BUILT TO LAST: MEET THE CHARACTERS OF THE LAST JEDI
Star Wars welcomes back heroes and villains we love from The Force Awakens while adding new ones
By Jedd Jong
Back in the 70s, 80s, late 90s and 2000s, Memorial Day weekend in mid-late May was when everyone knew to expect a Star Wars movie. Starting with The Force Awakens, the space opera franchise has claimed the Christmas period for itself, with that film and Rogue One opening in winter rather than summer. Star Wars frenzy is reaching a fever pitch with the release of The Last Jedi right around the corner.
The eighth instalment in the main series of films has a tough act to follow, considering how The Force Awakens grossed over $2 billion at the worldwide box office. While some have decried it for being too repetitive in following the template laid down by the original Star Wars film A New Hope, the film was critically acclaimed and announced loud and proud that Star Wars was back.
Beloved characters such as Han Solo, Leia and Chewbacca appeared in The Force Awakens supporting roles – in Luke Skywalker’s case, he barely appeared at all. We were introduced to a trio of intrepid heroes: Rey, the scavenger with a destiny to fulfil; Finn, the Stormtrooper who defects to the side of good; and Poe Dameron, the heroic ace pilot – plus Poe’s trusty Astromech droid BB-8. Leading the charge on the side of the villains was Kylo Ren, who answers to the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke.
Director Rian Johnson takes the reins from J. J. Abrams for The Last Jedi, and the trailers have teased that Johnson has plenty of tricks up his sleeves. Fans have been tantalised with the promise of an upended status quo – in the trailer Luke says through gritted teeth, “this is not going to go the way you think!”
Before you watch The Last Jedi in theatres – which we have a feeling you will (the Force told us) – get reacquainted with the characters who inhabit this galaxy far, far away, and meet a few who will be introduced in the new movie. Don’t worry, this piece is spoiler-free – we wrote it before watching the movie.
#1: REY (Daisy Ridley)
After clinching the coveted role of the new lead heroine in a Star Wars trilogy, English actress Daisy Ridley was launched into superstardom. The filmmakers received much praise for putting a woman front and centre – this reflects the reality behind-the-scenes, with Star Wars creator George Lucas ceding control of Lucasfilm to producer Kathleen Kennedy.
In The Force Awakens, Rey, the scavenger from the far-flung desert planet of Jakku, was plunged headlong into the adventure of a lifetime. She shares an unexplained link to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, and touching it triggered a vision littered with little clues that fans were eager to decipher. The Last Jedi will see Rey undergo training at the hands of Luke Skywalker, while resisting the call of the Dark Side as Snoke tries to turn her, just as he has turned Kylo Ren.
Ridley characterises Rey’s arc in The Last Jedi as “more of an emotional journey, than a physical one.” Ridley added that Rey “gets to ask questions about herself and the world around her,” questions which encompass her “parentage and heritage – wherever that may be.” To undertake the combat scenes, Ridley said she trained for a year, and has become more confident in his lightsaber-wielding abilities. Ridley also revealed that even after she has become the new face of Star Wars, her father is still a die-hard Star Trek devotee.
#2: LUKE SKYWALKER (Mark Hamill)
It’s impossible to look at Rey’s arc in The Force Awakens and not draw comparisons to Luke – orphan (?) living on a desert planet who dreams of adventure inadvertently gets roped in to join the fight against an evil empire, taking their first steps towards their destiny. The plot of The Force Awakens involved tracking down a vanished Luke – after his nephew/pupil Kylo Ren (née Ben Solo) turned to the Dark Side, Luke considered this a personal failure and went into self-imposed exile on the planet Ahch-To. Bringing Luke’s lightsaber with her, Rey travelled to Ahch-To to find Luke and learn from him. Hamill says that Luke is dogged by “that guilt, that feeling that it’s his fault, that he didn’t detect the darkness in [Kylo] until it was too late.”
Hamill didn’t find the stardom that many thought would come after starring in the Star Wars trilogy, but he has gone on to become an established and sought-after voice actor, memorably voicing the DC Comics villain the Joker in various animated series, animated films and video games. To reprise the role of Luke Skywalker, once a wide-eyed rookie and now a wizened, haunted mentor figure, Hamill went on a strict diet and exercise regiment, losing around 22 kg.
Hamill admits to being shocked by the direction in which Johnson’s script takes Luke, and initially disagreeing with it. “It it took me a while to get around to his way of thinking, but once I was there it was a thrilling experience,” Hamill explained, saying he hopes the audience will share that thrill.
Hamill said that being appreciated by the fans is a “reward that just never stops giving” and “really moving”. Hamill was conferred the Disney Legend award at this year’s D23 convention, which he called an “out-of-body experience”.
#3: FINN (John Boyega)
The man formerly known as Stormtrooper FN-2187 went from being a soldier for the First Order to a selfless champion of the Resistance. Boyega, who like his co-star Ridley is a 25-year-old from England, has also become a recognisable star. He will next be seen headlining and co-producing Pacific Rim: Uprising, as the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the first Pacific Rim movie.
Boyega is a self-professed Star Wars mega-fan, and he brought an action figure of Han Solo for Harrison Ford to autograph when Boyega first met Ford during pre-production on The Force Awakens. Boyega echoes the sentiments of cast members who say audiences are in for a surprise. “[Rian] had a chance to really go crazy, and I’m a big Star Wars buff so certain things I saw I was just like ‘Well, that’s a first,’” Boyega said, calling this “really cool to experience.” Boyega got along well with Johnson, comparing the director to Santa Claus because of his jovial nature. Johnson gifted Boyega the prop blaster that Finn uses in the film.
While it seemed like Rey and Finn were being set up as romantic partners, with Finn having an obvious crush on Rey in The Force Awakens, the characters spend the bulk of the movie apart from each other. “They are separate in this film; it’s like two separate stories,” Boyega said, teasing “maybe they are in a long-distance relationship right now?”
Instead of Rey, Finn is teaming up with Resistance technician Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and both have to go undercover in a First Order installation. As seen in the trailer, he clashes with former boss Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Describing the scenario, Boyega joked “imagine you work at McDonald’s. You push your manager into a chute compactor and then a year later you decide to go back dressed as one of the colleagues. It’s not the best situation.”
#4: GENERAL LEIA ORGANA (Carrie Fisher)
One of the most iconic heroines in science fiction/fantasy film, the Leia character is now shrouded in tragedy. Onscreen, the character must deal with not only the burden of knowing her son has turned evil, but that he has killed his father; her husband, Han Solo. The real world lost actress Carrie Fisher, who has served as an inspiration to many thanks to her honest and humorous recollections of her tumultuous personal and professional life. Fisher died on December 27 2016 and just a day later, her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away too. The Last Jedi marks Fisher’s final film appearance.
Fisher had filmed all her scenes before her death, and Johnson has stated that he did not tailor the movie to be a send-off to her, but several emotional scenes have taken on greater resonance in the wake of Fisher’s passing. Johnson and Hamill both called Fisher “irreplaceable”. Johnson felt that he and Fisher “connected as writers”, and he welcomed Fisher’s input on the screenplay. When Fisher died, Johnson was deep into post-production, and he said that coming back to the editing suite after the Christmas and New Year break to watch Fisher’s scenes was “so hard”. Johnson called Fisher’s performance in the film “beautiful and complete”.
The film’s female cast members paid tribute to the trailblazing character and the actress who portrayed her. “[Leia] really stayed with me throughout my formative years,” Christie said, adding that she admired how Leia “doesn’t care what people think and isn’t prepare to be told what to do.” For Christie, this “was really instrumental…as someone who didn’t feel like I fit in that homogenized view of what a woman is supposed to be and there was inspiration there.”
