The one line that comes to mind whenever I think about the most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise is Kylo Ren imploring Rey to “let the past die.” I feel that it cuts to the heart of both the tone and the thematic framework that the movie works within, whether or not that change is for the better.
From the very beginning The Last Jedi feels like it almost has more in common with Rogue One than it does with the other Star Wars films; a few bright moments of heroism by Poe and his fellow pilots are overshadowed almost immediately by the heavy losses they sustain and Leia’s criticism of his insubordination, and in one of the most stunning sequences I’ve seen in a while, Holdo sacrifices herself by ramming her ship into the First Order’s. Rose and Finn go on a quest to find a famous Rebel hacker, but only end up with a reminder that not everyone is willing to die for their cause and that the rebels are just as responsible for the success of arms dealers as the First Order. Luke, as someone who has experienced firsthand a Jedi’s “true from a certain point of view” mindset, becomes one of the few non-Sith characters to point out the flaws in the Jedi Order despite all of the good it did. He also milks an alien right in front of Rey, chugging down its blue milk and letting it run all over his beard, which was a bizarre spectacle.
Despite all this, Kylo Ren’s idea of killing the past is a little off the mark when it comes to the direction that Star Wars is moving. Yoda destroys the Jedi texts, but only because he believes that Rey is capable of carrying on the good traditions of the Jedi without being bound by their rigidity. Likewise, while Luke does die, he takes up the mantle of the hero of the rebellion one last time and completes a cycle of master and apprentice suspiciously similar to Obi Wan Kenobi. Finn tries to follow the past example of Holdo and sacrifice himself, but is stopped by Rose, and Kylo Ren finally throws away his fake Darth Vader mask. And just as you would expect in Star Wars, there are still funny and cute moments with the droids (and even with the Porgs despite my initial misgivings about them), the evil lord is still betrayed by his apprentice, and there is a glimmer of hope even in the darkest places of the galaxy.
I think that like Rey, who seeks the light but sometimes reaches out to the dark to get what she wants, the new Star Wars films are looking to establish a balance between the influence of their predecessors and the direction they want to move towards in the future. The past films are set up as the legends that will serve as the background for new stories and characters rather than being as intrusive as they were in The Force Awakens, which is certainly helped along by the deaths of so many of the returning characters. I think that aside from a few strange scenes, and the disappointing lack of the Knights of Rena and details of how the First Order came to be, that this makes The Last Jedi a pretty good middle part of a trilogy. At the very least, I definitely preferred it over The Force Awakens with its Nazi rally imagery and slightly different Death Star, but I also have some hope that with this movie the final installment will have even more room to differentiate itself from the older movies and succeed on by its own merit.