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Jedi English class light years ahead of its time

It was “return of the Jedi” – literally – last Friday morning, as a group of be-robed students from Altimira Middle School invaded the Sonoma Cinemas for a special morning screening of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The students – many of them members of Altimira’s uniquely regional Jedi English class – were treated to a private showing of the film that is expected to become one of the most-attended movies in history.

A prequel, of sorts, to the 1977 “Star Wars” film that launched the series, “Rogue One” is a grittier, darker, but heavily action-oriented film, more reminiscent of classic war films than a traditional “Star Wars” adventure. Placed immediately before the events of the original, “Roque One” follows a group of rebels engaged in stealing the plans for the Empire’s planet-blasting Death Star space station.

“I loved it! I loved it a lot!” exclaims Owen Van Zant, attending the screening dressed in a light-brown Jedi robe.

He’s not alone.

Students – or, Padawans, if you will – in the Jedi English class, under the Obi-Wan-like instruction of teacher Bridget Paul, are required, as part of the class, to sew their own Jedi robes, and then to write an essay describing the pitfalls and successes of such a hands-on project.

Asked if “Rogue One” stood up to his expectations, Van Zant replies, “Well, it really wasn’t much like what I expected. I thought there would be more action with the old characters. There were some of the old characters, but not too many. So I was a little bit disappointed. I came in hoping to see Darth Vader, and I did, he was in there, so that was nice. And I loved the ending.”

“I think it was great,” echoes Wyatt Sanders. “They really managed to tie together the threads of the ‘Star Wars’ story, given that the ending of this one relates to how the first three movies actually happened. We never knew how the rebels got the Death Star plans, we just knew that they had them. Well, now we know.”

And is he satisfied that he now knows how that happened?

“Yes. Very satisfied,” Sanders says.

“Not me! There were no wookies!” shouts another robe-clad student, passing Sanders with a group of similarly attired friends, most of them clutching bags of leftover popcorn. Apparently, the passersby all share the expressed disappointment with the film’s egregious wookie-free status.

“I like wookies!” proclaims another anonymous Jedi.

“I thought it was awesome,” says Tony Albini, manager of maintenance and operations for the school district. “It was everything I expected and more. It ends where 1977 begins.”

“I thought it was good,” adds Albini’s daughter, Samantha. “I would definitely recommend it, to ‘Star Wars’ fans and non-’Star Wars’ fans. I’m an instructional assistant in Miss Paul’s class, not the Jedi class, but I still asked if I could go. It was a great opportunity. Maybe we’ll get to do this every year.”

It’s possible.

Disney – which now owns Lucasfilm and the “Star Wars” franchise – has announced plans to release a new “Star Wars” film every year for the foreseeable future. The next one will be “Star Wars Episode VIII,” to be released on Dec. 15 of 2017, and another “stand alone” picture, to focus on a young Han Solo, is scheduled for release on May 25, 2018.

Asked if she thinks people will ever grow tired of “Star Wars” movies, the younger Albini shakes her head.

“No! Not at all!” she says, to which the elder Albini adds, “I think they’ll keep making them forever. They’d better keep making them.”

While most of the assembled students give the film stellar marks, some are a bit reserved.

“It was good,” nods Xavier Dorantes, stopping just short of proclaiming it “great.” Adding a reference of a certain major spoiler in the movie – one that left certain audience members choking back tears at the end – Dorantes adds, “I guess it could have been a lot worse.”

It is apparent that those who best appreciate the storyline of “Rogue One” are those with the strongest connection to the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

“It’s about time we got this movie!” agrees instructor Bridget Paul, adding, “Now we know the true story of the unsung heroes of “Star Wars.”

It was Paul who launched the Jedi class a few years ago, on a rogue mission of her own to combine students’ enthusiasm for “Star Wars” with a rigorous honors English curriculum. “Rogue One” was so satisfying,” she says, “and so totally entertaining. It was edge-of-your seat stuff for sure. I wasn’t expecting ‘Star Wars,’ exactly, but something sort of ‘Star Wars’-ish, and I got it.”

And she got a few surprises, too, right?

“Oh yeah!” she says. “That ending! Wow! I got a little ‘verklempt.’ This movie gets the parents who grew up with the magic of ‘Star Wars,’ and now have kids. My own kid was with me today, and you should have seen his face, watching at the screen. This is his ‘Star Wars,’ designed for a whole new generation. It might not have the same magic the original had for me, but I’m not going to knock it. Magic is magic. I had mine. This is his. I think that’s awesome.”

Asked if the students attending today will have a homework assignment attached to the screening, Paul smiles.

“Of course there will,” she says. “After all, every new experience is another opportunity to learn.”

Sounds like something a Jedi would say.

Email David at david.?templeton@sonomanews.com.

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