Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star_Wars_The_Last_Jedi.jpg“Let the past die.”  – Adam Driver as Kylo Ren

I left the theater feeling completely taciturn. It’s an onerous task to begin articulating all the jumbled fragments circulating through my mind but I will try my very best.  Certainly, there is a great deal to be enjoyed and to be relished about Episode VIII and you would be served well to go into The Last Jedi not searching out its faults but reveling in the successes that are there. Let it be known that there are many and Rian Johnson is a fine maker of movies as he guides us through the Resistance’s latest evasion of The First Order still up to their old business of quashing anyone who dares defy them.

True, I did not necessarily find it a narrative of revelatory reveals or epic showdowns in the vein of what I initially envisioned. However, I can see the picture separating itself from all of its predecessors — subverting the norm and drawing away from all that we knew before. That gels with much of what was said in the wake of The Force Awakens. It could not simply be another Empire Strikes Back if the new franchise was to flourish. In that regard, there’s no doubt Johnson’s film is an undisputed success building on the character arcs instigated in J.J. Abrams’ effort.

Yet my feelings are somehow conflicted.  Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) call to action to Rey (Daisy Ridley) midway through was never more pointed. “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” And that’s much of what has been done here. Not simply in a single film or to the Jedi order or the legacy of a character but in some respects to an entire franchise.

I am realizing that though I cherish Star Wars as my own, the many aspirations and fantasies of my childhood, it is a communal narrative. It might seem odd to get so thoroughly introspective but I can’t help it. Star Wars is almost inbred into my DNA.

Watching this film might topple the white knights. For one, the Jedi order as we know it. They lose much of their mythical stature that they always evoked. We already lost Han Solo and it’s little surprise that Luke and Leia (with Carrie Fisher’s passing) will most likely not be returning either. The old guard has been all but removed from their posts (with the exception of R2, C3PO, and Chewbacca though Anthony Daniels is the only other returning core cast member).

But it’s no surprise that I often savor the past — the way things used to be. That’s part of what made The Force Awakens such an enjoyable ride. There was an innate sense that this was something new, yes, but it was also squarely centered on the glories of the original trilogy. If I said it once I said it a thousand times, it was like returning to the company of old friends.

Now the old is gone and don’t get me wrong the new additions were greatly appreciated. Once more Rey (Ridley), Fin (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Issac) are indubitably winning personalities and fine action heroes. It’s easy to become immersed in their individual journeys along with the newcomers such as Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). However, that doesn’t take away my wistfulness at the conclusion of The Last Jedi.

It wasn’t even the kind of bittersweet conclusion we saw in earlier installments either but a plaintive ending without a giant climax. Harrison Ford received a venerable though tragic send off. His contemporaries not so much. There is still hope and events have been prolonged for Episode IX but not in some monumental cliffhanger fashion.

Whenever I take in a new film I am also constantly filtering it through the reference points that I already know. Obviously, Star Wars has such a vast lineage that must be sorted through but this latest film also can be read through various other archetypes. It strikes me that Luke Skywalker, the Star Wars hero I always aspired to emulate, was like Welles’ Harry Lime in The Third Man — waiting in the wings until he finally stepped out of the shadows.

Though I enjoyed that moment and the pure rush of adrenaline when he came back to the fore, expectations do not always correlate with reality.  Although we get to see Luke Skywalker and there are some enjoyable moments, the best of them come as all too brief reunions with his faithful astromech pal and his sister followed by a showdown with his main adversary — The nephew who turned to the Dark Side — again it was this wistful sense of an anticlimax.

We see in Luke what Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) once was at least in a visual sense. A hermit who has removed himself from society. Cloaked, bearded, and detached. But whereas Old Ben was a wise, eccentric, and even a fatherly wizard, Luke has become a world-wearied, surly misanthrope. A far cry from the man we dreamed about.

The reverberations of the past echo down in other ways too from the inciting distress signal from his sister that started him off on this cinematic adventure all those many years before and then a visitation from a furry friend.

Likewise, the final showdown is somehow more reminiscent to the archetypal lightsaber battle of A New Hope than all the fanciful epic showdowns we imagined of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker tackling every conceivable villain with his green lightsaber. The old man’s words even mirror the final lines of his late mentor (Strike me down in anger and I’ll always be with you. Just like your father).

