The release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is fast approaching and even though Disney seems to be trying as hard as possible to wear us out on the franchise only three years into their “new Star Wars film every year” plan (is anyone actually looking forward to Solo?), it’s hard not to be excited for this one. After all, we’ll finally be seeing Mark Hamill’s proper return to the franchise, with his first speaking role as Luke Skywalker since 1983’s Return of the Jedi, and the film has a legit talent behind the lens with director Rian Johnson, who also wrote the story.
The Force Awakens had to shoulder enormous expectations and largely met those expectations in being a better film than any of George Lucas’ prequels. Still, now that we’ve had time for the hype to die down, it’s easier to look at J.J. Abrams’ film a bit more critically and even though it’s easy to like, it’s hard to deny that The Force Awakens has a number of issues holding it back from greatness. Fortunately, that film has already laid out the blueprint of what to do and what not to do with a new Star Wars film, so as long as The Last Jedi makes improvements in the following areas, it should have no problem in being a better film than The Force Awakens.
11. Give Captain Phasma Something To Do
In terms of appearance, it’s hard to think of a new character introduced in The Force Awakens who looked as cool as Captain Phasma. With her imposing stature and special chrome helmet, the stormtrooper commander was a big draw in the lead-up to the film’s release, as she looked like a tough customer you wouldn’t want to mess with. And then the film arrived, revealing Phasma to be one giant pushover with only a scant few lines of dialogue. Her most pivotal scene turned out to be one in which she’s easily overpowered by Han, Chewie, and Finn and thrown into a garbage compactor offscreen. Yes, the badass stormtrooper ended up being the butt of a joke that was just there to reference something from the original Star Wars.
An actress as talented as Gwendoline Christie deserved better than this and it looks like The Last Jedi is taking steps to rectify this mistake. Although her one-on-one clash with Finn takes up all of a few seconds in the trailer, that’s still more action than Phasma got to do in the entirety of The Force Awakens. John Boyega has even hinted that this fight will be a showstopper, tweeting that “If you’ever had a crappy boss … You’ll wanna see this fight …” We’ll have to wait for the final release to know for sure whether Captain Phasma finally gets her due, but it looks like The Last Jedi is well on its way to making her the breakout villain she should have been from the beginning.
10. Have Better Choreographed Lightsaber Battles
As much as the Star Wars prequels get dumped on for being borderline unwatchable films, they did get a few things right. Specifically, even if you despise the prequels, it’s hard to deny that their lightsaber duels are impressive displays of fight choreography and acrobatic stuntwork. In contrast, the lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren at the end of The Force Awakens is serviceable, but rather bland and lacking the thrill of something like the epic clash between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn from The Phantom Menace.
The Force Awakens’ final fight is so forgettable that prequel star Samuel L. Jackson threw shade at it not long after the film’s release, telling ABC News, “I think the kids need to go to lightsaber fight school, but … that’s just me thinking out. They got time to get better.” Jackson makes a good point, as Kylo Ren and especially Rey are still relatively inexperienced compared to the Jedi and Sith we see fight in the Star Wars prequels and with both characters receiving further training over the course of The Last Jedi, their next encounter — and really, any lightsaber fight that happens in the film — should be much more impressive to watch.
9. Make The First Order Have A Creative Plan
At first glance, the First Order seems much more formidable than the Galactic Empire, with stormtroopers that can actually hit targets with their guns and even more powerful superweapon capable of destroying multiple planets in one go. That being said, the First Order also shares the Empire’s penchant for bad planning, as they pretty much repeat the latter’s mistakes beat-for-beat throughout The Force Awakens.
Not only do they have a base of operations that seems overly susceptible to infiltration and sabotage, but they essentially just copy the Empire’s Death Star plan — a plan which, it should be noted, failed on two separate occasions. This issue ties into the larger problem of The Force Awakens regurgitating the plot of A New Hope but if the First Order ends up having hatching another scheme to take down the Resistance in The Last Jedi, I hope it involves something a bit more creative than something with a proven track record of failing miserably.
