Prior to The Force Awakens, the only Latino actor with a memorable screen presence in the Star Wars franchise was Jimmy Smits. Compared to that extended Latino drought, the newest trilogy and spin-off feels like an embarrassment of riches. From Oscar Isaac’s introduction as a minor character in The Force Awakens, to Diego Luna’s starring role in Rogue One, and Benicio del Toro’s perfectly creepy part in The Last Jedi, Latinos can now see themselves in a galaxy far, far away. Especially since many of the Crait scenes in The Last Jedi were filmed in Bolivia.
Here at Remezcla, we’re doing everything we can to fight against #FilmCriticismSoWhite. So to honor the bump in representation in one of the biggest movie franchises in the world, we asked a handful of Latino film critics and Star Wars fans to review The Last Jedi with a special eye towards Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and Benicio del Toro’s DJ. Here’s what they had to say.
SPOILER ALERT: These reviews contain details from The Last Jedi. If you haven’t seen it proceed with caution.
"The Last Jedi gave me everything I needed, not everything I wanted"
The Last Jedi is a breathtaking new adventure, and a fitting second chapter to the story of Rey, Poe, and Finn. Beyond being satisfying for fans, The Last Jedi is the film that die-hard prequel-era researchers have been waiting for, taking the movie audience to deeper parts of the Force that only the most dedicated might already know about. The narrative progression was smooth and believable – each character was given a moment, a scene, or even a look that addressed their motivations clearly and made the audience care for them.
Newcomer DJ, played by Benicio Del Toro, offered a brilliant codebreaker with a few surprises that you may not see coming. What happens with him is an example of a broader galaxy, with normal people who have goals that don’t just rest in good or bad. He’s not exactly a regular guy, but DJ was something different, and a refreshing addition to the cast.
Oscar Isaac shines as Poe in probably the most integral moments of his character arc. Whether you find yourself cheering or shaking your head as you follow Poe, Isaac’s electric performance will keep you hooked throughout all of his scenes.
Leading men in Star Wars have changed – we’ve seen it in every film – from men who were once white boys with dreams to any boy with a dream. When it comes to Latinx actors on the big screen, people like me have come out in droves for names like Oscar Isaac and Diego Luna attached to our favorite franchise of all time. While the film doesn’t shy away from showing you Resistance fighters and First Order soldiers of all stripes, women who present as Latina or Hispanic seemed like they were missing entirely. I don’t need to check off a list of representation points when I’m watching a film, but it didn’t feel great to notice this about the film a few hours later.
Overall, The Last Jedi gave me everything I needed, not everything I wanted. At the end of the day, that’s what movies are supposed to do: leave your imagination and thoughts running wild for days after. So while a good deal of The Last Jedi feels satisfying, it also leaves you desperate for Episode IX, eager to see what our heroes decide to do next.
"Oscar Isaac tears into this role with gusto and charm."
If J.J Abrams’ The Force Awakens set the tone for the new Star Wars trilogy with its tactile, organic, lived-in look and diverse cast of characters, then in The Last Jedi, writer-director Rian Johnson grabs those very same ingredients and takes the saga in a new direction. Yes, there are echoes of both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi here and there. But that’s all they are, echoes.
The Last Jedi opens as the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) is under attack by the forces of the First Order. The battle leaves the rebel forces decimated and its survivors relentlessly pursued across space. On the other side of the galaxy, Rey tries to convince a bitter, reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to come out of retirement. She also seeks answers to her own questions, especially about her newly acquired abilities. A third narrative strand has Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver) dealing with his own personal issues after having killed his father Han.
I celebrated the casting of Oscar Isaac as Commander Poe Dameron in the new trilogy but, like many others, felt his character had been shortchanged in The Force Awakens. Not so here. One of the film’s many joys is watching Oscar tear into this role with gusto and charm. The scene where Poe faces off, alone, one of the New Order’s huge starships with his X-Wing fighter is worth the ticket price. And, lucky him, he spends a significant amount of screen time with the much missed Carrie Fisher. We leave the film feeling that Poe might take more of a leadership role in the next chapter of the saga. And given how Oscar literally takes over the movie whenever he’s on screen, that is not a bad thing.
