There is only a week left in the most anticipated release of the week and it is clear that despite the overwhelming success of The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson is going to find it more difficult to replicate the feat with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, compared to the challenge faced by J.J. Abrams in reviving the Star Wars franchise. The reason was that The Force Awakens had it easy by riding on the goodwill and creating a modern remix of A New Hope, but, the challenge for The Last Jedi is to ensure that it is not a remake of The Empire Strikes Back.
It’s not an easy task to accomplish. The Last Jedi has been extensively compared to The Empire Strikes Back, right from the time when The Force Awakens finished its run in the cinemas. The actor Adam Driver has claimed that The Last Jedi varies in tone from the first film, and so did Empire. Johnson is also aware of the challenge, and he had commented to EW, “I just tried to kind of ignore that aspect of it [the parallels to Empire] and have the story take the shape that it needed to.” However, he accepts that “by its very nature, there are some structural parallels.” It is true that there is a cause to be concerned, at least taking into account the little bit of details that have been revealed about The Last Jedi. You can draw parallels between Rey’s search for Luke and Luke’s search for Yoda and also between the Resistance’s fight with a battered, but, not defeated First Order which reminds us of how The Empire regrouped as an upbeat force against the Rebels. The mystery surrounding the identity of Rey’s parents might just lead to another “No, I am your father!” revelation. Sum it all up with the darker tone of the trailers, and you can almost visualize the shadows of The Empire Strikes Back looming large over The Last Jedi.
However, it is not just a problem faced by the Star Wars. The thought that a sequel should be “the Empire Strikes Back equivalent of this trilogy” has gained dominance throughout the entertainment industry and it doesn’t augur well.
There are plenty of examples. J.A. Bavona called the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom to be the Empire Strikes Back of the revamped Dino franchise. Dean DuBois referred to The Empire Strikes Back as the guiding star while explaining his goals for How To Train Your Dragon 2. Wes Ball said The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials was ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ of his three-film series. Not only that the Screenwriter Chris Terrio also referred to Batman v Superman to be a little bit of an Empire Strikes Back.
Not only the films, even the video games are doing that. Greg Zeschuk, co-founder of BioWare drew comparisons between Mass Effect 2 and Empire during a preview of the game and game designer Antoine Thisdale said to Polygon that The Empire Strikes Back was the touchstone during his promotions of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Even the comic-book writer Grant Morrison referred to it when he teased about his upcoming Wonder Woman: Earth-Two graphic novel during this year’s Comic-Con.
There is no doubt that The Empire Strikes Back was a fantastic film. It could even be called the best franchise sequel ever. The film successfully picked up the characters from the original Star Wars film A New Hope and evolved them in fascinating styles wherein the good guys were repeatedly defeated rather than simply emerging victorious. The film’s ending is rated among the most iconic cinematic twists ever.
However, it has rapidly become ungainly to use The Empire Strikes Back as a template for a film. The first film didn’t do too well? Just make it darker and grim. Do you want to build the hype? Twist the ending dramatically. The template tends to overlook the fact that Empire was stunning as a Star Wars sequel and it was created as per that particular franchise’s shape and requirements. Trying to make it over and over again or just randomly modifying its dark tone and out of the box ending to suit everything is not just the right thing to do.
It’s possible that things could be different with The Last Jedi. We know that each sequel shouldn’t be an Empire Strikes Back even though it is, in essence, a perfect sequel to a film which was a modern replica of the original Star Wars film. However, audiences are familiar with that movie, in fact, since The Empire Strikes Back is so popular, most of Those who are lining up to watch The Last Jedi would have seen The Empire several times over. It is also known to us as to how a modern remake of an old Star Wars film looks like. Therefore, there is absolutely no prudence in once again treading the same path apart from nostalgia or sheer creative incompetence.
Luckily, Johnson is well accustomed to charting new courses. The director is an expert in recreating the familiar with his earlier works such as Brick, Brothers Bloom, and Looper which infused new life into typical movies, hilarious adventures and time travel based science fiction stories. In case he is able to deliver in the same way for Star Wars, it would lead to a fresh resurgence of the franchise.
His comments about this whole The Empire Strikes Back topic during the last week’s press conference related to The Last Jedi were very encouraging. “The second movie in a trilogy; I think we’ve been trained to expect it’ll be a little darker, and obviously [The Last Jedi] looks a little darker,” he acknowledged. “[But] first and foremost, we were trying to make it feel like a Star Wars movie. And that means you have the intensity, and you have the opera. But it also means that it makes you come out of the theater wanting to run in your backyard, and grab your spaceship toys and make them fly around. That’s a key ingredient. So we’re going to go to some intense places in the movie, but I hope also it’s fun, and it’s funny.”
Who can really tell? The Last Jedi might succeed in creating something fresh, and that may lead to us discussing it as an iconic film a few decades from now. We believe that it would be an awesome thing if instead of everyone referring to The Empire Strikes Back as a guiding star, future directors talk about how their sequels are ‘The Last Jedi’ of the series.