These aren't the films I'm looking for.
...although I've got a bad feeling about this, I'm not here to hate, nor to hate the haters, nor to hate the haters who hate the haters, etc. We've seen a lot of that, re: Di$ney $tar War$, in the past few days -- the animosity reflecting our current social climate. In The Last Jedi, quoth scrappy new character Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran): “That's how we're gonna win: not fighting what we hate -- saving what we love.” Bingo, Rose! -- even though your subplot mercilessly meanders. Thank you for liberating those Space Llamas on the Monte Carlo planet; oh, and for denouncing Space Capitalism in a Disney movie. I like irony.
As a 40-year veteran of the Star Wars phenomenon -- and also as a person who can happily live without it (I was the child who, upon the original's release, noted: “There are spaceship movies on TV every Saturday; why should we pay to see this one?”) -- I may bring to this pop-cultural rift some useful perspective, if perhaps not, uh, Balance to the Force. Ha.
Note: For this latest Star Wars money-spinner, but also for life itself, this review contains spoilers (gasp!), sarcasm, sweet'n'sour sauce, and other elements any grownup should be able to handle. It also celebrates the 20th anniversary of Mark Hamill in Laserhawk, plus the 40th anniversary of Mr. Hamill in some other sci-fi movie. Performance-wise, he's fab in both of these movies: portraying a mystical outsider who may be nuts. As for this new-old Luke Skywalker being woefully misconceived, he claims that the 180 on his opinion has nothing to do with the Mouse slapping his mouth shut, so despite his own dissing of the depiction, we'll take him at his word.
Disney's third attempt at a Star Wars movie is handicapped by a storytelling attempt best defined by a popular term which begins with “cluster.” Launched in Episode VII under the dubious helm of J.J. Abrams -- whose skill set as revealed by the Star Trek reboots entails gleefully destroying and scribbling over other people's beloved IP and iconography -- we got a lazy retread of Episode IV, featuring cost-effective millennial actors packaged in irritating “mystery boxes,” plus a bewilderingly mean attitude toward cherished old characters -- whose conclusive victory in Episode VI is hereby trashed. Gosh, striding out of Return of the Jedi in 1983, I just couldn't wait to wait for over three decades to watch Han, Leia, and Luke grow apart, fail miserably, and die. Thanks!
Episode VIII -- unless we're all being punked and there's a real Episode VIII shelved somewhere -- pulls off the noteworthy stunt of disappointing both the OT fans and the Disney fans (if any). Han already died incredibly stupidly (via a son whose name should be Jacen Solo; not Ben, who is Luke's son -- flushing the terrific Expanded Universe was lazy and rude). That elderly smuggler unceremoniously killed off, this time we get dire old deserter Luke -- what a treat! Plus, even with a full year to come up with a respectful death scene to suit real life, Leia appears more beleaguered than ever -- yet is left alive at film's end to continue suffering?! Series mainstays R2-D2 and C-3PO appear as obligatory afterthoughts. Meanwhile, re: the prefab intrigues established in The Force Awakens (The Force was asleep?) -- e.g. Rey's parentage on Tatooine-2, the Knights of Ren Faire, stupid Snoke, yadda-yadda -- rather than giving us any satisfying narrative payoffs, this trainwreck gives everyone the finger. I really don't envy Abrams having to clean up this mess in Episode IX. Not that he will.
With appropriate snark, the main plot of The Last Jedi:
While the Resistance-Republic-Rebellion continue battling the Old Empire’s First Order (Slight Return), central-casting “badass” Mary Sue (Daisy Ridley) bugs grouchy, retired Mope Sleepwalker (Hamill) to teach her T'ai Chi at a real-world monastery disrespectfully turned into a goofy movie joke because money. Meanwhile, the League of Strong Women (Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern in Battle Gown™, etc.), struggle to outrun Battlestar Galactica's Imperious Leader (Andy Serkis), the “Diet Emperor” who lives then promptly dies on a big red soundstage. Mary Sue descends into the Instagram Pit of Infinite Millennial Narcissism, steals the “religious” texts Ghost Yoda (Frank Oz) tries to destroy with lightning (?!), and goes off to confront petulant, topless Rilo Kiley (Adam Driver) -- except the misconceived former Jedi everyone waited 34 years to see beats her to the tedious Hoth/Minas Tirith simulation, mocks Rilo, then drops dead of astral projection. The End.
