Forty years after the first Star Wars movie debuted, the appetite for George Lucas’ space opera has only grown. Last week, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” debuted in theaters, and most expected it to top box office records set by the previous installment, “The Force Awakens.” Those expectations could not be higher.
So, then comes the inevitable question: Will The Last Jedi live up to expectations. Will Daisy Ridley and John Boyega be able to fully step into the spotlight and carry the franchise in the way Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford were able to carry the first three films?
They won’t exactly have to, at least not this time. The Last Jedi will depend heavily on nostalgia, on the reappearance of Luke Skywalker, in all his grizzled, aged fashion, as well as the last on-screen appearance of Carrie Fisher, playing Princess Leia, the role that made her a household name and international superstar.
Those factors will bring multiple generations into the theater, but if Star Wars is going to continue, the new lead characters will have to capture young hearts and minds in the same way their predecessors captured their parents and grandparents.
That’s a tough hill to climb. Nothing has quite captured the American mindset like Star Wars. Crossing nearly all demographic lines, Lucas’ space adventure was an unprecedented hit, as well as a cultural touchstone. Millions who have never seen a Star Wars movie still know who Yoda, Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker are. They “remember” them, even if they never “knew” them in the first place.
While this movie may not be the last appearance for Hamill’s Luke, it will be the swan song for Fisher’s Leia, just as The Force Awakens was the last run for Ford’s beloved smuggler turned reluctant hero, Han Solo.
Ridley and Boyega, along with their cohorts, will need to steal some of that magic. They need their characters to evolve beyond the fairly single-faceted “good guys” as they were in The Force Awakens. If the most interesting character is the bad guy, these films could have a short shelf life. Just ask everyone who hated “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.”
Can Ridley’s Rey and Boyega’s Finn bring the depth of character to their run that starry-eyed Luke, tough-as-nails Leia, and magnetic scoundrel Han left on film? There are some who have their doubts, and then there’s a growing legion of younger fans who are totally sold already. With, at least, one more movie to go, these characters will have another chance to be iconic, but this one has to build on what’s come before.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.