger than the mere sentient beings tapping into and twisting it to fit their spiritual ideals. Rebels drives this home, both with the introduction of characters such as the ancient Bendu and by having protagonist Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) and Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) combine their powers to open a Holocron data cube.
But the cartoons aren’t the only place where Lucasfilm is hinting the way of the Jedi and the Sith is becoming obsolete. Fan favorite Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) may have reappeared in Rebels wielding dual white lightsabers, but it was the Ahsoka novel by E.K. Johnston that explained their coloration was due to them being former Sith crystals Tano had healed, even though she no longer considers herself a Jedi. Speculation wonders if the white is due to the nature of the crystals or if they failed to regain their original colors because of Ahsoka’s gray stance. Star Wars: Rogue One Catalyst by James Luceno introduced the idea that many people who aren’t Force-sensitive — including Lyra Orso — followed the beliefs of the Jedi or at least believe in the power of the Force to influence events. And Star Wars Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide by Pablo Hidalgo dedicates an entire section to the multi-faceted beliefs that populate the religious city of Jedha.
The Force has existed as a recorded concept in the galaxy for well over 25,000 years. The Jedi Order was its most well-known practitioner, but there are other schools of study and worship that have evolved in parallel on scattered planets. These cultures may not exhibit control and manipulation of the mystical energy field, but they do speak of its power and of its ability to shape and influence the destinies of individuals and history.
Add it all up and you began to see the groundwork being laid to bring balance to the Force, not by eradicating either the Sith or the Jedi, but by moving away from the polar extremes to a more stable middle point of the fulcrum. Which is to say The Last Jedi could be about the dying gasp of the Order, not the literal dying gasp of Luke Skywalker, whom one could argue isn’t even a Jedi due to his dance towards the dark side in Return of the Jedi makes him more gray than light. A rejection of detachment from all meaningful relationships from both Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) seems like a no-brainer considering the isolated and lonely childhoods they experienced.
In my mind, this is the most obvious reading of The Last Jedi title, but that’s not to say it doesn’t work on multiple levels. Perhaps the titular Jedi isn’t even Luke Skywalker. As I said, his lack of training coupled with his flirtation with the dark side renders him less Jedi than his predecessors. It could be the Jedi in question is someone else entirely, either a blast from the past, an unknown quantity, or a new generation headed up by Rey. But again, Rey’s entire persona is built around craving love, family, and companionship. I have a hard time seeing her as the mascot of a spiritual order that forbids those things.
In fact, I’ll say it right now: I’d rather see the death of Luke Skywalker on screen than watch Rey (or Finn) suppress her human need for affection and acceptance in order to kowtow to the Jedi Order’s archaic ideas that love leads to the dark side.