8. Fill In Character Backstories
One of the best parts of The Force Awakens is the new characters it introduces. Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren are all excellent additions to the Star Wars universe and each one feels fully realized, with their own motivations and backstories to discover. Unfortunately, it’s that last bit that feels particularly underserviced, as we still don’t really know all that much about any of these characters outside of their actions in the film. For instance, let’s look at the differences between how Luke Skywalker and Rey are characterized, as both have similar hero journies. Both characters are orphans with humble beginnings who dream of something bigger than the mundane lives they lead, but the difference is that we get much more context for why Luke is the way he is than we do with Rey.
A New Hope establishes that Luke dreams of adventure both because his friends have gone off to join the Rebellion and also because he meets someone — Obi-Wan Kenobi — who knew Luke’s father. Like Rey, we don’t learn who Luke’s family history right away, but Rey’s parents might as well not exist for how much influence they have on her motivations. This is all a longwinded way of saying that The Force Awakens is frustrating in its lack of definitive answers to any questions we might have about its characters, whereas a film like A New Hope teases out just enough to give us a good idea of who its characters are, while also whetting our appetites for more mysteries to be solved down the road. The Last Jedi needs to spend less time being secretive just for the sake of it, and reveal information about these characters that goes a little deeper into who they are.
7 … But Also Introduce New Mysteries
The Last Jedi definitely needs to answer some questions. Chief among them would be what happened between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren, why Luke thinks the Jedi needs to end, and who Rey’s parents are. That being said, it’s also important to leave audiences wanting more and it would be disappointing if The Last Jedi were to just devolve into one big info-dump and left no stones unturned. This is why I hope the film introduces some new mysteries to take the place of the ones we’re currently wrestling with, such as a new twist to the age old feud between the Jedi and Sith, or teasing the return of a character in Episode IX (hey Lando!).
In that sense, The Last Jedi has a tough balancing act to maintain, as it has to provide some answers to the many questions introduced by The Force Awakens while also making sure to not give too much away, but I’m confident that the film will deliver in this regard as long as it doesn’t just feel like one long setup chapter for Episode IX.
6. Feature Memorable New Planets
The Force Awakens featured all-new locations not seen in previous Star Wars films, but you wouldn’t know that if the film didn’t explicitly state it. This is because pretty much all the “new” planets felt like retreads of ones we’d already seen before. Jakku is a boring desert planet like Tatooine, Takadona and D’Qar are reminiscent of Yavin IV; Hosnian Prime (seen briefly) looks an awful lot like Coruscant, and even Starkiller Base is housed on a planet that looks an awful lot like Hoth. Star Wars is at its best and most imaginative when it’s taking us to the bizarre corners of a galaxy far, far away.
Say what you will about the prequels, but those films have some of the coolest planet designs in the franchise. Even Rogue One felt like a step up over The Force Awakens in this regard, as there seemed to be some actual thought put into making locations like Jedha and Scarif look at least a little different from other planets we’d already visited in previous Star Wars films. Fortunately, it sounds like The Last Jedi has dreamed up some cool new locations, such as Crait and the casino planet, Canto Bight, but time will tell just how memorable these new planets actually are.
5. Don’t Just Turn Snoke Into Emperor 2.0
One of the biggest mysteries introduced in The Force Awakens is Supreme Leader Snoke, the enigmatic figure in charge of the First Order who appears only in hologram form. We already know that Snoke will appear in his truel form at some point in The Last Jedi, which means that we don’t have to worry about not seeing him in the film but judging by what we’ve seen so far, there’s a real danger in Snoke being too similar to his predecessor, Emperor Palpatine.
Of course, it’s hard not to compare the two considering they’re both leaders of evil regimes with strong connections to the Force, but I think there’s a danger in Snoke becoming Emperor 2.0 rather than a unique villain in his own right. Given how little we know about Snoke still at this juncture, it’s hard to know how closely he actually resembles the Emperor, but I think there’s a way to put a unique twist on the character that differentiates him from Palpatine, while also feeling like the next logical step in the “ugly, shadowy figure with crazy powers” archetype …
… unless it turns out that Snoke IS Palpatine, in which case you can disregard this whole argument.