Even briefly with lightsaber in hand facing down the greatest forces in the universe as we always thought possible in our mind’s eye, there’s a momentary catharsis. Though the full satisfaction of the moment is stripped from us. Luke is not quite how we remembered him, nay, maybe not even the same man Mark Hamill embodied all those years ago.

It does bring to mind the mythological line out of John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And it’s still true of Luke Skywalker for those in the galaxy far, far away and right there he can remain a hero.

The film’s most intriguing dynamic reveals itself in the perceived connection between arguably our two most crucial characters in Rey and Kylo Ren also known as Ben Solo. But that core struggle between the two of them — literally the dissonance between the Light and Dark sides of the Force — is rudely disrupted. It’s such an ambiguous dividing line between good and evil and though it still remains, the character of Supreme Leader Snoke, equally implicated in this web comes off as little more than a ploy. All the potential grand conspiracies around it are gone in a puff of improbable smoke.

Intertwined with this is Rey’s familial identity which has been of paramount importance to everyone ever since these new pictures were conceived. It’s not so much that I minded what the revelation was (minor as it was) but it was more the fact that this bit of seemingly crucial exposition was so quickly cast aside as well. It felt once more a bit like a bait and switch — as if the Star Wars saga was somehow rewriting its own mythos in counterintuitive ways.

Maybe for once, Star Wars has become a bit more pragmatic; it has sought out realism and the things of this world more than a galaxy far, far away. Here I will admittedly contradict myself but I am not sure how to deal with this development because Star Wars was always a fantasy, always a science fiction fairy tale built out of imagination and dreams. Now it seems to be inching more and more toward the real world. Not because there are any fewer lightsaber battles or blaster fights or fewer alien species and star systems to explore, but the makeup of the new generation of characters is somehow different.

It is a pipe dream to believe that Star Wars could always be the same because it was not created in a vacuum, it is no longer George Lucases, and it has so many other parties invested in it. I for one must come to accept that. The film ends on a rather odd beat with young children getting rapt up in tales of the Last Jedi and looking off into space empowered by the hope brought by the Resistance before the credits roll. Though it felt very un-Star Wars it’s somewhat fitting given this new direction.

Hopefully, younger fans eat up this latest installment and conceive adventures and worlds of their own like I once did, feeding on the visions of the screen as fuel for countless Lego lightsaber battles and made up assaults on the enemy forces with their ragtag band of Rebel Scum. These new films don’t mean so much to me but maybe they can mean something to the current generation. Maybe that’s what they’re meant to do.

Will I see the Last Jedi again? I wouldn’t be at all surprised but unlike The Force Awakens, this isn’t so much an extension of the original trilogy. This is a breaking of the chain. This is something starkly different and it’s taken the galaxy into uncharacteristic territory.

I resolutely admire Rian Johnson for his choices because it seems like he’s made a Star Wars film that is hardly cookie cutter in nature and the fact that it will not please everyone is a marvel (no pun intended) given the usual reality that blockbusters are supposed to be easy on the eyes while hardly divisive. Though flawed, it’s a relatively bold movie in running time, in how it utilizes its characters, and ultimately how it chooses to depart from its longheld traditions. But the boy inside of me still yearns for the Luke Skywalker of my youth as naive as that might sound. I suppose I’ve never been much of a realist.

4/5 Stars

The Return of the Jedi (1983)

ReturnOfTheJediPoster1983If you’ve read any of my reviews on the original trilogy, you undoubtedly know that Star Wars had a tremendous impact on my childhood. That’s true for many young boys. It was the film franchise of choice, and it wasn’t just a series of movies. The beauty of Star Wars is that it encompasses an entire galaxy of dreams beyond our own. It’s a world that reflects ours in many ways — the difference is that they have lightsabers. But not just lightsabers. Aliens. Spaceships. Planets. The Force. Characters who for all intent and purposes live like us. Good, that is in constant conflict with the evil in the world. It’s a struggle that is constantly evolving.

As a boy, Return of the Jedi always appealed to me the most, and I can still understand that even to this day. This film is the conclusion to the story. It enacts the happy ending that all of us desire as human beings who have an inherent love for storytelling. This film continues the saga of these characters that most everyone has grown to love.

The set pieces are a great deal of fun from Jabba’s Palace to the sail barge where Luke shows off his newfound skills and Boba Fett earns a trip to the Sarlacc Pitt. Then the forest moon of Endor where the cute little Ewoks dwell in full force ready to combat the Empire. In fact, there are numerous heart-wrenching cinematic experiences, but few things are worse than the moment when that Ewok shakes his friend only to find him dead — never to move again. Is there no justice in the galaxy?

