Plenty of reviews have already been written debating the relative merits and demerits of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. So, I’ll avoid that well-trodden territory, and instead gladly highlight the significant role women and people of color play throughout the film.
Women and minority characters of substance were missing from the original Lucas trilogy (with the notable exceptions of Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and Billy Dee Williams’s Lando Calrissian). Considering the state of diversity in 1970s and 1980s Hollywood (almost nonexistent), even these two characters were remarkable for their time. But in The Last Jedi, nonwhite and femme characters are the true heroes.
In a galaxy far, far away
At a whopping 152 minutes, writer-director Rian Johnson wastes no time in picking up right where The Force Awakens left off. The rebels are cornered by First Order troops and, despite making a hasty retreat, they are tracked to their new location. This inciting incident leads former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and a new character, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), on a mission to retrieve a master hacker capable of disabling the tracking system aboard the main star destroyer.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) convinces reluctant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the ways of the Jedi. Plot threads intersect once Rey decides to confront Darth Vader’s grandson, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), in the hopes of converting him to the Light Side.
In nearly every scene of The Last Jedi we see powerful women leaders taking charge of the increasingly bad situations caused by their male counterparts. Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) brash decision to destroy a dreadnought in the film’s opening sequence results in the decimation of the resistance fleet.
The only reason Poe’s mission is successful is through the sacrifice of an Asian female pilot. After General Leia (Carrie Fisher) demotes him, Poe is left taking orders from Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), whose final act of heroism involves sacrificing herself to ensure the safe retreat of the remaining Resistance forces after Poe stages a failed mutiny.
The kids are alright
Skywalker, the franchise's original hero, spends the bulk of his screen time wallowing like a spoiled child over his failure to prevent Kylo Ren from turning toward the Dark Side. Rey pushes him to embrace the Force, and her heroism serves as a strong foil to Luke’s inaction.
This treatment of an aged Luke as a cantankerous and unenthusiastic teacher is what many of the negative reviews have homed in on, and a fan-led petition with over 71,000 signatures demanded that this film be excluded from the official series canon. However, I find writer/director Rian Johnson’s decision to bring the story full circle remarkable. He embraces both the original trilogy’s treatment of elder Jedi as curmudgeonly recluses (true for both Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi) and clears the way for the current generation of Star Wars heroes. As Kylo Ren ominously remarks, “Let the past die. Kill it if you must.”
A side plot provides ample screen time for the development of this film’s most likeable characters, Finn and Rose. Finn continues to prove himself as an emerging hero of the resistance and receives more screen time than any other male characters. Aside from Rose’s underdeveloped and sudden romantic interest toward Finn, she was written as a fleshed-out character with room to grow into a larger role. Benicio Del Toro’s supporting role as DJ the thief is another welcome addition that will hopefully continue into the next film. Most importantly, each of these roles avoids typecasting and stereotyping.
Master Yoda’s profound quote comes to mind: “The true curse of masters; we are what students outgrow.” Indeed, the new multicultural, woman-led generation of Star Wars heroes seem to be doing so, with this film as their rite of passage.