A New “Star Wars” for the Big Kids—and Porgs for the Little Ones – The New Yorker

In the new HBO documentary “Spielberg,” there is a moment when George
Lucas recalls showing an early cut of “Star Wars” to the cadre of young
filmmakers of which he and Spielberg were members, along with Brian De
Palma, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola. “It was, basically, a
children’s film,” Lucas says. “You know, it wasn’t what the other
friends of mine would think of as something really worthwhile.” De Palma
hated it; Spielberg knew it would be “a smash.”

It’s not George Lucas’s “Star Wars” anymore, as the latest
trailer
for “Star Wars:
The Last Jedi,” which was released on Monday night, seems intent on
demonstrating. It begins with the mysterious baddie Snoke snarling,
“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power.” From there, the bad times
roll: our heroes scowl and fume as the score blares its crushing notes;
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, with new scars) appears to target the spaceship
holding his mother, General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher, looking
regal); and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, bearded and woebegone)
declares, “This is not going to go the way you think.” Woo-hoo, pass the
popcorn!

Of course, “Star Wars” hasn’t been for kids for a while now. The last
installment of the main franchise, “Star Wars: The Force
Awakens
,”
culminated in a sneak-attack patricide that left the movie’s only human
with a sense of humor, Han Solo, speechless and then very dead, and his
sidekick, Chewbacca, in mourning. The first spinoff of the Disney era,
Rogue One: A Star Wars
Story
,”
went one better, killing off all its heroes in a final sequence that
looked like “Platoon” in space, topped off with a Darth Vader war crime.

There’s a method to all this bleakness. The Disney “Star Wars” movies
are intended both as a nostalgia trip and a rigorous corrective. The
nostalgia is not for “Star Wars” whole cloth, nor for the silliest and
flimsiest spit-and-glue parts of the franchise, but for the darker,
sleeker stuff that has aged better. It is the moment when Darth Vader
first appears
in “The
Empire Strikes Back,” his helmet shining like patent leather as he
stares out into the cold cleanliness of space. The more a “Star Wars”
movie looks like “Empire,” and echoes its middle-act tone of despair,
the current thinking goes, the better it must be. That means darker and
ostensibly more serious, more violent, more frightening, more
grownup—more “worthwhile,” as Lucas put it. The results, while a clear
improvement on Lucas’s juvenile prequels, are nonetheless some pretty
bleak space operas.

There is, however, a speck of light in the darkness. It comes in the
middle of the new trailer, in the form of a screaming little critter
known as a
porg
.
A porg looks like a nightmare penguin, or a flying gerbil, or maybe a
pug with wings. They are, apparently, birds—according to the official
“Star Wars” page
, “They build nests. They can fly. Their babies are called
porglets.” The porg has cute little fin arms but sharp-looking teeth—the
kind of thing you might reach out to pat before yanking your hand back
to safety. It is small, and bug-eyed, and silly, and is there amid all
the gloom and doom, presumably, to make you smile—or, as many people
have pointed out, to sell toys to your children. The porg has some
defenders, but critics have put it in the bad company of
Minions,
Furbies,
Tribbles, and
Alf. “Star Wars” fans are
right to be wary—as the franchise’s comic relief goes, mileage has
varied, from the good (R2-D2, Yoda) to the bad (Ewoks, anything added in
the Special Edition films) to the Jar Jar.

But before we dismiss the porg as the latest misbegotten digital
creation in the “Star Wars” universe, let’s think of Lucas’s imagined
kids in the seats. The best part of “The Force Awakens,” after all,
wasn’t the “Cat’s in the Cradle” father-son showdown, or the operatic
lightsabre duel in the snow, or all the overwrought speeches about fate
and destiny. It was two likable teen-agers running through a market town
in the desert, trading quips as they dodged lasers and explosions, all
the while trailed by a rolling, bleeping and blooping robot named BB-8.

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