There’s the assault of the ragtag rebel fleet against the overwhelming firepower of the Imperials and their newly constructed Death Star where Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, and Admiral Ackbar become standouts in their own right.  Finally, there’s the showdown between Luke and Vader, father and son, as the Emperor looks on in wrathful glee. On multiple fronts the action takes place and each one is a thoroughly engaging piece of this fuller, grander narrative.

There’s something so satisfying about seeing all the many planets in the galaxy celebrating simultaneously when evil has been quelled and peace is fully restored. Because, again, there is something inside of each of us that seems to desire that type of fellowship and joy. You might say that this is only a Star Wars movie, but then again the reason so many people followed this story was not so much for the action, but for the characters because we cannot help but love them.

The dynamic between Han, Luke, and Leia is wrought with conflict but also great love and affection. C3P0 and R2 beep and bicker like an old married couple, and yet there’s so much concern there. Even as Han is freed from his carbonite prison, a helpless corpse, Chewie is always by his side to watch out for his buddy. Ultimately, most importantly of all is the central narrative of Luke and his father. Return of the Jedi is coming full circle as Luke returns to face his father. But he finally understands that this is not about vanquishing this villain or even confronting his fear. It’s more than that. It’s about teasing out the good that still dwells inside of this shell of a man formerly known as Anakin Skywalker. And when that relationship is renewed all the other relationships are made better.

Thus, Return of the Jedi will forever be spellbinding, because I feel like a young boy once more watching this sci-fi mythology unfolding in front of me in glorious majesty. There is a suspension of disbelief that envelops this story for all the aforementioned reasons. There is no question in my mind about the logic or the way things tick or so on. I accept them for what they are and truly and fully allow myself to be immersed in a world, “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away.” There certainly are better films, but few films have gripped me time and time again like Return of the Jedi. I will hold onto it proudly for as long as I watch movies.

4.5/5 Stars

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

hannahand1Recently I was thinking about who I would characterize as favorite directors versus directors that I simply respect. In the latter category, I would stick the likes of Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, and Wes Anderson. Because truth be told, I do not always like or even enjoy all their films, but I can still appreciate them. They have their own unique artistic visions when it comes to making movies and that comes out of the fact that they know the lineage that they are derivative of. That’s something that cannot be taken lightly.

I think I would same the same of the work of Woody Allen, and he truly is a special icon of film. There’s no saying that his work is not original because each film bears his mark, but it also takes cues from the past.The utmost compliment I can give Hannah and Her Sisters is the fact that it might be one of my favorite Allen films thus far, behind Annie Hall. It does noticeably take cues from the likes of Bergman and Bunuel however, but that does not detract from its own charms.

hannahand4It begins and continues throughout with rather arbitrary inter-titles written in white letters over a black background. But it’s the perfect embodiment of Allen’s style of writing to go along with his typically anachronistic scores that nevertheless elevate the charm of his films. What follows is an engaging storytelling set piece extended over three Thanksgiving dinners with Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her two sisters. Holly (Diane Wiest) is the aspiring actress, who has run a catering service on the side while fighting a drug problem and trying to figure out her love life. Lee (Barbara Hershey) is a natural beauty, who lives with an older intellectual named Frederick (Max Von Sydow). She has also unwittingly made a conquest of her sister’s respectable husband Elliot (Michael Caine), who nevertheless gets quite nervous in her presence.

This is a film about their families — their interconnected lives that constantly fluctuate and change dynamically with every passing month and holiday. Their lives go from the invariably awkward, to the tragic, and finally, find their perfect equilibrium. The voices inside their heads are constantly active with fears, thoughts, and desires.

hannahand5What’s perhaps most striking about this film is the great depth of the cast. Maureen O’Sullivan stars next to her real-life daughter. Carrie Fisher makes an appearance as Holly’s friend and rival. Even Daniel Stern, Julie Louis Dreyfuss, and Allen regular Tony Roberts pop up in various moments. Perhaps most spectacularly of all, Allen himself commands the spotlight as anxious hypochondriac Mickey Sacks. Essentially it’s the character that Allen always takes on, but in this case, he stuck himself in almost a B-plot. He gets his chance to swim in his fatalism, pessimism, and philosophical dialogues about God and religion. In fact, it is quite reminiscent of Bergman in this respect, but from a uniquely Allenesque perspective. His awkward jokes (eg. I had a great time tonight it was like the Nuremberg trials) make me crack a smile or let out a genuine chuckle in spite of myself. Bergman would never do that to me, but Allen enters that territory while going so far as casting von Sydow in a slight nod to his Swedish hero.

