In one of the early scenes in the latest Star Wars movie, a lively and colorful festival is in progress. It is a festival that happens once only every 42 years. Well, that’s interesting, since 1977 is 42 years ago and that’s when the original entry into this space opera debuted.
I’m sure there are tons of hidden gems like this for hardcore fans. I’m one of the rare individuals who was disappointed by the original film, Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope. I found it to be less cerebral than I’d anticipated, with more of a Flash Gordon feel, which was actually writer and producer George Lucas’s intent. It was certainly not THX 1138 or Dune, but both of those bombed at the box office, so I am clearly in the minority. The Star Wars franchise began with a blockbuster movie and spun film, merchandising and theme park gold ever since.
In preparation for seeing this final chapter in Lucas’s planned trilogy of trilogies, I watched all eight of the previous episodes on Disney Plus. That’s a big investment of time, but I’m glad I did it. It gave me perspective and some necessary history going into the concluding two plus hours. Yes, you can see this as a stand-alone science fiction drama, but the continuing characters, settings and multi-generational familial histories inform the emotions and actions of the heroes who love and hate and battle across a galaxy far, far away.
I am not going to attempt a recounting of the entire nine-part saga here. But it’s important to know that the first film in 1977 was actually the fourth part, followed every few years by another until the middle of the story was complete. After a sixteen year break in 1999 came parts 1-3, a prequel that seemed much darker and less enjoyable. These continued the every-few-year schedule until there was another long pause. Finally, in 2015 the series began wrapping up on a faster two-year sequence with new characters that featured a female heroine and direction twice by science fiction film phenomenon J. J. Abrams. When Lucas spoke publically about his intent to serialize nine movies in this way, I thought it would never happen, and I’m sure others doubted it as well.
The look back I just completed might be experienced differently by a younger generation of fans. At the time, in the late 1970s, the special effects for Star Wars Episode IV were groundbreaking and breathtaking. But the scripting and acting are quite corny by modern standards. There are cringe-worthy scenes between Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Harrison Ford as Han Solo that the MeToo movement would find stomach-turning. By the ninth episode, a strong, unsexualized female hero (Daisy Ridley) initiates the only kiss in the film, and a space pirate (Oscar Isaac) who asks if he can kiss a girl from his past is turned down, twice. This, in contrast to Ford’s clumsy lust for the helpless, adoring and bikini clad Fisher from 1977. Things have changed.
I found that some of the most noteworthy and consistent stars of the series were the spaceship the Millenium Falcon and two androids, R2D2 and C3PO. Chewbacca, the “Wookie” also was a loyal and lovable beast for 42 years. Cameos and guest appearances by now aged veterans of the early films are a fun addition. Sets, special effects, crafts and creatures are incredibly imaginative and beautifully produced.
Carrie Fisher’s death after the filming of episode eight presented enormous challenges for the ninth film, which was not yet scripted. A combination of a search of her entire audio catalog from previous films, clever shots filmed from her back, outtakes from other films, digital editing and strategically scripted scenes allowed her to continue as Leia Organa in the final film.
Ultimately this film feels a lot like the others. There are spectacular chase scenes, shooting battles on the ground and in space, and of course frequent light saber duels. Good versus evil continues to be represented by the light side of The Force against the dark side, always bringing us to the edge of our seats when all seems lost and relief when a miraculously timed rescue or intervention saves the day. Each film introduces an adorable little character ripe for a plush toy or action figure. In this case it is Babu Frik, a twelve-inch tall android circuitry wizard that required four puppeteers and an animatronic head to operate.
This film brings closure to a chapter in movie and American history. It has been like family to adoring fans, and I’m sure brings a sense of sadness at being over. I felt a bit of this myself, thinking back on the young man who went to see the first film in 1977. That 23 year old had no cell phone, computer, Internet or streaming television. They would not be invented for years. And now, at 65, he can watch all of these movies in bed late at night on a little device that pulls images out of the air, gorgeous images with spectacular audio transmitted without wires to little devices in his ears. Star Wars may have taken place long ago and far away, but so did my twenties. I miss them both.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) runs 2 hours 22 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie?