" Get all the good you can outta 17 ‘cuz it sure wears out in one helluva hurry. "
— Paul Newman, Hud

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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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The Last Jedi is a wild ride that sends beloved characters — old and new — on unexpected arcs with a mighty Force.

The Force Disrupted

Are Rey and Luke the last Jedi?
Are Rey and Luke the last Jedi?

Episode VIII of the Skywalker family saga marks all sorts of milestones. It’s the longest episode (152 minutes). It’s the darkest (even Empire Strikes Back seems downright chipper in comparison). It’s the edgiest, the riskiest and the most challenging of all the Star Wars movies.

It’s also the first Star Wars movie to be both written and directed by one somebody not named George Lucas. That somebody is Rian Johnson (The Brothers Bloom) and the Star Wars stewards have enough confidence to entrust him with a whole new saga after J.J. Abrams completes the Skywalker family story with Episode IX. As the director and sole writer, The Last Jedi allowed Johnson to create a unique work, bound only by the gently-enforced rules of the Star Wars universe.

Speaking of Abrams, The Force Awakens was fun. It was a throwback to the “original” trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) and it played like a greatest hits of Star Wars concepts; it was a reunion with some long-time favorite characters while also introducing some great new ones. Rey (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express) is at the tippy-top of that list of newbies.

Episode VII was easily consumed and agreeable to the palate. And it ended on the perfect note of mysticism and optimism, with Rey handing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, The Big Red One) his lightsaber, the one he lost during an incident in Cloud City back in the day.

The stage seemed set for good times with Luke handing down the ways of the Force to Rey. And Rey’s story picks up right to the frame where Force Awakens left off. But... It turns out Luke is one cranky guy who has plenty of “get off my lawn” moments.

A Hero’s Journey

Much like The Force Awakens and Rogue One, fan-based rumors and speculation about The Last Jedi are woefully uninformed. No need to go into details here; suffice it to say some questions are answered (or seemingly answered) and others are raised. And it all culminates in a conclusion that mixes large doses of angst with hope. A truly new hope.

There are several fascinating aspects to the events of Episode VIII and one of the biggest is how it systematically tears apart then rebuilds the power of legend. That story thread is driven by none other than Luke himself. He sees the Jedi as leaving behind nothing more than a legacy of ruin and a history of failure. He shuns Rey and goes about his daily routine of fishing and tending to the Jedi temple grounds.

But, ultimately, Luke has a change of heart — thanks to an old friend, one who reminds Luke failure is the best teacher of all. And masters are merely what the pupil grows beyond; he should pass on what he has learned.

This storyline alone is so juicy and so unanticipated, it’s something of a movie miracle the Mouse House and the Lucasfilm brain trust had the fortitude to follow through with it. It challenges the Star Wars fandom and universe — not in any way, shape or form like Jar-Jar Binks. This is a legit challenge in terms of themes and ideals, including a harsh questioning of heroism.

Sure, this is a well-earned PG-13 movie, but the kids will go — and likely with the parental units. It’s the first movie in memory that can actually achieve a post-movie triumvirate. It’s solid discussion material over that post-movie coffee, beer or milk shake.

Humor of the Jedi

Another remarkable aspect of The Last Jedi is its vicious, devilish sense of humor. It’s served rather generously, but hardly to the detraction of the darkness. One of the best bits involves an iron and First Order uniforms set out for pressing. Cleverly staged, it’s the kind of moment that’s reminiscent of the classic collapsible hanger scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The humor at times is like a poke in the eye to Star Wars’ very own tropes and iconography. As a simple example that doesn’t spoil any secrets, at one moment Luke speaks reverently of the importance of the Jedi texts. In the next moment, it’s revealed he’s never read through all of the Jedi texts.

It’s a busy dance card that still manages to throw in the to-be-expected bits of cheese, a subplot involving animal abuse, a quirky side-trip leading to a major parking ticket and a sub-theme regarding the ugliness of war-profiteering.

Wow. And, much like all of the other chapters in the saga, the faults and kinks merely add to the endearing nature of this beautifully bold episode.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis) shines as a soldier of derring-do and sharp wit. Finn (John Boyega, Detroit) becomes more integral to the Resistance. Topping it off, the conflict between Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, Logan Lucky) — along with the nefarious machinations of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings) — reaches a fever pitch chock-full of stunning, dramatic twists that elevate the material to new depths (and, no, that’s not an oxymoron).

And, of course, the late, great Carrie Fisher proves how the Force truly is extremely strong with General Princess Leia Organa.

With the grand sense of adventure restored and cinematic risk-taking at the fore, it’s hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this enduring mythology.