In a year that has seen attempts to silence many women, from sitting senators to sexual assault victims — and as Time magazine salutes “the silence breakers” as most deserving of recognition in 2017 — “The Last Jedi” feels utterly of the cultural zeitgeist. The Star Wars film tops a year that included the breakout success of Patty Jenkins’s rousing “Wonder Woman,” which featured an entire island of wise and mighty Amazons, and offered such confident combatants as Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in “Thor: Ragnarok.”
Now, Leia resists, and Rey persists.
In the original Star Wars series, Leia (Carrie Fisher) was often the token female fighter surrounded by male humans, male droid voices and male “walking carpets.” Since then, the theatrical films have added Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman, portraying one female senator who could not be silenced), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as the leading female figures in their own films.
With “The Last Jedi” (opening Friday), however, Disney, Lucasfilm and writer-director Rian Johnson give us at least four Resistance characters who receive featured prominence as fierce women warriors.
Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) commands the screen, as well as her Resistance forces, with the gravitas of hard-won wisdom, the power princess’s youthful spunkiness having matured into deliberate, knowing movements. George Lucas’s Leia couldn’t wait to defend her world; Johnson’s Leia, by contrast, must visibly bear the weight of her world.
Leia is flanked by an unflinching vice admiral in the lavender-tressed Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), who, when called upon, has a deep sense of mission and knows well the painful wages of war. When challenged by a “mansplaining” flyboy like Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), she gives no quarter.
Having shed her naivete since 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” Rey (Daisy Ridley) has gone to train under Leia’s twin, Luke (Mark Hamill). He tries to rebuff her desire to know the Jedi Way very early in the film. Nevertheless, she persists.
And new to the Resistance cause is Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker-turned-cockpit hero who does not hesitate to challenge the now-legendary Finn (John Boyega). Her self-belief is as strong as her moral code of conduct.
We even briefly see warrior Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) fending off foes. Also stepping up in this Resistance is Lt. Connix (Billie Lourd), and Paige Tico (Veronica Ngo) gets her own awe-inspiring moments.
Meanwhile, Capt. Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) continues her unrelenting fight on behalf of the evil First Order.
The narrative Force is finally with such women characters en masse.