Princess turned Admiral Leia Organa was front and center this fall on movie posters, heralding the release of Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi a tribute to the late Carrie Fisher’s popularity and importance to the franchise.
Following her passing last December at the age of 60, it was announced that Fisher had completed filming all her scenes for the new film. Leia’s fate remains a mystery, but rabid anticipation and rampant speculation continued through the year as tidbits, trailers, and videos trickled out.

Speaking about the new film, written and directed by Rian Johnson, Daisy Ridley (the budding Jedi Rey) stated, “What Rian has written is unexpected but right…it feels like its own thing.” Added John Boyega (Finn), “Everything is being shifted in an opposite way from what the audience expects. Everything is fresh and new.” Johnson himself offered, “I’m hoping it will be a little shocking, but will feel fresh and honest.” Finally, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) observed that, “They threw things at me I never could have imagined.” Indeed, Skywalker cautions at the end of one trailer, “This is not going to go the way you think.”

Fans initially feared the film’s foreboding title meant demise of the Jedi order. Johnson allayed in an interview that the answer is plainly explained in the opening crawl of last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens: “Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed.” Observed the director, “There’s always a little wiggle room in these movies”.

Johnson’s first film was 2005’s Brick, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, which took a Special Jury Prize for Originality at the Sundance Film Festival (Levitt is rumored to provide a voice in The Last Jedi). Johnson also directed the actor in 2012’s Looper, as well as several episodes of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Johnson’s profile states that one of his trademarks is casting a female Asian character with relevance to the plot, and in The Last Jedi, California native Kelly Marie Tran joins the Star Wars universe as Rose Tico, a Resistance maintenance worker whose sister was a gunner. The director cited 1949’s Twelve O’Clock High, 1957’s Bridge on the River Kwai, and 1964’s Three Outlaw Samurai as inspirations.

The Last Jedi introduces more new characters and reportedly reveals back stories of characters who debuted in The Force Awakens. Returning are Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Boyega (Finn), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C 3PO), and Gwendolyn Christie (Captain Phasma). The role of Lieutenant Connix, played by Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd in The Force Awakens, has been expanded for the new film, and John Williams returns as composer. Newcomers include Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro, and this is the first Star Wars film in which Kenny Baker will not portray droid hero R2 D2. ( Jimmy Vee took the part after Baker’s death.)

What will happen next in a galaxy far, far away? Is Rey headed to Jedi glory, or will she turn to the Dark Side and join Driver’s evil Kylo Ren (what looks like the answer in the trailer could simply be diversionary editing)? Will Ren follow in the Imperial footsteps of his grandfather Darth Vader? If so, is the fact that Vader ultimately reformed and reverted to Anakin Skywalker an indication of Ren’s future?

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One thing is certain. At the end of a behind the scenes trailer released in October, Fisher explained of the film, “It’s about family and that’s what’s so powerful about it.”