Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a major blockbuster last year, but the film ultimately raised more questions than it answered. We don’t yet know why Luke’s Jedi academy was destroyed, why he later went into self-imposed, exile on Ahch-To, why his nephew Kylo Ren fell to the Dark Side, why Han and Leia were estranged, or the history of the new Emperor stand-in, Supreme Leader Snoke. A new trailer for Episode VIII dropped last night, and while it doesn’t answer all of these questions, it provides some major hints. Also, everyone is going nuts for Chewbacca’s new side-kick, called a Porg.
Please be better than Ewoks. Please.
We’re going to discuss what’s in the trailer, so if you don’t want to be spoiled jump out now.
The Kylo-Rey Connection
The trailer opens with a voiceover from Snoke, telling an unseen listener they possess both tremendous, untamed power as well as “something truly special.” These opening scenes are framed in a way that could make them apply to either Han and Leia’s son, Kylo Ren, or Rey. Then we hear Rey telling someone (presumably Luke) there’s been something inside of her from the very beginning, “But now it’s awake, and I need help.” Cue to another shot of Rey training on a steep, rocky slope, just as we saw in the first trailer–only this time, it’s implied she cracks the bedrock itself when she manipulates the Force. Luke shoots the crack a surprised and alarmed look–not the kind of thing you expect to see from a Jedi Master.
“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” Luke says, as the scene shifts to what’s clearly his mechanical hand punching upwards out of a burning pile of wood and rubble. “It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” Luke, as shown above, looks positively haunted.
There’s a lot of meaning packed into this first minute. The trailer purposefully frames the footage so we never know exactly who is being addressed or in what situation, but we can make some educated guesses. Prior to this trailer we’d seen brief snippets of the Knights of Ren attacking Luke’s Jedi academy, but it wasn’t clear if he arrived after the assault or was present to defend against it. Seeing him claw his way out of the rubble confirms the latter.
But this raises an interesting question of its own. In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is far from fully trained and less-than committed to his own embrace of the Dark Side. The new trailer strongly implies this continues to be true. So why did Luke go chasing after a lost Jedi temple as opposed to trying to save his nephew the way he saved Vader?
Gone but not forgotten.
This could play out several different ways. One explanation is that the Knights of Ren are actually the other students Luke trained and that Ben Solo (Kylo Ren’s original name) led a revolt of the entire academy. Luke may be powerful, but taking on a group of six Force wielders plus Snoke may well have been beyond him. But this doesn’t square very well with what we know of Luke’s own personality. Yoda tells Luke he must confront Vader, implying there’s a chance for Luke to beat him, but tells Luke point-blank not to underestimate the power of the Emperor. Luke goes anyway, betting he can turn his father back to the Light Side even in the face of two Sith Lords.
My guess is Luke was overmatched by Ren, Snoke, or some combination of the two. Despite his raw power, he was never officially or formally trained for any length of time. Even the most charitable reading of both his time with Kenobi and his studies with Yoda adds up to weeks, not years, and we know Jedi were typically trained for a decade or more during the time of the Old Republic. Luke’s prodigious skill with the Force may actually have made him a poor teacher. With his Jedi temple destroyed and his students dead, fled, or fallen, Luke may well have gone looking for the teachings of the earliest Jedi in the hopes of either learning how to overcome his nephew and Snoke or finding teaching techniques that would leave his students at less risk of falling to the Dark Side.
Ren’s role in this conflict and her parentage are still unclear, but the trailer also implies she may hold the key to matching or defeating Ren and the First Order.
The second half of the trailer packs in multiple space battles and combat scenes highlighting Leia, Poe Dameron, Finn (FN-2187), and shows Ren visibly struggling to fire the cannons on his TIE fighter at a target implied to be the bridge of Leia’s starship. Luke, injured and freezing, warns someone, “This is not going to go the way you think.” We see Snoke holding his hand out in a familiar, Force-wielding fashion, then a shot of Rey screaming in pain. And we end with her saying: “I need someone to show me my place in all this,” and a final shot of Ren, holding his hand out in friendship or support.
A Familiar Pattern
One major criticism of Episode VII was how closely it aped the story of Episode IV. Episode VIII’s trailer plays up some of the themes of The Empire Strikes Back, but doesn’t seem to copy them as closely. Luke is clearly instructing Rey in how to use the Force, but this trailer variously paints him as guilt-ridden, frightened, and even angry. He displays neither Yoda’s serene wisdom nor Kenobi’s quiet command of his own power. It’s easy to see why. The assumption of the no-longer-canon Star Wars books and comics was that Luke went on to found a Jedi Praxeum and became one of the most powerful Force-wielders to ever live. The new films show a very different man and arguably a much more interesting character. Rey’s arc may parallel Luke’s, but the idea of a half-trained neophyte Dark Side wielder as her opposite could make for a very interesting dynamic.
Episode VII got a lot of credit for delivering the one thing the leaden prequels never did: A sense of fun and adventure. Here’s hoping Episode VIII combines the fast-paced fun of Star Wars at its best with a less-derivative story and its own compelling characters.