Learn More About Secretive Characters: The Last Jedi Visual Dictionary Review

Pablo Hidalgo’s in-universe guide sheds further light on the motivations of Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi

You are sitting comfortably, about to start reading Pablo Hidalgo’s The Last Jedi: The Visual Dictionary. All is peaceful, but then something strange happens. The author, it would seem, has appeared next to you. Impossible but true, you think. He leans in towards you and whispers words in your ear. The words, you realise, are from the introduction on the page before you. “Learn more about secretive characters,” he says conspiratorially, “like Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke.” You nod in understanding, turn around to meet his eyes, but he is no longer there. No matter. You turn the page and keep on reading.

More Immersive by the Year

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Of course there’s a meta aspect to proceedings without inserting the author alongside the reader. The nature of publishing media tie-ins is such that the books must be produced well in advance of the release of the film they are supporting. In the case of Star Wars, some secrets must be kept safer than others. Therefore there were no entries on Luke and Snoke in The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary. Which allows Hidalgo to have a little fun in his introduction here, as if penning his own Visual Dictionary opening crawl.

It’s a delightful beginning to another wonderful Star Wars resource from Hidalgo and DK. These in-universe guides get more immersive by the year. The cumulative effect of adding storytelling minutiae to each new movie is that the galaxy far, far away gains in verisimilitude. Star Wars has always presented a lived-in universe; its implied sense of history lends the fantastical credence. The details that are added around the edges of the main stories in these guides add facts to fictional histories.

The Last Jedi: The Visual Guide is a fascinating window into the world building of Star Wars and as such is another resounding success.

Cold War Burst Into Flames

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The Last Jedi throws the audience right back into the action after the events of The Force Awakens with barely a breath to spare. JJ Abrams left Rey reaching out to Luke on Ahch-To and Rian Johnson had to continue the narrative from exactly where it left off. Which also meant picking up with the Resistance. Of course the First Order would be close on their heels, having located their base on D’Qar. The destruction of the Hosnian system and subsequent annihilation of Starkiller Base rocked the galaxy to its core.

The Visual Dictionary allows narrative pause where the movie cannot spare it. Hidalgo is in the unique position of being able to summarise the state of things, which he does with precision: “In the span of only a few days, the galactic status quo was irrevocably upset, and a long-simmering cold war burst into flames.” He’s a historian looking back over events, attempting to assert meaning upon a galaxy in turmoil.

The First Order may have suffered a defeat at the hands of the Resistance, but they are not wallowing. “Instead, it believes the war is as good as won.” The Resistance, on the other hand, is only concerned with escape, “so that it can live to fight another day.” This is all implied on screen, yet it is nevertheless welcome to find it committed to paper.

Ambition Fuelled by the Dark Side

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Snoke taunts Kylo Ren with the observation that killing his father weakened him. “The deed split your spirit to the bone,” he tells his apprentice. It is later revealed that Snoke was manipulating Kylo, but that doesn’t mean that the words don’t have any truth to them. Or as Hidalgo puts it, Kylo “is now more conflicted and torn than ever, further destabilising an already dangerous man.”

The Visual Dictionary goes further, again building story along the lines of supposition. What was implied is not rendered redundant through unwanted facts. Instead, ideas are fleshed out, given time to breathe outside of the main attraction. “Han Solo’s warning that Snoke is only using Kylo for his power echoes through Kylo’s mind.” This plays beautifully into Kylo’s actions late in the movie when he turns the lightsaber against Snoke, giving voice to the interior dialogue of the character. “With ambition fuelled by the dark side, Kylo prioritises his own survival and ultimate ascension.” That last part bears commenting on.

The story of the original trilogy is such that Vader is not given the opportunity to be the ultimate villain in charge. The Emperor was the man behind the curtain then, much as Snoke is now. The fact that Snoke is killed in The Last Jedi is not only fearless storytelling from Rian Johnson, but is necessary to allow the sequel trilogy to breathe on its own. It will be thrilling to meet Kylo again in Episode IX, presumably after some considerable in-universe time has passed, and find out what the First Order is like under his command; what Kylo has become. Now that Snoke is out of the way, the story possibilities are freer, more unpredictable. That’s Star Wars at its healthiest.

The Toil of His Existence

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There’s an argument from certain corners of fandom that says people don’t change and therefore Luke isn’t Luke in The Last Jedi. Outside of long-running cartoons this just isn’t true. Of course people change! Life has a way of getting involved. That being said, there’s a core of a person that remains throughout their life, even if that core might have to struggle to get back to the surface. Which is true of Luke in The Last Jedi. Anyway, if one were to suggest that Luke always remained the same then he would never have left Tatooine in the first place. If he wanted to go to the Academy so badly then why didn’t he just go? Perhaps it was easier to just stay at home.

I just don’t buy the implication that there’s a pre-hero Luke who is one person and then hero Luke who is another. At the end of the day they are both the same person, which supports his portrayal in The Last Jedi, rather than contradicting it.

Hidalgo holds up a mirror to connect older Luke with his younger self:

“In many ways, the toil of his existence on the island mirrors his youth spent on Tatooine. The chores he spent great energy avoiding in his teen years now mark the clock on his long, tiring island days.”

Luke is not aware of what happened to Han or indeed the Hosnian system precisely because he cut himself off from the Force. He wants to take himself and the Jedi out of the galactic equation, to try and break the terrible cycle. His “studies revealed the cyclical nature of the struggle between light and dark, and the massive toll the galaxy pays with each cycle.” Man has his reasons.

A Natural Convergence of Energy

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Rey, on the other hand, opens herself “up to the connections of the Force on the island, the web of life that binds all living things.” Luke reluctantly agrees to teach her, but only to try and make her understand why he believes the Jedi must end. He is horrified when she “is drawn to a shadowed area” of the island, “a gloomy sea cave where the dark side festers.” Rey, like the audience, seeks answers about who she is. The mirror cave seems to offer them up to her:

“On her own, without Luke’s instruction, she visits the cave. Within, her fears and insecurities about her parents, and the reasons why she was abandoned on Jakku manifest themselves. Among the questions that encumber Rey is one of her destiny – what is her role in the conflict that now sweeps the galaxy?”

That the answers aren’t what she wants, but instead what she needs is a powerful idea.

Corporate Sector

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The Last Jedi: The Visual Dictionary makes a rich story even richer. It provides information that once consumed feels completely essential, despite some of it existing on the periphery, in the margins. There’s an almost throwaway observation near the beginning of the book that the planet of Cantonica is located within the Corporate Sector. For a small statement its reach goes far. Because it ties back to Brian Daley’s series of novels from the 1980s, The Han Solo Adventures, and presumably points forward to Solo: A Star Wars Story. It’s moments like these where the Star Wars universe gets a little more lived in, a little bit more brilliant.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Visual Dictionary by Pablo Hidalgo is published by DK and is available now. © & TM 2017 LUCASFILM LTD. Used under authorisation.

Stewart Gardiner

Writer. David Lynch nerd. Unreliable narrator. Arthouse cinema and Hollywood dreams.

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