Star Wars and TRON Legaciesby Todd King, contributing writer
Following up from my last article regarding the similarities between Star Wars and TRON, there's more to be said about the 28-years-later sequel, TRON: Legacy (2010) and how it addresses its characters in similar ways to The Last Jedi (2017), the 34-years-later sequel to Return of the Jedi.
While it's not technically a sequel to Return of the Jedi (The Force Awakens came between them), The Last Jedi finally returns to the story of Luke Skywalker, who we hadn't seen since his ultimate confrontation with Darth Vader. In these sequels, ideas of age, wisdom, and ambition underpin the story. Both movies take on these same themes, where you can't move forward without letting go of the past.
Luke appears as an older, yet wiser, character than when we last saw him. © Disney/Lucasfilm.
Flynn appears as an older, yet wiser, character than when we last saw him. © Disney.
The Old Hero
In The Force Awakens, there's a large portion of the plot devoted to finding the location of the missing Luke Skywalker. All the while Rey, Han Solo, Leia, and others talk about all he had done and what he means to everyone. Rey thinks Skywalker is just a myth. Others know he's real and are desperate to find him. Without Luke, things just aren't as good as they used to be in the galaxy—the First Order has risen and the New Republic doesn't support the Resistance, so they need him to set things right. We, the audience, know all about Luke and his selfless acts of heroism; we want to find him, too!
In TRON: Legacy, Kevin Flynn goes missing within the opening sequence. A brief TV news story talks about all he had done and what he means to everyone. Sam, Flynn's son, is in grief and denial. Alan, Flynn's trusted company partner, knows he wouldn't leave his friends and family. But so much time has passed that they've all given up hope he could return. Without Flynn, his Encom company is taken over by greedy executives and left Sam a disillusioned orphan. Even in the Grid, Flynn's new hidden system, corruption has risen. We, the audience, know all about Flynn and how he thwarted corruption in Encom and setup a free and open system; we want to find him, too!
When Rey finds Luke, he's not quite the same as we remember. He has aged, of course. He has grown a beard and lives in a place of complete isolation. We expected him to age, but what we didn't expect is that his world view has changed. He is hesitant to go straight into battle and basically wants nothing to do with anyone else's troubles. At first glance, he appears to now be a man of inaction. We immediately wonder, what happened to him? There are parts of his story that we have yet to learn.
When Sam finds Flynn, he also is not quite the same as we remember. He has aged, grown a beard, lives alone (sort of). At first, we weren't sure if we would find him aged. Maybe living inside a computer would slow the aging process—who knows? That's why the movie first shows us Clu, who is made in the likeness of Flynn. Clu's appearance remains the same as the younger Flynn. When we find the real Flynn, he has indeed become older. With that outer change we also find that his world view has changed. He is hesitant to go straight back to the portal to return home. He seems to be a man of inaction. What happened to him? We have yet to learn more of his story.
The Missed Story
So, why have these heroes that we last saw in the 1980s now cranky curmudgeons? Something happened to each of them that we missed. In the intervening years, both in the screenplay stories and in real Earth-years between movies, our heroes didn't find themselves living happily ever after. The world kept turning and therefore, new problems would arise. Evil seems to always find a way of regrouping coming back to fight harder than before. They're as frustrated about it as we are—things were supposed to be fine since they already saved the world! In the real world, the fantasy world, in the computer world, we know that things keep breaking.
What we missed with Luke was that he set out to create new Jedi Order that wouldn't fall into the traps that the knights of The Old Republic did. He would keep a promise to Yoda that he would "pass on what [he'd] learned." Vader was gone, so was the Emperor and his Empire, but that didn't mean evil and its machinations were gone forever. One of his students, his own nephew Ben Solo—probably his most promising pupil—turned about to be the one most susceptible to the temptations of the dark side of the Force. That's how it seems to be with Skywalker descendants. In a flashback we discover how Ben became Kylo Ren and destroyed what Luke had built.
What we missed with Flynn was that he set out to create a new "perfect system" that would improve upon the limitations of the old computer structures, while remaining open and free. He would build upon what he had learned from his first computer adventure to improve the quality of human life. The MCP (Master Control Program) was gone, so was Mr. Dillinger, but that didn't mean corruption was absent. Flynn became obsessive with his "Grid" and that obsession he programmed into his most-promising program, Clu, made in his likeness. In a flashback we discover how Clu could not accept change and destroyed what Flynn had built.
The Way to Win
Both Luke and Flynn are now recluses. Not only that, but they also no longer want to get involved in the larger conflict.
Rey tries many times to convince Luke to return with her in the battle against Kylo Ren and the First Order. She tells Luke that Leia asked for him, that the First Order grows stronger, that Kylo Ren killed his father, and that if Luke would go back with her, the war would end, and peace would be restored again.
Sam tries to convince his father to return back to the real world with him. He tells Flynn that since he arrived, the portal back is now open. If they would just return to the real world together, they could end Clu's reign and also retake the Encom company, restoring it to its original purpose.
Neither man budges easily.
