Star Wars: The Last Jedi – What’s Old Is New Again
Looking around during a preview of The Last Jedi, I had a startling thought: most of the press people in the audience hadn’t yet been born when the first Star Wars film premiered 40 years ago. Soon after that film hit screens, I stood in line on East 86th Street in New York to see what critics were already calling a cultural phenomenon. The young lead actors (Carrie Fisher was only 19), suddenly found themselves thrust into the public eye, part of a juggernaut whose full impact had yet to be felt. Even today, enthusiasm for the Star Wars films continues, bringing in new generations of theater goers. During a time when other sequels fail, this new trilogy (forget about those disappointing prequels) not only meets, but exceeds expectations.
In a May 25, 1977 review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby, then the paper’s chief film critic, said about the first Star Wars film: “Actually, I may have to see it again.” That was the same comment made to me by the guest I brought to the preview of The Last Jedi. Repeat business is what makes studio executives happy, and those at Disney will certainly seize on this moment as the best holiday gift possible.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
Like the first film in this new trilogy, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi features characters from the past alongside a new youthful contingent. Mark Hamill, no longer the fresh-faced Luke Skywalker, is now a brooding and dark presence, holed up on a remote mountain, determined to avoid future battles. While the mountain is void of people, the non-human inhabitants are a delight to behold. These include: the adorable chirpy Porgs that resemble puffins; slug-like creatures large as dinosaurs; and servants with fish heads dressed like nuns who seem to perform the island’s daily chores. Luke’s sister, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, whose appearance is bittersweet), still hopes Luke will return to help the rebels, now called the Resistance. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the other member of the original trio, was killed off in The Force Awakens.
Oscar Isaac as Poe
The new trio consists of Rey (Daisy Ripley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Rather than joining together in the fight, however, each is on a separate mission. The film opens with Poe, one of the Resistance’s top pilots, leading an offensive against the First Order (formerly The Empire), which doesn’t end well.
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and John Boyega as Finn
Finn, who has just recovered from injuries, is soon sent on a mission, along with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), to find a code breaker on a distant planet that bears a striking resemblance to Las Vegas. (Those customers gathered around the gaming tables remind us of the creatures Luke and Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi once encountered in a seedy intergalactic bar.) Daisy has perhaps the most difficult assigment: convincing a reluctant Luke to train her and then leave his retreat to help the Resistance.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
Among all the allied fighters, Rey, whose parentage is in question, seems to be aligned with The Force, that mystical power possessed by the Jedi. While on the mountain, she keeps seeing images of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is connected to The Force since his parents are Han Solo and Princess Leia, but has gone over to the dark side. In these dream-like sequences, Kylo tries to entice Rey to join him, disparaging his uncle, Luke, who once was his mentor. This tug of war plays out through the film, teasing us with the question of who will be turned, Rey or Kylo.
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo
The First Order is now led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing his computer-generated thing, turning this villain into something truly reprehensible), and General Hux, (Domhnall Gleeson), whose postering is less threatening than it is humorous. A welcome new face among the rebels is Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. Then, of course, there are the favorite droids, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), truly going “solo” this time around.
Rian Johnson picks up the director’s job from J.J. Abrams, who is now executive producer. Rian, who had a cameo appearance in last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, makes the leap to directing big time with this film and succeeds on all fronts. From the over-the-top battles (a Star Wars trademark), to the more intimate scenes between the characters, we feel we are in capable hands. Once again, John Williams’ score soars over the action, triggering our auditory memory of Star Wars films long, long ago.
The battle between good and evil is never really over, something the Star Wars films underscore. And it’s hard not to think of our current political climate when watching The Last Jedi. Particularly unsettling are those marching storm troopers that bring to mind Kim Jong-un’s robotic army, as well as those leaders of the First Order whose black uniforms resemble those worn by the Nazis. As the second film of this trilogy, The Last Jedi closes some plot lines, but leaves many more unresolved, sure to build the anticipation for that third installment.
Photos courtesy of Disney Studios
Top: Daisy Ridley as Rey and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker