By Jack Dignan
In its 40 years of existence, the Star Wars saga has evolved into so much more than just another successful film franchise. The series has become almost a way of life. Just last week, I and 70,000 other enthusiastic fans made our way out to the Orange County Convention Centre over in Orlando to attend the 12th official Star Wars Celebration. Having just returned from my American vacation, and hence the reason this and so many other articles and reviews are so late, I decided I needed to discuss not only that fantastic Last Jedi trailer, which I will get into in just a minute, but also my wonderful experience that I had at this year’s celebration.
If you’re planning on attending a Star Wars Celebration in the near future, which I would certainly recommend for Star Wars fans of all shapes and sizes, it should be noted that when paying for your ticket, you’re essentially paying to spend inhumanly long hours waiting in line. And it’s worth it. Each panel I was fortunate enough to attend, whether it’s the actual thing or a live stream, proved to be insightful, joyous and thoroughly entertaining. The 40th anniversary panel kicked the celebration off phenomenally, bringing to the stage almost every major player from the original trilogy, as well as newer generations of cast members and creators. From George Lucas to Harrison Ford, the excitement never stopped. Plenty of hilarious stories were exchanged, as well as entertaining banter, giving explanation behind some of the best (and worst) moments in Star Wars history. Plus… y’know… John Williams performed live, which was the coolest, most unexpected thing ever.
Other standout panels included the Star Wars Rebels panel, where not only was the first trailer for Season 4 released (which looks freaking unreal), but creator Dave Filoni also showed everyone in attendance the first episode of the final season. The episode, which features everything from Mandalorian battle sequences to flying Jedi on jetpacks, was the perfect way to kick the season off, and as it’s only part 1 of 2 I cannot wait to see how this first story concludes. Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels also managed to steal the show for me, as both of their panels were an utter delight to watch. Daniels is a larger than life performer, and his panel was a non-stop laugh fest. Hamill, as well, is an absolute national treasure. If his panel were to go on for another seven hours, I would’ve been immensely satisfied.
Before I delve into The Last Jedi and all its awesomeness, I just want to give a huge shout-out to every single Star Wars fan I was fortunate enough to talk to throughout celebration. I was able to have some of the nerdiest conversations I’ve had in quite some time, freaking out with fellow fans while discussing all things Star Wars, and every one of you made waiting in line so much more fun than it had any right to be. Plus, Star Wars Celebration saw, at long last, the meeting of fellow DCM writer, Chris Campo, and myself. I’m pleased to announce that Chris is even more awesome than I knew he would be, and that I won’t be firing him any time soon. Now, without further to do, it’s time to discuss what’s probably the only reason a lot of you are actually reading this article. And that is The Last Jedi.
If I were to describe The Last Jedi panel in just one word, it would be spectacular. While there weren’t as many surprise guests or musical performances from John Williams as there were in the 40th Anniversary Panel, the two, in my opinion, are on par with one another in terms of quality. Rian Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy led the panel, which was hosted by the always-hilarious Josh Gad, and it needs to be said that Rian Johnson is absolute class act. The man clearly loves Star Wars. But what’s more than that is that he clearly loves his fans just as much as we love him. While I didn’t wait in line overnight to get into the panel, although kind of wish I did, all of those who were brave enough to do so found themselves pleasantly surprised when Johnson made his way through the line to talk to each and every one of them. If that isn’t dedication to one’s fan base, I don’t know what is.
As the panel continued, and a plethora of fascinating behind the scenes images and tidbits were released, the energy in the panel was off the charts. Everyone was thrilled. More and more guests continued to flood out, and while I was only in a live stream, every new guest brought with them thunderous applause. Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, newcomer Kelly Marie Tran and even BB8 all made their way out onto the stage, and it’s a panel I would highly recommend checking out on the Star Wars YouTube channel. With the panel coming to a close, Rian Johnson started looking even giddier than he already did. A smile spread across his face, he leans into the microphone and announces “we have for you guys the first teaser… poster.” Sighs of disappointment are met throughout the entire audience. It was one of the single funniest moments in all of Celebration. Those sighs, however, were soon replaced with cheers of joy when the gorgeous one sheet was revealed, followed shortly by the announcement that every one in attendance would be receiving one.
But hey, the panel can’t end there. “Of course we have a trailer!” He yells with delight shortly after, and the crowd went nuts. As the room dimmed, the first official trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi graced our eyes, and what a sight to behold. Every single frame took my breath away. The graciousness and visual depth Johnson is able to capture is simply sublime. “Breathe… just breathe…” Luke says through narration, the first official words we’ve heard his character say in this new trilogy. “Now, reach out,” he continues, as we get a shot of Rey seated on the island, her hand touching the ground as a group of small rocks fly up into the air. “What do you see?” He whispers. It was from this moment that the trailer went from really good to really freaking great.