Along the way -- in a movie so utterly unoriginal it feels like James Cameron made it -- we get some new Chewbacca guy beset by wacky Minions (“porgs”), a four-boobed, lactating Space Walrus, Leia copycatting River Song's suitless space flight, Captain Phantasm's left eye for a few seconds, the Enterprise E-vs.-Scimitar tactical crash from Star Trek: Nemesis, the good-evil psychic link straight outta Halloween 5, a laser version of Grond (look it up), plus writer-director Rian Johnson inexcusably killing off fan fave Admiral Ackbar. A long time ago on a playground far, far away, did some little Ackbar fan tease little Johnson? This movie feels like repercussions thereof.
Plus so many questions: How can bombers use gravity in outer space? Why can't an omnipotent girl tell when her hand is being tickled with a weed? Why does an animal's stall have an alarm button at the back near its rear feet? Why use walkers on a planet with a flat surface and no snow? And the real stumper: You added a casino planet, and you didn't bring back Lando?!
Does anything in Episode VIII work? Hey, sure. Consider that, unlike my perpetually-enraged peers, I truly like George Lucas' Prequels. Just gimme a good ride. In fairness, The Last Jedi can be said to deliver 150 minutes of hyperactive fanfic festooned with Star Wars-y visuals. If you ignore its cringeworthy script -- and exec-producer Abrams' annoying Beastie Boys references -- it's fun to look at. Diverse casting is always welcome, and herein doesn't stumble into Benetton-lineup triteness. And John Williams yet again unleashes his seductively familiar themes (via some discount orchestra) to rally the increasingly confused fans. You know the drill. To me The Last Jedi doesn't feel like anyone at Disney is bringing their A-game yet, but, as with any spaceship movie on a Saturday afternoon, it beats watching sports.
Laserhawk, on the very distant other hand, is a movie -- not a corporate onslaught. Writer John A. Curtis and director Jean Pellerin deliver the cogent, entertaining, no-b.s. tale of a charming mental patient (Mark Hamill) who believes he's an ancient alien, and thus is sought by two John Hughes-esque youths (Mélissa Galianos, Jason James Richter), who are convinced that their nerd life in Wisconsin, Canada is about to be permanently disrupted by, um, “Arachtoids”: quoth Richter's character: “spiders...from Mars” who “germinated” the earth, with us, and are returning to feed.
If this sounds a bit heavy (there's also a bullying dad, and a rude fat cop), consider that the story revolves around a comic book series -- based on the ravings of Bob Sheridan (Hamill as #LoonybinLuke) -- which foretells the details of the invasion. It's the fun sort of plot device, perfect for a Saturday afternoon, that today's swaggering tentpole events usually neglect, and it harks back to the love of pulpy storytelling celebrated in Mr. Hamill's own Comic Book: The Movie. (Note: Hair!)
Am I going to find parallels between Laserhawk and The Last Jedi? You bet. In both movies, Mr. Hamill portrays the wise elder, stuck in an awkward position and appearing insane, who might help the young protagonists overcome ghastly adversaries (though in Laserhawk, he actually shows up). In Laserhawk, echoing Star Wars, he shouts: “Looks like we got company!” There are space battles (’90s effects technology — Video Toaster? — notwithstanding). Oh, and the girl in Laserhawk is a progressive environmentalist and outspoken vegetarian; apparently Daisy Ridley is a vegan (A New Hope, indeed). I could go on. I just might.
How do these two Hamill performances measure up? Honestly, although Mark did a bang-up job monkeying through what The Last Jedi demanded of him, I feel that those demands were unfair. Not to speak for the man, but it seems he'd gladly show up for 20 more turns as Luke -- and his millions of fans would be thrilled to have him. Bringing him back to kill him off doesn't even make business sense. And Luke isn't Obi-Wan (who patiently guarded child-Luke from nearby), and he isn't Yoda (who felt it best to hide until needed); the depressing version of Luke in The Last Jedi is presented as a would-be child-killer who has abandoned his desperate peers to go slurp ugly monsters, read nothing, learn nothing, then die alone. Garbage. I hope great things come to veteran actor and artist Mr. Hamill, for turning that slop into a strong, even moving performance -- however, his supporting role in Laserhawk, not leveraged against fans to be arrogantly “subversive,” is simpler, clearer, and fleetingly, more fun. Which is saying something, considering that he's a 250-million-year-old alien whose life story has been stolen to make a hack rich.
Currently you can watch Laserhawk on YouTube for free -- but I recommend purchasing it from a local thrift store for a buck, as I did. Support your local businesses! And indeed, just as the original Star Wars was hatched by a nerd with a love of nerdery -- allegedly, nobody knew it would be a hit -- remember that there are loads of terrific storytellers, who love their fans instead of punishing them, who simply weren't invited to the right board meetings. Check out Laserhawk, and support your local weirdos!