Oh, what a joy it is to be lucky enough to reach a certain age; and to have reached it alongside ‘old’ Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill is 66; to most juvenile journalists that qualifies him admirably for the role of ancient, jaded Jedi Master, but I know better. Middle-age is when the party really begins; it’s your second childhood; it’s when you don’t care anymore, and it looks like that’s the audience the not quite middle-aged Rian Johnson was going for. And boy did he pull it off (‘boy’ is the sort of antiquated expression the charming Mr Hamill would use.)
We saw The Last Jedi last night. The husband, sons no’s 2 and 3 and I. “Two and a half hours,” I’d thought going in, wondering if I’d last that long, when there’s always 30 minutes of mind numbing adverts and trailers to get through, and given my propensity for mild panic attacks, when trapped mid-row in a darkened cinema, amidst a sizeable proportion of popcorn crunching, coke slurping, nose blowing, coughing humanity.
But my attention was rapt. It never wavered. Why, even the mess of humanity completely surrounding me faded away into a kind of blur, so that only I was there with Rey in the hall of mirrors (as a kind of glowing ghostly non-Jedi presence.) Only I was there, welling up in sympathy with Mark (sorry, Luke) as he was variously reunited with C-3PO, R2-D2 and Yoda. Only I was there, floating alongside Leia as she wafted silently through outer space, like an ancient ship’s figurehead holding its course through a very black sea.
The tone was set from the very beginning. We joined Mark (sorry Luke) and Rey atop Luke’s lonely island – I won’t be naming ‘things’; I’m middle-aged, I don’t care. The island where we last left them, when Rey offered Luke his old lightsaber. Here, Luke takes his lightsaber and promptly tosses it away, over his be-cloaked shoulder and straight over a cliff. And so Rian Johnson ‘tosses away’ all those rabid, obsessive fan theories (the ones I don’t care about); he tosses away any preconceptions of what the UPFs (Mark Hamill speak for ultra passionate fans) had hoped to see; he tosses away the nerd importance attached to the franchise – it’s a lightsaber; so what; no big deal; Luke isn’t going to fawn over it with reverence. It’s Star Wars; so what; no big deal, it’s just a film – the middle-aged know you must never take anything that seriously.
And in that vein we got Ade Edmondson as a General Hux side-kick. Ade Edmondson? You’ve got to be my age to even know who Ade Edmondson is, and you’ve also got to be kidding – I know this because when I pointed out this alarming bit of casting, sons no’s 2 and 3 had no idea who I was talking about. “But Ade Edmondson. You don’t get it, you don’t get how surreal it is that an alternative comic from the 80s, who played a foul mouthed, nose pierced, forehead studded, idiot student in The Young Ones (never liked it) and then went on to play in a farcical series called Bottom, should be anywhere near Star Wars, let alone feature quite prominently!” I’d screamed, when we’d got home. I mean how did he manage that, being he’s been in nothing more exciting than a prog about the Dales and Celebrity Masterchef in recent years?
Mr Hamill’s Twitter feed sort of gave the answer when Mark let rip with his nerdy love of British comedy and culture. But Ade’s casting was also in lovely homage to the originals, which cheaply filled our screens with very ordinary looking Brit actors, whom a world-wide audience would never have heard of.
Once I’d got over the fact that we were supposed to take the fact that Ade Edmondson was a Dark Side baddie seriously, I then realised that we weren’t supposed to take any of it seriously –and what a joy that was…..I mean the feared, but obvious nut job, General Hux even went a bit loony tunes on us and, after all, Star Wars was originally a family friendly movie.
And so Mark (sorry Luke) in his loopy, Jedi middle-age rejects the Jedi job description and takes early retirement as a hermit. He squirts blue (or green?) milk from a deeply unattractive cow-type alien (referencing the infamous New Hope blue milk) and drinks it, in a way that’s somehow deeply unsettling; especially when it’s your nicest, favouritest actor ever. He goes fishing via jumping from rock to rock with the longest fishing rod in existence. He doesn’t shave, shower or wash his hair, but he does maintain a sense of humour. In fact he’s turned into a character that every middle-aged, jaded worker out there can identify with completely. In fact, he’s turned into the husband.
The husband no longer shaves. He goes about in a Russian woolly hat 24/7, one his dad used to wear. He goes to work wearing ancient jumpers, full of holes and splodges of paint. He slurps milk from the bottle (in the manner of Luke, and is roundly criticised for it in the manner of Rey ticking off her Jedi Master.) When his food drops to the floor he picks it up and eats it – claiming a fictitious 5 second rule. He goes fishing at night, in the cold and the pouring rain; hood up, ominously muttering: “It’s time for the 60 minute commute to end.” He yearns for a hermit-like retirement in some inhospitable wilderness, where he can maybe live in a cave and never wash again.
Yes, I also completely identified with Luke’s self-imposed exile amidst the Porgs. The wonderful Porgs who turn Chewie, their new pal, into a vegetarian and splat comically onto a millennium falcon window. And what to make of the island’s weird mini-nuns; except maybe they’re reminiscent of the Jawas, who sort of looked like monks. Anyway give me a beautiful, islolated Irish island any day, even if it is populated with weirdos.
