Lucasfilm has finally given us a proper name to call Star Wars: Episode VIII that relieves us from the task of double-checking our Roman numerals in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
As often is the case with the build-up to highly anticipated tentpoles, the title of this December's follow-up to The Force Awakens has left fans with more questions than answers regarding the nature of this billing. However, I’m going out on a limb to postulate my own theory that the titular centerpiece to the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy’s middle act is none other than Adam Driver's dad-killing baddie Kylo Ren.
We might be initially inclined to believe that "The Last Jedi" is an obvious reference to Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, since The Force Awakens' opening crawl refers to him as such. Additionally, Daisy Ridley's Sequel Trilogy protagonist Rey is an equally obvious choice, especially since we last saw her in a (literal) cliffhanger moment as she found Luke Skywalker – now a reclusive epic-beard-rocking Jedi master – after a rocky climb on the planet Ahch-To.
However, precedence from the seven existing Star Wars trilogy entries indicates that the film titles adhere to a recurring pattern regarding its subjects. It is through this idea that my arguably kooky Kylo theory takes shape ...
"It's like poetry – every stanza kind of rhymes with the last one." -George Lucas
The structure of the Star Wars trilogy film titles tend to be in service to the broader narrative. After it was clear that 1977’s surprisingly epochal blockbuster Star Wars was going to fuel a franchise, it was retroactively bestowed the subtitle Episode IV: A New Hope in its 1981 re-release. Thus, a pattern was set for Star Wars trilogy films.
The title of Act I titles refer to the emergence of either a hero or anti-hero. Episode IV’s title of A New Hope obviously refers to second-generation Jedi Luke Skywalker stepping up to fight the good fight against the Empire. Similarly, the 1999 Prequel Trilogy launcher Episode I was called The Phantom Menace, referring to the oblique clandestine machinations of Darth Sidious (secretly Senator Palpatine). Likewise, Episode VII’s title The Force Awakens seems to be a reference to Rey that might eventually clue us in to her destiny in the mythology.
Apropos to our thesis, Act II titles typically reference a counterattack that turns the tide of the larger struggle, demonstrated by Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is not a reference to Rey, Finn or, for that matter, Luke Skywalker or even the Force-sensitive General Leia Organa. Rather, it might refer to a collective, prospectively sinister force; an idea also driven home by its unconventional, evil-indicative red Star Wars logo.
(For good measure, we should also point out that Act III titles are essentially spoilers that advertise the resolution of the trilogy.)
Ben’s bad seed buddies
If, as precedence dictates, The Last Jedi refers to a collective force who leaves the winners of the last movie (the Resistance) in shambles in a stunning counterattack (to the destruction of Starkiller Base), then we can assume that, somehow, "The Last Jedi" connects to the First Order. From there, we could deduce that it refers to the killer cabal of masked dark warriors operating under the auspices of the elusive hologram-transmitting Supreme Leader Snoke known as the Knights of Ren, a group led by Ben Solo under the designated prefix 'Kylo.'
Moviegoers who casually watched The Force Awakens might not have realized it, but the Knights of Ren – heavily discussed among the fandom during the buildup – were seen briefly in the film as part of a prophetic montage of scenes from Rey’s point of view, apparently fueled by potent Force energy when she picked up Luke Skywalker’s long-lost lightsaber. Without any context provided, the brief, rain-drenched moment set on an unknown planet – possibly set to occur in The Last Jedi – shows a masked Kylo Ren, signature crossguard lightsaber ignited, standing menacingly in front of six of his fellow Knights, ready to pounce.
Other than the fact that the Knight of Ren are a special outfit of the First Order who, like Kylo, operate somewhat autonomous from the military ranks, answering directly to Snoke, we know nothing about the group. Yet, since the Jedi Order uniquely referred to themselves as 'Knights,' we could speculate that the Knights of Ren are a subset of the Jedi, extremists who boldly refer to themselves in the plural form as "The Last Jedi." Reinforcing this idea is the way The Force Awakens exercises ambiguity when it comes to Kylo Ren’s training under the mysterious Snoke. While Kylo seems to worship the memory of his late Sith Lord grandfather Darth Vader, the Kylo/Snoke dynamic appears noticeably divorced from that “s-word.” Perhaps Kylo Ren and Snoke’s actual motives are not quite the generically evil plot that some might imagine.
Conceivably, the twist in Episode VIII could be that the evil Snoke, Kylo and the Knights of Ren are the true legacy inheritors to the institution of the Jedi Order, which fell well before Luke Skywalker’s lifetime. This idea could illustrate an allegorical twist on what happens to ancient institutions that become corrupted from the temptations of expediency.
"Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light." -Kylo Ren
Let’s risk delving further down this rabbit hole. If the Knights of Ren are an extremist sect who claim to be the last of the Jedi, then perhaps they’re motivated by something with greater implications. For unknown reasons, the mysterious Snoke built the First Order from the ashes of a dead Sith Lord’s Empire to a point of imitation, even right down to a planet-destroying monolithic spherical base that sports a shockingly conspicuous weakness. Yet, the intrigue regarding Snoke, Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren lies in the noticeable omission of their true motivations.
The Force Awakens focused substantially on the struggle of Ben Solo/Kylo Ren in the spiritual quandary that caused him to reject his old Jedi Master (and uncle) Luke Skywalker and his entire family in a quest to impress his new master Snoke. Since Luke himself had an unconventional training regimen from the old-school Jedi, potential Jedi purists in the Knights of Ren might see him as an apostate, a delusional hedge knight who teaches an interpretation of the Force they consider antiquated or harmful to the balance of the greater Force. This is especially true if, like many extremist groups, they believe in the coming of some sort of universal cataclysm that needs to be combated with grandiose measures; an aspect that might explain the First Order's over-the-top totalitarianism, something exacerbated by a vague "awakening" that Snoke himself identifies in The Force Awakens.
Indeed, the notion that Snoke and the Knights of Ren are Force-adhering Jedi extremists awaiting some sort of galactic apocalypse would also make Kylo Ren’s notoriously manic behavior more understandable. Thus far, Ben Solo’s struggles have been contrary to everything we thought we knew about the Force. He constantly fights hard to resist the allure of the Light Side, while seemingly not seduced by the intrinsically seductive Dark Side. Consequently, it could be the case that Snoke, Kylo and the Knights of Ren are Jedi who are trying to harness the power of the Dark Side to combat a sublime threat through a nostalgic new version of the Empire rather than generic galactic domination.
Indeed, Ben’s now-iconic act of patricide in killing Han Solo might have been a desperate measure designed to expedite a necessary Dark Side turn, fighting conflicted feelings from his own good nature to achieve a higher cause. Regardless of what will ultimately prove true regarding Snoke, Kylo and the Knights of Ren, history does dictate that the second act entries of Star Wars trilogies are no less than game-changers and that, in all likelihood, we will see the heroes of the Resistance like Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron absorb some reciprocal punishment.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi looks to deliver some antagonist-satisfying vengeance that puts Carbonite freezing to shame when it arrives in theaters on December 15.