Note: Potential spoilers for Episode VIII (2017), massive spoilers for Marvel’s Star Wars #49 (1981)
Avid followers of Mark Hamill’s twitter feed may have noticed this rather cryptic message pop up in his feed recently.
It concerns issue #49 of the original Marvel Star Wars comic run that began in 1977, an issue that has recently become of special interest because it shares its title (The Last Jedi, should you have been living in a cave since January) with director-writer Rian Johnson’s upcoming Episode VIII. We decided to take a closer look and speculate if Hamill’s decision to directly link the comic to a presumably highly formative time in the director’s life could mean that there may be more of a link between Star Wars #49 and the next part of the Skywalker saga than just those three words.
Of course, in a franchise as packed with spinoffs and supplementary material as Star Wars is, there are only so many combinations of words that add up to a useable subtitle, so this may be nothing… but there is some form for this kind of connection in the age of the Disney and Lucasfilm Story Group.
Legends and Legacy
For example, you may remember some easter eggs emerging before The Force Awakens that linked the plot of the film to Star Wars Legacy comic from 2013. The Legacy easter egg seems to have been pretty legit. Explained in detail on Star Wars News Net, an onscreen message in Star Wars Rebels led one viewer on a trail to Star Wars Legacy v2 #9, a Dark Horse-era publication that told the story of a female character, working in a junkyard, who finds a lightsaber hidden inside a communications droid and then embarks on an adventure – pretty close to what could have been the opening of the The Force Awakens, had JJ Abrams not changed his mind about it fairly late in the day.
Admittedly, the reason for me citing the easter egg story at the time was that the comic also revealed said female character to be Ania Solo, a descendant of Han and Leia, which now seems to be an unlikely origin for her analogue, Rey. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to notice the similarities in plot between the two when they’re brought to your attention, and it remains fun to speculate on how much it may have influenced the plot of The Force Awakens.
While that was a truly well hidden egg, planted in the corner of a screen on Star Wars Rebels, Hamill’s recent tweet and Johnson’s title give us two explicit links between Star Wars #49 (which sits firmly under the non-canonical ‘Legends’ label) and the next Star Wars movie. Is that just a bit too obvious, or could there be something more to it than a catchy three-word coincidence?
Before we dive down that rabbit hole, let’s first deal with a story that emerged shortly before the title of the film was released a month or so ago that could put this in some additional context. A tidbit that you may have missed. Specifically, the story that Rian Johnson had been sitting on the title of Episode VIII since the very first draft of his script.
As he tells it, there was no workshopping or committee involved in choosing the title, no shortlist of options filtered through the Disney marketing department; The Last Jedi was always called that, from the first moment he put pen to paper. Probably, we suspect, well before he started to commit to a story… But was it nigh-on 40 years before? Let’s see…
The Last Jedi’s story
The first The Last Jedi is set after Empire. It was published in April 1981, coming four issues after Marvel finished its graphic serialisation of Episode V, in issue #45 (to ‘double-bag’ its place in the timeline, Luke notes his cybernetic hand in one scene). It begins with Luke and Leia on a mission to a mysterious planet in search of the source of a distress signal. A signal that they believe will lead them to something that offers “the means to turn an entire solar system against the Empire.” That something is actually someone, however: the long-lost Prince Denid of Velmor, heir to the throne of a planet coveted by both sides of the galactic civil war.
Thus, it falls to Luke and Leia to return Denid to his homeworld, stop the ascension of his pro-Imperial younger brother to the throne, and ensure Velmor aligns with the Rebel cause, something they hope will in-turn influence many other planets to follow suit. Of course, it’s not that simple.
Once the group reach Velmor – with Leia and Luke disguised as Denid’s fiance, and a bounty hunter who discovered them, respectively – Imperial forces are already embedded on the planet. What’s more, they are exerting influence over the would-be King – Denid’s younger brother, Anod – through an alliance with the incumbent Regent, Zelor.
Zelor, we’re told, has been ruling Velmor since covertly organising an insurgency that led to the death of the Anod and Denid’s parents, and forced Denid to flee the planet. Now, however, with Anod of an age to take his rightful place as monarch, and with the unexpected return of Denid, Zelor has two challenges to his position of power. Unwilling to relinquish the throne, he pulls strings behind the scenes in an attempt to rid himself of both heirs to the throne, the fiance, the bounty hunter, and the Imperial oversight of Captain Zeta Traal, by setting them against each other – unaware of the true identity of two of those he is dealing with.
Dubrovnik in Space
And thus the speculation starts, specifically relating to whether we could see any link between this convoluted plotline and the role that the location filming in Dubrovnik will play in Episode VIII. Visually, one can easily see the location playing host to something not-unlike the city of Den Velmor in #49. Also, rumors of Hunger Games-esque costuming, and the reports on Benecio Del Toro’s potentially villainous ‘man in black’ could certainly sit within any scenery that echoes of the Oz-like stylings of Velmor’s 70s Marvel-style incarnation, and that the staging that the set pics coming out of the Croatia seemed to hint at.
Similarly, if rumors suggesting that del Toro’s ‘Tug’ character is an officer of the New Republic, but also a villain – as he has described himself – are in the right ballpark, that could set him up in a role similar to Zelor: a man eager to align himself with The First Order in an attempt at a power grab. That power grab could perhaps be at the expense of Laura Dern’s character, that rumors suggest could be in line to take control of The Resistance following an attempt on Leia’s life early in the film.
