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Carrie Fisher

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Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley in a scene from ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’. Photo courtesy of Lucas Films

By Caleb Bridger

Picking up almost immediately after “The Force Awakens” the second installment of Star Wars’ third trilogy, “The Last Jedi,” follows the fledgling Resistance being outgunned across the galaxy by the mysterious First Order. Meanwhile on a distant and ancient world, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker has entered self-imposed exile after his former pupil Kylo Ren has slaughtered all the students at his new Jedi Academy. Rey, a scavenger orphan from the junkyards of Jakku, finds herself standing before the legendary Jedi master turned hermit … offering him the lightsaber of his father, Darth Vader, in hopes that he’ll train her in the ways of the Force. Pretty great setup, but not the greatest execution in Star Wars history.

In an effort to accomplish too much, “The Last Jedi” achieves too little. Though wildly entertaining, the film somehow remains a major disappointment. This sequel trilogy can best be defined for its Death Star-sized plot holes, which seem to continuously blow up again and again with the film’s sloppy writing and pacing. The film at times feels like a campy parody of Star Wars, featuring an all-star cast and some beloved familiar faces who are given continuous piles of bantha fodder to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this film, but I certainly didn’t like it either.

Disney took a gamble by passing the Star Wars trilogy off to multiple writers and directors. Though their gamble has certainly “paid off” in the literal box office sense, the Star Wars franchise has taken a damaging hit, losing itself and beloved characters, and bringing a new generation of fans into a series that is becoming increasingly difficult to love and follow.

In 2014, JJ Abrams (“Star Trek,” “Lost”) alongside veteran Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasdan (“Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi)” returned us to a galaxy far, far away after replacing Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”) who’s original Episode VII screenplay was scratched.

Disney was eager for its return on investment so their work was rushed, the galaxy they built thoroughly undeveloped … forcing them to deliver a plot that can be described as sloppy at best and self-plagiarism at worst. “The Force Awakens,” which I originally gave a rave review, has not aged gracefully in the two years since its theater debut. Several viewings later, I can say that film only succeeded because of nostalgia, incredible casting and for the enormous potential of its sequel.

Writer/director Rian Johnson tried to leave his own mark on the franchise by course correcting the failed plot of Kasdan and Abrams’ “The Force Awakens,” quite literally and symbolically throwing away their story arch as Luke tosses his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder, denying Rey the tutelage she so desperately sought at the end of the seventh installment. This disconnect between two otherwise great talents effectively ended any sense of a unified trilogy and story. Almost impressively, Johnson, in two and a half hours, manages to move the overall plot barely an inch.

What shines best in this film is the cast. From top to bottom, it’s hard not to love this diverse and enormously talented ensemble. Old heroes return as well as a generation of new talent who are quickly taking Hollywood by storm.

Among those who shine the brightest are Oscar Isaac as the dashing X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron. His bromance with former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) is alive and well, much to the audience’s enjoyment. My favorite pair, however, is the unlikely duo of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. Ridley brings to life the force-wielding scavenger and would-be Jedi padawan Rey. Meanwhile the quirky and brilliant Adam Driver serves as her complicated dark side counterpart, Kylo Ren, the film’s primary antagonist and fallen apprentice of Luke Skywalker. These two share in a remarkable performance and also produce “The Last Jedi’s” greatest scene, which will no doubt enter the annals of Star Wars lore.

Carrie Fisher’s finest performance is unfortunately also her final performance. Princess Leia returns to the big screen as a fearless leader and general, both emotionally complex and still spitting out that same quick humor that helped her ascend to fame.

In this film she’s joined by her twin brother, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill. Though I wasn’t a fan of Luke’s new story arch, I’m still very much in love with this poor moisture farmer from Tatooine who becomes one of the galaxies greatest legends. Hamill reminds us all why we fell in love with Luke Skywalker in the first place.

“Stars Wars: The Last Jedi,” despite its flaws, remains a must-see film filled to the brim with excitement, spectacular cinematography and some serious action. There is still much to love in this eighth Star Wars installment, even if the Force falls flat from time to time. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, “The Last Jedi” is now playing in local theaters.

Debbie Reynolds in a scene from 'Singin' In the Rain'

By Ed Blair

Debbie Reynolds during the filming of ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown‘ in 1964

She was the quintessential “girl next door” — sweet, wholesome and unassuming. She was pretty and perky, had a dazzling smile and looked great in a cute summer dress. In short, she was the ideal, all-American girl every guy wanted to take home to meet his parents.

For many, Debbie Reynolds fit the classic romantic fantasy perfectly, whether she was dancing as an 18-year-old with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), rollicking in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), for which she received an Oscar nomination, or crooning her chart-topping 1957 hit “Tammy.”

Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher, earned her star as another type of princess in her iconic role in the “Star Wars” series. Their relationship, and their coinciding deaths, were headline material that generated wide media attention, and the sometimes contentious interactions between mother and daughter will be a featured in “The Debbie Reynolds Story,” a musical theater tribute being presented at The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center from May 6 to June 15.

Debbie Reynolds with her daughter Carrie Fisher

The center has hosted a number of shows orchestrated by St. George Productions, which has brought to life the biographies of stars such as Bob Hope, Patti Page, Mickey Rooney and, most recently, Mary Martin and Dinah Shore. As in the past, presentations will be followed by a luncheon catered by Fratelli’s Italian Eatery and includes tea and dessert.

In a format familiar to audiences who continue to enjoy his live musical theater tributes, director/writer/producer Sal St. George’s latest offering details the life of Debbie Reynolds and her on-again-off-again relationship with her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

Setting the show’s time line, St. George explained, “The year is 1977. Debbie has recently completed ‘Irene’ on Broadway, as well her one-woman show, and is touring with ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’” Reynolds had received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her role in “Irene,” and teenager Carrie Fisher had appeared on stage with her early during the musical’s run. “Carrie, now 20, is still in England promoting ‘Star Wars,’” St. George continued. “Although she is not [portrayed] in our show, Carrie’s relationship with her mother will be a major topic of discussion.”

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in a scene from the 1977 ‘Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope’

Indeed, that relationship has been scrutinized and commented upon in the media since the deaths of the two stars became headline stories in December of 2016. Reynolds’ kaleidoscopic career and rags-to-riches road to stardom contrasted sharply with Fisher’s experiences.

Paris Pryor, the actress who portrays Reynolds in The WMHO production, paid tribute to the late star’s achievements, pointing out that, “Although her death is still fresh in our minds, I hope our presentation will be a positive reflection on her rich legacy.”

St. George noted that Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart and Rosemary Clooney lived in the same neighborhood as Reynolds, and his production features actress Jordyn Morgan, who portrays Clooney. “It is an honor,” said Morgan, “to be re-creating the life of such a remarkable musical artist. Our production is a salute to two of Hollywood’s greatest icons.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, located at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village will present “The Debbie Reynolds Story” on May 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 17, 18, 20, 21, 24 (sold out), 25 and 31; June 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14 and 15. Performances are at 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. on Sundays). Admission is $48 adults; seniors (60 and over) and children under 15, $45; and groups of 20 or more $40. Advance reservations are required by calling 631-689-5888.

Created by Ward Melville in 1939 as The Ward Melville Community Fund, The WMHO is a not-for-profit organization founded to maintain and enhance historical and sensitive environmental properties and to develop and foster community enrichment through cultural and educational experiences. To learn more about The WMHO, call 631-751-2244 or visit the website at www.wmho.org.