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Star Wars : An Actor's Dream (With Emphasis on VIII the Last Jedi)
....the Galaxy Far, Far Away Is Full of Stars
The galaxy far far away is Hollywood; it is full of stars after all.
Star Wars in it's entirety is literally set in Hollywood. In actual fact, on reflection, how could it not be. The battle is the battle for storytelling. All of the characters in Star Wars are playing themselves. Mark Hamill was an untested young actor, Harrison Ford a roving journeyman with the hippies in tow. What else is Carrie Fischer but Hollywood royalty. Perhaps that's obvious enough. Although in VIII it is no more obviously true. It is a story about storytelling and how storytelling gets made and how it effects those who make it. What happens when our myths use real people. What stories are told? How are they made? Who gets to make them? Who are the rebels? Who the empire? All exist in the Hollywood machine. The rebels stay true to the story, the craft, the muse, the myth history, the legacy, the art of acting. It has many names.
The empire does not; it is in the thrall of commerce, exploitation and a dead, empty manipulation at the temple of money. Fame. But Star Wars has made so much money? That is not the fault of the rebels; money is not the problem, but to be enthralled by it? Not so good.
Star Wars is a telling of art against empire. That is it's universality. In this way it works as a parable, being a story that contains another story inside it or within it for those with eyes to see it.
Every character in Star Wars is an archetype of Hollywood itself, and in addition the characters of story telling itself; back to the cave, the fire, the stage, the book and film. What else is 3 PO but the classically trained thespian who cannot ad lib a feeling to save himself. Incredibly useful in his charm and knowledge but ultimately encased in a golden cage Thus, the Resistance contains the characters of film at all times, essentially a museum of the imagination. The swashbuckler, the innocent hero on a quest, the princess - all the stuff of silver screen dreams. Archetypes. But, real people too. What else is the USA but the myth made real. Tinsel town, La la land, the dream factory. Lucas was on a rescue mission to reclaim the territory. They all represent the fraternity of story tellers in Hollywood. And the empire? Well, that would be the studio machine or anybody opposed to art or imagination, to the performance, and the myth makers.
Finn / John / Hollywood / Casino City
In VIII this is most explicitly shown in the journey to the casino city. Finn, the reformed storm trooper, believes it to be a beautiful place, with all of its wealth and spectacle. After the success of VII John Boyega as Finn, in his own reality, faced the trappings of fame and everything that goes with it. Sure he did; to be selected for Star Wars is everyone's dream right? At the casino city he says, 'it's beautiful'. He is beguiled. It's Hollywood. Kelly Marie Tran reminds him it is fake. That's John's story, as Finn, as well as Finn's story as John. His companion tells him(and us) to look more closely - the image is maintained through cruelty and exploitation. It is fed off a war economy. The Fathier beasts could very well be super models, although better thought of as any subjugated life. Extras perhaps, or support crew. It is Victorian England, it is ancient Rome, it is Hollywood, it is anywhere that empire precedes art in importance. Where the imagination is not primary, war will reign supreme.
They are slave traders, arms dealers, drug dealers, gamblers, peddlers of misery. But also script writers, caterers, runners, aspirants, crafts people, modellers. Commerce. The Empire is that - always and everywhere. The golden dice have quite a role in VIII. The code breaker looks a lot like James Bond, but he's no help here.
It is the eternal story, and Star Wars sets its re-telling of the story in the very place that the stories are made in this age - Hollywood.
Changing of the baton; Mark to Daisy, Carrie to Laura, Benicio to ?
The changing of the baton is the theme of VIII - in the form of the actual actors passing on this responsibility to the new generation. How does myth regenerate? How does it not become a parody of itself, a cynical exercise. If fallen into that, how does it redeem itself? Can it be redeemed? Is it a lost cause? This is what faced the makers of these re-boot films. The makers of these three films of the re-boot are in fact the rebels, members of the resistance. Perhaps the Empire made the previous three films? Depends on your point of view, but I believe they did. The Empire had gained the ascendancy.
The story in this film (VIII) indicates the reality of the actors lives - Mark Hamill plays himself in this film. All of the actors play themselves in this film. Consider that - in this film all of the actors are actually playing themselves, but under the guise of a character in a separate universe. With the one eye, fantastic creatures in outer space, with the other eye Hollywood. That is the way to watch Star Wars VIII. Reality is cloaked in a story.
