Where The Force Awakens revered the past (both the movies in the Star Wars franchise and the characters in the fiction), The Last Jedi upheaves it. Characters grow more cynical, more impish; they learn and change.
***Spoilers below for The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens***
Kylo Ren, after killing his father and destroying the helmet mimicry of his grandfather, argues that the past must be destroyed for the future to take hold. That film’s writer/director Rian Johnson has a bit more to say on the subject, however.
On the Empire Film Podcast, Johnson said that the theme of “let the past die” comes from both Kylo and Luke. “These two opposite poles have come to the same conclusion," Johnson said, “Kylo's feeling about the way to move forward is to cut yourself off from the past, which is sort of a rebellious … running away from your parents’ home … cutting it off and saying, 'I can be who I want to be in life.' I think a lot of us have done some version of that in their life at some point."
Kylo’s angst comes across clear as day, and his seemingly troubled pout makes him all the more attractive for change, which is why Rey seeks him out. However, Johnson explained that his view of the past is a bit surface-level for him.
"It’s something while I relate to, it's not ultimately where I come down in terms of the ideological argument," Johnson said. "For me, I always think that if you're cutting off the past, you're fooling yourself and you're just burying it somewhere where it's always going to come back. And the only way forward is where Rey actually lands, which is to build on the past, not necessarily to wallow in it the way that Luke is doing … with Yoda's lesson to him, with the Jedi books."
Skywalker’s self-imposed exile is another unhealthy response to the past, argues Johnson, who knew Luke wasn’t a coward. He needed a reason for Luke being on the island “that was both active and positive,” though flawed in its own way. It becomes destruction of its own kind. Rey is the only character who seems to understand that learning from history is the only way to avoid repeating it. She must “take what's best from in it and build on it, and appreciate it, and move forward.”
Moving forward will be up to J.J. Abrams as the director reclaims the helm of Star Wars: Episode IX to close out the trilogy. Will Abrams continue “embracing the part of the past that the present needs,” as Johnson says? Change is here for the First Order and the Resistance -- now we’ll see how Star Wars learns from it.
The Last Jedi is now playing in theaters.