Thursday, December 28, 2017

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017): It’s Not All About Money

As in every Star Wars episode, the resistance is nearing extinction in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  The Empire has at its disposal a new killing machine and technology even better than the last.  General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is badly injured and for a time cannot lead the resistance.  And despite pleas from the new Jedi wannabe, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is reluctant to help.  (Yet like Obi-Wan did for Luke, Luke is willing to train Rey as a Jedi.)  Meanwhile, through incredible courage on the part of their temporary leader, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), who sacrifices her life by crashing a resistance ship into the command ship of the Empire, it appears the resistance may still win.  Yet with his command of the dark side of the Force, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) rallies the Empire to once again put the resistance in an untenable position. 

Then Luke (Mark Hamill) shows up.  Just as Obi-Wan Kenobi faced off with Darth Vader forty years ago, Luke faces off in a light-saber duel with Kylo Ren.  And just like Obi-Wan did in the earlier duel, Luke dies at the hands of his foe.  But the victory for the Empire is hollow as the light side of the force remains on the side of the resistance – apparently in the being of Rey.  The resistance escapes to fight another day.

When Luke Skywalker says in the latest movie that we shouldn’t romanticize the Jedi knights (which he says a number of times), he could just as well have been telling the audience to not romanticize the Star Wars series.  Whatever apologists for The Last Jedi may say, the latest installment is in large part a rehash of old material for a new audience.  (It is almost impossible to separate any individual Star Wars film from the series as a whole.)  Yet despite being long (152 minutes) and not saying anything substantially new, The Last Jedi was better than I expected.  It does have the humor and some of the innocence of the first installments.

The Star Wars series has had some good films, and not so good films.  I enjoyed the first three Star Wars films (now known as parts IV, V and VI), but have never been a great enthusiast of the series as a whole.  The prequels (known as Parts I, II and III) are humorless. And The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are in some respects a farewell tour for the original cast (Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and the late Carrie Fisher as Princess or General Leia).  Mark Hamill even grows a beard and looks remarkably like his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by Alec Guinness in the earliest episode.  In The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, we also get to know some new characters.  Daisy Ridley as Rey, who is a cross between Luke and Leia.  Oscar Isaac plays Poe, who is fated to be the new Han Solo.  And we have Adam Driver to play Kylo Ren – obviously taking over the role of the villainous Darth Vader.  (In The Force Awakens, Ren kills his father, Han Solo.)

Not everyone loves what the Star Wars phenomenon represents.  Since opening less than two weeks ago, The Last Jedi has sold close to one-half billion dollars in ticket sales.  God only knows how much money has changed hands due to sales of Star Wars merchandise following this latest installment.  There are toys, costumes, paraphernalia and now a Star Wars cruise.

Apparently some diehard Star Wars fans also feel cheated by the The Last Jedi.  The film didn’t answer enough questions.  Or it felt like the film had nothing fresh to say.  But I’m not sure why such followers should have expected anything else.  However many Star Wars movies have actually been made, this is Episode VIII.  The first Star Wars movie appeared forty years ago, and it looks like the Star Wars series has a few more years of life in it.  Hollywood,  and especially Disney films, is not going to experiment at any length with the formula for this series when they know that a film like The Last Jedi will bring in this sort of money.  This film was set up with at least one other sequel in mind – along with more cash.

I hope that whenever the last Star Wars finally appears, the series will end with some dignity.  There is no doubt that the series revolutionized the making of movies.  While the storylines contain a great deal of “New Age” elements, George Lucas created the series with a definite vision in mind.  “The Force,” whatever that may be, is something that all characters in the film secretly wish to obtain.  It’s not so much different from what all human beings, good or bad, wish to obtain – some meaning for their existence.  Director Rian Johnson of The Last Jedi attempts to remain sensitive to that vision. 

December 28, 2017
© Robert S. Miller 2017