Star Wars: The Last Jedi
the epitome of a 'cultural event'
Welcome to the inaugural installment of Buttery Fingers, where I review a movie I recently watched on the small or big screen. And what better way to kick things off than with a Star Wars film!
It was 40 years ago that I sat on my mom or dad's lap in a theater in San Rafael, California, apparently after persevering through a very long line that quite literally wrapped around the entire building. I don't recall a bit of that moment, but that film and the other two to follow in the original Star Wars trilogy became the defining cinematic experience of my generation. I think I had a borderline spiritual experience at age six when the Millennium Falcon seemed to fly right over my head in "The Empire Strikes Back". And I STILL have a vintage Star Wars pillowcase along with a few other collectible 1980's knickknacks from "a galaxy far, far away."
Fast forward to 2017 and I find myself sitting with my dad and brother in the same theater where we were as a family four decades ago. Well, actually it was so long ago that the 1977 theater had since been torn down and the mall completely remodeled twice with the last major update adding a theater back into the mix. This time we were missing mom who passed away over two years ago, but joining us was my brother's wife, their two kids, and my oldest daughter. "The circle is now complete."
Revenge of the Audience?
O.K., so enough about the experience around seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi! What about the movie itself? Well if you haven't heard, there is quite the battle royale brewing between the professional critics and the average moviegoer. However, unlike the predictable pattern where paid critics usually tear down blockbusters while the loyal fan base builds them up, the roles have reversed!
The difference of opinion has had a pretty significant impact on Hollywood's sacred principle of the bottom line. While it is still going to rake in well over a billion dollars, that will be significantly less that the 2 billion+ The Force Awakens took in for the Mouse House. Lucasfilm leader Kathleen Kennedy and Disney Execs--who were originally so enthused by the end product of Rian Johnson's take on the epic saga that they green-lit a band new future trilogy of Star Wars films with Johnson at the helm--might now be a bit nervous about that decision.
my personal take
Let me say something briefly about Buttery Fingers since this is the very first entry. If you are looking for a detailed review of a movie's use of characterization, setting and plot along with an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the technical aspects of film-making (cinematography, sound, script, score, editing, etc.), you're likely to be a little disappointed. I will usually touch upon some of these elements when I do a review, but in reality I lack both the time and expertise to produce these kinds of reviews. Rather you will observe that I prefer to focus on 1) my general impressions on how effective a particular film has been in communicating its themes and 2) an assessment of the strength of the themes (or messages) themselves.
On those grounds, I find that I side with the...
CRITICS on this one. While those who expected another installment in George Lucas' Space Opera that stuck to the tried and true formula of previous Episodes were likely disappointed, I LOVED Rian Johnson's bold move away from a Skywalker-centric universe. It was, in my opinion, just what this 40 year old franchise needed. The quick an almost un-noteworthy reveal that Rey's parents had zero hereditary links to The Force's presumed aristocracy is, for sure, important. However, the most powerful moment of the film comes in its final seconds where we witness a subtle show of Force strength by a small, ordinary boy. As Megan McCluskey of Time magazine observes, "Just as the Force was awoken in Rey — an orphan who apparently has no Jedi blood — it can be awoken in a child abandoned by gamblers on Cantonica or any other number of people." Another observer said that The Last Jedi effectively "democratized the Force".
The creativity displayed in delivering this message more than offset some of the more practical flaws of the movie.
Beyond this, for me a key characteristic of effective creative communication is timeliness. And in this day and age when many feel themselves in a hopeless battle against those seemingly privileged with infinite wealth and power (like The Empire or The First Order), The Last Jedi shows us that the mysterious strength of ordinary masses, when coupled with extraordinary courage, will ultimately carry the day. Welcome back to "A New Hope".