NB: The following contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and speculation over The Last Jedi.
If you were wondering what director Rian Johnson might bring to the Star Wars universe, at least in visual terms, we’ll go out on a limb and say it’s easy to see in the latest, full trailer for The Last Jedi. There’s a grubby, oily quality to his vision of the galaxy far, far away; Luke’s Lightsaber looks battered and old. The variant form of AT-AT striding across the planet Crait look like weathered, battle-scarred war machines. Even the chrome detailing on Kylo Ren’s fancy helmet looks scratched and tarnished.
It’s all in stark contrast to JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens, who brought a Spielbergian warmth and playfulness to even the more desolate corners of the planet Jakku. Then there’s The Last Jedi’s distinctive black-and-red colour scheme – a fitting palette for the sequel trilogy’s darker mid-section.
In interviews, Johnson has talked in general terms about what we can expect from Episode VIII, and for anyone who saw The Empire Strikes Back, the trajectory’s a familiar one: this is the part of the story where new complications are introduced and characters are tested to their limits. As Johnson once said – and we’re paraphrasing here – The Last Jedi will show what happens when characters like Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron have the stool kicked out from under them.
As we’ve seen in previous footage, The Last Jedi picks up pretty much right after The Force Awakens. The bad guys – Kylo Ren, General Hux, Captain Phasma – have scrambled away from their doomed Starkiller Base to join the First Order and their supreme leader, Snoke. Rey has followed a map to a remote region, where Luke Skywalker lives on the lonely planet, Ahch-To. So what happens next?
Predictably, the First Order isn’t too happy about having its latest piece of military hardware taken out by Poe Dameron and his Resistance fighters, and stage a sweeping counter-attack on their enemy’s strongholds. One of these is on the planet Crait – the location where we see those new AT-ATs striding across the screen. As the Resistance defends itself from the First Order’s assault, a fully-healed Finn goes on a mission behind enemy lines – where he winds up in a pitched battle with his old boss, Phasma (on a side note, it’s great to see the latter – who didn’t get that much to do in The Force Awakens – back in what we’re hoping is a slightly expanded role).
What’s slightly more ambiguous is Rey’s encounter with Luke on Ahch-To. We know from the last film that Luke went into exile when a young Kylo Ren (then going by his family name Ben Solo) turned on him and destroyed his Jedi school – a scene we see in a bit more detail in the new trailer. In previous bits of footage, we also saw how Luke has grown somewhat disillusioned with the whole Jedi religion – one key line was, of course, “It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
All of this suggests that the relationship between Rey and Luke will be a bit more complicated than the traditional Master-Padawan dynamic we’ve seen in previous Star Wars movies. Luke may have the experience to train Rey, but then, maybe Rey has the innocence and idealism to shake the old Jedi Master out of his gloomy funk. The latest trailer also throws in another intriguing – and potentially revealing – detail: as Rey is running through her training regime on Ahch-To, she unleashes a wave of energy powerful enough to split a chunk of rock clean in two. Wide-eyed at this demonstration of strength, Luke utters the following: “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.”
Exactly what Luke means by this is left intentionally ambiguous. When was the last time he saw that raw strength? Was it when he fought Vader in The Empire Strikes Back? Or, more likely, was it while he was training a young Kylo Ren? Whoever he was referring to, it opens up the possibility that Rey’s power isn’t necessarily drawn from the light side of the Force. Rey’s origins are another of the sequel trilogy’s mysteries, and this sequence could be the latest hint that she’s not related to Luke Skywalker, as was widely suspected, but someone more sinister. Could she be Kylo Ren’s twin sister, hidden away on Jakku when Kylo turned to the dark side?
We see a few dramatic moments in the trailer where Rey clearly encounters Kylo and Snoke (the latter seen in physical form for the first time); it’s likely that they’re keen to turn Rey to their dark way of thinking, either through dramatic dialogue or simple, old-fashioned torture. The promo’s last few seconds – Rey saying “I need somebody to show me my place in all of this”, apparently to Kylo Ren – hint that she’s at least mildly tempted to see what the dark side has to offer.
Our pet theory? That Ahch-To, with its original Jedi temple and the remains of a Force-sensitive tree, contains all kinds of secrets about the Star Wars galaxy’s religion. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking of the Force as being split so cleanly between dark and light, good and evil – to accept that both exist in Jedi and Sith alike. It’s just a case of striking the balance.
The trailer’s most troubling suggestion, meanwhile, is that Kylo, having already offed his father in cold-blooded fashion, now has his sights trained on his mother, General Leia. Given the tragic loss of Carrie Fisher last December, having her signature character killed by her son in such a cruel fashion would be far, far too much for general audiences, wouldn’t it? Well, we certainly hope so.
As spoiler-y as the new Last Jedi trailer appears to be, it also offers all kinds of possibilities. Maybe Kylo will have a last-second change of heart when zeroing in on his mother, and make an abrupt turn to the side of goodness and light. Maybe Luke’s cynicism and the lure of her own power will draw Rey to the dark side. Maybe those little porgs will breed on the Millennium Falcon and take over the entire galaxy. All we can say for now is that December can’t come soon enough.