As DJ – the codebreaker recruited by Finn and new character Rosa to neutralize one of the New Orders star cruisers – Benicio gets a far juicier role than his The Collector in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1. At times, he seems to be poking a bit of fun at his now legendary role of the stuttering small-time crook Fenster in Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects. His screen time may be brief and the role may be merely functional, but Benicio does wonders with it as he keeps you guessing at his character’s true intentions.
Johnson packs a lot of story, a lot of action, and a lot of quiet moments into his two-and-a-half hour film. The Last Jedi never feels like a placeholder the way most second chapters in so many film trilogies do. It has the epic sweep that I found missing in so many Star Wars films post-Empire Strikes Back. Mr. Abrams, the ball is now in your court.
"For Latino children, no galaxy is too far, far away from their reach."
To my young Mexican eyes, the quintessential images about the United States came from movies and TV shows with kids hiding out in tree houses, teenagers going to prom, and brawny men saving the world. The vast majority of these characters were white. That meant two things: that I didn’t have any conscious notion of what Mexican-Americans or US Latinos’ lives were like and that I didn’t believe any Mexicans could form part of the worlds I was watching.
Those white boys I saw on screen were raising me to believe in an idealized lifestyle to which, it seemed, I couldn’t have access to even living in America. In space, similar rules appeared to apply. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were fantastic versions of the same white hero concept. Plenty of curious extraterrestrials graced the screen, but few people of color did.
Motivated by the immeasurable financial possibilities, the rebirth of the Star Wars franchise took very seriously the need to revamp the movies in order reflect a the changing demographics of the country. The three Latino actors that emerged from this reinvention, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, and Benicio del Toro as DJ, materialized the possibility of more inclusion. The Resistance is indeed a colorful group now, in more ways than one.
Poe’s prominent role in The Last Jedi, as a flawed hero with room for improvement in his one-sided approach to things, is the perfect opportunity for Latino parents to remind their children that the actor behind the cool helmet is also Latino. Say it once, say it twice, say it a million times, and instill in them the belief that no galaxy is too far, far away from their reach.
This generation won’t be fed a homogenous worldview in which they are not part of the norm thanks to Star Wars. With the amount of Dark Sides, First Orders, and elected Darth Vaders we have to face wherever we go, I’m sure all Latinos are already born Jedis. All we’re missing is lightsabers, flying vehicles, and witty robots.
On a fun note, I was trying to make a case for Porgs being Latinos. I had hoped they were based on Galapagos penguins, but nope, those big-eyed, adorable critters are Irish. We still have Coco’s Dante though.
"It's an epic piece of the saga that is risky, daring, and bold."
A film like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not something you just go see. It’s a movie that impacts you in ways you never thought possible. In fact, it is a film that happens to you. If you left the theater feeling stunned into silence, conflicted and confused, then join the club. This is not a simple little Star Wars movie. It’s an epic piece of the saga that is risky, daring, and bold. To me, this is what Star Wars is all about. I highly recommend a minimum three times viewing in the theater to fully grasp it.
The Last Jedi plays with the Force in a way we’ve never seen before. We see the rise of the Dark Side and Light to meet it. Rey has grown into an incredible Jedi. The overall plot of is setting up our heroes to be at their lowest of lows.
I got chills when Kylo Ren and Rey fight together to overcome the evil Supreme Leader Snoke and when the wise Master Yoda appeared as a force ghost. There is so much heart and passion in this film and so much of that comes from the young newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico. Her performance was stunning and stood out as a shining beacon of hope.
There was so much diversity in the cast, not just in race or ethnicity, but in gender as well. As a woman myself, I usually first look to see how many women appear in scenes. In this respect, The Last Jedi delivered. There are some strong amazing women all film. The Latino representation needs work. Oscar Isaac is incredible and his performance was even stronger than in The Force Awakens. Benicio del Toro played his role well, but his character was rather forgettable. I can’t wait for Episode IX to see Poe (Oscar Isaac) as more of a leader, and my heart will be full if we get a Latina pilot.