Spoiler Alert: This article has spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It was a mega comeback for the Star Wars franchise when The Force Awakens released at a time when the audiences had almost accepted the end of the galaxy far, far away after the highly criticized prequels. Although the stand of fans became less harsh over the years as a lot of fans started reviewing the Star Wars trilogy from George Lucas, but, there was still a good bit of doubt prevailing when the announcement was made about a new Star Wars film releasing each year. Once the promotional campaign started and it was absolutely clear that the film was a mega return to the look and feel of the original trilogy that the audiences flocked to theaters to watch The Force Awakens.
No doubt, it had some influence of the prequels, but, those were not major in nature, and those who were not deeply into Star Wars might not even notice them. It is true that the lack of popularity in comparison to the original trilogy, as well as the lack of emphasis in The Force Awakens, made a lot of people believe that Lucasfilm was all set to discard the prequels in live-action, and to focus on elements that audiences were more favourable to, however, The Last Jedi makes a different statement.
The prevalent message conveyed by The Last Jedi is to let the past go. However, that should not imply that the film should abandon whatever happened earlier. In fact, the film presents a story which not just gives a fitting exit to Luke Skywalker and once again reset the galactic power balance, but, also claws back to the earlier themes, giving a suitable look to the prequel trilogy.
WHAT DID THE STAR WARS PREQUELS TELL?
Since the prequels had a negative feedback, therefore, the plot surrounding them has shadowed the films themselves, with jokes related to Jar Jar Binks, Midi-Chlorians or Anakin’s dislike for sand gained more prominence than the real happenings of the movies. With the passage of time, a lot of people changed their opinion of the prequels, and a lot of fans have started re-considering them due to more Star Wars films being released, and fans have become less harsh and at times even supportive. The other influence comes from The Clone Wars animated series, which not only brought forward the type of Star Wars stories that people wanted but, also gave further details to add more substance to what those films tried to depict.
The prequels are often considered to be simple origins story of Darth Vader or to be the origin story of the Empire, but, neither of these premises accurately depict what the prequels aimed to showcase. Yes, Darth Vader’s origin is central, but, it is not merely about how Vader came to exist, but, it is also about how fear led to anger, anger led to hatred and hatred caused suffering. Anakin was afraid of losing. Losing his mother, losing Padme, losing his unborn child. He wanted to find answers, and the only person who provided answers was Darth Sidious who pretended to be a loving government official called Sheev Palpatine.
Just the way he manipulates Anakin, Palpatine also used fear to manipulate the remainder of the galaxy to get more authority. He let corporate motives to breach into the Republic Senate, fuelled distrust between the well-linked political class of the central systems and the more industrial category from outer rim. Trade routes get subjected to heavier taxes to influence corporations such as Trade Federation, which led to a trade dispute resulting in an armed conflict towards the end of The Phantom Menace. Although this early dispute is resolved, it starts the divide between the government and the industry, and the more industrial systems joining hands to launch the Confederacy of Independent Systems.
Palpatine, aided by his apprentice, Count Dooku, further fuelled the fears of an armed conflict, making Dooku a figurehead for the Confederacy. The Republic decided to start a debate related to the Military Creation Act, a decision which was bound to unleash a full-scale galactic war. After the Confederacy’s huge battle droid foundry is revealed on Geonosis, Palpatine gets the power to raise an army (easily since the clones were already built).
At a time when the galaxy was siding with Palpatine, the Jedi Order had become complacent and arrogant. They were considered to be politically neutral peacekeepers, however, they were based on Coruscant, and they had such close ties with Chancellor Palpatine as well as the Republic Senate, that they were pretty much like a government branch, and the Jedi playing the role of Generals who led the Republic armies into the Clone Wars.
Further, the Jedi had become obsessed with the prophecy about Chosen One, a mythical being expected to restore the Force balance. Whether the Chosen One was Anakin or not (Star Wars fans are divided about it), the prophecy created a hurdle for the Jedi. Instead of going out and establishing the Force balance, they passed on the responsibility to the prophesized Chosen One.
Palpatine pointed towards Jedi failing in principle and managed to destroy Anakin’s faith in the Jedi order. Ultimately the Jedi let Palpatine to maneuver them into a corner where they tried to dethrone him, a step which convinced Anakin that he was not wrong in doubting them. Palpatine might have been a Sith, but, he was the only one who stayed honest with him and the only one who offered him the chance to save Padme.
Thus, it was obvious that Anakin fell, the Jedi fell, and the Republic went down too, leading to the ascendance of Emperor Palpatine and his new apprentice, Darth Vader, as the ruler of the Galactic Empire.