But really all of this is set to the greater backdrop of the familial drama. That’s where the meat and potatoes of this story lie and in this dynamic, there is a lot of genuinely great moments. One of the most memorable is also one of the most difficult when the three sisters gather together over lunch and their relationships seem to be falling apart in front of our eyes. As it goes with the passage of time, things eventually turn out okay and another holiday gathering comes. Each sister is content with where they’re at and so are their spouses. It’s probably one of the most upbeat Allen movies I can think of, if only it were not besmirched by his own personal life. But that’s a dialogue for a different time. After all, this film is really about Hannah and Her Sisters.

4.5/5 Stars

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

whenharry2“Men and women can never really be friends”

When Harry Met Sally…what happened? Well, the first time in 1977 they spend an indubitably long car ride together. Whether or not it’s true, this debate about men, women, and friendship is the driving force behind their choppy relationship over the next decade or so. Back then it began with arguments over Casablanca and late night conflicts at a diner when Harry makes a pass. Good thing they’ll never see each other again. That’s what they think.

5 years later we’re in an airport. It doesn’t seem like much but Harry bumps into an acquaintance he knows, and surprise, surprise Sally ends up being his girl. They don’t give much notice to each other, that is until they end up on the same flight together. Once more they continue the friendly argument they began back in college, although he is now a political consultant and she is a journalist or something. Harry has become more lenient on his hard and fast rule, but they leave each other ready to get together with their significant others. A friendship between the two of them now seems so inconsequential.

But 5 years later role by again and Sally is still unmarried. Things didn’t quite work out and her best friends are hoping to help her move on. Then, she spies none other than Harry Burns in a bookstore and they strike up their quinquennial convo once more. This is a defining moment as they finally decide to become friends. It seems with the passing years they’ve lost a little bit of their idealism and pigheadedness respectively. When you have experienced romance and lost you are more apt for compromise. The passage of time changes people too. So it goes with Harry and Sally.

whenharry3Now they have late night chats as they lie in bed listlessly or they grab a bite to eat at the local deli. In that perceived transitional period of loneliness, they find comfort and companionship. They discover what a platonic relationship can be without sex. Except much of their time is still spent talking about love and sex. Harry and Sally are so preoccupied with such topics they probably don’t even see what’s happening to them.

Ultimately a blind date they set up with each other’s best friends fails abysmally, but their best friends hit it off instantly. Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher end up making a stellar combination, both exhibiting wonderful personality paired with wit. They make believable best friend material. But during their wedding, Harry and Sally’s friendship goes down the tubes and looks to be finished. It’s in the interim leading up to New Year’s Eve that Harry realizes what is happening inside of him. It took umpteen years, but Harry and Sally finally fall in love! At the end of the film, they fittingly receive their own cutscene like the various old married couples who share their fairytale romances interspersed through the entire film.

whenharry5Bob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally… works unequivocably because, in many ways, it helped define many of the unspoken rules of the rom-com following the mold of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Overall, the addition of Harry Connick Jr.’s music gives the film a jazzy feel rather reminiscent of Allen’s work. In fact, it does feel like Reiner emulates Allen and in this case, mimicry is the highest form of flattery. Meanwhile, Nora Ephron’s script is often inventive, creating future cliches rather than falling into old ones. To his credit, Billy Crystal is able to play his role with sincerity and sarcasm when necessary, while Meg Ryan is full of a feisty vim and vigor in her own right.

Perhaps most importantly the film speaks to topics of romance and sex. Sex is not a commodity to be bartered with, but then again it cannot be wholly bad if humans are constantly desiring it. In there lies a mystery. There must be a context in which sex actually means something more than just being a simple act. Perhaps when love comes first. That’s what makes what Harry and Sally have so special. True, it’s marriage, but really it’s a lifelong friendship. That’s what it’s meant to be — the closest bond you’re ever going to have with another person. 

