I think The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars film. It’s hard to say, these movies need so much time and will be seen over and over again. I’m unwittingly comparing it in my head to my more recent viewings of the original trilogy and not the dazzling first ones but I have to trust it will hold up. The Last Jedi is ambitious, and thought-provoking and fun in a way that none of the “core” Star Wars filmsever have been. This is the kind of movie someone would make if they spent their childhood loving the material but realized as an adult that it depicted a world that would never function. Rian Johnson makes a more functional galaxy with more authentic characters and he’s made the best big-budget science fiction movie in some time.
It’s tough to write this review after having seen the battle lines being drawn across the Internet over the movie. People are polarized and it’s pushing opinions to the far reaches. I believe Kylo Ren is the most interesting character in all eight Star Wars movies but that might be an overreaction. I know that his internal struggle and strife is the only time the dark side has seemed like a real thing people would be interested in. This is a movie that took the laughably bad Anakin Skywalker arc from the prequel trilogy and made those feeling feel real. Here I can find the nuance and conflict that we had to paste on to the prequels with speculation and supplemental material but all here in one go. I would say that this is probably how people thought about Darth Vader after watching Empire Strikes Back but I’ve seen that movie, there are only a handful of meaningful head tilts signaling anything at all. For the first time I feel like I’m not being asked to fill in big gaps of narrative or run to read some tangential novel released years later.
I’ve heard people say that none of the characters changed or grew in this movie and I simply can’t agree with that at all. If after the events of this movie Poe isn’t doing some big time soul searching, this whole trilogy is a massive failure. Granted we don’t see him become less of a reckless hotshot but it’s certainly what I expect to happen. You can grow and change and not have it be immediately visible. Finn, the person who lived to be a soldier, starts to see the galaxy that isn’t in a state of constant war and starts to see the context. His relationship with Rose is engaging and exciting. I enjoy the look at military heroism and idealism as Rose moves from idolizing Finn for his supposed deeds in the first film and then seeing that he’s a flawed person and kind of lapping him by the end of the film. I need more of those characters pushing and pulling on each other. Maybe even smooching but I do not want to wade in to the intricacy of Star Wars shipping politics.
If we want to accept the premise that the entire Star Wars series is the story of the Skywalker family (and I’m not sure I do want that, but here we are) this was another smashing success for me. Mark Hamill has spent most of his career at this point as a voice actor, and it was so apparent in his performance here. There are lines and readings where you can still here the kid annoyed at his uncle because he wanted to go get power converters. But there’s also the person who has had to live the last thirty years in a galaxy that he didn’t change nearly as much as he thought he would. I wish we got a little more Leia but they didn’t know they weren’t going to get another chance with her. It’s a sad thing but it is what it is.
The Last Jedi has the inside track to become my favorite Star Wars movie because it is challenging. It takes a universe that, for all the turmoil depicted around the margins, has been a place of very safe storytelling and shakes it all the way up. It shows us not just the corrupt slug gangsters but the people in glittering casinos making money off of selling fighter ships. It’s willing to show us heroes getting old and instead of being cagey or clever like Obi-Wan or Yoda, becoming kind of hopeless and despondent. It gives us villains that are complicated and conflicted at moments before their sudden but inevitable betrayal. I’ve never felt this excited, this alive, after walking out of a Star Wars film in my lifetime as I did after The Last Jedi.
“Sometimes creating an entire galaxy begins with a single stitch.” So begins the narration at a spectacular new exhibit in New York City about Star Wars costumes and artifacts. Coinciding with the release of the new movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the show Rebel, Jedi, Princess, Queen: Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume: The Exhibition, is on display now at Discovery Times Square through September 5, 2016.
As a lifelong Star Wars fan (old enough to have seen A New Hope when it was first released in theaters) I warmly welcomed the opportunity to see this exhibition. It holds particular interest for me because I am a seamstress and cosplayer who has over the years enjoyed re-creating Star Wars costumes for such occasions as Halloween and convention masquerades.
This was actually my third Star Wars exhibit. I saw Star Wars and The Magic of Myth (which originated at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum) when it came to the Brooklyn Museum in 2002. In 2005 I traveled to Los Angeles (from my home in New York) to see Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Even if you’ve seen one or both of the former, I highly recommend visiting the current show at Times Square, if you can. You’ll see many old favorites as well as new classics, and you will discover quite a bit about what went on behind the scenes to create them.
The exhibit begins in a small anteroom, where a short film introduces you to key players, including costume designers Ralph McQuarrie and Tricia Biggar; the film also has an amusing 3D shout-out that I won’t spoil – but it made me smile. Then a space-station style door slides open, revealing a glass case contrasting two generations of Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi’s costume from 1977’s A New Hope (a.k.a. the first Star Wars movie release, or Episode 4), and the well-known red light-up throne room costume worn by Queen Amidala in 1999’s The Phantom Menace (the prequel Episode 1). I soon found out that the lights around this gown’s hem were powered by a car battery.
