There were Jedi knights at Melbourne Central station, and stormtroopers on the escalator. Boys in Target faux Japanesey gowns with broomsticks, and goth girls who’d made more of an effort, black lace witchy gowns and working light sabres. At Flinders Street station, a cross-dressed Princess Leia was buying a dim sim. And on the tram all the way down St Kilda Road, kids, paler than they needed to be, a little lumpy, debated matters of ancient history related to the rise of the Sith. Or something.
Eleven o’clock on a still warm night in Melbourne, and as in capitals across the country, thousands were streaming to cinemas for the 12.01am screening of Star Wars Part VIII: The Last Jedi.
The Astor Cinema had joined in the fun, and that was enough to crack it for me, the delicious strangeness of seeing the latest installment of a series I’d long lost track of, in a gloriously restored art deco cinema. The queue for tickets was filled with ewoks — or wookiees? I have no idea — various half-arsed resistance fighters buying choc-tops, and I swear to God having arguments about the merits of flavours:
“Banana choc-top, that’s an abomination.”
“No it really works.”
“Vanilla and boysenberry are the only real choc tops.”
God, back in D&D camp again.
“This is a bit of fun on a school night,” I said to the guy behind me, lanky kid with a mop of black hair, and a beard that was trying him out.
He looked at me funny.
“I’ve taken three days off for this,” he said.
“Off from what?”
“Eating, drinking and wanting to die,”someone else said.
Later, overheard: “I’ve halved my meds for this because they make me so drowsy.”
Upstairs, a pianist played theme tunes, the music floating through the large glorious art deco oval in the mezzanine ceiling. The Astor with its filigree detail, deep ’30s armchairs, ladies holding lamps, is a galaxy far, far further away than anything else on offer.
Outside, a girl in a shining emerald dress was almost crying into her phone. “But wanted to see it with you.” She was half-30s, half a forest creature from some side episode of the series, the perfect fusion. “We don’t usually do this,” a crap Jedi knight staffer said, standing in the full auditorium, the great yellow, lime green, pink ceiling sweeping over him. “But we wanted to show a Star Wars like people used to see them:” — used to see them? How old does he think it/they/we are? — “in a single cinema.”
Cheers. There were cheers for everything. Actually I saw Star Wars — gah, OK, “A New Hope” — at the East End III in Bourke Street. Three cinemas in one! Imagine!
The show began after some kitschy ’70s ads — C3PO breakfast cereals and yadaddadaddah-dadadaah! Refreshments at the kiosk! — and we were into it. There’s some need for spoiler alerts here, but not much as the last of the franchise I saw was The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, so swathes of it are a mystery to me. Not that much though. Star Wars is like space Home and Away; tune in years later, you still get the gist.
The Resistance has been hunted down to a last planet and a few ships. Darth Vader ain’t around much anymore, and the empire is run by Kylo Ren — Adam Driver, who even as he plots the death of planets, looks like he’s arguing with Lena Dunham about Marnie’s totally inadequate response to her prose poem about The Triangle Factory Fire — and a shrivelled dude named Scone or something.
Though the Resistance leaders are all middle-aged women — like a mid-size publishing concern acquired an attack force Star Fleet — apparently only Luke Skywalker can save them. He, aged, has retreated to the home planet of the Jedi, to end the tradition. But a young woman is sent to bring him back. So on and so on.
The original Star Wars was about the death of Third World revolution, within a Cold War framework, a trailer for Reaganism. Luke Skywalker is a Nicaraguan Contra, fighting for “freedom”. The film’s arrival signaled the triumph of fantasy, as reality failed to deliver the possibility of real adventure and meaning. The politics of The Last Jedi are Clintonian-era hysterical. The Resistance is as diverse as a Berkeley protest outside a sushi restaurant. The empire is all white men. Yet the heroes of the Resistance all turn out to be white.
People say it’s the best of the Star Wars films for decades. It was by turns stirring and as ropey as an old Doctor Who episode. Conveyed in the spirit of a ’50s sci-fi spectacular, in a ’30s cinema, it was time within time, the obsessions of a century piled on top of each other, and in the encounters between Leia and Skywalker, with an unmistakable valedictory tone.
I shared a cab back with three bleary-eyed resistance heroes. They had applauded about 10 times. All had degrees. All worked in retail — Vodaphone, Big W — they had all taken time off to see it. “I feel I need to see it again to follow it,” I joked. One looked at me.
“You’re not going to see it again?” he asked.
“Tomorrow,” he said.
The guy in the front corrected him: “Today.”