One of the criticisms The Force Awakens faced, something I don’t agree with in the slightest, is that Kylo Ren’s character wasn’t nearly as impactful without the mask on. Personally, I loved the humanity and character insight brought forth without his helmet, although all those who have a problem with it are going to need to sit down when they hear this news. Kylo’s helmet is no more. And I love it. At first, the broken helmet seen in the trailer looked to be Vader’s, but on second viewing I was proved otherwise. It’s Kylo’s. There’s no doubt about. Now armed with an Anakin-looking scar across his right eye, Kylo looks to be fueled with rage, even more so than in The Force Awakens. The shot of him twisting his famous cross guard lightsaber is an intimating, visceral sight to behold, further proving that he’s a Star Wars villain not to be messed with. If his character didn’t threaten you already, it’s safe to guess that he definitely will be after seeing this movie.
Balance within the force is an ideal that’s been sought after for almost every film now. “Without the Jedi, there can be no balance in the force,” said Lor San Tekka shortly before getting a lightsaber to the face. It appears this way of thinking may not be entirely truthful, for finding balance in the force is more than just the Jedi and the Sith. “Light. Darkness. The balance.” Rey’s words, of course, could merely be taken as it has been for this entire franchise’s history, but I feel there’s a little more to it than that. And so does Luke when he follows up her statement with “It’s so much bigger.” The Last Jedi’s title seems to be alluding not necessarily to the death of all Jedi, but more so an evolution into something more. Something bigger. Maybe not necessarily by the end of this film specifically, but perhaps by the time Episode IX is done, all force users will have found a balance within themselves, using both the light and dark sides of the force to achieve unlimited power.
“It’s time for the Jedi… to end.” And end they may. So many clues were planted throughout the panel, painting part of a bigger picture that we’re not going to be able to see in its entirety until December. On stage, Daisy Ridley pointed out that meeting your heroes may not always be as you expect, and Mark Hamill has pointed out a few times lately that the Luke we see in this movie is a Luke we haven’t seen before. Rey may have found Luke in the hopes of becoming a Jedi, but it seems Luke may have a different way of thinking. Luke has trained Jedi before, and evidentially it didn’t go well, as told in The Force Awakens through Kylo’s backstory (which we might be seeing on film this time around as Rian Johnson has confirmed the film will feature flashbacks). With Rey, I can’t imagine he’ll want to make the same mistakes twice, so a new type of force user seems likely.
Even the poster suggests the idea of finding balance within oneself. Rey’s lightsaber transitions upwards from blue to red, combining together both sides of the force in one, unified blade. While we more than likely won’t be seeing a two-coloured blade in The Last Jedi, it’s interesting to note that an early concept design for Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens had him wielding a double sided lightsaber similar to Maul, except with one blue blade and one red blade. Personally, I don’t think Rey will be crafting her own lightsaber until Episode IX, but if we were to see it in this film, it wouldn’t surprise me if she crafted something similar to Ahsoka’s white one in Star Wars Rebels. It’s a lightsaber that’s neither light nor dark, however Ahsoka isn’t the only character in Star Wars canon to take advantage of both sides of the force.
Okay, so maybe Mace Windu doesn’t *exactly* harness both sides of the force, as he is undeniably a Jedi, but the dude’s just so awesome that he has his own style of fighting. Within the Star Wars universe, there are 7 different ways to fight using a lightsaber, a detailed explanation of which can be found here. Mace Windu exclusively uses the seventh, and it’s this way of fighting that gives him his purple lightsaber. When facing an opponent, he channels their anger and uses it against them, essentially harnessing the dark side of the force and using it against his enemies. His style of fighting doesn’t directly correlate to finding balance in the force, but it’s interesting to see that the idea of a central character finding balance within the force and taking advantage of both light and dark is an idea that’s been played around with for a number of years now. Lucasfilm could finally be following through with this long thought of idea with The Last Jedi, and it’s fairly safe to say I’m excited.
All in all, this year’s Star Wars Celebration was one hell of a good time. As it was my first experience with Celebration, I wasn’t 100% sure what I was getting into, but I certainly enjoyed myself. Learning new information about the Star Wars universe is always fun, but when getting to share that experience with fellow fans, as well as spending thousands of dollars on exclusive merchandise, it just makes the whole thing worthwhile. For no matter how bad things may be in the real world, thank god Star Wars exists to take our minds off such pressing matters. The Last Jedi has the potential to become one of the greatest Star Wars films yet, and I can’t wait to spend the next 8 months speculating about what’s to come. Big thanks to Disney and Lucasfilm for hosting an awesome celebration, and for everyone reading right now, may the force be with you.
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