I’ve been thinking a bit more about the broad stroke differences between TLJ and the rest of the saga, particulary the OT, and why some find TLJ refreshing, while others reject it. So, for a change I’m not going to talk about Rey’s Force powers, or Luke’s characterization, but more about in-universe history, and how that affects the story.
I think it is fair to say the OT is steeped in melancholy, and powerful connections to the past. The entire premise of ANH is to defeat the evil Empire, and to return the galaxy to a previous state, the fabled Old Republic. Luke is largely driven by the legend of his father, who’s friend Obi-Wan promises to teach him about an all but forgotten religion that both he and Luke’s father were a part of. The rest of the trilogy is largly set up such that Luke needs to vanguish the enemies of old, Darth Vader, and the Emperor, and avoid the pitfalls, that caused Vader, later revealed to be his father, to turn on his friend, and join the dark side.
To a large degree TFA operates in the same way. It treats Luke Skywalker as a legend of old, that both the heroes and villains are looking for. Luke went looking for the first Jedi temple, a place presumably steeped in Jedi history. It’s hinted, that Rey has a strong connection to the past, and Kylo Ren, who’s directly related to two other legends of the past, Han and Leia, was seduced to the dark side by some mysterious larger than life old anti-Yoda figure. Both Rey and Kylo Ren are struggling with their past, and the film ends with Kylo severing one of the links to his past by killing a past legend, while Rey connects with it by finding a past legend.
TLJ completely breaks with this Star Wars tradition. It actively deflates the past by telling us the history and legends we cherish are not as great as we want to believe. It actively cuts almost all ties to the past by killing off the remaining classic heroes (Leia technically not in the film), and even the links to the past TFA introduced. The mysterious Snoke is unceremoniously cast aside, and the secret of Rey’s past is, that she has no past, at least not one that’s relevant to her future. The family connection between good and evil that drove the OT and TFA is all but ignored, and then finally killed for good, when Leia gives up on her son, and Luke dies. What remains is a conflict between new heroes and new villains, that either killed their past, or don’t really have one.
It’s a bold move, which is sadly undercut by a strict adherence to the OT aesthetic and the OT’s basic premise of an Empire versus a small band of rebels. The question is why did the creators and by extension Disney decide to reboot the franchise, whilst also severing most connections to the past? My theory is, that it was done to make Star Wars more accessible to the general audience. Most of us hardcore fans will see the movies anyway. I know I probably will, despite my lack of enthousiasm. Anyone without much knowledge of Star Wars history will be able to see and enjoy episode IX. It’s starting point is similar to episode IV. There’s an evil Empire led by an evil maniac, a struggling rebellion led by an aspiring Jedi, and it looks like it’s part of the Star Wars brand. You need not know more.
It IS a bold move and one in which I think needed to happen for SW to evolve.