Is That a Promise?

Ruminations on Star Wars: The Last Jedi a film by Rian Johnson.  With Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega.  ***1/2

For the critics who are now active and influential, the Star Wars movies were their first epics, the movies they grew up on and worshiped.  I’m trying to think of what might be comparable in my own life (b. 1948), and I’m not coming up with much.[1]  I do think it’s remarkable that the complete obsession which my son had with the original trilogy (he seemed to know everything about the first movie before it ever came out) seems to have survived intact into the next generation.  My grandson—aged nine—is as obsessed as my son ever was, and the toys which capitalize on this obsession have definitely gone up in price.

I was not in that generation of young viewers who thrilled to the early Star Wars movies.  I was in the generation of fathers who let their children sit in their laps so they could see better, and held their hands during the intense moments.[2]  The thrill for me was seeing how thrilled my son was.  I’d never seen anything like it.

So now we have a new generation of these movies, and this particular one dusts off the old characters as if in a nostalgia trip.  Even Yoda makes an apparently posthumous appearance, with his weird phrasings, which basically sound profound because they’re ass backwards.  (“The greatest teacher, failure is” sounds so much more profound than “Failure is the greatest teacher.”)  And of course Yoda was so cute.  I’ve heard it said that he was partly based on D.T. Suzuki.  There is a weird resemblance.)  Not since George Foreman climbed back into the ring have I seen so many old farts get ready to do battle.  Princess Leia now looks like Grandma Leia, the comparatively young Laura Dern (how the hell did she get in here?) is wearing a scarf to conceal the appearance of her neck, and the hero of the current group of Jedi’s, who is a woman (the place of women in these movies is a major change from the originals) goes up a steep mountain to find an old duffer who turns out to be  . . . Luke Skywalker.  He’s more like Luke UsingaWalker.  (I’m not making fun of old people.  Mark Hamill is three years younger than I.)

Hamill is a fascinating figure in this situation.  I would call him a mediocre actor at best, somewhere between William Shattner and Leonard Nimoy on the great acting scale.  But can he possibly have had any idea, when he became Luke Skywalker—and what a break it must have seemed at the time—how this one role would mark his career?  Has he actually done anything else, I would have said (when I look at his bio, I see that he’s done quite a bit, though mostly just with his voice)?  Not since Al Hodge became Captain Video has an actor been so marked by a role.[3]  In a way it seems he was waiting all these years to get another major role in a movie.  He finally does, and it’s Luke Fucking Skywalker again.

So Rey (Daisy Ridley), who looks tougher and fitter than Luke ever did, climbs a mountain to find the aging Luke Skywalker and get him to come back and join the Resistance against the First Order.[4]  Luke seems to understand that no one man is going to be able to make the whole difference—a way in which the series seems to have matured—or perhaps just knows that a sixty-year old man won’t make the difference.  He lets his young disciple know that the Force—which we’ve been hearing about forever—does not belong to one side or the other, but is a neutral power which can be used for good or ill depending on who comes in contact with it.  I’m glad we got that straightened out.  In the meantime, “Scarface” Kylo Ren[5] (Adam Driver), the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, is still trying to decide which side he’s on, and whether he wants to fight Rey or fuck her.[6]  And Finn (John Boyega) is helping Leia Organa and the rest of the Resistance defend themselves against the villainous First Order, who far exceed them in firepower.

I was thrilled by my son’s love for these movies, and genuinely enjoyed seeing them, while objecting to certain things.  The easy distinction between good and evil, between black (Darth Vader) and white (Obi Wan Kenobi) seemed suitable for little kids but also rather facile and not terribly helpful.  There were good actors in the movies (Alec Guinness wasn’t exactly chopped liver) and good voices (James Earl Jones as Darth Vader, though I prefer to call him Dart Vader), but there was a lot of bad acting as well (Carrie Fisher wasn’t much of an actress.  The fact that she died loaded to the gills with opiods did affect my enjoyment of her appearance in this episode).  And then there’s the gadgetry and special effects.  In some ways I think these things have been the ruination of movies in my lifetime.  There were many times in this film when people were flying around in various space vehicles and I hardly knew who was who or what the hell was going on.  Maybe I’m finally too old to be watching these movies, as some people (I won’t name names) are too old to be acting in them.

Basically the movie is a nostalgia trip.  It’s the same old situation, with many of the same people, and the same thing happens again.  The resistance holds on by their fingernails.  They had to do that.  Otherwise there wouldn’t be a sequel.

I don’t mean to sound like a spoil sport.  I went to the damn thing, didn’t I?[7]  I believe I’ve seen every movie in the series.  I’ll probably go again if there’s another.  But I think it’s time for Mark Hamill to hang up his light saber, and head to that great Star Destroyer in the sky.  He can walk up there, after all.  As long as he can walk at all.

[1] Possibly High Noon.  My father made a point of taking my brother and me to that movie because he wanted us to see that a truly brave man, and a real hero, might also be afraid and nervous in a dangerous situation, in contrast to the Westerns we watched on television every Saturday morning.

[2] My son was so fired up for those early movies that his palms were soaked through the whole thing.  And he was so concentrated that he seemed to have memorized the entire script after seeing the movie one time.

[3] When I was considering what movies might have a comparable place in my life, I mostly came up with TV shows, and Captain Video was at the top of the list.  Poor Al Hodge took that role and basically never got another one, dying alcoholic in 1979.  When I was a boy my brother and I went someplace to get his autograph on a photo.  By the time we got to the front of the line the poor guy was munching a ham sandwich on a hamburger bun and no doubt dying to get the hell out of there.  But I did exchange greetings with the great man.

[4] I know the names of the teams because of the website.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have a clue.

[5] Does the villain always have to have a scar?  Al Capone got this started and we can’t seem to stop.  But Kylo’s deformity is nothing compared to that of the monstrous guy who keeps bossing him around.  There’s a distinct feeling that these people have become villains, and joined the dark side, because they’re so ugly.

[6] Pardon the vulgarity, but I’m making an allusion to a far greater work of art, Raging Bull, in which Jake LaMotta, confronting a pug who was especially good looking, says, “I didn’t know whether to fight him or fuck him.”

[7] My autistic brother in law is a fanatic, but doesn’t like to go to the theater by himself.