Unless you’ve been living in isolation on Ahch-To for the past six years, you probably know that we’re just days away from the release of The Last Jedi. The Last Jedi is a Star Wars movie, and it’s going to have Skywalkers and lightsabers and the Millennium Falcon and even porgs, whatever the heck they are. Hooray! But what is it going to be about?
This article includes everything you need to know before you walk into The Last Jedi, plus some stuff that you probably don’t, to be completely honest. The sections below are ordered from the most remedial to the most nerdy, so feel free to skip the start if you know your stuff – or to start right at the beginning if you’re seeing it with friends who don’t know you’re a Star Wars ignoramus.
The background: the Star Wars universe before The Force Awakens (2015)
The Last Jedi is a Star Wars movie. You’ve seen Star Wars, right?
If you haven’t, you should take time to watch some movies in the days ahead of The Last Jedi’s release. You don’t need to, because I’m about to give you the background, but you should, because (most of) the Star Wars movies are great. If you click this link, I’ll even tell you what order to watch the Star Wars movies in, which is a thing you actually have to think about with the Star Wars movies.
Anyway, here’s what you need to know about the ghosts of Star Wars movies past, which are certain to have an impact on The Last Jedi just as they did on its predecessor, The Force Awakens (spoilers follow, of course).
Star Wars (1977) establishes the most important parts of the Star Wars universe. The galaxy is ruled by the Empire (bad), but there is hope in the form of the Rebellion (good). There are also Jedi knights (good), who are monk-like warriors with lightsabers. The original Star Wars opens with an Imperial raid on a Rebellion ship. Princess Leia is captured by bad guy Darth Vader, but not before stashing plans to the Imperial super-weapon (the Death Star, of course) in a couple of robots (“droids,” in the Star Wars universe) and firing the whole package off in an escape pod. Enter Luke Skywalker, a kid on a desert planet who stumbles on the droids, finds out that the father he never knew was a Jedi knight, hitches a ride off the planet with a smuggler named Han Solo, rescued Leia (or, more accurately, she rescues him), and eventually blows up the Imperial super-weapon as Darth Vader spirals off into space in a damaged ship.
Credits roll, but the story continues. Vader’s survival (and a huge box office return) set the stage for a sequel.The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is perhaps the best Star Wars movie and features the biggest spoiler since Citizen Kane: Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father (that’s Empire’s spoiler, not Citizen Kane’s). From here on out, Star Wars is a family affair, and that family is the Skywalkers. Empire also features Luke training on a remote planet with a Jedi master (Yoda), a relationship it seems he’ll be on the other side of in The Last Jedi.
The original trilogy wraps up with Return of the Jedi (1983), which goes back to the surprise-family well with the reveal that Princess Leia is Luke’s sister and Vader’s daughter. Vader both repents and dies in Jedi. Han and Leia get together. This stuff looms large in the new movies, as you might imagine, especially since we’ve somehow gone from the Jedi Return-ing to being down to The Last Jedi. Something has gone wrong, it seems.
Before me move on, let’s talk prequels. I haven’t bothered with the episode numbers yet, but Star Wars loves its episodes. Special editions and re-releases have changed the title of Star Wars (1977) to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, and the other two are Episodes V and VI, and technically have similarly clumsy titles now. The prequels filled in the beginning with Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (the Sith are the evil Jedi with red lightsabers). They were released years after episodes IV, V, and VI, and weren’t nearly as well-received, but you knew that. They track the story of Anakin Skywalker, destined to become Darth Vader, and also prominently feature Obi-Wan Kenobi, destined to be Luke’s mentor in the original movie.
Oh, and it actually came out after The Force Awakens, but I’ll mention Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) here because of where it fits in the narrative. It’s a prequel that takes place immediately before the very first movie (i.e. between Episodes III and IV), and it isn’t really relevant to the new trilogy – though you should watch it anyway, because it is so, so dope.
More background: The Force Awakens (2015)
After two prequels that everyone hated and one prequel that only some people hated, Star Wars was revived again after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney. The first big Star Wars release of the Disney era was The Force Awakens, which serves as Episode VII, a direct continuation of Episode VI – excuse me, I mean “Star Wars: Episode VI –Return of the Jedi.”
The Force Awakens returned Star Wars to some of its old conventions, rejecting the prequel trilogy’s love for the Episode part of the title, obscure politics, and, uh, bad acting. It also features a plot that closely parallels that of the original Star Wars. Some people think the derivative plot makes The Force Awakens a terrible movie, which is a fine opinion to have and share at dinner parties, and definitely not something that makes me want to remind you that the whole plot of Star Wars was completely derivative to begin with, anyway, man, so why don’t you just relax and enjoy things?
Anyway, The Last Jedi will be a direct and immediate sequel to The Force Awakens, so you should just watch The Force Awakens. It’s just one movie! But if you really won’t, I’ll go ahead and spoil it here.
With the Empire gone, the Rebellion has established a Republic. But Luke Skywalker is missing and a new set of baddies – the First Order – is trying to re-establish the old Empire.