4. Have Kylo Ren Step Out From Under Vader’s Shadow
Kylo Ren is a great villain for a number of reasons, but I think the most interesting thing about him is that he idolizes Darth Vader and models himself after the Dark Lord of the Sith, but comes up short in pretty much every way. Whereas Vader is calm and collected, Kylo is prone to throwing hissy fits when he doesn’t get his way. Whereas Luke is humbled by his first true battle with Vader, the roles are reversed when Rey encounters Kylo and it’s the former who ends up gaining the upper hand. This all worked really well in The Force Awakens but when it comes to the sequel, I hope that Kylo Ren finds a way to distance himself from his legendary grandfather a bit.
As much as having the character be a pale imitation of Darth Vader is an interesting route to take, I think it would be even more meaningful to have Kylo actually learn from his mistakes in The Force Awakens and stop trying to live in Vader’s shadow. Whether he does this by forging his own path as a master of the dark side or even by turning back towards the light at some point, Kylo Ren can only get better as a character if the Darth Vader comparisons can be left behind and he starts establishing himself as a memorable villain (or hero) that is uniquely his own creation.
3. Feature Some Actual ‘Star Wars’
A Star Wars movie just doesn’t feel complete without a good starship battle or two, and The Force Awakens treated us to some exciting ones, including the thrilling Millenium Falcon chase on Jakku and the Resistance’s timely rescue on Takadona. That being said, the one problem that these scenes share is that they are all in-atmosphere dogfights. As cool as it is to see X-Wings fighting TIE Fighters against a blue sky backdrop, it’s just not the same as seeing them do battle in the icy cold blackness of space.
For one thing, space battles offer much more, well, space, in which to fly around, which means that tons of bigger ships like Star Destroyers can be part of the fray as well. Plus, isn’t “a war among the stars” what Star Wars is all about? The good thing is that it looks like The Last Jedi will feature at least one such epic clash, as the trailers show Resistance and First Order ships firing on one another in space.
2. Don’t Just Copy ‘Empire’
As already mentioned, one of the biggest drawbacks with The Force Awakens is that it feels like a remake of A New Hope, repeating much of the same story beats throughout. With its darker tone and middle chapter status, The Last Jedi has been drawing comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back, still regarded by many as the best Star Wars film to date. To his credit, director Rian Johnson has already admitted to there being similarities between the two films, specifically pointing to Rey’s training with Luke and the Resistance being “in a tough spot” are reminscent of Empire, stating that “by its very nature, there are some structural parallels.”
But Johnson has also stressed that the film is still doing something new and that its this feature that “ultimately is what defines the movie.” As long as The Last Jedi can show us some new things we haven’t seen yet in a Star Wars movie, it shouldn’t be too difficult for it to shake the Empire comparisons. The question I’m more concerned with is whether or not the film will be able to top The Empire Strikes Back.
1. Make Major Character Deaths Feel More Significant
Han Solo’s death was arguably the most pivotal scene in The Force Awakens, but the film undermined the scene’s emotional weight a bit by glossing over the fallout of such a monumental event. Yes, we see Chewbacca get really ticked off and shoot Kylo Ren and Leia is clearly devastated by the loss of her former lover, being able to sense Han’s death from planets away, but this is all the acknowledgment we really see. J.J. Abrams has even been upfront about this issue, stating that one of his regrets with the film was not having a scene showing Chewie and Leia embrace one another in their grief over Han’s death.
Fortunately, Han’s death will still be fresh on everyone’s mind when The Last Jedi begins, so there’s plenty of opportunity to make it feel more like the pivotal moment it deserves to be. I want to see Kylo Ren wrestle with his decision to kill his father and Leia trying to pick up the pieces and soldier on without the father of her child around. I also want to see Chewbacca getting pissed at the First Order for taking his best friend and when Rey inevitably tells Luke about what happened, the old Jedi should be shaken up by his friend’s death. Basically, The Last Jedi needs to establish Han Solo’s demise as this moment of shared trauma that wounds our heroes on an emotional level but eventually makes them stronger than before.