Now that the Star Wars films appear to have settled into a once-a-year pace, the onus is on Disney and Lucasfilm to make each entry in the franchise stand out. There's special pressure on the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as the key middle entry in the new trilogy that started with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
That was a major theme of the Last Jedi press conference held Sunday in Los Angeles, consisting of the film's main cast members and its director, Rian Johnson. Beyond the face-value differences -- like the previously revealed fact that at 2 hours and 32 minutes, it's the longest Star Wars movie ever -- the impression given, similar to Empire Strikes Back before it, that it'll be a little bit darker and a little more intense, but not without staying true to what has always made Star Wars so successful.
For Gwendoline Christie, who plays Stormtrooper commander Captain Phasma, what makes The Last Jedi stand out is its ability to balance the timeless franchise theme of good versus evil with more modern moral complexities.
"There is something about this film, and I think it's because the world that we live in is a changing and evolving place, that it retains the simplicity of those elements, but it really resonates with what it is to follow your own, human dark narcissistic tendencies -- where that will take you," Christie told the assembled press, including CBR. "I loved that."
For the film's main three players -- Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey; John Boyega, who plays Finn; and Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe Dameron -- now that the work has been done of introducing their characters, it's time to cut loose and see where they're truly meant to go.
"Often with the second chapter, because the first one sets the tone and the world and the new characters, in the second one, you don't have to spend so much time doing that," Isaac said at the press conference. "You can really just delve into the story."
"The story's moving forward," Boyega said. "All of the characters are under intense pressure." For Ridley, she spoke about not having as many scenes with Boyega as the two actors shared in a winning Force Awakens pairing, saying "it was a challenge to be in different combinations of people."
Yet Johnson made it clear that even though the stakes may be high, it's still a Star Wars movie, and things can only get so dark -- both visually and thematically -- and the real goal is to make sure the audience has a heck of a lot of fun.
"It's the second movie in a trilogy, and I think we've been kind of trained to expect it'll be a little darker," Johnson said. "Obviously it looks a little darker. The thing is though, for me, I loved the tone the original films, and also that J.J. [Abrams] had fashioned for The Force Awakens, of fun. To me, it's a Star Wars movie. First and foremost, we were trying to make it a Star Wars movie. That means you have the intensity and you've got the opera, but it also means it makes you come out of the theater wanting to run in your backyard, grab your spaceship toys and make them fly around. That's a key ingredient."
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is scheduled for release on Dec. 15.