This article contains major Star Wars: The Last Jedi spoilers.
While it’s poised to make $1.2 billion worldwide, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has fared rather poorly with many fans, especially those who feel that Rian Johnson’s installment betrays what’s come before. Loose ends left over from The Force Awakens were seemingly tied up, new characters and planets were introduced, and the war between the Resistance and the First Order raged on with two action-packed battle sequences, yet there were one or two sore points that displeased a vast number of viewers, particularly the portrayal of Luke Skywalker and Rey’s unexplained powers.
Johnson, who wrote and directed The Last Jedi, has been the subject of much ire in the past few weeks. Petitions have been created and signed by thousands of angry fans – some begging Disney to erase Episode VIII from continuity and others hoping that Episode IX won’t have so many jokes – and then there’s the matter of the film’s Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes. It currently holds a 50% score, making The Last Jedi the worst Star Wars film among fans – even worse than all of the Prequels, which (objectivity be damned) seems a tad unfair to me.
However you feel about The Last Jedi, we’ve learned a few things about the making of the movie that prove that Johnson wasn’t trying to ruin your childhood with his deconstruction and criticism of the Star Wars saga, but rather was in part following a plan laid out by George Lucas himself. Indeed, Lucas had a hand in the story of The Last Jedi…
As revealed by The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (via Slashfilm), Johnson’s movie used many of the concepts Lucas first had in mind for Episode VII, specifically the story of an older, broken Luke training a young, Force-sensitive disciple named Kira (later renamed “Rey”). We know that when Disney bought Lucasfilm and the rights to Star Wars, it also purchased Lucas’ ideas for the Sequel Trilogy, which he had been planning to make himself before he decided to sell the franchise. He wrote a story treatment and planned to participate behind the scenes as a consultant when it came time to craft the story for what would eventually become The Force Awakens. Despite the fact that director J.J. Abrams eventually scrapped many of Lucas’ ideas for Episode VII, the story treatment was used as a jumping off point for a new generation of creators to create the next era of Star Wars.
According to the art book, Lucas sat in on the first creative meetings for Episode VII, which took place on Skywalker Ranch in January 2013, mere months after the Disney deal. The earliest concepts for the Jedi temple on the planet that would become Ahch-To were ironed out during these meetings as well as visualizations of what an older Luke and young Kira would look like. Lucas even approved the design for a bell-shaped structure for the Jedi temple.
Among the early designs tossed around for Luke were ones that looked pretty close to what we got in The Last Jedi as well as one or two that were a bit radical, such as a bald Skywalker who looked closer to a Buddhist monk than a shaggy hermit. Kira’s concept didn’t stray too far from the plucky young heroine we got in Rey. Her robes were a bit different, but nothing too extreme.
But Lucas’ biggest contribution to The Last Jedi was the Luke/Rey story itself, which he’d originally planned for Episode VII, as confirmed by Lucasfilm Story Group member Pablo Hidalgo on Twitter (via Comicbook.com). The idea played out much like what we saw in Johnson’s movie: Luke is down and out on a distant planet thirty years after the fall of the Empire. A new hope named Kira finds the old Jedi Master and they begin her training. We would have seen Luke struggling with his failure to stop the Jedi Killer (renamed “Kylo Ren”) from destroying his Jedi Academy. (There’s also a really intriguing concept mentioned in The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi that suggests that Luke would have been haunted by a Sith ghost during the movie.)
“[Luke] always had this potential dark side within him, being that his father was Darth Vader,” explained Lucasfilm executive creative director Doug Chiang of the character’s arc in the early days of Episode VII. “So he is really struggling with that. He ended up secluding himself in this Jedi temple on a new planet, and he’s just there meditating, reassessing his whole life. Gradually, over the arc of the movie, he rediscovers his vitality and comes back to himself.”
Eventually, Luke would have regained his mojo while teaching Kira the ways of the Force and rejoined the fight. That’s basically the skeleton of The Last Jedi‘s plot. Lucas also had a part in crafting the Kylo Ren storyline, including the fact that the villain was to be revealed as Han and Leia’s son. Hidalgo also mentioned a character named “Skyler” in his tweets who eventually became Finn.
It was screenwriter Michael Arndt’s idea to push this story to Episode VIII. While Arndt was eventually replaced by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the final draft of The Force Awakens, he came up with the basic structure of the plot, which involved the search for Luke Skywalker and “a victory lap” for Han Solo, who had always been marked for death in VII, according to The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It’s been widely reported in the past that Disney and Abrams chose not to use Lucas’ treatment for the Sequel Trilogy, deciding to craft an original story instead. The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Hidalgo’s comments indicate that this isn’t entirely true. Lucas never wrote scripts for VII, VIII, IX, which means we’ll never truly know what he intended to do with the sequels, yet he was a part of the process early on and the Sequel Trilogy still carries part of his vision.
At least one person involved with the sequels, Mark Hamill himself, is a little disappointed that Lucas hasn’t been more involved with the franchise going forward, according to an interview with Metro.
“What I wish is that [Disney] had been more accepting of [Lucas’] guidance and advice,” Hamill told Metro. “Because he had an outline for ‘7,’ ‘8,’ and ‘9’. And it is vastly different to what they have done.”
It’s safe to assume that since Lucas’ ideas for Episode VII were pushed to the next installment, the direction the story would have taken in a pre-Rian Johnson Episode VIII could have been vastly different – at the very least in terms of Luke’s ongoing arc. Perhaps we’ll get to know that story after the release of IX.
Ultimately, fans who argue that the people behind the Sequel Trilogy have veered too far away from Lucas’ original ideas for the continued adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia should fear not. Despite the fact that he’s not necessarily at the forefront of the franchise anymore, Lucas still very much influenced at least one installment in the new era of Star Wars. Is it perhaps fitting that it’s the most divisive chapter in the trilogy?
After all, The Force Awakens was meant to be a celebration of what had come before, of Lucas’ vision back in 1977. With The Last Jedi, the story finally moves on and the torch is handed over to a new generation. For good this time.