Tran spoke of Fisher’s courage in putting herself on the public stage, flaws and all, to candidly talk about her struggles with substance abuse and mental illness. “She was so unapologetic, and so openly herself, and that is something that I am really trying to do, and it’s hard,” Tran admitted. “I think that she will always be an icon as Leia, but also as Carrie,” Tran saying, saying she was “so fortunate to have met her” and that Fisher “really will live on forever.” Fisher’s legacy lives on in part through her daughter Billie Lourd, who reprises the role of Lieutenant Connix from The Force Awakens.
#5: POE DAMERON (Oscar Isaac)
The dashing Resistance pilot Poe Dameron is the most swashbuckling figure of our trio of new protagonists – in The Force Awakens, he offers a whoop as his X-Wing skims the surface of a lake on Takodana. Many identified the Poe character as being in the mould of Han Solo. However, Isaac says that the character will veer a little away from that archetype, while retaining his heroism. “I think what Rian [Johnson] did was make it less about filling a slot and more about what the story needs,” Isaac considered. At this point in the story, the Resistance is low on manpower, fleeing for their lives from the powerful First Order, and in need of someone to take the helm. “Leia is grooming me — him — to be a leader of the Resistance, as opposed to a dashing, rogue hero,” Isaac said.
Isaac’s comments strengthen the impression that The Last Jedi will be considerably darker than The Force Awakens, and that our heroes are in for a rough ride. “The heroes get challenged very specifically. It’s almost like you get to discover their character flaws and those things get tested,” Isaac said, adding that audiences will get a better sense of Poe, Finn and Rey “because you get to really know somebody in a crisis.”
Large swathes of the internet are ‘Stormpilot shippers’ – they root for the characters of Poe and Finn to end up as romantic partners. There’s palpable chemistry on display between Isaac and Boyega, and Poe even names Finn. Isaac does a pretty telling lip bite when the characters are reunited in The Force Awakens, after each thinks the other has died. “I was playing romance. In the cockpit I was playing… there was a deep romance,” Isaac said.
Alas, dreams of ‘Stormpilot’ becoming canon have been dashed by Boyega, who said the romantic pairing “only exists in Oscar’s head”.
#6: KYLO REN (Adam Driver)
The villainous Kylo Ren is an impulsive, fiery character, someone whose unconscionable actions can be justified at least in part by having been manipulated by powerful dark forces. Driver, who has been described by some as “unconventionally handsome”, won over droves of fangirls with his portrayal of the brooding Kylo.
Kylo idolises his grandfather Darth Vader, and longs to bring the Empire, in its new guise as the First Order, back to the heights of its power under Vader. “He’s a vulnerable kid who doesn’t know where to put his energy, but when he puts his mask on, suddenly, he’s playing a role,” Driver said of the character. “J.J. had that idea initially and I think Rian took it to the next level.”
Kylo is at the centre of the most talked-about moment in The Force Awakens – the death of Han Solo. Driver understood the gravity of this moment, saying he felt “sick to his stomach” watching the movie at the premiere, in anticipation of the horrible deed his character would execute. “I was holding my wife [Joanne Tucker]’s hand, and she’s like, ‘You’re really cold. Are you OK?’ Because I just knew what was coming – I kill Harrison Ford – and I didn’t know how this audience of 2000 people was going to respond to it, you know?”
As part of playing the character, Driver was withdrawn and self-serious on set. “The things about that character that I find painful, that I really relate to, I kind of prefer to keep to myself,” Driver said of his process.
Various cast members attempting to get him to lighten up. Hamill invited Driver for lunch, but he declined. Boyega attempted surprising Driver with random hugs, which Driver did not seem to enjoy. “He just stands there,” Boyega said. “He just waits for me to be done.”
Driver does have a fun side though: he famously portrayed Kylo Ren going incognito on Starkiller Base as ‘Matt the Radar Technician’ in a side-splitting Saturday Night Live sketch that aired in January 2016.
