By this moment in movie time, whether or not a Star Wars movie satisfies is beside the point. That it appears is what matters. That we can travel to a galaxy far, far away draws us to the theater regardless of the impact of the theatrics. That we can savor the memories of past episodes, and imagine where the story may travel, becomes as much a part of the experience as what happens on screen. What we actually see may mean less than what it stirs in us.
With this in mind, if The Last Jedi happens to be your first Star Wars movie, if that is possible, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. Why do these people, creatures and lands hate each other? What led to such tension in the galaxy? And why does everyone stand still, in awe, every time the wondrous General Leia begins to speak? What history does she bring? And is she as special as the late and wonderful Carrie Fisher who plays her?
We wonder about these movie basics because the people who made The Last Jedi seemed to forget them. The film offers little backstory; yes, we get that brief recap during the opening crawl, but we might miss the subtleties if we’re already devouring popcorn. And, within seconds, we are whisked into the first of many beautifully staged action sequences, perfectly rendered for the big screen by director Rian Johnson, who also wrote this installment.
But that’s about what we get. While The Last Jedi delivers, and it’s visually ambitious, the film hesitates to emotionally connect, as if the moviemakers fear letting us get to know the characters on screen. Yes, we get that Luke now avoids public appearances, but what prompts his reluctance to return to action? Yes, we see that Leia continues to stand for the cause that defines her life, but how does she feel about the son she has lost to the dark side? And, yes, we recall that the characters introduced in the first episode of this reboot — Kylo, Rey, Finn and Poe — each hunger for truth, but what do they mean to each other? And what does the emotional pull of “the force” mean to them?
The original Star Wars films defined how the simplicity of narrative could enhance the complexities of relationships. Because the stories were simple we could absorb all the layers between the characters. But The Last Jedi does the reverse. Writer/director Johnson overfills the overlong two and one half hours with enough plot to fill a couple of episodes while shortchanging the development of characters. We’re left with a film that visually dazzles while leaving us wanting so much more. For all the beautiful images, we are never moved as we were, years ago, when young Luke first looked into the setting sun to search for his future.
Of course, we love any chance to see a Star Wars film in a theater. And though, years from now, audiences may look at these films and wonder what all the fuss was about, we know. No matter how an episode can disappoint, we believe in this series. Because, years ago, we gave into the force. And it’s always with us.
(Star Wars: The Last Jedi is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. The film runs 2 hours, 35 minutes. 3-1/2 Popcorn Buckets.)
The original Star Wars: You had to be there
By Mark Schumann
The Reel Dad
At the movies, we have fun when the chef surprises us.
Just when we think we know what we are going to be served, all of a sudden we experience something we have never observed before.
That’s what it was like to see Star Wars for the first time in 1977.
And, as much as audiences of today anticipated The Last Jedi this holiday season, the surprise we experienced when the first installment appeared may never be duplicated again.
It’s not that the ingredients were all that special. Many movies had gone to outer space. None of the cast, except for Alec Guinness, were well known, and George Lucas was known for the quirky comedy American Graffiti and the disastrous Howard the Duck.
No one expected anything from this film that dared to be different from its opening moments.
Few movies dared to start with the middle of a climactic sequence or launch into a conversation without first providing obligatory backstory. Few action films took time to develop characters or let interactions dominate entire sections. Few family movies treated its young audience with such respect, never compromising the details of the plot or layers of the characters because children might be in the theater.
From the start, Star Wars plays by its own rules. Few films had tried to combine a morality lesson and a venture into the supernatural in one narrative. Few tried to both dazzle and challenge; few attempted to use the science fiction genre to deliver such fun within a rich story.
Master chef Lucas uses his magic ingredients to create an ultimate movie surprise. He makes a young man’s journey to discover destiny and purpose so appetizing it appeals to anyone. He creates a spiritual hero for the young man to believe in and follow. He lets the hero follow his instinct to discover who he can be and what he can accomplish in life. And he sets the young man up for a coming of age moment as universal as a big screen can showcase.
So much, so good, and Lucas could have stuck to this recipe to serve a meaningful morality tale. But this creative chef chooses to set these lofty thoughts about life against the canvass of a widescreen sky. Luke becomes a symbol to illustrate a generation’s hopes and frustrations. Like others, he wants to achieve and experience. Only when he confronts the destiny he was born to pursue can he take steps forward with life.
But don’t take the film too seriously. Simply savor its magic as you travel back in time. Imagine, in 1977, the first moment you hear the John Williams’ score. Savor your reaction to the first time you meet the marvelous characters. Appreciate how Lucas uses the technology of special effects to frame one young man’s moral aspiration. This is science reality, not fiction.
As playful as its characters and situations, Star Wars reminds us to support the challenges our friends face. At its core is a yearning to create a safe and secure home, protected from the evil a universe can dispense, that become immune to the bad things that can happen to the good.
And then the fun begins. And it continues with The Last Jedi.