Tragically, the Jedi’s failure doesn’t get resolved in the original trilogy. Luke wins and redeems Vader, Yoda, and Obi-Wan, the last few members of the Jedi Order, continue their wait for the Chosen One to protect the Jedi. Obi-Wan felt it was Luke. However, Yoda believed Leia to be the future. Both support Luke’s efforts to kill Vader and believed that only by defeating Vader can the Jedi be successful. Obi-Wan and Yoda are no doubt become very wise in the ripe old age, but, it displayed that they both were not able to fully comprehend the reasons leading to Jedi’s failure. Yoda does understand that “wars not make one great,” and cautions Luke against taking the Emperor lightly, the way he did during their fight in the Republican Senate Chambers, however, he still believed that battle, not reconciliation, is the best solution.
Luke might win the battle, but, the Jedi Order couldn’t be redeemed, and the events across the trilogies didn’t do much good. Luke kept repeating the same mistakes that Jedi had made before him. Luckily, The Last Jedi resolves this, concludes Luke’s story, redeems Jedi Order and finally finishes the story that began in the prequel trilogy.
HOW THE LAST JEDI CONCLUDES THE STORY OF THE PREQUELS
Luke, despite being the guy who beat the Emperor and saved Anakin by tossing out his lightsaber, and refusing to battle, became prey to the same problems that had plagued the old Jedi Order. At the start, he spotted potential in Ben and believed he could train him, and he will become the Chosen One who restores balance. Things went down a wrong path, and once he realizes the darkness in Ben, he becomes afraid and contemplates murdering his nephew to avoid another Vader being created, eventually leading to Ben become Kylo. It was just the same story of how the Jedi’s lack of trust in Anakin pushed him towards Darth Sidious.
The Last Jedi had the dominant theme which showed each character failing to execute their mission for most parts of the film, and succeeding only to face unforeseen outcomes. This theme was visible in several individual character arcs; it was most prevalent in Luke’s case. The veteran Jedi Master is well-versed with the earlier failures of the Jedi Order and remorseful of his being a part of this failure, however, instead of trying to set things right, he abandoned the Force and wished to die in exile on Ahch-To, thus, taking the Jedi Order to grave with him.
Despite Rey’s arrival which promised a brighter future, Luke was only afraid of her power, just the old Jedi was afraid in the case of Anakin, and he was afraid of Ben. Sadly, it was the same decision which had initially led to Jedi Order pushing Anakin down the path of becoming Vader, and that made Luke afraid of giving any training to Rey. She eventually comes to believe that she could save Ben and leaves Ahch-To.
The good thing was that Yoda had learned a new lesson after the Jedi’s failure. He reminds Luke of Obi-Wan’s initial words “let go, Luke,” and reminded him that “the greatest teacher, failure is.” Luke lost Ben Solo, but, there was no need for him to lose Rey. The biggest “burden of all masters” is to become “what they grow beyond.”
This was the teaching which compelled Luke to return to the battle. However, the summarizing moment was created by Rose Tico when she saved Finn from a suicidal mission. Poe, Finn, Luke, and Rey, have all embarked on some kind of suicidal mission in The Last Jedi. However, each outcome seems to demand more cost than the worth. Poe ended up blowing up his squadron during his raid on the dreadnaught, leaving the Resistance; Finn introduced DJ to the First Order, who then revealed the Resistance’s plan; Luke abandoned the galaxy without a Jedi Order in position during its time of crisis; and Rey abandoned her training to get manipulated by Snoke. Finn could have succeeded in taking out the battering ram canon if his suicide mission had been successful, but, the cost would have been immense especially when the Resistance was already short of heroes. Rose told him “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” That was exactly the lesson which Luke should have learned towards the climax of Return of the Jedi.
As soon as that line is said, the setback stop. Luke appears on the scene to halt the progress of the First Order, Poe figures out that it was time to escape to fight some other day. Rey used the Force to unblock the exit, and the remaining members of the Resistance make a great escape on the Falcon where it was also disclosed that Rey had taken away the Jedi books from Ahch-To. It becomes irrelevant whether Rey was the Chosen One or not because she has taken upon herself the responsibility of restoring Force balance, something that the Jedi Order should have done a long time back.
The final moment of victory was also the moment when Yoda, Luke, and the old Jedi Order redeemed themselves, leaving to Rey to start afresh (a start that will, unfortunately, require modification due to the untimely demise of Carrie Fisher). Although Rey still has to undertake her personal journey of growth, unlike Luke, she is not burdened by the old Jedi Order and is in a position to rectify things. Maybe there will come a time again when the Jedi will become the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy far, far away.