World Premiere of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" in Los Angeles, the United States, on December 9, 2017 -- "Storm Troopers" walk in front of fans. (Xinhua/REUTERS)
By Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- The force was with Disney-Lucasfilm's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" this past week as it soared to blockbuster status, heading for 321 million U.S. dollars in North America and 635 million dollars worldwide to date.
This 8th live action installment in George Lucas's epic sci-fi franchise ranks it as the world's second highest-grossing film franchise in history, behind all Marvel Cinematic Universe films combined.
Star Wars movies have a habit of retreading the same story and swapping in new characters.
This installment is no exception. But writer and director, Rian Johnson, another indie film director and Sundance alum plucked from relative obscurity to helm a massive studio production, brought a welcome freshness and degree of introspection to the franchise.
Clocking in at 2.5 hours, Johnson gives the story lots of room to breathe. Though it's packed full of epic, nail-biting space battles, dazzling light saber duels and a cliff-hanger ending, he also used the time allow for deeper connectivity between the characters and greater emotional resonance throughout the film.
"He's incredibly collaborative and open to ideas," John Boyega revealed on imdb.com, "He's got incredible humility coupled with incredible vision," said Oscar Isaac, and "Everybody loved working for Rian," added Daisy Ridley.
But, the Star Wars' allure reaches far beyond the directors or even the stars involved. It holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the American public. So, what is it that has enabled it to weave its way into the tapestry of American culture in such an unprecedented way?
All things Star Wars have become an American institution in much the same way Thanksgiving Day football became a tradition since it was first played in 1868, just five years after President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
Those first smitten with Star Wars when it exploded onto movie screens 40 years ago have passed this cosmic love affair on to their kids and to their kid's kids, side-by-side with America's more traditional faves, Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh.
Chuck Hamil, a fraud investigator in his 60s and a die hard Star Wars fan, attended "The Last Jedi" opening with his son and grandkids.
Outside the theater, he told Xinhua, "Star Wars has been a part of my life since I saw the first one in 1977. Now its part of my kids' and my grandkids' lives. It's something we can all watch together as a family. It helps us understand the world, what's good, what's evil and what our place is in all that."
Vera, a fan in her 30s, was one of many audience members who clapped and cheered out loud in the theater during the movie's climactic scenes.
"It's kind of miraculous - this story crosses all socio-economic boundaries, rich and poor, black or white, male or female," she told Xinhua.
Star Wars has shaped many Americans' collective childhood and entered the lexicon as a meme that allows them to communicate in shorthand with such gems as: "Help me, Obe Wan Kenobi, you are my only hope","May the Force be with you", "Do or not do. There is no try."
Add to those classics is "The Last Jedi's" poignant message shared by Rose Tico, "We don't win by killing the things we hate, but by saving the things we love," and, in total, you have a font of pop cultural wisdom that teaches as much as it entertains.
It teaches people about finding the better person within them, courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, standing up for what's right, resisting the temptations of power, self-sacrifice and loyalty, and surviving the most dysfunctional family in the world.
Or, as moviegoer, Chuck Hamil, puts it, "Are you a Hans Solo or a Darth Vader? Part of the Evil Empire or the Resistance?"
It was and remains a Rite of Passage for many of Americans, a bonding ceremony that linked them irrevocably to a brotherhood of friends and fans moving into adulthood that could share a rich new universe of aliens, intergalactic political intrigue, and most importantly, heroes they could all aspire to be.
Yet its faithful rendition of Joseph Campbell's humanistic "Heroes Journey" has transformed it into a universal story that touches people's hearts around the globe.
It brings Americans endearingly flawed heroes who always rise to the challenge to combat an all-powerful, oppressive force and cadres of nuanced arch-villains they love to hate.
But most importantly, it's about mankind's heartwarming belief that good will ultimately triumph over evil. It's a belief people need to hang on to now more than ever.