No matter how much stage experience you have, putting on a play is a lot of work. It’s especially difficult if that play is a rendition of Star Wars: The Empire strikes back, and the actors are a group of young children who, for the most part, never acted in a play before. The documentary, Jedi Junior High, takes viewers to the Arts & Children’s Learning Conservatory in Anaheim, CA, where a group of handpicked students spend a grueling five weeks perfecting a Star Wars themed stage play for the community. With lots of work, sweat and frustration, the children attempt to put on a once in a lifetime spectacle for their friends and family.
The film starts with the plays audition process. Many children from surrounding communities all try their best to secure a part. Darth Vader seems a popular choice among the boys, and most girl want the coveted role of Princess Leia. We meet Art Ortiz, the music director who helps the children with the songs. He contributes a high level of passion to the play, and wants the children to succeed while also having lots of fun; his son ends up earning the role of Luke Skywalker in the play. We also meet, among other people, Amy Louis Sebelius, the freelance director of the play itself, who seems overwhelmed but excited by whole experience. She explains the challenges of working with younger children, such as attention span difficulties, memorization problems and inattention to details. After the audition process, the children who have been selected for the roles begin the intense five week training period of songs, dances and monologues. They come from all sorts of backgrounds and bring different skillsets to the stage, but they all want to put on the best show possible. The documentary ends with the final performance in front of an audience of 3,000 people from all over Anaheim. The show goes off without a hitch, and parents, teachers and the community as a whole couldn’t be prouder.
Jedi Junior High is a great documentary chronicling the struggles of putting on a play. Lots of things can go wrong, and the actors need to be able to adapt to last minute changes; for example, as the final performance date is approaching, the director of the play realizes she won’t be there for the last week of rehearsal, forcing the Conservatory to bring in a new director with a different teaching style to take the reins. The children all have a great attitude about them, however, and never stop working hard. By the end of the experience, they form friendships, develop self-esteem and grow as individuals. They discover what it means to accomplish a goal through hard work and determination, a lesson that stays with them forever. Nobody can deny that the force is truly strong with these kids.
Available on Digital HD and On Demand November 17.