Two Star Wars Generations: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Queen Amidala
From there, you can wander at your leisure through the worlds of The Galaxy Far, Far Away. There are rooms with Jedi Knights and Sith; Amidala and other queens of Naboo with their handmaids; the shiny exoskeletons of droids; and a sinister hall of mirrors that duplicates Stormtrooper helmets and armor into an infinite legion. You can compare the shiny, pristine armor of bounty hunter Jango Fett to the “second generation knockoff” of his “son,” Boba. (The quote comes from the exhibit captions, not me!)
A Virtual Legion of Stormtroopers
There are also rooms comparing Rebel and Imperial soldiers; a display with the sumptuous robes of various background Imperial Senators and Chancellor Palpatine; the luxurious clothing worn by Padme Amidala in her days as a Senator (and as Mrs. Anakin Skywalker), and of course, the black leather suit of Darth Vader. You will also see some classics: Luke Skywalker’s Jedi garments, Han Solo’s outfit, Chewbacca’s furry exterior, and the infamous slave girl “bikini” worn by Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi (Displayed with choice remarks about the outfit from Carrie Fisher).
The Infamous Slave Girl Costume
The exhibit has some very cool interactive features. In the Jedi room, you can push a button and light up the light sabers (with accompanying sound effects). You’ll learn a lot from numerous touch panels installed throughout the galleries that show you sketches, photographs, and audio and video clips with greater detail about the production process. I was particularly moved by an audio clip of Anthony Daniels, who was inspired in his performance of C-3P0 by a preliminary painting he saw of the robot that was done by Ralph McQuarrie. (“Clearly, the figure wasn’t human, but it was so humanoid…Our eyes met, and it seemed to speak to me.”) From other panels you will discover that it takes over 14 distinctive steps to get an actor into the Darth Vader costume.
What I found most interesting about this show was its emphasis on the symbolism and meaning of the costume designs, and how they were used to illustrate the characters who wore them. There are extensive explanatory texts that describe the thought processes behind the costumes, and what particular inspirations from Earth culture were used in the designs. You get not only quotes from Star Wars production teams but also wider cultural analysis from curators at the Smithsonian.
Queen Amidala’s Mongolian-Inspired Headdress
For example, we learn how the Jedi costumes were inspired by the Japanese Samurai (and how, since the Sith started with renegade Jedi, their costumes, particularly that of Darth Maul, are similar in design). The East Asian influence continues in many of the kimono-like outfits of the Queens of Naboo, and one of Amidala’s royal headdresses is based on a Mongolian design.
Similarly, there is much discussion about how the costumes portray the essential nature of the character. Colors, for example, denote whether a character is good or evil. (The good Jedi wear earth tones vs. the Sith, who dress in black.) The rebels wear uniforms inspired by American fighter pilots and war heroes; the Imperial officers’ costumes come from German uniforms in World War I and II. (Lucas said he wanted them to look “efficient, totalitarian, fascist.”) Han Solo’s costume is essentially that of an American cowboy. The masks of the Stormtroopers and Darth Vader dehumanize them and thus contribute to their aura of malevolence. Even the sumptuous robes of Chancellor (later Emperor) illustrate his decline into greater and greater evil.
Imperial Officer (Evil), Rebel Pilot (Good), TIE Fighter Pilot (Evil)
The hard-core costuming geek can find out a lot about the nitty-gritty details regarding how the costumes were made: what materials they used (and why), and in some cases even how much they cost. For example, the original Stormtrooper costumes were made of a mixture of light polyester resin and a glass fiber that was cured in a mold under a vacuum. Of the entire 1977 costume budget of Star Wars: A New Hope, the Stormtrooper costumes alone consumed almost half the money.
My personal favorite costumes from the films are the amazing outfits worn by Natalie Portman as Queen Amidala/Senator Padme, whose elaborate design and craftsmanship have long impressed me. Of the 37 different outfits from all 3 prequels that she wore, there are at least a dozen of the in this exhibit. The costume designers demonstrated great ingenuity in creating these ensembles. In some cases they used vintage fabrics and repurposed found items (especially in the headdresses). In other cases they tracked down exotic fabrics from all over the world, and enhanced them with embroidery, hand-dyeing and other processes. In the introductory film, Biggar says, “Everything we can do to fabric, we have done it.” For a literally “hands-on experience,” many of the costumes in the exhibit feature sample fabric swatches mounted nearby that visitors can actually touch.
As a costumer who has a tendency to work until the last possible minute, I could relate to one of the anecdotes about the lace wedding dress (made partly from a vintage Italian tablecloth) that Padme wears for her marriage to Anakin at the end of Attack ofthe Clones. The night before the scene was to shoot, Tricia Biggar decided the dress needed further embellishment, so she stayed up all night sewing pearls onto it.
Padme’s Wedding Gown, detail (Photo by K. Cadena)
The entire presentation of the costumes was, for the most part, excellent. Most of them are not under glass, allowing you to get a really good look at the details. (The level of workmanship for characters that sometimes appear for only seconds on screen is amazing.) Visitors are allowed to take non-flash photos, and the lighting is generally quite good. However, I did have one disappointment. The Chewbacca and Han Solo costumes are displayed in front of a very brightly-lit panel that imitates the hyperspace effect. Though it looks very dramatic from a distance, the backlighting of the costumes leaves them in relative darkness and makes them relatively hard to see. However, this is one minor misstep in what is otherwise a first-rate show.
