If I were Rian Johnson, then I’d invite J.J Abrams out to dinner, order a big expensive steak and then leave him with the check, as a way of saying: thanks for handing over the giant problem of how to begin Episode VIII.
The Force Awakens ended with a cliffhanger, and not just metaphorically; Luke Skywalker was standing next to the edge of an actual cliff when the credits started to roll. It was a wonderful ending that leads into an awkward beginning for Episode VIII.
With the exception of The Phantom Menace, the Star Wars films have always progressed in real-time, with the time in between films representing the amount of time that passed since the final moments of the previous episode.
Episode VIII will release on December 15, 2017, almost two years after The Force Awakens. While a Jedi must learn patience, that’s a long time for Rey to be standing before Luke offering him his old lightsaber with her outstretched arm.
I left the theater in great anticipation of Episode VIII, in large part because I wanted to see what happens next, and I mean immediately next. Then it dawned on me. If the gap between The Force Awakens and Episode VIII happens in real-time, then we may never see the conclusion of that scene. We may never know exactly what transpired after the credits started rolling.
It’s possible that Episode VIII could start immediately after The Force Awakens, but there’s no precedence for that. Even if that is where the story picks up, there’s the matter of the opening crawl. The purpose of it is to fill in the gaps from the previous episode and set the stage for what we’re about to see. If Episode VIII starts minutes after The Force Awakens, there isn’t much to say in the crawl.
“It’s been a few minutes since Rey climbed to the top of the temple steps to meet Luke Skywalker. Chewbacca is relaxing outside the Millennium Falcon enjoying the cool ocean breeze. Meanwhile, R2-D2 is furiously chasing a sea-bird that unceremoniously crapped on his polished dome.”
Not only does the opening crawl lose impact, but if Episode VIII picks up right where The Force Awakens leaves off, it will make Episode VIII feel like it’s just an extended version of The Force Awakens and not the next episode in this saga.
Those gaps in time, between episodes, help to move the narrative along and eliminate the need to focus on mundane plot points that we can just accept as having happened. We know the First Order has to regroup and the resistance needs a new place to hide. We don’t need to see General Hux, Kylo Ren, and Captain Phasma escape from the doomed Starkiller Base. We don’t need to see Rey start her Jedi training.
Jedi training is boring. It’s levitating rocks and droids. It’s being lectured on the light and dark. Even George Lucas had the good sense to skip all of that with Anakin. Yes, he was still a Padawan in Attack of the Clones, but he already knew that which he needed to know. While the training is new to Rey, it’s old to us, and there is a bigger story to tell. Besides, Luke is too big for Rey to carry on her back, although I’m sure she could pull it off.
One of the great things about those gaps in time is it allows the characters to mature and evolve. Look how different Luke was from the Empire Strikes Back to Return of the Jedi. Now imagine what Rey will be like with two years of training under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker? Episode VIII will be much better if it fast forwards a bit. It will be easier to introduce new characters, and create new situations. It gives the story time to ramp-up and reach another critical juncture, but in doing so, it leaves us hanging wondering what transpired between Luke and Rey.
There is the possibility that Episode VIII could have a flashback to that moment, but the saga has never had one, and it’s not clear if it would work. The Star Wars films have a pacing about them that is always moving forward. It’s action, followed by a moment to catch our breath, followed by more action. Perhaps in one of those lulls, we’ll see Rey alone and struggling. In that moment, she could do a bit of reflection to motivate herself to carry on. While not a bad storytelling technique, it seems out of place for Star Wars, and I can’t help but think we won’t get to see happens when Luke and Rey first meet. Luckily for us, the internet has already figured it out.
Oh, and the planet where Luke has been hiding all of this time? It’s named Ach-To. Gesundheit!
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!