Once again, we meet a hero (Poe Dameron) who stashes secret stuff (part of a map that shows where Luke Skywalker is hiding) in a droid (BB-88 – the round thing) before being captured by a bad guy in black (Kylo Ren). And, once again, that droid finds a parentless hero (Rey) on a desert planet, and that hero discovers a calling.
We also meet a stormtrooper-turned-good-guy (Finn) and some heroes from the original trilogy: Han Solo, who has returned to his smuggling ways, and Leia, who goes by General instead of Princess now. It turns out that bad guy Kylo Ren is their son, but he’s obsessed with the wrong part of the family legacy – the work of his grandfather, Darth Vader. Kylo Ren is being guided by a very ugly dude named Snoke who appears as an enormous hologram.
The Force Awakens ends with a mashup of Star Wars’ greatest hits: a prison breakout on board a super weapon, a space battle to take out that station, a ground assault to take out the station’s “shields,” a lightsaber battle, and family drama. The last proves to be the biggest surprise of the movie, as Kylo Ren kills his father, Han Solo. But the good guys win out, the map to Luke gets put together, and Rey heads off to meet Luke Skywalker.
So that’s where we are now – but this raises plenty of questions.
The questions that The Last Jedi might answer
If one thing separates The Force Awakens from every other Star Wars movie, it’s that the film seemingly lacks a Skywalker at its center. All six previous movies starred either Luke or Anakin, plus extra Skywalker parents and siblings and Skywalkers-by-marriage. The Force Awakens puts its most prominent Skywalker – Kylo Ren – in the bad guy role, à la Vader, but our hero is not (necessarily) a Skywalker.
But, of course, we don’t know who Rey’s parents are. Could she be a Skywalker? Leia and Han don’t mention a daughter. Nothing has indicated that Luke has one. But Star Wars has always been about Skywalkers, and if The Force Awakens reminded a lot of people of the series’ first film, well, then there’s a certain twist that would make The Last Jedi very reminiscent of the second.
Speaking of Skywalkers, The Last Jedi is going to feature Luke pretty prominently. What’s he like these days? It seems he’ll be at least as reluctant a mentor as Yoda initially was in The Empire Strikes Back – and perhaps one that’s a good deal more cynical. Why is that? And what will his relationship with Rey be like?
Rey isn’t the only character whose origins are a mystery. Who is this Snoke dude? Is he a Sith? He’s apparently not, but if he’s not, then… well, what the heck is he?
Rey may be off meditating and training, but Poe and Finn are still in the thick of things with General Leia. They’ll be joined by newcomer Rose Tico (a resistance maintenance worker). What’s on their plate in this one? The previews are pretty short on super-weapons for them to blow up. Will The Last Jedi be a quieter, sadder affair, as Empire was?
There’s another new character that’s getting a lot of buzz: Benicio Del Toro’s character, who we don’t even have a name for yet. He’ll meet Finn and Rose at a gambling resort and may help them break a code, and that’s about all we know.
As for the rest we’ll just have to wait to find out. In the meantime, though, at least we have lots of questionable fan theories.
What happens next? Fan theories galore
A quick warning before we move forward: while the fan theories listed below are just theories, they obviously could be correct. They also involve a deeper examination of preview footage and available details than you might usually have going into a new movie. So consider this your sort-of-kind-of-spoiler warning, if you care about such things. Now, onto the theories!
- Luke is Rey's father: This is the most obvious answer to the series’ current big question. It would be tidy and would be on-brand for the series. But it wouldn’t be surprising. Does that matter?
- Rey is Leia’s kid. The only over obvious way to make Rey a Skywalker is to have her be Leia’s kid. But neither she nor Han Solo (the father of the only kid we’re sure Leia has had) seem to be looking for a long-lost daughter.
- Rey is a Kenobi. This theory is very popular, but I really don’t know why. It’s largely based on Rey’s accent, which is not exactly unique in the Star Wars universe. It’s not clear how we’d end up with Kenobi children, and using Rey to connect Obi-Wan to the new movies seems like a solution to a problem nobody thinks exists.
- · Rey is a Jinn, as in Qui-Gon from Episode I. I mean, she’s not, but it’s a real theory, so here you are.
- · Rey turns on Luke. The case for this is largely based on preview footage.
- · Luke is the bad guy. The Skywalkers don’t have a great track record for staying not-evil, and Luke has some interesting lines in the preview. He allegedly went into hiding after his pupil Kylo Ren turned to the dark side – but hey, who knows what really went on, or what happened after that? This theory meshes nicely with the Rey-fights-Luke one, but is similarly short on evidence.
- · Rey turns to the Dark Side. If not Luke, why not Rey? She has a special connection to Kylo Ren, a Star Wars has always been about falls and redemptions.
- · Kylo Ren turns to the Light Side. It’s like the Rey theory but, like, opposite! A redemption arc for Kylo Ren seems inevitable, but it could just as easily be in store for Episode IX.
- · Snoke is Darth Plagueis. See, Darth Plagueis is a Sith Lord mentioned in the prequel who – you know what? It doesn’t matter, because we already know Snoke isn’t a Sith.
Are any of these worth the bandwidth it takes to display them? That’s hard to say. All we know for sure is that they’re fun to consider, and that we’ll get at least some of the answers when we return to a galaxy far, far away on December 14th.