J.J. Abrams is correct in his assessment that nothing in Star Wars: The Last Jedi contradicts The Force Awakens. Released two years ago, The Last Jedi ended up becoming one of the most divisive films of the decade. Rian Johnson’s subversive and bold creative choices proved to be a lightning rod for controversy, with many fans expressing their displeasure for how the film turned out. While a lot of viewers felt The Last Jedi was the kind of refreshing franchise installment Star Wars needed to remain viable in the future, several others were quick to complain that it ruined the series beyond repair. One of the more prevalent accusations directed at Johnson was that he retconned The Force Awakens to better serve his film.
However, an argument can be made that’s a misconception; Abrams himself believes The Last Jedi didn’t derail the trilogy’s plan and simply continued the story The Force Awakens began. A lot of the perceived retcons seem to stem from the multitude of fan theories that emerged over the years, giving precedence to them over the information presented in the films themselves (or the filmmakers behind-the-scenes). Three major points of contention in The Last Jedi were Rey’s parents, Supreme Leader Snoke, and Luke Skywalker. Stripping away all the wild hypotheses and speculation – and going just on The Force Awakens – it looks like Abrams is right and isn’t just spinning things for PR purposes.
RELATED: The Best Movie Endings Of The Decade
THE LAST JEDI DID NOT RETCON REY’S PARENTAGE
After theories purporting she was Han and Leia’s child, Luke’s estranged offspring, or even the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was perhaps anticlimactic for some when The Last Jedi revealed Rey’s parents were nobodies (the film doesn’t bother to give them names) who sold Rey for drinking money and are now dead in the Jakku desert. It was the most difficult thing Rey could have heard at that time; she essentially spent her entire life waiting and searching for her parents, and they were dead the whole time. In a way, it mirrors the famous twist in The Empire Strikes Back, because the hardest thing Luke could have heard in that moment was Darth Vader is his father. Johnson eschewed Star Wars’ penchant for making everyone related to each other, dug a little deeper, and came up with something much more impactful. He made Rey’s backstory utterly tragic, with the buried trauma of being abandoned at a young age.ADVERTISING
In fact, Johnson expanded upon a small, but important, passage of dialogue from The Force Awakens. Maz Kanata tells Rey her parents are never coming back; the belonging she desperately seeks is ahead of her, not behind. In retrospect, that was the first clue Rey’s parents were insignificant to the larger narrative. It didn’t matter who they were and it didn’t matter where Rey came from. She’s a hero because of the choices she makes, not because of her bloodline. That’s a powerful message in The Last Jedi, and one that takes Star Wars back to its roots. The two films work in unison to make Rey’s arc in the sequels to date incredibly poignant. By the end of The Last Jedi, she’s with her “family” of the Resistance and finally found the place where she belongs. How her story concludes remains to be seen, but The Force Awakens and Last Jedi complement each other.
THE LAST JEDI DID NOT RETCON SUPREME LEADER SNOKE
By his own doing, Abrams will never live down Star Trek Into Darkness’ infamous John Harrison snafu. It’s for that reason the general assumption was Supreme Leader Snoke was a cover name for someone else. In the build-up to The Force Awakens, everyone had a theory about who Snoke was and where he came from, but none of them ultimately mattered. Snoke, of course, was killed in The Last Jedi’s memorable throne room scene, sliced in half without so much a hint of backstory revealed. This was the character seemingly positioned to be the next Emperor, and it felt like Johnson had nonchalantly discarded him for the sake of a shocking twist. But what he actually did was cut dead weight that had run its course.
Few could have predicted this in 2015, when “Snoke is Darth Plagueis” theories were all the rage, but the sequel trilogy plan was always to bring Emperor Palpatine back. In the earliest days, Lucasfilm didn’t know how exactly that was going to happen, just that Star Wars 9 would see him come back. So, Palpatine is the “big bad” of the entire saga, the individual thread that ties the three trilogies together. Snoke was always a placeholder, which is probably why the movies didn’t spend too much time on him. Yes, this’ll anger some who spent a lot of time invested in theories, but again, nothing in The Last Jedi contradicts any of this. Snoke’s perceived importance was inflated by speculation, not by anything explicitly presented in the films. In fact, nobody involved with The Force Awakens claimed Snoke was anything more than… just Snoke. Regardless of who made Star Wars 8, getting rid of Snoke to make way for Palpatine was likely in the cards.
THE LAST JEDI DID NOT RETCON LUKE SKYWALKER
Out of concern Luke Skywalker would overshadow the other characters, Abrams and Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan relegated the character to the film’s final scene, making a wordless cameo. Luke was still pertinent to the movie’s plot (the map to Ahch-To is the MacGuffin), but he had vanished some time before the film’s events. When The Last Jedi picked up, fans were shocked to find Luke a curmudgeonly old man, disinterested in training Rey or rejoining the fight, and believing the Jedi should end. His plan was to live out his remaining days in misery, cut off from the Force, until he ultimately had a change of heart and sacrificed himself to save the Resistance and ignite a spark of hope.
There’s no denying the broken, weary Luke in The Last Jedi is a far cry from the idealistic protagonist of the original trilogy. Time can change people, especially when they experience such severe personal failure. Besides that, it’s impossible for The Last Jedi to contradict what little Luke information there is in Force Awakens. All audiences knew was that Luke started a training temple, Kylo Ren turned to the dark side and destroyed it, and Luke went into exile after blaming himself. Abrams was the one who put Luke on Ahch-To and provided the broad strokes. Johnson filled in the specifics (namely, the Rashomon inspired flashback) and again built on the foundation Abrams set up. If Luke gallantly picked up the lightsaber and flew off with Rey in the first act, his exile would have been meaningless and contrived. Like he did with Rey’s parents, Johnson made Luke’s isolation count for something and made it the base for a compelling character arc that paid off in a rewarding manner.
While the TLJ Disowners out there are hopeful Abrams will retcon The Last Jedi in some form of course-correction, the director’s maintained he’s honoring what Johnson did and continuing the story from there. Star Wars 9 is set to tell more of the story of Rey’s parents, but it sounds like it’ll be an organic continuation, much like what Johnson did jumping off Force Awakens. That’s not going to please everyone, but then again, when something like Star Wars is involved, that’s just a foregone conclusion.
KEY RELEASE DATES:
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019