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Movie Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (2017)

The destiny of Rey, and the Rebel Alliance, hangs in the balance.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has arrived! I saw it last night and I was quite entertained. This was a late night show complete with long line and excitement in the air. I will make a deal with you. I won’t spoil anything that isn’t already in the trailer–this is a movie about finding one’s destiny. You could say that about most movies. And there is the big conflict going on, of course, over what Rey (Daisy Ridley) should do with her life. Should she follow the light or the dark? Well, no one needs to feel obligated to do what they “should” do, right? Therein lies the deeper conflict. By all counts, Rey is, and this is no secret, the last Jedi. Who can help her with this? Ah, that is what this movie is all about and it does a fine job with that premise.

I will tell you that I went into this movie in the spirit of a true Star Wars fan–I was dutifully ready to be amazed. I was not to leave my seat. I was definitely not to check my phone. I was not to smack loudly on any edibles–if I even dared to indulge in cinema snacks. The woman seated next to me did have these plastic-wrapped treats she noisily noshed on and she DID check her phone, which is outrageous. And some people were not riveted to their seats and took bathroom breaks or whatever–more checking of phones? There seemed to be a jittery vibe going on. And that is the biggest challenge the Star Wars franchise has to contend with: can it keep you amazed? The answer is more of a so-so attitude. This Star Wars movie has its share of self-deprecating jokes to lighten the mood–which is fine as that is a staple for these big tent events–but perhaps there was just a tad too much–even if the Disney team is supposed to have perfected the delicately-balanced recipe for mass entertainment.

Star Wars delivers both art and action. Maybe a little more art than action–but that’s okay!

So, how much did Disney spend to buy out George Lucas? Enough to run a space colony on the moon, right? Well, then, we all deserve to be amazed! Again, I come back to the so-so vibe going on. The audience was there because this is an event. The movie was there because this is a huge investment. Writer-director-mastermind Rian Johnson is there to pull off another J.J. Abrams rabbit-out-of-a-hat-trick. This is, in its own way, a noble effort–not be dismissed. Is it possible today to really pull off an old-fashioned trick like this that gets an audience genuinely thrilled? For one thing, the audience has shifted, in its interests and attitude, since the first Star Wars in fundamental ways: less patient, wiser, snarkier–there wasn’t even any snark in 1977! To do the rabbit trick today, you need to scale back and dial down.

Some of the very best moments in this Star Wars movie are when everything goes into radio silence. For a crowd-pleaser, you don’t necessarily want to get too arthouse on the public. This is not “2001: A Space Odyssey,” although, given the wide demographic for Star Wars, you have plenty of wiggle room to enter into artistic mode. Truth to told, everyone hungers for some art with their action. Anyway, there are a number of these moments of radio silence as Rey deals with the profound obstacles on her journey of self-discovery as well as when we get to the nitty gritty conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. And it is beautifully done. I don’t care if some people got it and some chose to munch away on snacks or sneak a look at their phone for the millionth time. The Star Wars franchise, all of these franchises, know that’s part of the game and some will play it well while others will fall short. All in all, the results from this latest Star Wars are well played.

The whole cast delivers the goods, to be sure. For instance, I cannot image this without Adam Driver just as much as I cannot image this without Mark Hamill. Now, these two actors are very different, no doubt. Driver as an actor, we can mostly agree, runs circles around Hamill but Hamill is a special case. He has some acting chops. For this movie, he has all the acting chops he could possibly need. He comes to this role honoring something amounting to a sacred trust. Overall, he is a pleasure to see on the screen as the reluctant and conflicted legend, the great Luke Skywalker. What should he do at this point in his life? What is his greater purpose? He is admirably up to the challenge of this pivotal role. The same can certainly be said of Carrie Fisher. Hamill, ultimately, carries a good bit of this story as he is caught in the destiny triangle between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). By the time we’re getting down to these three revealing their true selves, no one is munching or checking their Facebook.

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Movie Review: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.

I went to see “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” at the Seattle Cinerama Theatre just to make things even more special. Any Star Wars movie is a special event and this latest installment is no different. The big draw for me is the winning performance by Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, daughter of a great rebel hero who must prove that her father did not fall in league with the Empire. Her journey becomes more complicated as she runs into conflict with her handler, Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). Our story takes place in vintage Star Wars, just before 1977’s A New Hope. This movie opens the window further to show just what wonders still lie ahead with a Disney-owned Star Wars franchise.

I’m not a hardcore Star Wars fan but even I could appreciate Peter Cushing back on the screen, digitally re-created, in order to reprise his role as the villain Grand Moff Tarkin. Most of the other CGI trickery was all Wookiee to me. But I did catch the vintage vibe here and there with cantina characters popping up and X-Wing fighter pilots back in action. George Lucas must have decided early on that his Rebel Alliance fighters were going to look more like average folks than hardened warriors. Any minute, you could expect your own grandmother to pop on the screen. In fact, one of the pilots does look to be someone’s grandmother.

