SPOILERS, YO. You have been warned.
I’m going to get right to it and say I loved The Last Jedi. I’m not really interested in arguing whether or not it’s a good installment, because I think it’s so provocative that the question almost doesn’t matter. Among the more provocative choices made for the film was the reveal (or at least the suggestion, if it proves to be untrue) that Rey is not of a noble Jedi bloodline, but instead the descendant of, essentially, space junkies. It contradicts two years of feverish dorkly musings, internet bubbling, and fan theories, and stomps on the audience’s expectations for the new trilogy. It’s a move I find brilliant, meaningful, and ballsy.
It also has pretty tremendous implications for the Saga as a whole. To speculate about them, however, we first have to make some big assumptions.
Let’s first assume that Rey is indeed not a Skywalker. Second, let’s assume that in the end, The First Order will be vanquished, as I’m sure most of us expect. Finally, let’s assume that it will come down to a final showdown between our protagonist, Rey, and her arch villain which, given the events of The Last Jedi, seems like it will be Kylo Ren.
The result of such a film would cast a very negative final light on the Skywalker family, a family which, generation after generation, succumbs to the dark side. Anakin, obviously, becomes Darth Vader and helps Palpatine impose a generation of oppression on the galaxy. Luke, though ultimately benevolent, fails his nephew through his own hubris, thus creating Kylo Ren, and then ignores the situation until The First Order has grown too powerful. And then, of course, Ren himself, an impulsive, destructive kid who helps the first order commit mass genocide. The only true light on the team is Leia, who spends her entire life resisting the tyranny created by the family’s men. If we were to put the deeds of the Skywalkers into ethical units, what you get is a crew pretty deeply in the red.
Enter Rey, the real kid destined to bring balance to the force. She’s not a Skywalker, and if the assumptions we mentioned above prove true, the one sentence summary of the Star Wars saga could read something like “Awful family inflicts decades of war, loss, and misery on an entire galaxy until a smart young kid comes and gives them what-for.” Just as the prequels shifted the focus of the entire saga from Luke to Anakin, the presence of a non-Skywalker hero in the latter third of the saga shifts focus away from the Skywalkers entirely, like a wrestling match for the grand scope of the series.
Before The Last Jedi was released I had a conversation with my brother who expressed anxiety at the popular speculation that Luke was going to turn out to be evil. He said he had too much emotionally invested in Luke as a good guy to stomach such a reversal. But one of the things I loved so much about The Last Jedi was that it called out the temptation to align our heroes with moral good. Even Anakin is humanized and made to seem well meaning as he kills . . . younglings. The Skywalker men have always been morally compromised. Yes, they have had little redemptions to remind us that they have good in them, and I expect that Kylo, too, will have a moment of redemption. But it would be a stretch to say that their redemptions balance out the harm they’ve caused on others either directly or indirectly. And in the end, the one to ultimately restore justice and balance to the galaxy will not be a Skywalker. Like it or not, regardless of each Skywalker’s intentions, they cannot be called the good guys in this galaxy. Not if Rey isn’t secretly one of them.
There is, of course, the possibility that Rey is a Skywalker, and that Kylo Ren tried to manipulate her there, in front of Snoke’s steaming corpse. We’ll find out in Episode IX that, like her parents and grandparents, she was lied to about her origins and place in the universe. If that’s the case, we will have a saga with much more positive light shed on this melodramatic, destructive space family. At the very least, it will be a family that always course corrects when it inevitably throws the galaxy into chaos. Even so, we might do well as fans to listen to one of the primary messages of the The Last Jedi: the force, like real-world morality, is not black and white, and idolizing someone as inherently good only leads to repeated cycles, the endless tug-of-war of good versus evil, which in itself is a kind of evil.
It strikes me as somewhat fitting that the character most at peace in The Last Jedi is DJ, the amoral hacker impeccably portrayed by Benicio del Toro. Something that characterizes the performance is even in moments of stress, when Finn and Rose are under pressure, he is cool, collected, even a little aloof. His character operates outside of the tense morality of the saga, and makes the story all a little less fantastical, and a little more human. As such, he serves as the perfect embodiment of what I loved so much about The Last Jedi. It offers us our first real admission that our beloved characters, universe, and indeed, our childhood nostalgia are more complex than we’ve been willing to accept.