Opinion | Wednesday, 13th December 2017

Star Wars: ‘The Last Jedi’ could be the darkest episode yet

Film lecturer and Star Wars fan Dr Sorcha Ni Fhlainn previews the hotly anticipated release

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi is out in cinemas on Friday

By Sorcha Ni Fhlainn, Senior Lecturer in Film Studies and American Studies

By now I am sure you are aware that Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in cinemas this week. The highly anticipated sequel to J.J Abrams’ smash-hit The Force Awakens (2015) continues the ongoing saga of the remaining Jedi and the Resistance, united in their stand against the fascistic First Order.

Like other fans of the series, I too am eagerly awaiting the familiar twists and turns of the Star Wars universe, the collision of the familiar and the unexpected in a universe which has thankfully been refashioned to continue the adventures of beloved characters from the original trilogy, and rescued from George Lucas’s poor ‘prequels’ over a decade ago.

Of particular interest to me is the excitement a Star Wars sequel still has the power to generate forty years after its inception. Growing up in the golden age of direct sequelisation largely prompted by advances in the home rental market during the 1980s, and a proud member of the Xennial generation raised on the delights of rewatching films on VHS, new revenue streams emerged and significantly shifted the marketing of popular Hollywood entertainment.

Sequels more popular than ever

By the end of the 1980s, a mere ten years after The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the darkest and best of Lucas’s original trilogy, sequelisation had become an embedded revenue strategy for blockbuster films, adding roman numerals to popular titles aplomb with the promise of both familiarity and new adventures.

This strategy of outward narrative-universe expansion dominates much of studio output today, including other Star Wars spin off narratives such as last year’s hit Rogue One (2016) and the upcoming Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), a significant reversal of fortunes from earlier attempts - including the unloved Ewok spin-off material or the disastrous holiday specials from the late 70s and early 80s.

Of course, by beginning Star Wars (1977) as Episode IV, the series was in a strangely liminal position to move both backwards (prequels) and forwards (sequels), to create a whole expansion of the universe.

Trilogy rules demand a darker edge must be revisited in this cycle of sequels...Perhaps, if we’re fortunate, we may be in store for its darkest adventure yet.

By indirect design, growing up on episodes IV, V and VI, naturally prompted desires for episodes I, II and III (the prequels), and now, forty years later, we will be furnished with the completion of its sequels (The Force Awakens (VII), The Last Jedi (VIII) and the as-yet untitled Star Wars IX (in 2019). All of these narratives lead back to Lucas’s original trilogy. 

For Star Wars: The Last Jedi director and screenwriter Rian Johnson, the stakes are remarkably high. A young and accomplished director, whose acclaimed debut film Brick (2005) and later exceptional work on Breaking Bad (including its climactic episode ‘Ozymandias’) commands significant respect, particularly as it is hoped that this instalment (like The Empire Strikes Back before) will provide a darker edge to this second sequel instalment.

Such darkness is explicitly hinted at in the trailer; its final shots imply the dark side will yet again attempt to corrupt Rey (Daisy Ridley), a skilled young Jedi at the cusp of realising her powers. Corruption of the soul is certainly a revisited theme in Johnson’s recent work, and trilogy rules demand a darker edge must be revisited in this cycle of sequels (remember, it must be thematically familiar but new). Perhaps, if we’re fortunate, we may be in store for its darkest adventure yet.

Our other Star Wars features

See the other videos and features in the series of academic commentaries on the blockbuster film franchise to coincide with the release of the latest instalment.

How Star Wars changed special effects forever - Watch VFX expert Dr Anthony Bukowski explain the developments in special effects from the original trilogy to The Last Jedi

Why Stormtroopers need a trade union - law and human rights in Star Wars
Watch law lecturer Barry Harwood discuss justice and employment in the film franchise

The fashion and costumes of Star Wars - Manchester Fashion Institute’s Alison Welsh on the style of the Star Wars universe

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