I enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi for its spectacle, but I could see problems with its story.
Things such as the character assassination of Luke Skywalker and the mutiny that should never have happened can’t be fixed, but I think there are at least three issues that can be fixed in Episode IX.
The death of an actor is obviously a hard thing for any ongoing production to deal with. Back when Heath Ledger died, he was in the middle of shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Fortunately for director Terry Gilliam, Ledger had already shot all of his real world scenes and only needed to shoot scenes taking place inside the mystical Imaginarium. Because the genre was fantasy, Gilliam was able to work out a plausible reason for Ledger’s character’s face to change inside the Imaginarium (so that other actors could finish his scenes).
Rian Johnson — the writer and director of The Last Jedi — had a problem that was the opposite of Gilliam’s problem. All of Fisher’s scenes for The Last Jedi had been shot, and the only way to kill off Leia in Episode VIII would have been to scrap and re-shoot all of her scenes after the destruction of the command center she was in. But I imagine Johnson would have considered such a thing disrespectful to Carrie Fisher’s memory, and that’s understandable.
So now that Leia is alive at the end of Episode VIII, how can she be killed off in a tasteful and respectful way for Episode IX?
The story could be advanced by fifteen or twenty years in order to make it plausible that Leia died of natural causes, but such a thing would require a huge story gap to be filled in by that opening text crawl. It would also necessitate the use of age makeup for every actor playing a major human character.
If the story for Episode IX is going to pick up not long after the end of Episode VIII, then I think I know one easy way that Fisher’s death can be dealt with. Episode IX could open with Leia having unexpectedly died, and there could be an explanation from one character to another about Leia’s tissue damage from her exposure to the vacuum of space being far worse than anyone knew. It could then be said that she must have willed herself (using the force) to stay alive long enough to make certain that her people were safe from the First Order. This would be a quietly heroic way for the character to go out, and I think it would be respectful to the memory of Carrie Fisher and to her family.
I’m putting these issues together because I think they can both be fixed with one addition to Rey’s backstory.
A big theme that runs throughout The Last Jedi is the subversion of viewer expectations. Johnson’s way of saying “Ha! You thought it was going to be this way, but it’s really this way!” can be a fun way of flipping the narrative on its head. But the problem is that when it comes to Rey, Episode VII had built up the notion that there was something special about her. Suddenly pulling the rug out from under the audience and informing us that her parents were just lowlifes who sold off their own kid seems to undermine the importance of Rey’s identity (to which The Force Awakens had been alluding).
In addition to the problem of not following through on the promise of Episode VII, Episode VIII also fails to address the problem of Rey being a “Mary Sue”. For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a character who is so incredibly talented and skillful in everything she does that she tends to outshine and impress all the characters around her. The term originates from ‘A Trekkie’s Tale’: a 1973 satire of Star Trek: The Original Series fan fiction. The star character was Lieutenant Mary Sue — a character who satirized the tendency of Star Trek fan fiction writers to create non-canon Star Trek characters who were jacks of all trades and too near flawless to be interesting.
I won’t go into all the ways that The Force Awakens sets up Rey as a “Mary Sue” character, but I will say that it is perhaps most evident when she beats Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel. Rey — a character who knew almost nothing about the force or how to wield a lightsaber — somehow bested the well-trained Kylo Ren. I know Kylo Ren was injured, but there’s still no solid reason for him to have lost — especially since he had just proven his fighting ability by beating Finn (who had actually been trained in combat while he was in the First Order).
Well, there’s no solid reason for Kylo Ren to have lost to Rey unless you consider that Rey could be an imperfect clone of — DUN DUN DUUNNN — Emperor Palpatine.
Cloning is nothing new to the Star Wars universe. In fact, one of the movies has “Clones” in the title, and there’s a spinoff Star Wars animated series called ‘The Clone Wars’. So it’s not hard to imagine that years after the fall of the Empire, a scientist from that regime may have been trying to create a clone of Palpatine. But Rey obviously wouldn’t be a perfect clone of Sheev Palpatine (yes, Sheev really was his first name). Whether by accident or design, we could say that a clone of Palpatine ended up with two X chromosomes instead of XY. If some Rebels discovered and raided the scientist’s facility, they may have not recognized the girl as a potential threat and decided to rescue her. After that, she may have ended up with foster parents who turned out to be dirtbags and sold her.
If what I just described turns out to be the case, then Rey’s parentage wouldn’t matter since she would have no real parents. What would matter is her connection to Palpatine. And since she would be a sort-of clone, we could say that Palpatine’s strong connection with the force may have resulted in Rey having Palpatine’s knowledge imprinted onto her in some way (probably subconsciously). This would explain Rey’s ability to use the force so proficiently with practically no training (and her strange connection to the dark side in The Last Jedi). It would also explain her ability to defeat Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel. Both the problem of her parentage and the problem of her being a “Mary Sue” character would be fixed.
As an aside... Something that could point to Rey being an imperfect Palpatine clone is the matter of Rey’s fighting style in The Force Awakens. Notice something familiar?