We’re also told that Finn, potentially alongside Poe and a character played by Kelly Marie Tran, spend a significant portion of the plot hunting down the assassin that targeted Leia, starting on the planet Dubrovnik is depicting. This is a progression of events that could put them in a similar position to Luke and Leia on Velmor. While you can make your own ‘shipping’ jokes about that (a sub-plot to #49 is Luke’s jealousy over Prince Denid charming Leia, and eventually proposing to her – and we all know what the internet thinks about Poe x Finn), what I’m referring to is that they would potentially be moving around a strange planet, in disguise, caught up within its own political machinations that also feed into a wider galactic power struggle.
Moving swiftly on, it’s time to get to the most interesting character in Marvel’s The Last Jedi. It’s someone I haven’t mentioned yet: Jedidiah – Jedi, for short. He is a Velmoc (an insectoid race indigenous to Velmor) and a trusted companion of Prince Denid who, we’re told, has protected the Prince during his long exile. More interestingly, though, Jedidiah is force sensitive, and was once a candidate for Jedi training who refused to take up his place as part the Order having foreseen Zelor’s treachery and the need for him to protect the young Prince.
The tragedy of Jedidiah is that, in saving the Prince from their crash landing on the planet where they have been trapped, he sustained injuries that “robbed him of his reason,” leaving him only with memories of “his lost dream of becoming a Jedi Knight…”, after which, “he entered a fantasy world from which he has never returned.”
In short, he’s a crazy old alien, lost in his own world that makes little sense to anyone but himself. A world of honor, and courage, and the values of the now-gone Jedi, and in which he is entrusted with the protection of Denid. Luke, however, having apparently learned little from his first encounter with Yoda, is not impressed with this, and treats Jedidiah with an attitude little short of disdain. At first less-than-impressed that he didn’t answer the call of the Jedi, he later tells Threepio to “keep this crazy old guy away from me” as he will “have enough trouble without babysitting him.”
That dismissive stance is, once again, one that he comes to regret when, at the story’s denouement, Jedidiah connects with Luke via the force and rushes to selflessly save the young would-be Jedi’s life, at the price of his own. Leaving Luke to realise what he lost by not being more respectful of the aging, somewhat looney, Velmoc.
“Somehow, this valiant old man found the strength and the wits to save my life… but lost his…”, he says, before adding that “He did that for me… Though I scorned him and derided him in my heart! He lost his life, and I lost him!”
The last Skywalker?
While rumors regarding Johnson’s The Last Jedi have so-far hinted that Luke Skywalker survives the story, and will appear in Episode IX, there is a distinct possibility that – not unlike Yoda after his decades of exile – the Luke that Rey finds on Ach-To is not exactly what she was expecting of a Jedi master. Hamill and Daisy Ridley were certainly riffing on that idea when they posted the now-infamous picture of him in Yoda-as-backpack pose during down-time in filming.
Could Luke’s experiences, not least The Knights of Ren laying waste to his dream of creating a new Jedi order and his time (presumably) alone on Ach-To, have sent him into a hermit-like rambling form of madness similar to that of Jedidiah? If so, what effect could the rumoured arrival of Rey, and eventually Kylo Ren, have on him? Not good, by quite a few accounts.
Again, it’s certainly easy to imagine a plot where a frustrated Rey has shown less and less respect to Luke during her training, disappointed in the gap between the Skywalker Legend on which she was raised and the reality she is living, only to regret that attitude after Luke steps in to save the save the day. Perhaps by sacrificing himself in some profound way to protect her, or her friends, through some example of true Jedi power. Could Rey have to come to a epiphany in her The Last Jedi similar to that which Luke does in the comic?
We’re not necessarily talking about Skywalker making the ultimate sacrifice that Jedidiah makes, but we’re not ruling it out either. If Star Wars has proven one thing, it’s that death is no indication as to whether or not a character will appear in a subsequent movie – and any rumour insisting that Hamill will appear in Episode IX should carry this as a nota bene.
The last words, plural
On the final story page of Star Wars #49, Luke delivers a short soliloquy over Jedidiah’s coffin where he admits “I thought you were a crazy old man, but I was wrong, Yours was the soul of a true Jedi Knight… The Last Jedi… I pray that I meet death as valiantly as you did…”
Though it is a poetic ending to the story, and stands as a great piece of Star Wars dialogue that would be graced by Daisy Ridley’s delivery – and probably sit comfortably in any of the films – it bears pointing out that it isn’t necessarily factually correct. At least not from a certain point of view.
At the approximate timeline point at which Marvel’s The Last Jedi story sat (notwithstanding its non-canonical status), though Luke is “not a Jedi yet”, Yoda was still alive. However, as has been widely pointed out, Jedi is a plurale tantum – the plural of Jedi is also Jedi – so neither the title of that story, nor the new film, necessarily refer to just one character.
We’re not going to open that can of worms right now, though.
The chances of The Last Jedi closely reflecting the plot of a comic from 1981 are, frankly, zero. There will be no Wampa-like monster emerging from the jungle to confront Luke, no Oz-like civilisation with Insectoid co-habitants, no Anod, no Zalor. However, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that certain elements may be reflected in it, if – as is also possible – Rian Johnson, or someone with the Lucasfilm inner circle, has come across this comic before.
Hamill’s tweet, and his #EverythingOldIsNewAgain hashtag, may just be him showing off his geek chops by noting the clash of names – indeed, that’s a very likely, if not the most likely explanation. However, in a universe where Simon Kinberg and Dave Filoni are actively deep diving Legends material for Rebels, fringe characters from The Clone Wars cartoon are promoted to starring roles in Star Wars anthology movies, canonical instalments are getting made by Lucas-nerds like JJ Abrams and Gareth Edwards, and the cross-pollinating Star Wars universe is being driven by alpha-fanboys like Pablo Hidalgo, that a title, character and plot points a writer/director remembers from a 1981 comic he read when he was seven years old could turn up in a 2017 movie suddenly seems a possibility. What a time to be alive, eh?
This is all speculation, of course, but interesting nonetheless.