The Last Jedi

Yesterday Russell and I watched The Last Jedi, the latest episode in the Star Wars line of movies.  Spoiler alert:  at 2 hours, 35 minutes in length, coupled with a full 25 minutes of uninspired previews for movies I’ll never be interested in seeing, The Last Jedi will test the bladder of any 60-year-old.  As my mother would say before any family road trip, be sure you use the bathroom before you get in the car.

Other than pathetic gratitude when the movie was finally over and I could use the facilities, my overall reaction to The Last Jedi was . . . shrug.  The Star Wars films have now become so rote and trite, from the scrolling story over the starscape backdrop at the beginning, to the small fighter versus gigantic spacecraft battle scenes, to the powerful, physically disfigured, but ultimately easily fooled bad guy, you can’t help but feel that you’ve seen the movie before.  Add in a few cute creatures that have no apparent purpose other than to be cute creatures, thinly disguised rip-offs of scenes from prior movies in the triple trilogy — this time, a thrilling ride through casino town on goat-horse creatures, rather than a thrilling speedscooter trip through a forest — and a few laughs with Chewie, and you’ve got the movie in the can.

last-jedi-leiaAfterwards, Russell and I tried to talk seriously about the movie, but it wasn’t easy.  True spoiler alert:  So, raspy-voiced General Leia Organa — who I still think of as Princess Leia — can communicate over intergalactic distances with Luke, and use the Force to fly through space besides?  Why hasn’t she used her powers to find Luke beforehand, or used the Force to keep her kid from the Dark Side, or to protect Han Solo from being murdered?  Wouldn’t you think that the spunky, tough Leia of the original trilogy would have spent the intervening period at least trying to develop some mastery of her powers?  It would give her something to do besides just looking with deep concern at hologram projections of battles going bad and sighing heavily as another Rebellion ship gets pulverized.  I think Leia’s character has been wasted.

Luke’s character has been wasted, too.  He apparently has spent years on some rugged, faraway planet, poring over ancient Jedi texts, a la Obi-Wan Kenobi cooling his heels on Tatooine after Darth Vader’s emergence.  But then Luke learns from a ghostly Yoda that the sacred texts really aren’t that important, so phantom Yoda sets them and the sacred tree on fire, freeing Luke to confront and defeat Kylo Ren long distance, before vanishing and — also like Obi-Wan — leaving only crumpled clothing behind.  Luke seems a bit dense, doesn’t he?  But if I were Luke, I’d be irritated with Master Yoda.  Why don’t these ghost Jedi show up in more timely fashion and provide some prompt guidance so people like Luke can get back into the fight?  I guess Luke had to suffer, reading the useless old books in some dank tree trunk, until Rae showed up and he could yell at her and treat her three easily taught lessons.

And, now that the old characters have been addressed, let’s talk about the new ones.  Yawn.  Nah, let’s not.  Rae is good at having tears run down her cheeks and being amazingly gifted at just about anything, and Finn is pretty much one-dimensional, and Po Damron would be cashiered from any military force he was part of, and Kylo Ren is thoroughly confused and conflicted and doesn’t seem to know what he really wants.  Why did Kylo Ren kill Han Solo?  Beats me!  Maybe I would have cared more about all of this if I wasn’t feeling the urgent call of nature at the end of this very, very, very, very long epic.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When you think about it, the Star Wars movies are pretty much all about dysfunctional families.  Luke Skywalker’s relationship with his dear old Dad, Darth Vader, was a frenzied, arm-chopping, each-trying-to-control-the-other mess, and when we learned about Luke and Leia’s back story in the prequel movies, and saw that they were the disturbing product of an incredibly creepy and awkward romance, the broken familial bonds become even more pronounced.  We never learned anything about Han Solo’s family, or Chewbacca’s.  So far as we have seen, there is no happy family headed by Ward and June Cleaver in that galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens continues that heart-warming trend, except that now the circle of family dysfunctionalism has broadened even more.  One of the new characters was apparently abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself; the other was stolen from his family when he was a little tyke and forced to become a soulless storm trooper.  And let’s just say that Han and Leia’s family, and relationship, aren’t exactly what you’d see featured on the cover of Reader’s Digest.  What’s worse, Luke’s latest failure to establish a warm and loving relationship with a close relative has sent him off the reservation and off the grid, making him the subject of a universal manhunt.  And the ultimate sign of some serious family issues comes when a kid would rather hang out with a colossal 3D image of an ugly guy with a grotesquely misshapen head than spend some quality time with old Mom and Dad.

star_wars_episode_vii_the_force_awakens-wideSo let’s say this for the Star Wars franchise — for all of the uplifting music and cute robots and aliens and successful missions to blow up colossal planet-killing weaponry, the films don’t exactly sugarcoat the trials and travails of the standard nuclear family.  If you’re a Dad who’s planning on seeing it, prepare yourself.  You’re probably going to walk out of the theatre after watching it and think, sadly, that being a Dad is a pretty tough job and even heroes aren’t all that great at it.

