The force is strong with these new 'Star Wars' characters
Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Gwendoline Christie at the premiere of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."Jesse Grant / Getty Images
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"Star Wars: The Last Jedi," the eighth installment in the space saga, hits theaters on Thursday amid solid reviews and sky-high expectations from geeks across America. The much-hyped film brings back fan favorites from the previous installment, "The Force Awakens," and beloved icons from the original trilogy, including the late Carrie Fisher. It also introduces a handful of fresh faces, plus a new writer/director.
Notable credits: "The Usual Suspects" (1995), "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998), "Traffic" (2000), "21 Grams" (2003), "Che" (2008), "Sicario" (2015)
Benicio Del Toro makes his "Star Wars" debut as a mysterious computer hacker, or "slicer," named DJ. "This character could come straight out of a Bob Dylan or Tom Waits song, or even a Dostoevsky novel," Del Toro told Empire. "He's like something out of Dickens. There have been characters like him in all kinds of literature."
Del Toro has carved out a niche playing mercurial tough guys on both sides of the law, typically in gritty dramas about drug underworlds. He broke into the mainstream as a mumbling small-time crook in "The Usual Suspects," earned acclaim as grief-stricken brooders battling addiction in "21 Grams" and "Things We Lost in the Fire," and won an Oscar for his turn as a Mexican cop in the drug trade epic "Traffic." In recent years, the Puerto Rican native has balanced performances as sinister cartel hitmen ("Savages," "Sicario") with small parts in Marvel movies.
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That background apparently prepared the 50-year-old actor for his enigmatic role in "The Last Jedi." He has compared his character to a knife, telling Empire: "If you grab him by the blade, he'll cut you. If you grab him by the handle, he can be very, very useful."
Laura Dern joins the franchise as the strong-willed, lavender-haired Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, leader of the Resistance rising up against the evil First Order. The character nods to "stereotypes about women bosses" in the real world, Dern told Entertainment Weekly. "Like if she looks a certain way, she can't achieve the job or she must be brazen," she said. "You know, all the different versions of what we label someone."
In an eclectic career spanning more than four decades, Dern has swung between appearances in high-profile commercial fare ("Jurassic Park," most famously) and edgy turns in unconventional art-house projects. She has won a cult following for her long-running collaboration with the surrealist auteur David Lynch, co-starring in his experimental dramas "Blue Velvet," "Wild at Heart," and "Inland Empire." (She also showed up in this year's reboot of the director's groundbreaking series "Twin Peaks.")
"The Last Jedi" caps a busy year for Dern, who won an Emmy for her supporting part in the HBO miniseries "Big Little Lies." If her track record is any indication, the Oscar-nominated actress could put a quietly quirky spin on the "Star Wars" universe. "She enters the Resistance to shake things up," Dern told Entertainment Weekly.
Before he was tapped to write and direct "The Last Jedi," Rian Johnson was an up-and-coming genre filmmaker with three features (and a few TV gigs) under his belt. He was also, like so many Gen-X sci-fi nerds, a lifelong "Star Wars" fan. "It was so emotional to step onto the Millennium Falcon set, because that was the play set we all had when we were kids," Johnson told The New York Times. "Suddenly, you were standing in the real thing. There's this rush of unreality about it."
Johnson made his directorial debut in 2005 with "Brick," a throwback to hard-boiled 1940s detective mysteries starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a teenage gumshoe. The low-budget indie film attracted a small but devoted fan base, and Johnson went on to direct some of the most memorable episodes of "Breaking Bad" as well as the time-traveling noir thriller "Looper."
Lucasfilm, the production company behind the "Star Wars" franchise, apparently loved what Johnson brought to "The Last Jedi." He has already been tapped to create a brand-new "Star Wars" trilogy that, according to Lucasfilm, "will introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that 'Star Wars' lore has never before explored."
Notable credits: NBC's "About a Boy" (2014), "XOXO" (2016)
Kelly Marie Tran enters the "Star Wars" galaxy as a quick-thinking Resistance mechanic named Rose Tico — reportedly a key player in "The Last Jedi." With her breakout role, Tran will make franchise history: She is the first major "Star Wars" character to be played by an Asian-American woman.
"It's something I think about a lot," Tran told Buzzfeed News, referring to that milestone. "I just remember growing up and not seeing anyone that looked like me in movies."
Tran has been mum about her character, but she has hinted that her performance draws on her real life. "Sometimes I think Kelly informed Rose, and sometimes I think Rose informed me," Tran told BuzzFeed. "It's such a messy, tangled relationship, which I think is kind of beautiful. She's always going to be a part of me and I'm always going to be a part of her."