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A triumphant tale of a real-life perseverant hero, Jose Hernandez, who overcame many forms of failure to succeed and become the first migrant farmworker to go into space. The film stars Michael Pena (who also plays my favorite MCU character Luis!) as Hernandez, taking us through his discovery of the stars above and how he floated amongst them. A Million Miles Away is an emotional, although long, biopic releasing next week on Prime Video and it’s absolutely worth bundling up together on the couch to watch as a family.

[Warning: spoilers and impressions for A Million Miles Away are below!]

Houston, we have liftoff

While the formulaic biopic beats are the backbone of this emotional endeavor, the presentation of them by director Alejandra Márquez Abella is different enough to not get tiresome. Yet some scenes felt overly extended to pad the runtime.

One specific standout is the wedding scene of Jose and his new bride Adela, portrayed by Rosa Salazar, who rose to fame as Alita in Alita: Battle Angel. Salazar provides an impactful performance and rivals Pena every step of the way from the first grin at him out in the fields to their final conversation before he leaves for space. 

Pena labors through the hum-drum of Hernandez’s menial intern work at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and utilizes his father’s wise words to showcase his aptitude. Interestingly enough, I found out while researching Jose Hernandez, that his work at Lawrence Livermore contributed to the development of the first digital mammography imaging system. It has been a revolutionary tool in helping detect breast cancer early on. While the film did not touch upon that it absolutely should have as it was an important milestone in his career. 

A Million Miles Away- Pena
Jose Hernandez (Michael Pena). A Million Miles Away (Prime Video).

 Another missed opportunity was to showcase the moment of Franklin Chang’s success in going to space which lit the fire under Hernandez. The inspiration led to a chance encounter for Hernandez as Chang himself approved Jose on the committee for astronaut applications.

I was both impressed and relieved by the linear telling of the story, too often biopics want to cut back and forth between the past and present. Even Jose’s father Salvador (Julio Cesar Cedillo) says, “This is not your future, but it is your past” and Abella applies those words in her own storytelling.

Going into space is hard, for all involved in A Million Miles Away

A Million Miles Away did not shy away from introducing some (unfortunately) famous names. There is a scene with Hernandez and Kalpana Chawla (Sarayu Blue) where she confides the importance of striving to achieve their goals as they are both minorities. For those familiar with NASA, she was on the disastrous 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle that was destroyed upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere. The disaster itself is tensely shown from Jose’s point of view as he was celebrating his more recent triumphs in the space program.

Easily this sequence lodged itself into my heart, as by that point we had celebrated over an hour of perseverance just to be railroaded by an explosion that took away one of his mentors. By this moment, there were many smiles and tears. Not as many shocks, but this one packed a rocket punch. The Columbia Shuttle investigation held a huge cloud over NASA and they were grounded for two years. This would have easily deterred anyone else, yet Jose carries on and finds himself finally selected on STS-128. 

In a Mexican household, family is insanely important and there’s a great manner in showcasing the struggles that impact the rest of them while working towards a difficult goal. Specifically, while Jose is at the Johnson Space Center training late (again), Adela’s frustration at his absence boils out onto the driveway where she has enough and leaves the garbage strewn out after a bag tears in her hands.

Equally, the children both understand but suffer from their father’s obsession to reach the stars. Parallel to Jose is his cousin Beto (Bobby Soto) who recognizes that Jose is different and meant to reach the stars. His cousin is fully aware that Jose’s dream is attainable for him and is constantly pushing Jose to keep it up.

A Million Miles Away- Jose at Sink
Jose Hernandez (Michael Pena). A Million Miles Away (Prime Video).

Imagine the wind that left my gut when Jose received a call and we cut away to a funeral. Beto’s love for Jose permeates through Beto’s daughter who holds him to the promise of going to space… for Beto.

As Jose prepares for the final weeks before going up, he reminisces over every decision, preparation, and motivation that led him to that moment. In a wonderful montage of the moments leading to the last days, we go back to the beginning and Jose gets a visit from his teacher who first lobbied for Jose to have the opportunity to have his education focused on by his parents. As Mrs. Young (Michelle Krusiec) recounts, she had waited over 30 years, and unfolds an assignment from Jose which was a drawing of “What I Want to be when I Grow Up” and it’s him as an astronaut. 

Other hilarious moments are interspersed throughout and even self-referenced. On his first week at Lawrence Livermore, he opts not to take his mom’s enchiladas to work as he doesn’t want to be known as “the enchilada guy”. When the Discovery is on the screen and he’s about to go into space, his mom slyly ponders in front of the television and family “I wonder if they’d let him take some enchiladas up there”. Jose himself does something similar when he decides to sing his beloved songs from Mexico on the starship Discovery as earlier on, he tried to fit in by listening to Devo’s “Whip It” and sloppily tries to sing along. 

Final thoughts on Prime Video’s A Million Miles Away

All in all, for a biopic telling an unheard story, A Million Miles Away manages to stay the course. A fun two-hour dive into the story of a hard worker who realized a great dream in the face of many obstacles. The music choices do a great job of placing us in the settings throughout the decades of his tale.

Jose Hernandez is an inspiration and this film will only ignite a fire to go into space as it happened to him. Pena puts in a performance that I haven’t seen from him since his work on Crash years ago. Salazar is an equal standout and I hope to see her in many more projects to come in the future.

Another notable great was Soto as Beto was very instrumental to Jose’s life. The ending includes the obligatory “where are they now” updates on his life and I feel nearly convinced to go out and read the biography Reaching for the Stars .

My rating for this film

★★★/ ♥♥♥♥♥

A Million Miles Away launches on Prime Video on September 15. Will you be watching this at home under the stars? Join our Discord and let us know what you think of the movie when it releases!

Source: NASA

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Anthony Flagg

Howdy! I cover a variety of topics for The Cosmic Circus. My favorite topics to write about are video games, Pokemon and music. Drop me a line on Twitter! @redovah_

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