#7: SUPREME LEADER SNOKE (Andy Serkis)
Other than Rey’s parentage, the other giant magnet for speculation in The Last Jedi is the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. The enigmatic head of the First Order who snatched young Ben Solo from Luke Skywalker’s tutelage, turning him into Kylo Ren. The character is portrayed via performance capture by Andy Serkis, famed for playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy.
Serkis has been fielding many questions about the mysterious Snoke. “He’s definitely not a Sith, but he’s certainly at the darker end of the Force,” Serkis revealed, adding “that begins to unfold a little in this one,” – whatever “that” may be. Snoke is apparently “extremely strong with the Force,” but Serkis adds that while Snoke is “terribly powerfully”, he is also “a very vulnerable and wounded character.” Snoke’s deformities include a mangled jaw, and to help capture that in his performance, Serkis would tape down the left side of his mouth to restrict the lip movement.
The character was seen in The Force Awakens as a hologram seated on a throne, and appeared to be humongous. In The Last Jedi, we see Snoke in the flesh, and he’s about 2.7 m tall. Snoke has a penchant for luxury, which manifests itself in his gold robes and striking crimson-hued throne room. Snoke’s personal security force, the Praetorian Guard, also wear bright red armour. Serkis characterised Snoke as “flamboyant” and “slightly oligarch”.
In The Last Jedi, Snoke is none too pleased with his young apprentice. “His training of Kylo Ren is not yielding what he wants,” Serkis said. “Therefore, his anger towards Kylo Ren is intensified because he can’t bear weakness in others.” Serkis added that part of Snoke’s manipulation of Kylo involves playing Kylo and General Hux (Dohmnall Gleeson), Kylo’s right-hand man, off each other.
Johnson has warned fans that all the mysteries regarding the character might not be laid bare in this instalment, saying “We’ll learn exactly as much about Snoke as we need to.” Johnson added that it was “really exciting” seeing Serkis, whom he called “a force of nature”, play the character, since he got to do “much more in this film than in the last one.”
#8: ROSE TICO (Kelly Marie Tran)
The Last Jedi introduces several new characters, with Resistance engineer Rose Tico touted to have the largest part among these inductees. Rose is played by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran. This is set to be Tran’s big break – prior to clinching the role, she was active in improv groups, appearing in the College Humor Originals and Ladies Like Us web series. There are very few actors of Asian descent in the Star Wars saga – prior to Tran, the largest roles played by Asian actors were that of Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Tran describes Rose as being “smart, brave and loyal, someone who knows she comes from a humble beginning – she’s not a princess, she’s not a superhero.” The character is someone who has always been comfortable fighting the good fight while remaining firmly in the background, but circumstances draw her to the forefront of a galaxy-spanning conflict. Rose’s older sister Paige (Veronica Ngo) has taken a more active role in the conflict as a gunner.
“I think she symbolises that there are always so many background players in any revolution, and without those people you can’t have those people at the forefront,” Tran said, reasoning that “if their ships aren’t working, they can’t be fighting the First Order.
Tran has admitted to having never seen any of the Star Wars films prior to clinching the role. She has said that because she wasn’t a die-hard fan to begin with, she was able to approach the audition as if it were for any other part, lessening the pressure in the moment. Of course, the fact that she is part of a worldwide phenomenon will sink in sooner or later. “When I saw the action figures, I was like, ‘This is insane,’ but it still hasn’t sunk in or registered on me,” Tran said.
“Growing up I watched a lot of [pop culture] and didn’t really get to see a lot of people that looked like me,” Tran said. “I think that I’m really lucky to be this person, and I get to be part of this franchise. I hope that it is a move in a better direction.”
Tran worked long hours at a temp agency to pay the bills, and revealed that she nearly quit acting. Her persistence has led her to join the Resistance, and we can already see Rose being an inspiration to many young viewers of all backgrounds.