The Role of Sentiment in Film Arts, a review of Star Wars IX
The Rise of Skywalker
J. J. Abrams co-wrote and directed this, the last of nine Star Wars films following the basic Saga, which began in 1977, and was labeled Star Wars IV. Star Wars III came out in 2005. The films got made in this order: first Star Wars IV, V, and VI. Then Star Wars I, II, and III. Then Abrams does the reboot of the franchise, Star Wars VII, in 2015.
He also did a reboot of Star Trek in 2009.
He was born on June 27th, 1966. That fall, when he would have been a couple of months old, the first Star Trek TV show debuted. In 1968, he might have been all of three when Kubrick’s 2001 is released and blows up all our concepts of space and art.
He’s 11 in 1977 when Lucas’s Star Wars becomes one of the first mega blockbusters, along with Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
He is 13 when Ridley Scott births the Alien franchise in 1979. He is 18 when James Cameron delivers the first Terminator movie in 1984.
In 1993, Spielberg delivers Jurassic Park, and CGI gives birth to realistic dinosaurs. Imaginative film making (visual story telling) was evolving and both Lucas and Cameron are responsible for serious innovations at a technological level
Abrams also did Super 8 in 2011, and made the main characters children, a feat Spielberg began, and which has been very well imitated in TV’s recent Stranger Things. Early adolescent heroes are central to what these film arts seek to express. They need to be put in dangerous situations, and survive, often on their own wits and courage.
Because Abrams remembers the thrill of movies that visually astound. I certainly have not forgotten the rush that came in the first Star Wars, when the Millennium Falcon jumped to hyperspace.
Disney makes movies for children. Disney bought Lucas Film for four billion, half in cash, the other half in stock. Adults forget how to go to see this type of film art. It is not for the intellect, but for the heart.
I first became aware of a kind of defect in film criticism, when one of my favorite movies was The Postman, based on a novel by David Brin, starring Kevin Costner, and critics hated it.
That film asked for sentiment from its audience. Sentiment about an idea of all things. About America and the freedom we yearn for – and seem to have lost, … almost even in our dreams. A lot of people today form calluses on their hearts, live in a kind of faux cynicism, having been disappointed too much by life. The Postman was about hope, and its main character is something of a fool.
Recently the America film auteur Martin Scorsese was arguing, in public no less, that modern movies – like the Marvel franchise – are not really cinematic art. His recent contribution was another film about thugs and criminals, staring his favorite actors. These people do not deserve to be romanticized, and have that work call itself art. Children should certainly not see them.
SPOILER ALERT, I AM NOW GOING TO DISCUSS THE DETAILS OF STAR WARS IX (I’ll try to be careful, but make no promises) …
As someone who loves movies, I have seen a lot. I also study the growth and change of culture, and its relationship to what we might otherwise insist is practical. Where do dreams fit in?
Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) gives us one of the fist kick-ass female heroes, in Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. Linda Hamilton has a similar role in Terminator (1984). And, of course, there is princess Lea – played by Carrie Fisher – in Star Wars IV (1977). A fundamental breakthrough was all the way back in 1966, by the way, when a black character, the communication specialist Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols, kisses a white man (captain Kirk).
Science fiction does get to go where no one has gone before.
The works of Joseph Campbell are said to have had a great influence on the original conceptualizations of Star Wars IV, which to Campbell was a classic version of a very ancient theme: “the heroes journey”.
Nor can we separate the Star Wars saga from the idea of “the Force” (may the Force be with you). So 1977 we see the launch an immense space opera, which has something called Jedi Knights, and to Hans Solo, the doubter character, is just some funky old religion.
We have evil users of the Force (Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vadar, Snoke, and then, Kylo Ren, and good users of the Force: Obi wan Kenobe, Yoda, and Luke Skywalker (and later his sister Lea). We have teachers of the Force, but for the Sith Lords (the opponents of the Jedi Knights) it is crucial to give into the feelings of hate and rages, the dark-side of the Force.
For a Jedi it is important to train, and be trained. Also to have encounter’s with the dark. One of the most visually (and spiritually) interesting is in Star Wars V, where Luke is in an underground cave of some sorts, meets and fights a figure that looks like Darth Vadar, kills it, and then discovers that under Vadar’s mask it is Luke’s own face.
For the Jedi – that you need to know the dark, but not give into the dark – is a fundamental teaching of the Saga. And, lets face it folks, the scope of the visions made possible by uncounted teams of artists, and billions of dollars, is Homeric. Art on a huge canvass, where many contribute, and the directors must face the consequences of the whims&tastes of both financiers and audiences.
In Star Wars VIII, the female lead character Rey goes to find Luke Skywalker, who has been in hiding since losing control in Star Wars VII, and launching Kylo Ren into the dark side. She seeks a teacher, only recently having discovered her own almost supernatural gifts with the Force.
While studying with Luke in Star Wars VIII, she has dreams, and somewhat like Luke in Star Wars V, she has seemingly dark dreams; and in one such, she falls/dives through a hole just inside an entrance to a cave, lands in deep water, rises, and then when looking around finds a mirror, … that mirror-image is just of her, and goes out in both directions in a long line of the same image repeated again and again, seemingly endlessly.
Luke’s father turns out to have been Darth Vadar. Kylo Ren is the offspring of Princess Lea and Han Solo. Rey’s father, only revealed in this last episode of the basic Saga, turns out to be Emperor Palpatine, who was apparently killed in Star Wars VI by Luke’s father.
This lastest film not only settles the question of to what degree can skills with the Force be inherited, but presents a question which the film addresses directly. If your parent went to the dark, does that mean you have no choice but to follow? Is the Force only in the blood, but also something undefinable, perhaps of the heart?
Nine films, over four decades, leading where?
For the Homeric aspect of the Saga, we have human beings in dire circumstances, needing heroes, or perhaps themselves, to be heroic. The Force is, unfortunately for some modern and cynical minds, not fiction. But that tale is in another place: http://ipwebdev.com/hermit/fivepaths.html
Please notice the simplicity of the Saga’s main themes. Good vs. Evil. Religious/spiritual powers set against mechanical powers.
In this tale – swept along by the previous introduction of strange warrior women into film that occurred in Abrams’ youth – the hero is a young person becoming a woman.
Does the feminine have an importance here? We should not doubt it, but still keep in mind that there are feminine virtues in all of us, whatever our equipment. Just look at modern society. Women on the march, everywhere.
Can a warrior love?
Well … in this Saga that is the case, and it is in fact this use of the Force for love and for healing to which Rey excells.
There is a related question though. Are only people of the right blood to have the Force? Are we moderns, faced with our own out of control empires, spiritual and mechanical … are we to be impotent unless we have a Rey around to help?
That question was asked in the animated film: Antzs. At a certain point, an idea was brought forward – an important realization in the face of bullies and their masters. There are far more of us, than there are of them. Far more.
Star Wars IX answers that problem/riddle visually. How can Rey, and her company of ragtag warriors, defeat the Order’s vast huge armada? Everyone has to decide to help, and that moment is one of great sentiment.
Whether consciously or not, the film has taken CGI to aspects of scale that have an enormous visceral effect. Every time we see Emperor Palpatine’s armada of star destroyers, each bearing a planet killing weapon, they fill the sky and seem uncountable.
The visual moment when everyone else shows up to the big dance can’t really be described. Palpatine’s bullies are a serious minority, and hope arises.
Meanwhile there are the little touches, also for our hearts. All the main characters of the Saga get a moment to be remembered, and even to act.
Yet, sad to say, if you can’t find your own impressionable kid inside yourself when you go see this movie, you will not see what Abrams accomplished. The best tales need a child-like sentimentality. Just the heart, with the mind its servant.