4/5 Stars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_PosterAnyone who is at least a little bit familiar with ring theory knows that the Star Wars saga has often folded back on itself, with near-mirror images, similar plot devices, and obvious parallelism. It gives any fan a new found appreciation for the films, and with that mentality, The Force Awakens can be thoroughly appreciated.

Without a doubt, it is positively exploding with entertainment value, up and coming talent, as well as the old friends that we were looking to catch up with after 30 long years. However, this is not simply another installment, reimagining, or remaking of Star Wars (although Abrams does succeed in rebooting the franchise). This chapter is yet another refrain in the epic intergalactic ballad that is Star Wars. As such, it points to the future and recalls the past much like many ancient texts, fairy tales, and pieces of mythology.

In this film, we do see many things that hearken back to the earlier films, which makes sense due to the return of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan as well as legendary characters like Han, Chewie, and Leia (now known as General Organa).

The Force Awakens also introduces a lowly scavenger girl (Daisy Ridley), who is reminiscent of Luke Skywalker in her hero’s journey. A new evil has risen up in the form of The First Order, and the Rebellion has been replaced by the more progressive Resistance. They still have many of the same problems, however, like defying a menacing dark lord who is very strong in the force. There is also a giant battle station dubiously named “Starkiller” which dwarfs any previous Death Star. Young Rey must sneak around the colossal fortress much like her predecessors, and a meager fleet led by crack pilot Poe Dameron looks to find the one weakness to bring the menacing giant to its knees. We’ve seen variations of it all before, but whereas remakes get old all too quickly, our contemporary culture revels in the remix. That’s part of the magic behind what J.J. Abrams has done.

He’s left the framework: We have our obligatory opening introduction, there are the glorious orchestrations of living legend John Williams and numerous other familiar touchstones. In fact, it’s frighteningly familiar. We see the rubble of star destroyers and AT-ATs. Stormtroopers have a facelift, the Millennium Falcon is still kicking, and some of the planets strikingly resemble the likes of Tatooine, Yavin IV, and Hoth. A lightsaber in the snow brings back images of a Wampa’s cave from The Empire Strikes Back. Nightmarish hallucinations feel reminiscent to the caves of Dagobah, and plucky little BB-8’s secret map makes us think of all those years ago when R2 first took that message from Princess Leia. It all falls wonderfully into place.

But there is also so much that this film does that inches away from the original trilogy, without cutting ties completely. It brings in a new batch of capable stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. It gives us new pieces of backstory, more definition to this galaxy, while simultaneously creating characters, weaponry, and settings that little boys, and now girls, all across the galaxy will be emulating.

However, perhaps one of most profound aspects of the latest continuation of the saga is its diversity on so many levels. There is a strong female lead in Ridley, an ethnically diverse cast, and there are actually some juicy roles for actors over the age of 45. Aside from the newcomers and the vets, we are also treated to the likes of Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, and even Max von Sydow. Most of them by now are well established, but each one explored different avenues with their characters allowing for greater definition and depth.

In fact, Mark Hamill has arguably the most enjoyable role, because he is the main driving force behind this whole tale (He also gets top billing to boot). Everyone is looking for him, and in this way, he’s rather like the Third Man, Harry Lime, a character who makes the most of a brief climatic cameo, due to the vast shrouded mystery that has been developed around his character. In this case, we are itching to know where he is and what he’s been up to. Why? Because he is Luke Skywalker! The last Jedi in the galaxy. Do you need a better reason?

Thus, The Force Awakens has some dour notes, but it most certainly is a narrative of beginnings, awakenings, and rebirth. We do not quite know actually where they will lead because evil still exists in the shadows and the light side has yet to bring absolute peace to the galaxy.

Star Wars VII is most everything that any hardcore fan or casual viewer could desire in a saga that bursts at the seams with cultural clout. The exciting part is the titillating prospect that there’s still so much room to grow and a lot more galaxy to be revealed. Perhaps it’s best that Abrams hands over the reins to someone else so they can try their hand at expanding the galaxy. But for now, he did a stellar job at bringing balance back to the force, at least for a couple years. We had a bad feeling about this, but we can all let out a collective sigh of relief. All is right in the Star Wars universe.

4.5/5 Stars

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

SW_-_Empire_Strikes_BackGrowing up, Star Wars was my life. I lived, ate, slept, and dreamt Star Wars. But notably, Empire Strikes Back was always my least favorite film in the original trilogy. In truth, it scared me because it showed a different side to this galaxy. It seemed to be ignoring the unwritten rule that good should and will always prevail over evil.

