Entertainment

Netflix's 'Jedi Junior High' a feel-good look at adolescence

Posted December 3, 2016

"JEDI JUNIOR HIGH" — 3 stars — written and directed by Heidi Burkey and Tim Larson, TV-PG, Netflix

Heidi Burkey and Tim Larson’s documentary is a fun mix of adolescent quirkiness, lightsaber fights and musical theater. “Jedi Junior High,” which was first released in 2014 and became available on Netflix Nov. 15, lightheartedly follows a cast of junior high students as they prepare to perform in a musical parody of the iconic film “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.”

From auditions to opening night, the documentary captures the challenges and the triumphs of putting on a large production with children who at times still struggle to focus on simple tasks.

Throughout the interviews with the young cast, viewers will no doubt be brought back to their own junior high days of awkwardness and self-discovery. Producing a play called "Star Wars: The Musical" attracted a variety of kids to auditions who displayed a range of personalities.

Shy and sweet 12-year-old Jonathan Graham, who just wished he could be a bit more popular, was ironically cast as Han Solo.

“He’s the guy who doesn’t really care about anything,” Graham said in the film. “But for me, I feel like I’m the goody-two-shoes.”

On the other side of the spectrum, charismatic Alexander Ortiz has more of a Han personality, yet the 13-year-old is cast as Luke in the musical.

The heart of the film is not Star Wars or theater; it is young kids growing and beginning to find their place. The documentary draws a parallel between the hero’s journey Luke undertakes and the coming-of-age journey all kids experience. This analogy is underlied by the interviews of both the kids and their parents as they speak on the hardships of growing out of the safety and security of childhood to adulthood, with its ever-broadening choices and danger.

While the camera work and overall quality of this documentary discloses its low-budget filming, it does not interfere with its storytelling. In this simple, small, delightful story, fancy camera work and professional moviemaking equipment is not needed to convey its messages.

“Jedi Junior High” is classified as a documentary, yet it could fit well into a secondary category of comedy. Audiences will surely chuckle as the young actor playing Chewbacca explains how he was forced to audition and complains about his uncomfortable costume. And it is always funny and sweet to watch the immature development of affections and crushes among groups of hormonal youths.

While those who lean more towards action and excitement in their movie choices might find themselves bored midway through “Jedi Junior High,” parents and kids alike will enjoy watching the young cast’s journey tackling a big musical. Any Star Wars fan will also appreciate the frequent discourse about the franchise, along with the children’s representation of the iconic characters. Overall, “Jedi Junior High” is a lighthearted film fit for a family movie night.

“Jedi Junior High” is rated TV-PG; running time is 74 minutes.

McKenna Park is an aspiring journalist and a student at BYU studying Communications. Contact her at mckennaleepark@gmail.com.

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