The Last Jedi: Looking back at the Star Wars franchise ahead of the eighth installment

The Last Jedi is the sequel to the 2015 space adventure The Force Awakens. The film will mark completion of 40 years since the first Star Wars movie.

Nandhu Sundaram November 08, 2017 09:57:56 IST
The Last Jedi: Looking back at the Star Wars franchise ahead of the eighth installment

We are on the eve of the release of The Last Jedi, the eighth film in the Star Wars franchise, and the sequel to 2015’s The Force Awakens. On 15 December, 2017, more than 40 years after the first film’s release, the latest installment will come to a theatre near you. And once again, we will be hard put to escape the mania over the $7-billion franchise.

Over the last few days, fans across the world have been bombarded with trailers and teasers, turning on the heat. The trailers are said to have spoilers but it is clear that former scavenger Rey (English actress Daisy Ridley), runaway Storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) will continue their adventures.

The Last Jedi Looking back at the Star Wars franchise ahead of the eighth installment

A still from The Last Jedi

But how will Fey fare under the training of Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill? Is she really Luke’s daughter as heavily hinted in The Force Awakens and more recently by some cast members? Will she quit her training before it is over, just like Luke did under Yoda in Return Of The Jedi? Will Luke’s character be tainted with shades of grey like rumours have it? We will know the answers very soon.

Everyone mad about the movies has a Star Wars story to tell. Here is mine: I was in my early teens when I first saw Return of the Jedi (1983), the third part of the franchise. I did not care much for the complicated storyline but the appearance of Ewoks, the short and furry bipeds on hang gliders, and the subsequent hair-raising battle in the forest moon of Endor thrilled me to bits. I grew eager to taste more of the pop culture phenomenon but home videos of the other films were unavailable in my small hometown.

It would be years before I watched the rest of the epic space soap opera but when I did, both Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) left a lasting impression on me.

The first film that I saw in the theatre was The Phantom Menace (1999) but this time around, I was disappointed. Attack Of The Clones (2002) too, was insipid fare, at least in my mind. Despite the amazing special effect-aided sequences, these two films, which form a part of the prequel trilogy, did not impress me much.

But then, director George Lucas, the wunderkind who had started the whole business, decided to have another go at it. He directed Star Wars: Episode VI - Revenge Of The Sith (2005) which was promoted as the last in the prequel series. The story of Anakin Skywalker and way Lucas tied it up to Luke’s tale left me with a big high. I watched it a few times in the theatre and my appetite for the bewitching series kept growing.

In the years since, I have seen The Force Awakens, the seventh film in the franchise and the first in the sequel trilogy, and Rogue One - A Star Wars Story (2016), which kicks off the anthology series. And I have watched the whole set of movies repeatedly to get an idea of the circuitous plot arc. It is a fascinating universe, sometimes shallow and other times deeply seductive.

The first three films are told from the point of view of the rebels led by Luke as they combat the evil Galactic Empire but the prequels tells the story of his father Anakin Skywalker who is entrusted with the task of protecting the Empire.

Anakin falls in love with Padme Amidala, played by Natalie Portman. When they meet, Anakin is still a child, but one blessed with extraordinary powers of the Force. Hayden Christensen plays Anakin, who secretly marries Padme, and is later misled by Emperor Palpatine into joining the Sith. As Revenge Of The Sith ends, Anakin turns into Darth Vader, meaning Dark Father.

The series has many memorable scenes. The affinity between Luke and Leia before they discover they are brother and sister in The New Hope; Anakin losing his hand in a duel; the battle with the lightsaber between Count Dooku, who has eight hands, and Obi-Wan Kenobi; the death of Mace Windu, played by Samuel Jackson; Yoda’s famous saying to Luke: “Do not try, do”; the climatic sequence in Revenge Of The Sith — the list is endless. Many of the battle sequences are etched in my mind as is John Williams’ superb score.

The Last Jedi Looking back at the Star Wars franchise ahead of the eighth installment

A still from The Last Jedi

However, as with all major franchises, there is a downside too. Star Wars does not easily lend itself to dispassionate analysis. Legions of fans hated Jar Jar Binks so much that he went to become one of the most universally despised characters ever committed to film. Quite the opposite is the love for Obi-Wan Kenobi, played by both Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor.

Also, the franchise is now easily over 15 hours long. Considering this is a science fiction/fantasy film, do audiences have to go all the way back to A New Hope or The Phantom Menace to understand elementary details about the series? Many may choose to just get their fix with The Last Jedi and be done with it. And, let us not even begin to get into all the Star Wars lore — the nitty gritty in the details that only true fans know!

I am also especially appalled by the dialogues, many of them written by Lucas himself. Other scenes like the lightsaber sequences work well for teens but fail to move adults. The performance by acclaimed actors like Johnson and McGregor is constrained by the poor writing.

In the end, does the triumph of good over evil need to be so messy? That is why I am not a Star Wars junkie. Many of the scenes attract me at first viewing but fail to leave a lasting impression.

What is even more worrying is that Star Wars, along with Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), ushered in the era of the modern summer blockbuster. Soon, top Hollywood studios realised that carpet bombing theatres with a movie will result in it reaping it rich at the box-office. This meant that most people went to see the movie based on its marketing, buzz and hype, rather than wait for word-of-mouth response or critical approval.

George Lucas, the man who conceived the series, is not just a genius good at creating special effects. Outside the Star Wars franchise, Lucas has directed very few films. But movies like THX 1138 and American Graffiti are extremely well regarded. He has written many of the films in the Indiana Jones franchise but his most vital contribution to cinema may be as an executive producer.

Many years ago, I saw an interview of Lucas broadcasted on Star Movies around the time The Phantom Menace was released. That opened my eyes to how smart a person he was. He spoke in an erudite fashion with superb authority and command. I came away with the feeling that Lucas really did know what he was doing.

The Last Jedi Looking back at the Star Wars franchise ahead of the eighth installment

Star Wars boasts of a huge line-up of actors, both big and small. Harrison Ford and Guinness were part of the original cast, which also included Hamill and Carrie Fisher, who became famous after playing the leads in the original trilogy. Hamill and Fisher play the brother-sister duo of Luke and princess Leia, who falls in love with Ford’s Han Solo.

Guinness plays Kenobi, who trains Luke to become a Jedi. The voices of James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Frank Oz (Yoda) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) also contributed to the success of the original trilogy.  Liam Neeson plays a jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn, in The Phantom Menace. The film will also bring together Adam Driver and Andy Serkis. Fisher died in December 2016, making The Last Jedi her final film role.

The Last Jedi is directed by Rian Johnson. He is the director of small but well-made films like Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper. It would not be out of place to expect him to infuse some freshness into the series.

All images from YouTube.

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