Much as The Force Awakens strongly echoes A New Hope, many elements of The Empire Strikes Back are recognizable in The Last Jedi:
- A budding Jedi,
Luke SkywalkerRey, seeks training from a master, YodaLuke Skywalker, isolated on an obscure planet, DagobahAhch-To.
hisher friends in the RebellionResistance are on the run from the EmpireFirst Order.
- A rogue named
Lando CalrissianDJ comes to their aid but eventually betrays them.
- The villain,
Darth VaderKylo Ren, tries and fails to turn the budding Jedi to the dark side.
In spite of all this, as well as the good guys being thoroughly decimated by the end of the movie, The Last Jedi isn’t as dark a film as The Empire Strikes Back. This is due in part to its many moments of levity—pound for pound, this is the jokiest Star Wars movie to date. But the main thing that keeps it from getting too heavy is its central theme of learning from failure.
The Last Jedi has a ton of characters and relationships and subplots and twists and turns to navigate, but they are all unified in failure: Rey and Kylo Ren fail to persuade each other to switch teams; Finn and Rose fail to disable the First Order’s tracking device; Leia and Poe fail to keep the Resistance from suffering heavy losses; and most importantly, long before any of this occurs, Luke fails the Jedi Order by letting Kylo Ren slip away to the dark side.
Once everyone has given up hope, Yoda shows up to drop some wisdom, and we can expect Luke’s self-sacrifice in acting on that lesson to inspire the remnants of the Resistance—decimated though they may be—to learn from their mistakes and come back better and stronger in Episode IX.
As with the Star Wars saga’s overarching faith-over-fatalism spiritual compass, The Last Jedi’s didacticism is a bit pat. But if you’re willing to admit to yourself that Star Wars movies are essentially big-budget toy commercials, it shouldn’t impede your enjoyment of the film, which is a solid entry in the canon (and a bittersweet goodbye to the great Carrie Fisher).