Luke confesses that he had a part in Kylo Ren's turn to the dark side. Not only does Luke feel guilty, but he also believes that his further involvement in the events of the galaxy will only make things worse. His intentions were good when creating a new school for Jedi hoping that they would be able to maintain balance in the Force and therefore keep the peace in the galaxy. The fact that it didn't go as planned made Luke feel like a failure and that all his actions just led from bad to worse leading him to think that both he and the tenets of the Jedi may be wrong to begin with. Even if he were to return, he knew it would be the end of him because he could not withstand the onslaught of the entire First Order all by himself. His former master, Yoda, once said, "Do, or do not, there is no try." Luke was not even going to try. When Rey tried to convince him otherwise by saying, "This is how we win," he replied to her, "This is not going to go the way you think."
Flynn confesses that he had a part in Clu's ambitions. Because he made Clu like himself, his own ambitions played out in Clu which led to the problems in the Grid. Not only does Flynn feel guilty, but he also believes that his further involvement in the events of the Grid will only make things worse. His intentions, too, were good for the Grid, and with the discovery of the ISOs (Isomorphic Algorithms) he saw new possibilities for the progress of mankind. It didn't go as planned and he buried himself in guilt believing he had failed. Now trapped in the system, he felt any further actions would make things worse because if he revealed himself, it would be the end of him because Clu would overtake him, gain all his knowledge, and destroy everything in his way. When Sam tried to convince him otherwise, Flynn said, "The only way to win the game is not to play."
Luke sacrifices himself to confront Kylo Ren. © Disney/Lucasfilm.
Flynn sacrifices himself to confront Clu. © Disney.
One Final Fight
Although the heroes refuse to act at first, they eventually rethink their position and come back to turn the tide, but in unexpected ways.
Rey finally realizes that Luke will not change his mind, and rushes off to face Kylo Ren on her terms. She is nearly successful when her stand against the evil master Snoke convinces Kylo Ren to fight by her side. Yet, it is not the turn she expected when Kylo Ren doesn't relinquish his power; it didn't go the way she thought. He only grasps for more and then leads a final assault against the Resistance at their weakest point. It is enough to convince Luke that there is one more element of protection that he can give to the Resistance.
Sam realizes that his father will not change his mind and rushes off to find his way to the portal where he hopes to fix things himself from the other side. He is nearly successful when he finds Zuse, an old ally of the ISOs, who can help him get across the Grid to the portal. Yet, Clu's corruption has reached far and wide and Zuse sets a trap for Sam. Flynn appears and clears the danger but only for his identity disc, the very item Clu wants most, to get stolen. Sam played the game and lost. But Flynn's emergence back into the Grid convinces Flynn that with his son, the game has changed.
The only way that Luke can help the Resistance, and his sister, escape annihilation, is to use all his strength to allow them safe passage. He must face Kylo Ren in order to halt the advancing machines of the First Order. Luke knows the weakness of the evil in Kylo Ren and exploits it. He confronts his former apprentice, appearing like he did when they parted ways, when Luke was his teacher. Kylo Ren takes the bait and faces him alone on the surface of the planet. While they fight, the Resistance doubles back into the fortress caverns and makes their escape. In the end, Luke's plan prevails when Kylo Ren finally realizes he was fooled. Luke had projected an image of himself, and this fake replica drew all of Kylo Ren's anger and attention. However, the powerful action took everything out of Luke, and he died and vanished into the Force.
The only way that Flynn can help Sam, and the last ISO, Quorra, escape the Grid, is to face Clu and halt his advancing programs. Flynn knows Clu's weakness--his obsession with creating a perfect system by stealing Flynn's identity disc. Flynn exploits this and confronts his mirror image of the past. Clu takes the bait to overpower Flynn and take his disc. While they fight, Sam and Quorra move to the portal. In the end, Flynn's plan works when Clu steals the wrong disc--it was switched, and Sam already had it at the portal. Clu believed he was Flynn's best creation, that he was perfect, only to learn that perfection is impossible, and that Flynn's devotion was to his son. However, Clu wouldn't stop his pursuit and tried to regain the disc from Sam. Flynn pulled Clu away and in doing so, merged together seemingly destroying them both and putting an end to Clu's forces.
We know that Luke does indeed reappear in spirit to further guide Rey in her journey in The Rise of Skywalker. Flynn's fate remains up the air as Sam keeps a backup of the Grid onto a memory chip. We almost learned more when a sequel to TRON: Legacy was in the works. That sequel was cancelled when, oddly enough, Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2015. Disney then had science fiction and fantasy covered once they owned the Star Wars franchise (not to mention the 2009 acquisition of Marvel). But like the first movie, time has been kind to the TRON franchise. The recent opening of the TRON: Lightcycle Run coaster at Walt Disney World (a duplicate of the attraction from Shanghai Disneyland) is riding a small resurgence in its popularity. A new TRON movie could still happen as it appears that Jared Leto is attached to the project. Unfortunately, not much more is known at this point.
Still, I find the story ideas of these films continually fascinating, especially where their themes run parallel. There are big ideas at play here especially in terms of people and high technology, the human spirit versus the machine, the value of family and how it contrasts profession, as well as what we can learn from the past to in order to move forward.
In the meantime, you can watch both TRON films on Disney+ and ride either Lightcycle attraction on the eastern or western hemispheres.
In recent news, the next TRON movie is said to be starting shooting early July with Jared Leto attached to the project and Joachim Rønning set to direct. Further details are scarce.