Breathe. Consider the ongoing Star Wars saga. And then, just breathe. Reach out with your feelings. What do you see?
If you see a bright future, then you must be strong in the Force. The slumbering Star Wars saga was reignited by 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” which pulled in more than $2 billion worldwide. Released a year later, the standalone “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” earned an impressive – most impressive – billion for Lucasfilm and corporate parent Disney.
That leaves us to ponder the direction of December’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” written and directed by Rian Johnson (“Looper,” “The Brothers Bloom”). How will the latest film steward the 40-year legacy of film’s greatest franchise?
As impressive as “The Force Awakens” was, director J.J. Abrams chose to follow the plot of 1977’s “Star Wars” in broad strokes. (Both films featured a desert planet, an orphaned nobody of a hero, a powerful villain dressed all in black, a war hero turned mentor and a planet-destroying superweapon.)
Based on the trailers and teaser so far, it appears that “The Last Jedi” seems to follow in the footsteps of 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back.” We have training sequences with a reluctant and reclusive Jedi master, armored walkers menacing the heroes on a snow-covered planet and an overall darker and more dire tone.
Many Star Wars fans consider “Empire” to be the best in the series – so far, at least – so consciously aping a famous predecessor seems to be the right way to go.
So far, the production hasn’t let many details leak out about the plot of the film, aside from what can be gleaned from trailers and a single behind-the-scenes video.
This is in keeping with the policy of secrecy deployed by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, who tightly managed the release of information beginning with “The Force Awakens” to quash spoilers and maintain a feeling of surprise for Force-loving moviegoers.
What we can tell is that “The Last Jedi” will feature a haggard, world-weary version of Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). While Rey (Daisy Ridley) ended “The Force Awakens” face-to-face with the reclusive hero on the remote world of Ahch-To, it seemed that Luke wasn’t too keen to pass on what he had learned. “It’s time for the Jedi to end,” he intones in the film’s first trailer, and based on the footage released so far, it might take some convincing before he begins to show Rey the ways of the Force.
Hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) ended the last film a hero after his small strike team successfully destroyed the First Order’s Starkiller Base.
It seems that he’ll start the next film back in the thick of space-battle action. Numerous shots in the trailers show him running through corridors of Resistance battle cruisers with loyal Droid BB-8 hot on his heels.
Less clear is what happens to Finn (John Boyega), the former stormtrooper turned Resistance warrior. At the end of “The Force Awakens,” Finn was badly hurt by dark-sider Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He clearly makes a full recovery, as footage in the film’s second trailer shows him locked in a fiery confrontation with Captain Phasma (Gwendolyn Christie), his commanding officer from the days when he still served the evil First Order.
With any luck, Finn will reprise his role as the emotional heart of the film. While Rey, Poe and Finn all had moments of heart and humor in the movie, Finn was the only of the three heroes who didn’t have a special talent to fall back on. Rey was preternaturally gifted in the Force; Poe was an expert pilot. Finn’s true gift was his conscience, which first prompted him to leave the First Order’s evil ways behind, and then to join the side of good to fight with the Resistance.
This brings us to Kylo Ren’s journey in the film. “The Force Awakens” showed us that the Force-wielding villain had his own inner conflicts. Footage from the latest trailer shows him flying an attack craft toward a Resistance capital ship containing his mother, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).
With his finger on the trigger, he hesitates. It’s not clear whether he fires or not. Though he did dispatch his father Han Solo (Harrison Ford) during the climax of the previous film, there does still seem to be good in him. Perhaps “The Last Jedi” will involve a journey back from the darkness for the character.
Any mention of Fisher must include a note of sadness at the actress’s premature death in 2016. Though she had completed the vast majority of her filming for “The Last Jedi,” there were rumored plans to feature her heavily in future films. Both Johnson and Kennedy have said that her performance in “The Last Jedi” is one of the strongest of her career, so it looks like her final bow will be worthy of her legacy.
As Star Wars fans get ready for the premiere, the future of the franchise looks bright. Director Ron Howard is moving ahead on a Han Solo-centric prequel film, while J.J. Abrams will return to finish the sequel trilogy with a sequel to “The Last Jedi.”
No matter what twists and turns are in store for us – and there are sure to be many – it’s a wonderful time to be a Star Wars fan.
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