Laura Dern is herself - she takes over from Carrie Fischer in a scene of transfer that is possibly the most real emotion I have seen on screen. The torch is passed to Laura and she is worthy. Where she says 'may the force be with you, always' it is a delivery that is no longer acting - Laura Dern is saying that to Carrie Fischer, and it has an astounding sincerity to it; it is real emotion, with not one hint of artifice. The acting fraternity showing up to protect their best.
It is no mistake that Laura Dern is known for her integrity in films. Not everyone could play that role, only Laura Dern, because she is playing Laura Dern; that is why it is so believable and powerful. She breaks the wall. She is a rebel in her life. She flies her ship into the very heart of the machine, faces it head on, splits it in two. She literally smashes through the illusion. God speed rebels she says. And she is gone. Real gone.
Carrie Fisher plays herself. Benicio plays himself. He doesn't believe any of it, none of the Hollywood hype, 'don't join' he advises the young acolytes. He leaves us with a 'maybe' on the hopes of a rebel victory, and takes the pay out. Either way, he'll be acting. Benicio is fringe, he is beyond the galaxy, inhabiting his own universe. But an actors gotta eat.
Daisy Ridley plays herself (because every actor in the film is playing themselves). Mark Hamill initially doesn't encourage Daisy getting into all of this at first. Why do it? It can only lead to the perils of fame and public life? The character over takes the person. Mark Hamill is Luke Skywalker is he not? Well, he is actually Mark Hamill, but not to most people in the world, which appears to have been problematic for Mark Hamill. The way it was problematic to Elvis, to Jim Morrison and countless other 'icons'. Thus Star Wars is a lesson in the danger of the myth, especially when our modern myth making machinery uses real humans.
How it takes on a life of it's own if not met with enormous passion. Or the mask is made to be taken off, or put on, at will. Harrison Ford may well have understood this.
Mark Hamill discovers how to give Luke rest
This journey is the journey of Mark Hamill; the story is about Mark Hamill deciding that the story telling is worth fighting for. It is not about Luke Skywalker. The private inner struggle, the battle to share the Star Wars 'magic' to the next generation, of actors. There is a succession theme throughout the film, and it is all happening to Mark Hamill. Kylo Ren and Rey are the two sides fighting within Mark Hamill. He sees the darkness of fame that may face Daisy Ridley, and fears reviving the old beast. What happens when your face is known by most of the world. He gives a wonderful performance, given the opportunity to display emotion, depth of feeling, true pain and love on the weathered face - the work of an actor, not a cardboard cutout hero figurine. This is not the fresh faced farm boy. The face has the character of a life experienced. Not really an actor though, because he is playing Mark Hamill - the acting in Star Wars VIII is real. The resonance of this, that this is happening to these actual people, amplifies the poignancy enormously. Mark Hamill is not Luke Skywalker in this film, he is Mark Hamill.
Mark Hamill accepting the role and giving his blessing to the younger actors is in reality the ending of this film. The script presented to Mark Hamill gifted him that, a mark of immense respect. That respect he saw and accepted the role. When the Jedi is levitating, that is Hamill reading the script. Fighting with it, the conflict within. When he accepts the role, Daisy is released and levitates the rocks, everyone is freed from the cave. Mark Hamill did that, not Luke Skywalker. By that stage Luke has been shed, a projection, and as Kylo Ren discovers, you cannot kill an image. It is made selfless through gifting.
Mark Hamill wrestles with the VIII script - in the film
The film is the story about trying to make the film. The script is written as the story of the journey of Mark Hamill toward accepting the revival. His fears for Daisy and John Boyega, and all of the others. His concern that they will be consumed by awakening the juggernaut.
Resurrect the Star Wars universe? Again? No, never, go away, leave me alone, let it lay. There is no more place for new heroes. Luke Skywalker is the hero and that is me. This is the start of the film, the studio approaching Mark Hamill in his self imposed exile. When Luke apologises to Leia for going missing, that is Mark Hamill talking to Carrie Fischer. They are speaking about their lives to the cast and crew around them. The film is about the world of story telling, of acting, of the business they are all in. It is incredibly moving.