That said, I liked the movie very much.  I’m not going to drop spoilers on those of you who haven’t seen it, but I will say that I thought the new characters were very likable and the new bad guy is a pleasant surprise because he actually seems somewhat conflicted and human.  Daisy Ridley, as Rey, takes the self-sufficient female character action up about 10 notches above the supremely capable Princess Leia from the original movies, and John Boyega, as ex-storm trooper Finn, is both believable in action sequences and funny to boot.  The special effects are terrific, as usual, the rolling ball robot is very cool, and the new aliens — especially the near-sighted female who runs a raucous watering hole where rebels and fascists alike can hang out and somehow managed to get Luke’s and Darth Vader’s old lightsaber — are great.  And it’s especially wonderful to see Han Solo and Chewbacca back in action, with Han teaching the youngsters how to properly do that rebellion thing and Chewie kicking some serious storm trooper butt.

Sure, there’s a some very familiar — very familiar — plot threads at work in the film, like the evil First Order that seems like Empire Light, a bad guy dressed in black with a black helmet, a desert planet, X-wing fighters and tie fighters zipping around at impossible speeds, another planet-busting gizmo, and a bunch of people looking intently at a video display while an impossible race against time is occurring — but there was enough that was different to keep the movie unpredictable.  And, I particularly liked the ending.  I got the sense that the old storylines had finally been disposed of, the Death Star recycling was finally completed, and now it is time to move on to something really new and different.  I hope I’m right on that.

Go see it!

The Force Awakens

7fhdje1It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — but who cares?  I mean, come on!  We’re less than two weeks away from the opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and the geek world is in full Star Wars madness mode.

You could spend hours just surfing the internet for information about the new movie.  To save you at least part of the trouble, here’s a sampling of some of the diverse Star Wars stories out there:  an interesting BBC interview with Harrison Ford and director J.J. Abrams, a story collecting seven of the most far-out fan theories about the plot lines of the movie (Jar Jar Binks a Sith Lord?  Seriously??), and an article positing that a careful review of the Star Wars trading cards that are now being sold reveal crucial story elements.  And, of course, you can go to the official website if you want to watch the trailers a few dozen more times to get ready for the big day.

I’m not much for trying to figure things out before I go to see a much-anticipated movie, so I’m not going to actually read any spoiler reveals or try to guess what might happen to Han, Luke, Leia, and the new generation of Jedi warriors.  I’d rather take my Star Wars pure and unadulterated by anything other than approved previews.  So for now, I’ll count the days until the movie hits the theaters, check out safe stuff like the Spanish language poster printed above, and think:  that movie looks like it is going to be pretty cool.

I Say, Bring On The Next Star Wars Movie!

George Lucas has decided to retire, and to help fund his retirement he decided to sell Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Company for $4 billion and change.  The deal not only should provide Lucas with a comfortable retirement, it also means that more Star Wars movies will be made.  Disney has announced that the next Star Wars movie, episode 7, is scheduled for release in 2015.

Many fans have expressed concern about the sale to Disney, how it will affect the Star Wars franchise, and whether the movies will stay true to Lucas’ vision.  I’m not one of them.  I loved the original Star Wars films — I remember watching the first movie, with awe and wonder, in the old University Flick theater on the Ohio State campus, and then promptly watching it again — but I eagerly anticipate a fresh look at the characters and the Star Wars universe.

Beloved film franchises can become creaky and rote over time; they get to the point where only diehard fans can watch them.  Those franchises are injected with new energy when the characters are re-imagined by new creative minds.  The Star Trek and Batman movies are good examples.  Does anyone object that Heath Ledger had the opportunity to give his dazzling interpretation of the Joker?

I don’t understand the concerns, anyway.  It’s silly to worry that Disney is going to produce dross.  It just paid $4 billion, in significant part, to buy the Star Wars franchise and the right to produce new movies.  It’s safe to assume the company isn’t going to run its huge investment into the ground by bringing junk to the big screen.  If anything, the Disney approach might avoid some of the excesses of the later Star Wars movies, which could mean we won’t see annoying “comic” characters like Jar-Jar Binks, leaden, embarrassing, and unbelievable romances, and another exploding Death Star to provide a big finish.  And it’s not as if Disney could over-commercialize the Star Wars characters, either.  This is the franchise that led the way with action figures, comic books, and made-for-marketing characters like the Ewoks.

Lucas always said that he envisioned the Star Wars saga as a nine-movie tale, with the final three movies following the stories of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo and their children.  That’s apparently what Disney is planning for the next installment of movies.  I’ll be interested in seeing what happens to those now-iconic characters.  The Star Wars universe is sweeping, and there are lots of good stories yet to be told. Bring on the next Star Wars movie!