This strip as a whole is an internal callback (hence the title). The date on that strip is July 2012. As I remarked to Robert, we’ve… we’ve been doing this a while now. It’s nice to know that at least my art’s gotten better.
Why we’re doing the callback, though, is to do with The Last Jedi (obviously) and the animated series Star Wars Rebels. The Last Jedi garnered critical praise for the new concepts it brought to the Star Wars universe, but when I started rewatching Rebels recently, I increasingly realised… wow, Rebels did so, so many of these concepts first, and made them look easy.
Of all the issues Robert and I have with The Last Jedi, Poe’s speech that we’re lampooning here actually isn’t one of them. I get that it’s supposed to echo Leia’s earlier speech about “being the spark that will light up the Resistance,” and I like the turnabout. But it’s also a sentiment expressed much more succinctly in the title of the premiere of Rebels: “Spark of Rebellion.” And that’s the core of the observation, here: Rebels expressed the same ideas and themes first, more clearly, with far less talking and talking, and in a way that still felt like it fitted with the rest of Star Wars.
Let me be clear; I don’t think Rian Johnson watched Rebels and thought, “That sounds good, I’ll take that.” I think he simply arrived at the same ideas that the Rebels writers did because they’re good ideas, though he proceeded to execute them inexpertly. (I mean, I don’t think he intentionally copied the title, either; a title which, ironically, the original book adopted when its authors realised their initial title had already been used.) Off the top of my head, here’s a scattering of things both big and small that Rebels did before The Last Jedi did it too:
- Taking time to specifically focus on the downtrodden individuals that suffer to prop up the Empire/First Order, but who cannot rebel themselves due to circumstance, and how their day-to-day lives are dominated by the respective regime.
- A Jedi Master reluctant to train a new Jedi, because he’s become disillusioned with the dogma of the Jedi order, making him afraid that he will fail his pupil.
- The problems that arise when men don’t listen to women in command, listening instead to their egos – and their resultant theatrics making situations worse.
- The Force as fundamentally beyond the ability of either the Jedi or Sith to conceptualise, leaning on (as Robert pointed out) the philosophy of “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” To make it even better, in Rebels, this concept is voiced by Tom Baker.
- A scene, right in the pilot episode, where a Jedi calmly walks out in front of a large opposing armed force, temporarily surprising them, until their leader angrily orders every gun they have to fire on him. Okay, so that one’s a little on the nose.
- “How can we start a rebellion with only this?” “We have everything we need.” Bear with me on this one, and SPOILER WARNING for the season 3 finale of Rebels.
Right from the first season, the show’s writers understood that if they had the recurring villain of the season lose in every episode, he’d quickly stop being threatening. Instead, in the episodes featuring each season’s big bad, they found ways to have the main cast succeed only by suffering heavy losses and paying heavy prices to escape defeat, gaining very little for all their efforts – often merely ending up back where they started, or sometimes even worse off.
This escalates in the third season, where in the finale, Grand Admiral Thrawn decimates the Rebel fleet, orbital-bombarding their base and forcing them to haphazardly flee. Commander Sato evacuates everyone from his ship, and in a last-ditch effort to give the Rebellion a fighting chance, he flies his ship on a suicide run into a Star Destroyer. There’s not much left of the Rebellion and they limply stagger away. A maudlin Ezra questions how the Rebellion can recover from such a loss, but Kanan tells him that no matter the defeat they face, they still have the power to change the future as long as they don’t lose their spirit.
Which, uh, sounds familiar. And not only enunciates the theme that “failure is the greatest teacher” more effectively than The Last Jedi manages to do, it manages to do it without being two and a half hours of garbled misery.
- Kanan mockingly calls his lightsaber a “laser sword” when Ezra, during training, still thinks of material trappings and powers as being what makes a Jedi. This throwaway gag, clearly, is the most egregious of all these examples.