'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' builds on Lucas universe


By Shirrel Rhoades
At the Movies

Saturday, December 16, 2017

George Lucas must feel god-like -- having created a whole Star Wars universe. The Death Star, Millennium Falcons , lightsabers, Wookies, Endor, Jedi Masters, Cloud City, A280 Blaster Rifles, Archeon Nebula, Kowakian monkey-lizards , Yoda, Darth Vader, The Force. The opening crawl of each movie announces that it takes place “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”

Back in the ‘70s George Lucas was living in a modest one-bedroom apartment in Mill Valley, California. Nearly 30, he’d just completed “American Graffiti,” a low-budget movie that received five Oscar nods.

Emboldened, he decided to produce a “space opera,” inspired by the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials he’d seen as a kid. Most science-fiction movies of the time were dark and dystopian, but Lucas wanted to make one that was “fun and aimed at 14- and 15-year-olds.”

“The reason I’m making ‘Star Wars,’” he said, “is that I want to give young people some sort of faraway exotic environment for their imaginations to run around in.”

So he shopped the idea to the studios and finally got the funding to flesh out a script. You wouldn’t recognize “Star Wars” from its early drafts: “Luke Skywalker is a grizzled old general, Han Solo is a frog-like alien, there’s a main character named Kane Starkiller, and the dark side of the force is called the Bogan.”

Pushing onward, Lucas drew on the universal language of myths espoused by Joseph Campbell (“Hero with a Thousand Faces”), Arthurian legends, Richard Wagner’s “ Der Ring des Nibelungen, ” Asian religions, Roman history, Jack Kirby’s “New Gods ” comic books, old-time movie serials like “The Phantom Empire, ” TV’s “Star Trek, ” Akira Kurosawa’s films, John Ford’s “The Searchers,” and even “The Wizard of Oz.”

He filmed “Star Wars” in Tunisia for $11 million and the rest, as they say, is history. As Biography succinctly puts it, “Released in 1977, ‘Star Wars’ ushered in a new era of movie-making with its special effects, fantastical world-building, and engrossing blend of myth and fairy tale.”

The film grossed over $513 million worldwide during its original release. With seven films so far, the “Star Wars” franchise has earned over US $7.5 billion.

In 2012 he sold LucasFilm (and “Star Wars”) to Disney for $4.05 billion.

George Lucas now lives on his sprawling Skywalker Ranch, owns such diverse companies as Industrial Light and Magic, and has a personal net worth estimated at $6.4 billion.

Now, Disney brings us the 8th film in the series, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Directed and written by Rian Johnson, this episode continues the story of Rey’s discovery of the exiled Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. The Resistance is preparing to do battle with the First Order, so Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) must help Rey (Daisy Ridley) develop her newly discovered abilities. Even Luke is unsettled by the strength of her powers.

While Rey remains the protagonist of the “Star Wars” Sequel Trilogy, a large part of Episode VIII focuses on the mystery of Luke Skywalker, exploring why Luke exiled himself on Ahch-To.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” sees the return of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Daisy Ridley (Rey), Carrie Fisher (General Organa, the former Princess Leia in her last appearance), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren, Han Solo’s son), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Peter Mayhew and Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Simon Pegg (Unkar Plutt), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), and Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke).

New cast members include Benicio Del Toro (DJ), Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Amilym Holdo), Jimmy Vee (R2-D2), and Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico). Justin Theroux makes an appearance as a code encrypter. Prince William, Prince Harry, and Tom Hardy do cameos as stormtroopers. And you’ll hear the voice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Mark Hamill says he was reluctant to return to the “Star Wars” franchise. But “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is his show.

His reticence was simple: “I was just really scared,” Hamill admits.

The late Carrie Fisher had opted to return as Princess Leia. But Hamill thought Harrison Ford would be his excuse to bow out. “He’s too old and too rich and too cranky,” Hamill remembers thinking. “He’s not going to do this.”

But when Ford said yes to a final appearance, Hamill was trapped. “Can you imagine if I was the only one to say no? I’d be the most hated man in nerd-dom,” Hamill groans.

So back he returned to George Lucas’s universe.

Fans await.

“Ferdinand” is

a lot of bull

As a kid my mother used to read me the story of Ferdinand the Bull. This 1936 children’s book by Munro Leaf told the story of a gentle bull.

Ferdinand preferred sitting under a tree smelling the flowers instead of partaking in bullfights. There was a message for kids in there somewhere.

Later, I saw the Disney animated movie based on the book. It brought Ferdinand to life for me. “ Ferdinand the Bull” won the 1938 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). The film became a Christmas tradition in several countries around the world, airing on Christmas Eve as a part of Disney’s annual “From All of Us to All of You” TV show.

Now, Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox Animation bring us a brand-new version of the story.

The plot remains the same: Five men come to the pasture to choose the “biggest, fastest, roughest bull” for the bullfights in Madrid and Ferdinand is mistaken for a dangerous bovine. He finds himself in the bullring. How can he manage to get back home? Fight or flight?

This 3D animated movie features numerous voices that will resonate with modern audiences:

Wrestler and sometimes actor John Cena (“The Marine,” “Trainwreck”) takes on the role of the big happy bull, Ferdinand. Kate McKinnon (TV’s “Saturday Night Live,” “Ghostbusters”) voices an old goat; Anthony Anderson (TV’s “Black-ish”) is a bull; Bobby Cannavale (“Blue Jasmine,” “Ant-Man”) is also a bull; David Tennant (“Fright Night,” “How to Train Your Dragon”) is another bull; Payton Manning (former Indianapolis Colts quarterback) is yet another bull; Gina Rodriguez (“Deepwater Horizon”) is a hedgehog; Gabriel Iglesias (“Smurf: The Lost Village,” “Coco”) is also a hedgehog; and Miguel Angel Silvestre (“Winning Streak”) is the prerequisite matador.

Interesting that Ferdinand, a peaceful bull who does not wish to partake in any fierce fighting, is voiced by John Cena, a pro wrestler known for his combative style in the ring.

Makes me wonder what wrestling tough guys A.J. Styles or The Maz would do if they encountered Cena sitting in the middle of the ring at Madison Square Gardens sniffing a flower?

Top Ten true

crime movies

As it happens, the movie “True Crime” was a fictional story. But “True Story” is in fact true.

True crimes have been a popular basis for Hollywood movies ever since “ The Great Train Robbery” (1903), an 11-minute film based on the criminal exploits of Butch Cassidy.

Here are our Top Ten favorite true crime films:

10. “True Story” (2015) -- As the title suggests, this movie is a true story. Reporter Michael Finkel meets a convicted murderer who stole his identity. James Franco gives an impressive performance as the sociopath responsible for murdering his wife and three children.

9. “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013) -- This one tells of Jordan Belfort’s rise and fall as one of New York City’s most corrupt stockbrokers. Martin Scorsese’s film casts Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie as the ostentatious crook and his trophy wife.

8. “In Cold Blood” (1967) -- Truman Capote’s prototypical true crime novel about a pair of spree killers comes to the screen. Ironically, Robert Blake expertly portrays one of the murderers.

7. “Donnie Brasco” (1997) -- Joseph D. Pistone was an FBI agent who infiltrated the mob. Johnny Depp plays the undercover cop faced with tough ethical decisions.

6. “American Hustle” (2013) -- A con man and his British partner help the FBI pull off a sting involving New Jersey politicians and a fake Arab sheikh. Christian Bale and Amy Adams are convincing, but Jennifer Lawrence is the scene-stealer.

5. “Catch Me If You Can” (2002) -- Frank Abagnale was one of the most famous imposters of the 20th Century. Using eight fake identities, he stole millions of dollars with fraudulent checks before the age of 21. Leonardo DiCaprio’s depiction of Abagnale is light and comedic and convincing.

4. “Casino” (1995) -- Martin Scorsese based his film on the non-fiction book “Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas” by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci hammer this Las Vegas crime drama home.

3. “Monster” (2003) -- Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach prostitute who became a serial killer. Theron is almost unrecognizable with her spot-on performance.

2. “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) -- Arthur Penn’s watershed film depicts Depression Era bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty go out in a hail of bullets … with rave reviews.

1. “Goodfellas” (1990) -- Another film by Martin Scorsese, this is the story of Henry Hill, a former New York Mafioso-turned-FBI informant. Ray Liotta charms us as this up-and-comer mobster.

Other strong contenders for this list were “American Gangster,” “Black Mass,” “Bernie,” “The Bling Ring,” “Foxcatcher,” “Zodiac,” and “Midnight Express.”

“Helter Skelter” and “The Executioner’s Song” didn’t make it because they were made-for-TV movies.

Although big favorites, “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Anatomy of a Murder,” and “The French Connection” were passed over because they highly fictionalized the crimes that inspired them.

And we deliberately left off all those great movies based on true political crimes, like “All the President’s Men,” “JFK,” “Spotlight,” “Mississippi Burning,” and “Munich.”

Hey, if we overlooked your favorite, it’s not a crime.