This is the burning of the Jedi books theme too. Daisy Ridley, as herself, approaching Mark Hamill, as himself. Watch it that way - every actor in the Star Wars VIII is playing themselves in an exploration of how fame and success is managed. How a loss of private life can be harmful, how the icon takes on a life of its own. What else is Emperor Snope and Kylo Ren but the insatiable cravings of the ego and dependence on the flattery and fawning of the legions (of fans?) seeing only Merchandise. If one looks at the Star Wars universe it is entirely covering the myth of fame, of hubristic delusions, of the journey each must go through to navigate the treacherous waters (or space…) of a tinsel town and the perils of believing the illusion is true. Merchandise.
Kylo Ren just wants to be Blockbuster
Kylo Ren begs (ever so briefly) for Rey to take his hand to become the new golden couple of the galaxy. In a spell of tremendously affecting acting (although not actually acting because it really is Daisy), Daisy Ridley has tears streaming down her face, extreme close up of real tears, in turn begging him to not go there. They are real tears and she, Daisy, really felt them. I could tell they were real, and because I could, I wanted her to win. Genuine feelings against hideous artifice, that is the battle taking place in the galaxy. Mark Hamill tells Daisy Ridley at the Jedi monastery to 'reach out', which he mocks as she physically reaches out. 'That is not the Force'. Reach out with your feelings. Star Wars is about acting. Mark Hamill is passing on to Daisy Ridley what she has to do, what she has to look out for. Not just Luke passing onto Rey, but that too. First and foremost though it is Mark and Daisy, there on an isolated island, him teaching her to be prepared for what is coming - she'll never survive without true feeling. The Force? Nothing else but sincerity. You look at Laura Dern in this film. She has the Force. That's not to say that actors on the side of the Empire are not good people - but they know that they are acting for a greater cause. The actors on the resistance side are not acting. That's what the film is about. If you are a rebel, you are not merely acting; it is real. But it is just a film? No it is not. It is Star Wars. You wanna be a star? Join the Empire. You want to express the human condition in all of its light and shade? You belong to the resistance. That's where they teach that. Mark Hamill has become a teacher in this film; the highest accolade in the story telling world.
And Daisy pleas with the fame beast ego to join her in the craft. It is enough, to feel this, in our gift of reflecting human emotion to the world. It is enough, how could there be more? Look at the real tears, they are real, how could there be more? There is not more than this - all of the money, power and fame cannot match this passion. Stay with me in this moment. He doesn't agree, and is lost to the machine, to the equations of quantity and comparison, of spreadsheets and projections. The amount of fire power he sends down on Luke attests to that. Blockbuster hits anyone? It'll never be enough without the human element. He ends up in a popularity slam down with the ghost of Skywalker. Tries to kill it, to kill the icon and usurp it. Spoiler alert, he can't. It has a life of it's own and cannot be touched; and so too does Mark Hamill, now.
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher - selfless heroes
The rebels are allowed to slip out to leave Kylo to it, and Mark Hamill is not still there. He's looking at the sunrise over where it all started. He passes on the baton to Daisy, 'with peace and purpose'. So does Carrie Fischer. In a very tender scene, Carrie assures Daisy she has everything she needs, even though it seems the rebels are down to a skeleton crew. Hope springs eternal and Daisy has it and Carrie knows she has it; a beautiful finale for Carrie Fischer. And Leia too, but more so Carrie. She finished as a teacher, encouraging and caring for the younger generation of actors - what more could an actor want? A mark of enormous respect from her peers.
It is Mark Hamill levitating on the rock, it is Skywalker being projected. Luke literally doesn't exist by now, a projection on film. The laser sword goes straight through this time, the dark prince is fighting an apparition. Mark Hamill has shed a skin. He lets the icon be and in doing so frees himself. There it is, is that the lesson? Mark Hamill knew it when he saw the script. He exorcises the demon of the icon with a 'see you around kid'-reclaiming himself through his generosity to Daisy Ridley, his realisation that the story telling is needed for the new generation. On the one hand we have 'the emperor is dead, long live the emperor'; on the other, well, Mark Hamill goes home and watches Daisy Ridley on the screen as she rolls away the rocks; he kisses the joy as it flies, to live in eternity's sunrise. A fitting finale for the man who took on Luke Skywalker.
© 2017 Leonard