“I need someone to show me my place in all this,” says Rey, the hero of the new Star Wars trilogy and the presumed good-guy heir to Luke Skywalker. A helping hand is extended to her—by Kylo Ren, the presumed bad-guy heir to Darth Vader.
So ends the latest trailer for The Last Jedi, the eighth film of the main Star Wars saga (not counting efforts like the spin-off Rogue One from last year). Details about Rian Johnson’s sequel to 2015’s The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams and Disney’s record-smashing reboot of the franchise, have been understandably sparse, and the latest preview doesn’t fill in a whole lot of new plot information. It does throw the fandom some prime-cut daydreaming material and merchandise bait: hulking “Gorilla Walkers,” the craggiest glimpse yet at Supreme Leader Snoke, glimmering icicle foxes, a sickeningly adorable Porg. It also hints at some darkly tinged themes—including the prospect of shifting alliances.
If The Force Awakens reused much of the structure of the very first Star Wars film, it stands to reason the follow-up will somehow echo The Empire Strikes Back. Already, some call-backs are obvious. Four-legged war machines descended from the ones that bore down on Hoth in the 1980 film appear, now, on a different sort of white planet: presumably the salt flats of Crait, a location introduced in recent Star Wars books. Luke Skywalker’s training sequence with Yoda on Dagobah would seem to have an analogue in Rey being tutored by a much older Luke on Ahch-To, the water planet where The Force Awakens left off.
But the most interesting flip may be in the closing image of Kylo Ren reaching for Rey. The iconic climax of The Empire Strikes Back had Darth Vader revealing his parentage of Luke, then offering his hand, asking his son to join him in ruling the galaxy. Luke, of course, screamed “no” and threw himself after his severed limb, tumbling through the exhaust shaft of Cloud City. But in the new movie, it seems nu-Luke at some point asks nu-Darth for help.
For some, this revelation will come as confirmation: After The Force Awakens, a not-insignificant segment of the Star Wars fan-fiction community started imagining Rey and Ren ending up getting together, romantically and/or spiritually. Partly that “-ship” came out of simple rooting preferences, but it was also informed by scenes of intimate sparring in The Force Awakens—and the intriguing duality represented by the family-less, allegiance-free Rey and the heritage-trapped, proudly tribal Ren. Today, the #Reylo Tumblr tag is atwitter thanks to the trailer hinting that these two young stars could become something other than enemies, though with plenty of caveats that the relevant scene could be a fake-out, false start, or dream sequence.
Luke Skywalker appears shattered and afraid, and as Yoda always said, fear is the path to the Dark Side.
Any fan will tell you that the temptation between dark and light has always been the core theme of Star Wars. But it was somewhat buried in the original trilogy, with the two big Luke/Darth battles in the second and third movies very sneakily tracking a villain turning to good. The prequel saga, by contrast, explicitly followed the arc of good becoming bad. For the latest series, something more complicated may be going on. Luke Skywalker appears shattered and afraid—presumably wary of Rey repeating Kylo Ren’s murderous betrayal—and as Yoda always said, fear is the path to the Dark Side. Kylo Ren appears to face the opportunity to blow up his mother’s starship, presenting another test of his allegiance to evil after he chose to saber his dad, Han Solo. Rey, meanwhile, seems to be looking for guidance on both sides of the ledger.
It’s obviously risky to bet on the action-figure-selling hero of a multibillion-dollar worldwide franchise going full villain. But the filmmakers are at least trying to put the possibility in our minds. We hear Luke growl, to an unknown character and implicitly to the audience, “This is not going to go the way you think.”