The plot is pretty straightforward: earnest and lovely Jyn Erso must press on, save her dad, and save the rebellion. There’s a bunch of doublespeak in the interim and good-natured talk of believing in the force within you. There’s nothing really here with the iconic quality of a Yoda but that’s okay. We’re already treading on iconic vintage soil so that’s plenty. But there is one compelling addition in the form of the robot K-2SO brilliantly voice by Alan Tudyk.

The gang is all here.

The gang is all here.

Let me tell you a few things about K-2SO. He’s a big guy, bigger and brasher than C-3PO. I had a little girl seated next to me and she perked up every time that K-2SO acted up. He’s none too refined at times. Where C-3PO relied upon cunning, K-2SO is just as likely to rely upon brawn. In one scene, when a gatekeeper asks if he requires any help, K-2SO simply nods, raises his fist, and pounds the guy to death. It’s a pretty odd scene but easy enough in context to pass over. There’s a war on, you know. In fact, for one quick scene, we close in on ground forces that may as well be in Syria. Then we zap back into space for a bit and, ultimately, we see that everything does not rely just upon brawn but on Jyn Erso guiding the rebels back to a new sense of hope.

One spoiler, perhaps. You probably already know this. It won’t hurt anything really if you don’t but Carrie Fisher appears at the very end. It is a CGI version of her 19-year-old self and she claims victory for the rebellion and welcomes a new hope. That really touched me. The whole experience of seeing a Star Wars movie and in such a regal movie house brought home to me the still enduring power of cinema. With people consuming content is every conceivable way possible, it is reassuring that we can all be drawn back to a more basic and communal activity as going to the movies, to go and sit together to see the big event on the screen. It is not nearly the same powerful experience as it was for moviegoers in the heyday of the box office but it’s still something. It comes pretty darn close.

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HARRISON FORD, CARRIE FISHER, MARK HAMIL IN STAR WARS: EPISODE VII? OK WITH GEORGE LUCAS

Carrie-Fisher-Gotcha

If you get your news from Palm Beach Illustrated, then you got the jump on a lot of folks. You were among the first to read about Carrie Fisher chatting about her role in the next installment of the “Star Wars” saga. Read it here. Now, you’ve got every conceivable news outlet, from the old big time news establishment to the comic book news machines covering it as breaking geek news. Newsarama breathlessly reported it as a confirmation that Fisher was reprising her role. (The original Newsarama reporting did jump the gun and required updating later) Read that here. Okay, wait for it, insert sound of needle scratching record. Turns out that Fisher was only joking around. It was a joke, folks! Not major geek news triggering volcanic eruptions on the planet Zolan. The Inquisitr, true to its name, took a more skeptical view, and unearthed more down-to-earth news. Read it here.

Was Carrie Fisher pulling a prank? No, she was not. She was chatting with a tiny publication in Palm Beach, Florida. That’s all.

Is there any truth to the idea that we will see the original Star Wars trio in the upcoming J.J. Abrams epic? Well, there’s been endless speculation about it. Such as this Screen Rant feature here.

And then there’s the master himself, George Lucas. He was simply chatting too and the reporting on that was a well tempered approach by Deadline Hollywood. Read that here. The idea that Ford, Fisher, and Hamil will be in the next “Star Wars” takes on more and more credibility. However, Lucas even states that he may have said too much and that no deals have been reached.

And what about Billy Dee Williams? Read First Showing’s observations here.

Ford-Fisher-Hamil-Star-Wars-Episode-VII

In conclusion, it does seem like a slam dunk to cast the original dream team trio. J.J. Abrams is a sucker for that and so are audiences. How big will their parts be? Well, hopefully not monumental. Did you really want to see Leonard Nimoy carry that last “Star Trek” flick? Nope. There will be a balance. As Mark Hamil observed, the characters will likely take on Obi-wan Kenobi mentor type roles. Will that be good enough for Harrison Ford? Oh, let’s just not go there.

Speaking of Obi-wan Kenobi, why isn’t anyone speculating over whether or not Alec Guinness will play Obi-wan Kenobi again? The character is dead but his spirit lives on. The actor is dead but we’ve got the most powerful corporation in entertainment history backing up this puppy. Anything is possible. Anything! We’re talking an endless stream of money. So, most likely, expect the mighty trio back. That part should be a lock. And expect J.J. Abrams to do the right thing.

And for the real scoop on what Disney got for its $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm, and a better understanding of why the mighty trio story is not pure speculation, read today’s Bloomberg Businessweek feature here.

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