Now I know better than that. Every great film trilogy needs that moment where it delves into the darkness and scours the depths of despair. it’s in these moments that characters become solidified, pun intended, and we truly begin to care for them on a deeper level.

Because Empire Strikes Back is certainly a film about darkness; that’s part of the reason why I shied away from it growing up. But such evil always seems to reveal the polarities of nature.  To balance out the dark side there must be light. Heroics, sacrifice, and friendship come to the forefront because baseness calls for such a response from our protagonists.

Another reason I was not always a fan of Episode IV was rather shallow, I admit. Planets like Hoth, Dagobah, and even Bespin were just not as thrilling as Tatooine and Endor for some reason. That still holds true to some extent, but now the first issue I touched on takes greater precedent.

It’s in this story where the Rebels are struggling to survive, fleeing Hoth desperately from an Imperial garrison that seems largely regrouped and unfettered by the destruction of the Death Star. All seems bleak and hopeless once more. Things begin with Luke being kidnapped and dragged off to a Wampa lair. He almost gets crushed by an incoming AT-AT as his buddies get fried, and finally, he crashes his X-Wing into a swamp searching for a Jedi Master who is little more than a green muppet. It’s not much of a hero’s journey, or more precisely it’s a journey full of pitfalls and failures.

Meanwhile, sparks are flying between Han and Leia, not because of their chemistry, but their complete lack of any chemistry. He’s a scoundrel and she’s an aloof princess hardly enamored with his show of bravado. After all, he pilots a heap of junk and walks around with a furry walking carpet prone to fits of rage. C3P0 is at best comical every now and again when he’s not overly annoying. R2D2 is a spunky dynamo like always.  These hardly seem like complimentary words, and it’s hardly thoughtful commentary, but it sets the stage for brilliance.

The plot is contrived just as Vader contrives to lead Luke right into his trap. On both accounts, it works to perfection. Bespin becomes the perfect place for some major truth-bombs. The most obvious one pertaining to a certain person’s father. But we also see the evolution of Han and Leia’s relationship. We see the true camaraderie between Han and Chewie, and the real nature of Lando, another scoundrel with a heart of gold, much like his buddy Han. Finally, we find out that Leia has extraordinary powers of her own.

On a purely cinematic level, The Empire Strikes Back introduces us to our first real lightsaber battle we ever got and it never disappoints. True, Vader and Obi-Wan faced off, but that was more symbolic in nature. The bout between Luke and Vader was the next step, necessary for this story to progress. Luke has fallen and failed this time as the power of the dark side is too strong for him, but this is only the beginning. Any great trilogy must enter into the darkness certainly, but there’s also an ending to the story. Completely different than what came before. In this case, the Jedi will return prepared to bring order to the galaxy as it is meant to be.

Thus, I wasn’t completely against The Empire Strikes Back as a kid, because I knew it wasn’t the end of the story. We leave our characters on a hopeful note as they survey the vast galaxy in front of them. It’s far from being redeemed, but it’s also not too far gone. This is a space western for the ages with dramatic storytelling, twists, and turns worthy of one of the great series of our generation. Let’s just take another moment to salute John Williams too. Without him, Star Wars is far less. He makes this world of George Lucas come alive.

5/5 Stars

Review: Star Wars (1977)

ccbff-starwars1Star Wars has such a giant mythology and full-blown culture surrounding it that it becomes nearly impossible to separate the entire galaxy from the film franchise. It is so much more than just a movie with a plot and some characters going on an adventure. Sure, George Lucas let his boyhood imagination run wild taking pages out of numerous playbooks from John Ford’s westerns, Kurosawa’s samurai, and the serialized sci-fi adventures of Buck Rogers.

However, when I look at this classic that I grew up with for so many years now, it is nearly impossible to shed the role of a pure fan and take on the role of a film critic. One prime example would be Sir Alec Guinness. All my knowledge of film history tells me he is one of the greatest English actors of all time and for good reason. However, there is also this innate conflict that says he’s Obi Wan Kenobi since that’s what I knew him for originally. That’s what I identify him with, and I probably always will. Because, as I said before, Star Wars: A New Hope (As it was later titled) means so much to so many people like me on a personal level.