Humour is integral to this latest Star Wars offering. It makes it. At first it’s surprising – should I be laughing you think? But once you settle down; once you know what Rian Johnson is after; once you know that any blockbuster film that can cast Ade Edmondson (as anything) isn’t exactly going for ‘purity’ or aims to ‘pander’ to the super-fans, then you can relax. “This is going to be enjoyable,” thought I. “This is going to be tongue in cheek. This is going to dare to mess around with the myths. This is going to be knowing, and it’s going to be clever.” Because I don’t care about the extended universe. My interest in Star Wars is limited to the films and I don’t care if the films don’t get the supposed facts right, or don’t go in the ‘right’ direction. There is no right direction – there is only the directors’ and the writers’ choice and both have other lives and other projects. It never remotely bothered me who Snoke was. I had no interest in Rey’s parentage, and thankfully neither did Rian Johnson. Instead of tedious exposition we quite rightly got two and a half hours of mind blowing action and entertainment – that was more than enough for me.
The humour completely won me over – spaceships that look suspiciously like gigantic irons and turn out to be, in fact, IRONS (steam variety) in a galactic laundry (who knew ironing even went on in Star Wars.) Jedi Master Luke giving Rey lessons in the Force, via tickling her outstretched hand with a blade of grass – “Can you feel it, that’s the Force!” – quite brilliant. A pair of golden dice hanging in the millennium falcon, the kind car owners used to have in the 70’s.
But the film’s greatest strength was the emotional resonance that reverberated loudly through every Luke Skywalker scene, aided by some absolutely stunning imagery (an Oscar please to whoever thought up the red ore lying just beneath the salt flats.)
Mark Hamill. Mark Hamill is the reason I wanted to see this instalment on the big screen, rather than wait for it to pop up on Sky movies. After 40 years the underrated and underemployed (on the big screen) Mr Hamill was given another chance to visibly shine, as opposed to his invisible work in voice over. Mark Hamill, who had escaped my popular culture radar for too long, to re-surface via YouTube videos once my interest in Star Wars had been reignited via The Force Awakens.
He didn’t disappoint. Another Oscar please, this time for Mr Hamill, even if it’s only given for Star Wars’ian sentimental reasons. It would make him cry because he’s middle-aged (I refuse to write ‘old’) and we middle-aged are sentimental. He is also finally reconciled to the fact that he is Luke Skywalker, and now knows the value of that kind of legacy.
Aided by middle-aged memories and a fondness for all things retro Star Wars, the storyboarders at Disney came up with some stunningly effective imagery. You could imagine them (whoever they are) brainstorming ideas guaranteed to turn on the waterworks. Let’s do a shot behind Luke and Yoda, as they stare off in silhouette towards the burning Jedi tree. Let’s really pull on the heartstrings and make Yoda look like the ‘real’ Yoda, warts and all; not the CGI’d version. Let’s put Luke on the millennium falcon, all hooded, heavy-hearted and dejected and gradually reveal that a shadowed dust bucket in the corner is R2-D2; and let’s run the original (this time CGI’d) hologram message one more time to spur Luke, and the audience along.
And let’s give Mark Hamill’s Luke the ending he deserves.
I’m glad they didn’t make Luke fight in person. Mark Hamill is fond of telling his humorous tale of trying to get to the top of Skellig Michael for his seconds’ lasting Awakens scene. How he had to stop every 10 minutes to catch his breath up those steep stone steps. How he had two minders, one in front and one behind him, to catch him if he fell. No, Kylo would’ve done for Luke straight away.
Instead we got one of the best ‘confidence’ tricks I’ve seen in movies in recent years. Luke, sitting on a rock on his island, projecting the image of a younger Luke, walking into the rebel base, giving a friendly wink to C-3PO, planting a kiss on Leia’s forehead before walking out to face his version of a shootout in the lonely and barren wild west.
Dressed in return of the Jedi black (but wisely keeping the flattering beard) Luke stood alone and with as much gravitas and dignity as the now aged Mark Hamill could muster – it worked, and so did the 3.5 stone weight loss it took to get Mark into fighting and costume fitting form.
Kylo and Luke faced off, each placed at opposite ends of our movie screen (very effective) before Luke disappeared and it was revealed that our hero was actually back on his island, sitting cross legged on a rock. The energy it took to maintain this sort of Jedi hologram unfortunately does for old Luke and this was the point that I fully understood why they made the Luke who saves the day into a projected 3D image.
Because as Luke ‘dies’ (do the Jedi die?) two glowing suns are slowly revealed to him (and us) through the parting clouds above his island. In that moment Mark Hamill managed to convey a sense of childhood wonder and a return to his and Luke’s past. As Rian Johnson also took Luke and us back to where the journey started – the young Luke staring into the two setting suns on Tatooine. I welled up for perhaps the third time during the movie and inwardly cheered – but that’s because I’m middle-aged, sentimental and love Mark Hamill.
There was of course the Dark Side. Kylo and Rey communicating magically via the means of a Dolby sound system that went suddenly silent, followed by our two protagonists talking as though they were in an echo chamber. General Hux getting loonier by the minute. Snoke, in a blood red chamber, guarded by blood red knights. A debauched Las Vegasian casino, funded entirely by arms dealers and other nefarious persons, but the political message was always that the distinction between the light and the dark is not always clear.
And finally it all ended with a child – another new hope. The little kid who helped tend the horse-like aliens at the evil casino race track. After Luke’s death he came out of his stable, reached out to pick up his broom, which flew a couple of inches into his hand, before he’d even touched it. Walking out into the night, his shoes scuffing against the ground, he paused to look up at a shooting star and a righteous gleam shone in his eyes.
A kid coming out of a stable? A bright shining star? Sound familiar?
So, The Last Jedi is good. It’s more than good. It’s the best Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen. If The Last Jedi was the last Star Wars film they ever make, it wouldn’t matter, because it’s going to be very, very difficult to ‘top it.’
And it had Mark Hamill in it.