Spoiler-Free Fan Reaction To 'The Last Jedi'
New 'Star Wars' sequel gets the mythology right and back on track
"Hidden Fortress" (1958, Lucas's inspiration for "Star Wars")
"Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977)
"V for Vendetta" (2005)
"Rogue One" (2016)
Here in a nutshell is all you need to know about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which officially opens on Dec. 15 but with early shows on Thursday (many of which are sold out) — and there is nothing revealed about what actually happens in the film.
First, Leia has a substantial part in the story, and it serves as a fitting final screen role for Carrie Fisher, who died unexpectedly this year.
Two, porgs are not the new Jar Jar Binks, but they might end up the new Ewoks (OK, this might have been something only I was concerned about, but ever since “The Phantom Menace,” there is always the danger of the Jar Jar Factor”).
Three, director Rian Johnson respects the “Star Wars” universe that George Lucas created in the original trilogy and gives us a film that reminds us why we fell in love with those films in the first place. His tone acknowledges how we both revere those films and want to have fun with them.
But he knows where to draw the line — at the prequels — and without directly referencing any of those films he squarely rejects the ridiculous notion of midi-chlorians (those things in a person’s cells that allows them to connect to the Force) and returns to the more spiritual definition Obi Wan served up in the first film about it being “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together."
You don’t have to be born with a predisposition for it in order to tap into it or become a Jedi.
Basically, “The Last Jedi” sets everything in the “Star Wars” universe right. So if all you want to know is can you go in expecting a good film, the answer is yes. A resounding yes!
Putting ‘The Last Jedi’ into context
I was 17 when “Star Wars” — it was not “A New Hope” or “Episode IV” back then, and to me, it will forever simply be “Star Wars” — opened on May 25, 1977 at the Valley Circle Theater in Mission Valley. I waited in line. I saw it four times in one day. I even joined the fan club that snail mailed Bantha Tracks newsletter every month.
I loved the film. As someone whose father had raised me on Errol Flynn swashbucklers and James Bond action films along with a healthy dose of creature features and science fiction, I was primed for “Star Wars” when it opened.
Here’s what was so appealing: It had a Saturday morning serial sense of fun and adventure but without a jokey wink-wink, nudge-nudge sense of mockery. It was utterly sincere. It appealed to us because we felt like anyone could rise to become a hero in a rebellion against evil; that a princess could kick ass and do her own rescuing; that a scoundrel could reject his sense of greed and self-preservation and find moral fiber; and it had a delicious villain in Darth Vader.
Plus, it had spectacular other worlds filled with creatures, robots and beat up looking space technology.
George Lucas gave us all that … then he tried to take it all away with his prequels and re-edited special editions of the original trilogy.
The original trilogy was about farm boys becoming heroes in a rebellion. It was about being on the side of right and fighting for the basic human right of being free of the evil Empire. It was about a love for the tropes and formula of cinema. The prequels, on the other hand, were about trade agreements, midi-chlorians, in-your-face offensive characters like Jar Jar Binks (who just would not go away), special effects technology over characters, and about making a product to market. Ugh.
When the prequels came out I tried to convince myself they were not bad (I could not even pretend to make the argument that they were good, but I could pretend they weren’t that bad). But they were bad. I could barely bring myself to seeing them more than once, whereas I watch “Star Wars” and “Empire Strikes Back” multiple times every year. It was the Dark Times, and I had to manage a love-hate relationship with Lucas.
Then we got J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens,” which I refer to as The Healing Film. It wasn’t a great film, but for the first time in years, we had a “Star Wars” film that did not suck — hallelujah! It was a safe film. It wanted to give fans a film they could embrace and it succeeded.
But it felt too familiar, and it lacked true passion. It was the film fans needed to feel good about the franchise. And it was glorious to get the gang back together and reminisce about old times. It was a film on par with “Return of the Jedi.” Decidely better than any prequel but nowhere near as great as “Star Wars” or “Empire.”
Then came Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One.” Wow! That was a real fan film from a guy who went to Tunisa to drink blue milk on the old location of Uncle Owen’s moisture farm. “Rogue One” was this new thing, a stand-alone anthology film that played into the “Star Wars” universe but which was not part of any of the trilogies. It was great. The action was better and a little grittier. We got to see a character like Vader from a slightly new angle, and we had a new ragtag band of rebel fighters to inspire us.
'The Last Jedi' sets things right in the Star Wars universe
Now “The Last Jedi” comes along. It is on par with “Rogue One” for its craft and execution. It perfectly plays into the “Star Wars” universe but with Johnson investing the familiar formula with his own passion and affection for the franchise. But “The Last Jedi” also does something else: it puts the “Star Wars” mythology back on track with what we latched onto in that first film.
As with “Rogue One,” “The Last Jedi” suggests that rebellions can have a high cost in terms of human lives. Fighting a powerful Empire or the First Order requires a lot of sacrifice and both films show that cost. But “The Last Jedi” gets to play more directly into the storyline we have been following for decades. We get to see Leia mature into an even stronger leader. We get to see older female characters in strong leadership roles following on what Lucas laid out in the first films (remember, in addition to Leia we had Mon Mothma leading the Rebel Alliance).
The new generation of characters gets to develop more fully as well and play off of the older characters in clever ways.
Johnson, who also wrote the script, plays out the twists and turns in a clever fashion so that the film answers some questions while raising others. But the most important thing is that he builds on the mythology of “Star Wars” in a satisfying manner. He gives us heroes who don’t want to be symbols for the rebellion but who come to terms with that fame and the important role it can play in inspiring others.
He also shows us different kinds of heroes, some of whom remain hidden. He delivers a message about how we must fight oppression and that sometimes, as James Stewart so eloquently put it in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” sometimes lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for, and you fight harder for them. So this is also an appealing David-versus-Goliath tale in which the smaller, less equipped rebel forces take on the mammoth, well-financed and armed First Order.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence) is a most welcome addition to the “Star Wars” universe. It delivers on action, character, nostalgia, production design and thematic development. I got chills when the theme first starts to play and the scroll begin. I got goose bumps at the first sound of TIE fighters entering the frame. It’s a film I left feeling, “Yes, that’s exactly where the story needs to be going.” I can’t think of a better cinematic Christmas gift than a stellar “Star Wars” film. Thank you, Rian Johnson, for making this “Star Wars” fan’s holiday wish come true.