But let me hold off on that for a moment and focus on Star Wars the film. First and foremost, you would be hard-pressed to find a more colorful array of characters. C3PO and R2D2 are the films jesters and the story is told from point of view, to begin with. You have the hapless farmboy, the wise old man, a spunky princess, a dashing tough guy, and his ever faithful fuzzy sidekick. Not to mention the greatest, most imposing villain every developed for the silver screen. It took some developing with three different actors, a mask, a cape, and SCUBA sounds all joined to create his persona.

That aside, the world Lucas created is so astounding and inventive that it has become second nature to true Star War fans. Jawas on Tatooine, the Cantina in Mos Eisley, and Storm Troopers on the Death Star are simply a no brainer. They are part of our lexicon just as many of these quotes easily roll off our tongue. “May the force be with you,” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” You get the idea.

Then, it goes without saying that John Williams propelled this film from being good to great. Because without his iconic scoring, Star Wars is just not the same. It lacks the same energy and epic vibrancy that pulses through every scene. One prime example is the final scene in the Throne Room on Yavin IV. That could have been the longest most awkward award ceremony in history.  When you think about it, no one is talking, they just stare at each other as the medals get bestowed. But with Williams score, it develops a grand crescendo that caps the film on the highest notes as the credits role.

I am also convinced that Ben Burtt is a genius because he breathed still more life into the Star Wars world through his sound design. He gave us blaster noises, RD-D2’s “voice,” Chewie’s distinctive growls, and of course the hum of lightsabers and Darth Vader’s iconic breathing. A personal favorite of mine is the ever present Wilhelm Scream, but I digress.

Thus, what we witnessed the first time we saw Star Wars (followed by countless more times) was not just a film, but a revolution, and I’m not just talking about the rebel alliance blowing up the Death Star.

As I suggested before, Star Wars is so affecting because it is not simply a movie we watch. In many respects, it brings up flashbulb memories in our lives. I remember birthday parties, childhood afternoons playing Legos, or being a Jedi with my very own lightsaber. Star Wars infected my entire adolescence and so when I watch this film it causes all the many great memories to flood back.

It is a joy to watch it again because I almost feel like a kid once more, experiencing the same excitement all over again as if it’s the first time around. My taste in films may continue to mature and evolve, but I dearly hope I never lose my affinity for Star Wars. In many, it would be like losing some of my memories and even a little bit of my humanity.

Not to worry, though, because based on this most recent viewing I will not be dismissing Star Wars any time soon. As some wise man once  said, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I forgot how much I missed “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” It was great seeing an old friend.

5/5 Stars

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

aa6b4-whenharrymetsallyposter1A romantic comedy directed by Rob Reiner, and starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, the film opens in 1977 when Harry and Sally first meet and then share a long car ride to New York. They part ways not expecting to see one another again. Sure enough they meet again and they both are in serious relationships with others. But a few more years down the line they cross paths and they both are having trouble getting over their failed love lives. With the situation the way it is, Harry and Sally decide to become friends and they begin to confide in each other while also spending more time together. However, they want to remain just friends and they set each other up with their best friend respectively. This ends in their best friends becoming romantically involved and it leaves Harry and Sally where they were before. When Sally is going through a tough time Harry comforts her and in the moment they make love. In the aftermath their relationship becomes tense and it ends in a fight. All alone on New Year’s Eve they finally make up and share a kiss. They are finally a couple. This film has adult themes but Reiner makes this film a nostalgic feel in a way by using a flashback, voice-over, split screen, and conversations from married couples. Furthermore, the soundtrack by Harry Connick Jr. is reminiscent of crooners from a bygone era. In my mind, this film seemed very similar to some of the old romantic comedies including The Awful Truth (1937).

4/5 Stars

Star Wars (1977)

568ac-starwarsmovieposter1977Arguably one of the most successful franchises ever, it is easy to understand how Star Wars became so popular. This galaxy far far away and the characters that graced the screen were so intriguing. You had Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, and of course Darth Vader. The idea of George Lucas which seemed laughable at first, quickly became a hit. I have always been enthralled with Star Wars like many others before me. However, after watching the original saga again it became clear how wonderful these films were because the tales they told were so fun and entertaining. The relatively simple story of this small time farm boy deciding to fight against evil in the galaxy has always been enjoyable. On top of that the action was great and the characters were even better. This is still one of my favorite films all time easily.

5/5 Stars