January 4, 2018
Many more Bothans died to bring us this movie review
by Ian Dreiblatt
A long time ago, in a political and economic climate far, far away, Star Wars was a movie.
Now, it’s a whole lot of things, a nebulous expanse of cultural space through which swirl the vanishing half-memories of a gone-too-soon cartoon series about neurotic robots, a whole line of lines of cosmetics, a pretext for some truly inexcusable meat-itude (along with some very excusable lighter eating), and, hardly least of all, a franchise that promises to put one film in theaters every year for the rest of all of our lives, or until Bob Iger learns he cannot eat money. (JK, Bob — you’re beautiful, keep ’em coming.)
This is a predicament for the movie reviewers of the world. On the one hand, every visit terrestrial humanity is invited to make with Luke, Obi-Wan, and my favorite, Chewie, amounts to a major event in the history of cinemagic — a cash-soaked, laser-bright upgrade to our shared inner map of movie-making possibility, and, accordingly, a big opportunity for reviewers to shake their stuff. At the same time, the law of averages tells us that, as Hollywood’s output creeps ever closer to total Star Wars saturation, each individual Star Wars movie becomes progressively less important, more and more just another episode — say, the one with the greasy spoon run by robots, or with the guest spot by Laura Dern, or, in one notoriously extreme case, the one where Darth Vader is a six-year-old kid born to a virgin in the desert. Anyhow, what to do.
Luckily, there is one reviewer who can restore balance: Cherjo Shpini. As we’ve written before, Cherjo is the ultimate Star Wars movie reviewer, one who sees each new Star Wars from all angles, deploys every analysis, really gets it. Cherjo is, to put it in terms we can all understand, our only hope.
And here, without further ado, is Cherjo Shpini’s review of The Last Jedi (which, don’t say no one told you, is full o’ spoilers):
Allow me to go personal for a minute. I was precisely the wrong age and mind-set for “Star Wars” in 1977, a 20-year-old film-studies snot grooving on all these “difficult” moviemakers I was then discovering: Fassbinder, Bergman, Kurosawa, the lot.
With The Last Jedi I finally got to see my dreams come true. More importantly, in ways far cooler (complete with tension and dramatic purpose and story advancement) than I ever could imagine. Rian Johnson, writer and director of this film, took my Star Wars reveries and served them back to me with vast improvements. The Last Jedi made Johnson the only person outside of George Lucas to have sole writing and directing credit on a Star Wars movie, but there was still the worrisome possibility that we might end up with a story directed, no matter how well, by committee.
Johnson conjures a far, far away galaxy in the original Jedi master’s image of violent oppression and valiant rebellion, a family feud and cosmic obligations. What’s more, Johnson’s done this all with a middle film, the heaviest lift in any trilogy. While there are elements nodding to “The Empire Strikes Back”—the second and best of the original three—“The Last Jedi” is no copycat.
The story is a tangle, but its complications are mitigated by Mr. Johnson’s quick pace and the appealing performers. Like most contemporary action flicks, this one more or less plays out as a succession of fights, chases and time outs (for chatting, scheming or lonely musing) across two or more plot lines. (If there’s one key theme that runs through this movie, it’s that of sacrifice.) Across the galaxy, Rey is desperate to convince Luke to pull himself out his self-imposed exile to join the battle against his former protégé, Kylo Ren. It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that the hero of the original trilogy gets a lot more screen-time than the 30 seconds he notched at the end of the last installment, “The Force Awakens.” Not Yoda will he be, apparently. What’s eating Luke?
A ridiculous bully who thinks he’s classy is one of the funniest things in the world, and Johnson signals to us that he knows it. On that front, The Last Jedi is a pure success, accessing the molten core of its drama and grappling with it in nuanced ways. Where the earlier films dealt with destiny, Rey and Ren both live in a galaxy of ambiguity, and that’s Johnson’s métier. Could it be a brilliant move? Certainly. Could the whole thing go horribly wrong? Absolutely.
The Last Jedi is Adam Driver’s to rule as much as Force Awakens was Daisy Ridley’s, and he’s awesome in it. The Last Jedi belongs to Mark Hamill in a portrayal that cuts to the core of what Star Wars means to a generation of dreamers looking to the heavens. “The Last Jedi” is Carrie Fisher’s swan song. “Last Jedi” is deep. It’s also rollicking.
With a running time of two and a half hours, “The Last Jedi” drags a bit in the second act. The climactic last 45 minutes of the film is as thrilling and spectacular as anything Star Wars has ever given us. And there is no provisional hesitation or energy dip of the sort that might have been expected between episodes seven and nine. As is often the case with “Star Wars,” a certain battle fatigue begins to set in after two hours, but Johnson possesses an instinct for when he has gone over his limit, and he varies or scales back on the space battles each time he needs to.
After long skating around anything political, “The Last Jedi”—whether it’s meant to be or not—has the tenor of a rallying cry. (Has Driver ever played Hamlet?) Go ahead and try to watch the penultimate scene without crying, or pretending not to.
You can only sit around talking about the Force that binds everything in the universe for so long without something funny happening. Most of the new characters could use more heft, purpose and edge to their personalities, and they have a tendency to turn up hither and yon without much of a clue how they got there; drawing a geographical map of their movements would create an impenetrable network of lines.
The tantalizing possibility of some sexual chemistry in this Manichean battle poses the next question: Where’s the glint in the eyes, the bravado, the confidence that points towards a swashbuckling future? Lockstep consensus is cultivated not with chewily carnivorous troglodytes flaunting wanton violence and cruel spews of gore but with purpose and virtue, devotion and tradition, in the unimpeachable and unexceptionable name of liberation.
So, there you have it. It is perhaps worth noting that Cherjo Shpini doesn’t actually watch movies — instead, just reads a ton of movie reviews in order of decreasing Metacrtitic score. (As for me, I thought it was plenty of fun, and kind of dumb. I was very glad to see Snoke die because Snoke obviously never belonged here. I was thankful to Mark Hamill for being the only one of the assembled Olds to act like being in movies is fun. And I do not think Kylo has the temperament to excel in his new position.)
Anyhow, if you’re wondering where Cherjo gets their opinions, here’s where: from Ty Burr in the Boston Globe, Jordan Hoffman in the Guardian, Sam Adams in Slate, Steve Persall in the Tampa Bay Times, Sara Stewart in the New York Post, Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice, Ethan Sacks in the New York Daily News, David Edelstein in Vulture, Stephanie Zacharek in Time, Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair, Richard Whittaker in the Austin Chronicle, Calvin Wilson in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Peter Travers in Rolling Stone, Brian Truitt in USA Today, Michael Philips in the Chicago Tribune, Soren Andersen in the Seattle Times, Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times, Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly, Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Guardian, Jake Coyle for the Associated Press, Peter Rainer for the Christian Science Monitor, Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post, Bill Goodykoontz in the Arizona Republic, Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter, Kate Taylor in the Globe and Mail, Roger Moore in Movie Nation, and Richard Brody in the New Yorker.
Next year, Cherjo will be writing about the Han Solo movie Ron Howard’s directing. According to early reports, if we’re subjected to actually seeing him win the Millennium Falcon off Childish Gambino, Cherjo will be very angry indeed.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.