Star Wars: The Last Jedi; 150 minutes; Rated PG- 13
Since the first “Star Wars” film was released in 1977, there have been two audiences: those who enthusiastically embraced the themes and characters that have appeared in each sequel and prequel (to great expectations) and those only peripherally aware of what has become a cultural phenomenon.
Regarding the most recent installment, “The Last Jedi,” if you have not followed each film closely, it’s all but impossible to play catch-up while trying to piece together the characters and the plot since the prequels and sequels are predicated on what has come before (or after).
The fan base for this remarkable franchise will likely be pleased with this newbie story, and watch in fascination as Mark Hamill, playing Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi (or so it’s assumed), returns, his bitterness and resentment evident when a young woman, Rey, portrayed by Daisy Ridley, arrives in hopes of having Luke mentor her in the ways of the Jedi.
What is more interesting (at least in the opinion of this critic) is not so much the story, which possesses almost too many interconnecting threads, but rather the question as to why “Star Wars” (later titled “Star Wars: A New Hope”) began a franchise that in retrospect seems endless as it has evolved and morphed, all taking place in a “galaxy far, far away” where humans, droids and wildly imagined creatures co-exist.
What is there about these films that has captured so completely the imaginations of audiences over the decades? It is, to be sure, a worldwide pop culture phenom with a combined box office gross of some $7.5 billion (not including books, television series, computer and video games, theme park attractions and comic books).
While “Star Wars” is considered, fundamentally, science-fiction, much of it doesn’t just reside in a richly imagined future. It’s also an amalgamation of 12th-century knighthood and armor, royalty and chivalry, and countless familiar archetypes woven into a world that possesses spacecraft and travel, light speed and light sabers, blasters and a familiar battle between the dark and light sides (good v. evil). There are two elements to the sustained tension: the Sith, also known as the Galactic Empire, and the Jedi Knights, part of the Rebel Alliance.
This galaxy (never identified) is bound together by what is called “The Force,” a mystical, quasi-religious power that represents a light and dark power also known as an energy field. Those who are closest to The Force (Obi-Wan-Kenobi or Yoda, for example), possess certain inherent powers, are skilled in the arts of telekinesis, clairvoyance, precognition and mind control. The quintessential dark knight is Darth Vader. And there are, of course, the Storm Troopers (a reference to World War II and Germany), and the costumes of the Galactic Empire are reminiscent of Nazi officers, dressed in black and inhabiting the Death Star.
The analysis of these films can seem endless, the narratives held together by installments (some better than others) steeped in a synthesis of religion and warfare and Arthurian lore, as well as Joseph Campbell’s mythology (“The Hero With a Thousand Faces”).
“The Last Jedi,” in its final scenes, promises that this series is not over until it’s over, which will likely not take place as long as there are writers who will carry the baton to the next film, perpetuating what is a heroic idea.
One last point: It was George Lucas’ 1977 “Star Wars” that is credited with creating what we think of today as “the summer blockbuster” as well as resurrecting a genre long known as sci-fi cum special effects. The series continues, and when done well can be as riveting and as intricately conceptualized as a Hollywood drama. The only caveat is that it helps to be part of an informed fan base.