Given its Jewish screenwriter and Jewish director, the last installment in the “Star Wars” series, 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” occasioned a number of Jewish-flavored headlines, like “The Secret Jewish History of ‘Star Wars’ ” and “From Jediism to Judaism: Star Wars as Jewish Allegory.”
The latest film in the series, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” doesn’t have a Jewish writer or director, but its co-producer, Ram Bergman, is Israeli, and one of its stars, the late Carrie Fisher, was Jewish. And along with a sizable Jewish fan base, the entire “Star Wars” franchise is informed, some claim, by Jewish folklore and influence — as evidenced by subtle grace notes like those upside-down Hebrew letters on Darth Vader’s costume, for instance, although what the letters spell, if anything, is hotly contested online.
While the plot of the original “Star Wars” shared some basic features with the story of Chanukah — desert freedom fighters who, despite religious oppression, triumph over an empire — this trilogy feels a little more like Passover. We ask the same questions every year, getting the same answers, but it’s the act of coming together and remembering that we’re really celebrating.
While “The Last Jedi” is better than Jewish director J.J. Abram’s “The Force Awakens,” it doesn’t feel as fresh or daring as last December’s “Rebel One,” the first of three “Star Wars” spinoffs. Still, the kids will love the jokes, fight scenes and set pieces. It’s also packed with adorable new aliens.
The biggest problem with “The Force Awakens” was that its plot too closely mirrored “A New Hope.” How many times can you blow up the Death Star? This film doesn’t repeat this error, though there are the requisite number of callbacks and winks to fans.
What can be said without spoiling the film?
A couple of new characters are introduced, a stalwart says goodbye and an old friend makes a surprise appearance.
The relationship between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) takes some twists and turns, while Rey and Luke (Mark Hamill) share some laughs and lessons while playing “The Odd Couple.” Finn (John Boyega), the ex-stormtrooper turned resistance hero, continues to pratfall about the universe in one of space’s sharpest jackets.
Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a resistance mechanic who never throws in the towel, is a fine addition. Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), the chromed-out leader of the First Order’s Stormtroopers, gets to do a little more than be flushed down a toilet this time. And though Finn does get kissed, it’s not by Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac).
The film also features Fisher as General Leia Organa, née Princess Leia. Fisher died last December and the film is dedicated to her. Fisher’s father, singer Eddie Fisher, was Jewish and Fisher described that seeing her father sing in a synagogue when she was a child had a big effect on her.
Fisher was also briefly married to Jewish singer-songwriter Paul Simon, whose song, “Heart and Bones,” was about their relationship. The song opens with the lines, “One and one-half wandering Jews/ Free to wander wherever they choose.” Although Fisher was by no means a practicing Jew, she did take her daughter, Billie Lourd, to Shabbat meals with Orthodox friends. Lourd also appears in “The Last Jedi.”
“Jedi” director and screenwriter Rian Johnson proves himself as both a writer and director with this film. He has also been tapped to direct and write a new “Star Wars” trilogy in a different universe with new characters. Whether those characters will appeal as much to a Jewish audience remains to be seen. JN