As you leave the show, you’ll see a figure of Yoda, and the costumes from The ForceAwakens. For final interactive fun, you can pose in front of mirrors which capture your motions and render you as one of the SW characters in 3D.
When I first arrived at the show, by way of introduction one of the museum guides said “The exhibit takes about an hour to go through – four or five hours if you’re a Star Wars fan.” I laughed, thinking it was a joke. Well, I entered the exhibit at about 3 pm. After a thoroughly enjoyable time experiencing it in great detail, I checked the time when I reached the end. It was almost 7. Four hours just FLEW by. I felt as if I had been transported through time and space.
By its nature, a trilogy connects. In movies, it becomes a single story united by narrative and/or theme. Each component film should stand on its own but they should come together as a single narrative.
Star Wars, especially the Original Trilogy (now known as Episodes IV, V, and VI), is a good example of this. In it, Luke Skywalker follows the Hero’s Journey (as defined by Joseph Campbell ), working with and through classic archetypes as he becomes not only a Jedi but a true hero. It is Luke’s story.
A funny thing happened when Lucas brought out the Prequel Trilogy (also known as Episodes I, II, and III). The story shifted from its focus on Luke Skywalker to his father, Anakin Skywalker, who was the villain of the Original Trilogy – Darth Vader. The overall story is now the fall of Anakin and the final redemption of Darth Vader. It completely changes the focus of all six movies. We are asked to accept this. At the end of Episode VI, Anakin’s Force Ghost takes its place with the Force Ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, the two Jedi who represent the wise mentors and forces for good.
I have serious reservations about this. I don’t know if Anakin/Vader deserves or achieves redemption. Anakin, as he turns to the Dark Side, betrays all his friends. He kills children. Let me repeat that – he kills children. Episode III makes it clear even if it doesn’t show it. Anakin/Vader leads a cadre of Clone Troopers into the Jedi Temple and we see him confront children, the young students, some of which look to be six to eight. They know him only as a Jedi and trust him. We are later told that some of their corpses had lightsaber marks on them and Anakin is the only one who has a lightsaber in that attack. Anakin killed the children. How is that redeemable?
Why does Anakin turn to the Dark Side? Partly because he feels his fellow Jedi aren’t treating him with enough respect; as tragic flaws go, this is rather petty. Also, Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine, Anakin’s mentor, convinced Anakin that he could prevent Anakin’s wife, Padme, from dying. Ever.
Anakin had Separation Anxieties. He couldn’t save his mother from death at the hands of the Tusken Raiders so, once again, he slaughtered every Tusken man, woman, and – once again – child in the tribe. But Sidious tells Anakin he can keep Padme from ever dying and the chump believes him. It’s enough to send him careening down the path of the Dark side, becoming Darth Vader in the process.
And yet both Padme and, later on, Luke insist that there is good in him. Damned if I could see it.
How is Vader redeemed? When he decides he can’t turn Luke to the Dark Side, he decides to turn Luke’s sister. He tries to kill Luke. Instead, Luke defeats him, literally disarming him. Palpatine wanders in and tells Luke to kill Vader and take his place. Luke refuses, tossing away his lightsaber … a rather boneheaded move. Sidious then shoots lightning from his hands and starts to slowly turn Luke into a Crispy Critter. Vader, despite his son’s pleas, just watches for a few moments before finally turning on Sidious and tossing the Emperor to his doom, getting mortally wounded himself along the way. And this act supposedly redeems Anakin.
What exactly did Anakin/Vader do? Did he renounce the Dark Side? No. Did he regret his betrayal of his fellow Jedi? No. Did he feel bad about slaughtering the innocent children? Nope. He turned on his former Master because Sidious was killing Anakin’s son whom Vader himself had been trying to kill only a few moments earlier.
I admit to being an agnostic but I’m specifically a Roman Catholic agnostic. I was raised and steeped in the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and the notion of redemption was a strong part of that. The concept is that suffering expiates past sin or sins. Anakin/Vader sacrifices his own life to destroy Sidious. Why does he do it? To save his own child. Motivations matter and, it seems to me, this one is private, personal, and rather selfish. I don’t see the act as redemptive.
If Anakin isn’t redeemed, then the story for all six movies falls apart since it has become Anakin’s story. He’s not heroic, he’s not tragic, he becomes a monster. He massacres whole groups of beings, he betrays his friends, he kills children. Making the first six episodes retroactively about him just undermines the whole series.
Disney could actually fix some of this. Lucas kept on tinkering with “Did Han Solo shoot first?” (Yes, Han shot first.) Disney could remove the scenes and lines that indicate Anakin killed children if they want. Otherwise, we can just look forward to Episode VII. No Anakin, no Vader to morally compromise the story.