This Star Wars article contains spoilers.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi picks up where The Force Awakens left off: Rey, Finn, Poe, and Leia must deal with the repercussions of Han Solo’s death, the discovery of Luke Skywalker, and the continued rise of the First Order. However, while The Last Jedi may be taking all of its plot-related cues from The Force Awakens, its thematic interests are much more in line with the subtly subversive Rogue One. These two movies respond to the Original Trilogy with a similar approach, not afraid to contextualize the beloved trilogy in critical ways.
If you’re looking to set the tone for The Last Jedi, don’t worry about re-watching The Force Awakens. War film Rogue One, with its story of the “no ones” who make up the Rebellion, should be your pre-The Last Jedi appetizer.
The critical path is one The Force Awakens mostly avoids—instead, choosing to play it safe, paying homage to the Original Trilogy, especially A New Hope, without challenging many of its more problematic elements. I don’t mean to downplay the advancements in diversity The Force Awakens made, particularly in casting a women and a black men as the film’s two main characters. They matter. However, while The Force Awakens is a love letter to A New Hope; The Last Jedi, like Rogue One, is a loving, yet criticial conversation.
Without giving too much away about how events play out in The Last Jedi, I will say that it is a movie that prioritizes the strength of the collective, diverse ensemble above the glory of the lone hero-protagonist. It is much like Rogue One in this way, which retroactively made A New Hope into a better story by putting Luke’s heroic actions into the context of the larger Rebellion. His victory in blowing up the Death Star doesn’t just belong to him, but to people like Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor who sacrificed themselves so that he could succeed.
The Last Jedi does something similar, with a story that refuses to fall into the Chosen One structure. No, this isn’t a story of how one man—or even one woman—will save the galaxy. It is the story of how the fight will be long and the fight will be hard, and hope will only endure if we are able to put the work of the cause over the excitement of the temporary victory.
The Last Jedi, like Rogue One, is also a movie that is deeply interested in the inequalities of the Star Wars universe. This doesn’t mean simply having your white, male protagonist notice the injustices of the world, but creating a world that has many points of view. This diversity is particularly striking in the storyline that involves Finn, a former Stormtrooper played by a British-Nigerian man, and Rose, a rebel mechanic played by a Vietnamese-American woman, as the main players.
Tran is the first Asian-American character to appear in the Star Wars films. The fact that her storyline is not only one of the main ones, but that she shares the spotlight with another character of color is even more groundbreaking. Speaking to Rolling Stone about the experience of filming The Last Jedi alongside Boyega, Tran said:
We actually had this one moment on set that I still hold really close to my heart. This one day we were shooting this scene and I remember John stopping and saying, ‘Kelly, we’re making history right now’ … and we were. Because not only are we making a Star Wars movie, we have scenes where it’s just John and myself.
The Last Jedi improves on the richness of Rogue One‘s world, not only by making the foreground and background players much more diverse, but by bringing more diverse characters into the foreground and giving them things to do. This is particularly striking when it comes to the female representation in the film.
Laura Dern, who plays Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo in The Last Jedi, put it best in an interview with Collider: “I just want to pay tribute to Rian for being one of the most brilliantly subversive filmmakers I’ve ever been able to bear witness to. In the case of the look of my character, I was moved by the fact that he really wanted her strength to lead with a very deep femininity. To see a powerful female character also be feminine is something that moves away from a stereotype that’s sometimes perceived, that strong female characters must be like the boys. I thought that was a really interesting choice to get to witness.”
In Rogue One, Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is more or less the only female character with anything to do, and she falls into the Strong Female Character archetype Dern is talking about. In The Last Jedi, we get characters like Tran’s Rose Tico, Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo, and of course, Carrie Fisher’s General Leia, all of whom have real arcs to delve into, creating a feminine diversity we don’t usually get to see in Hollywood blockbusters.
One of the best scenes in The Last Jedi comes in a conversation between Admiral Holdo and General Leia that shows the trust and respect these two women of experience and power have for one another. It is rare to see even one older woman in a blockbuster movie like this one, but to see two in positions of power is almost unheard of. I cannot think of any similar scenes, save for some of the Themyscira scenes in Wonder Woman or the Many Mothers in Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s an improvement upon everything that has come before in the Star Wars films.
“This is not going to go the way you think,” Luke Skywalker tells Rey at one point in The Last Jedi, a moment that has already been shown in the trailers—a clue about the unpredictability of the story, yes, but also a harbinger of continued, progressive change for the larger franchise.
If you think The Last Jedi will be following the same narrative cues as the Original Trilogy like The Force Awakens did, then you’re in for a shock. Star Wars is no longer simply the story of the coming-of-age of a Chosen One. Like Rogue One, The Last Jedi refuses to indulge in such exclusionary fantasies of privilege.
No, this is a movie where the powerful white men are the villains, where the women of all ages and ethnicities are the ones doing the emotional labor and the work of the revolution, and where every life is worth something. Jyn Erso would be proud.