Star Wars: The Last Jedi (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)2017 (March 27, 2018)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS IN ITS DISCUSSION OF THE FILM
Having destroyed Starkiller Base, but lost Han Solo in the process, the heroes of the Resistance have no time to regroup, as the First Order launches an immediate counterattack. General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and their forces barely have time to flee before General Hux destroys their base. But their escape could be short-lived; the Resistance fleet is low on fuel and the First Order has new technology that can track them through hyperspace. So Finn (John Boyega) hatches a plan to find a “hacker” who can help them defeat this capability. Meanwhile, on the mysterious planet Ahch-To, Rey (Daisy Ridley) discovers that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and even the Force itself, are not what she expected them to be.
Following J.J. Abrams’ highly-successful The Force Awakens (reviewed on Blu-ray here) would have been a daunting challenge for even a veteran filmmaker, which made Lucasfilm’s announcement that the task would fall to relative newcomer Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick, The Brothers Bloom) somewhat unexpected. But not only did Johnson deliver the highest-grossing film of 2017 (and the second-highest grossing entry of this franchise), he delivered something completely unexpected – a surprising Star Wars film, perhaps the most surprising since The Empire Strikes Back. He’s also breathed new life and new possibility into a franchise too long overburdened with the convoluted soap opera dramas of the Skywalker family and the endless machinations of Sith vs. Jedi.
One thing is clear after watching this film, and especially after watching The Director and The Jedi documentary and the Balance of the Force featurette that are among the special features on this Blu-ray release: Rian Johnson has a far more insightful understanding of Star Wars than people give him credit for. While many fans are obsessed with the trappings this universe, Johnson has gone much deeper in his analysis, grounding every choice he’s made in this film in cues from the Original Trilogy, as well as some of George Lucas’ own inspirations for these films (most notably the work of Akira Kurosawa). The notion of apprentices/offspring being burdened with (and having to atone for) the sins of their masters/parents runs deep in this franchise. The Last Jedi finds Luke Skywalker closed off from the Force and the Jedi tradition, having correctly realized that the legacy of that tradition is one of failure. We see it in literally every film in this series: In the prequels, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fail to prevent Anakin from becoming Darth Vader, and the Jedi as a whole – at the height of their power – are unable to see the plan of a single Sith to wipe them out and dominate the galaxy. In the Original Trilogy, Obi-Wan and Yoda are unable to prevent their apprentice Luke from acting rashly, which nearly costs them everything again. Only by the skin of his teeth is Luke able to turn his father from the Dark Side, and the hubris of that success leads Luke to believe he can restore the Jedi order to glory, which we learned in The Force Awakens resulted in yet another failure in the creation of Kylo Ren. But Luke overcorrects, thinking that the Jedi must end completely, not seeing that Rey might represent something new – a new way to connect with the Force, a new way to find balance. Even this story’s revelation of how Luke failed, shown from three slightly different perspectives, is an idea that’s not only drawn from Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon but from Obi-Wan’s own statement in Return of the Jedi: “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” What’s more, Luke’s failures spring directly from the tendency to rashness that Yoda points out in him in The Empire Strikes Back (and that we see in Star Wars too when Luke rushes back to his homestead on Tatooine only to find it burning, an act Obi-Wan tries to prevent).
But Luke’s deeds in this new trilogy, far from being out of character, also reveal a willingness to sacrifice himself for the greater good – something we saw in Empire when he was willing to plunge to his death rather than take Vader’s outstretched hand. He’s grown since then. Recall this exchange, right before Luke rushes off into danger in that film:
Luke: “And sacrifice Han and Leia?”
Yoda: “If you honor what they fight for, yes.”
Luke’s actions, as revealed in The Last Jedi, are hardly those of a coward or someone who doesn’t love and honor his friends. On the contrary, they’re the most noble of all, and the most personally costly, even if Luke ultimately realizes that… sometimes… the symbolism of a hero, earned or not, realistic or not, is exactly what the galaxy needs. His final act fulfills this need, for both the galaxy and those he loves most, even as the confrontation once again draws inspiration from Kurosawa (in this case, his classic The Seven Samurai).
Each of the characters in this film are logical extensions of what we’ve seen before. Though heroic and altruistic, Luke’s flaws have been there from the start. Leia’s strength has been a constant too, but watching these films reveals a string of deep personal losses that she suffers, losses which have finally taken their toll in The Last Jedi – we even see her break briefly at the end of this film, until we also see (in her very last scene and words to Rey) that Luke has restored her hope. Rey, Finn, and Poe too are extensions of the characters we first met in The Force Awakens, and yet each of them must learn a difficult lesson in The Last Jedi – which makes complete sense when you remember that it’s literally only been a few days since their story started (of in-universe time). Though Rey has felt the Force building within her since she was a child, she has an incredibly naive idea of what it is and how it works; Luke must bring her understanding into focus. Poe is a hotshot pilot, not unlike Han Solo, with no shortage of heroism but a tendency to think before he acts; Leia knows that if he’s to become a true leader he needs more than courage. And Finn still fears what the First Order can do, and only wants to save his newfound friends; what he must learn is not just what’s worth fighting for but how best to fight for it. This film also forces its central hero – Rey – to face the toughest thing she possibly could, mirroring Luke’s challenge in The Empire Strikes Back. For Luke, the worst thing he could learn was that the person he hates most is actually his father. For Rey, it’s that the family she’s always wanted is not the one she expected or needs; she’s going to have to stand on her own and forge her own destiny. Again, every one of these choices is deeply grounded in the traditions of Star Wars.
But Johnson also realizes that for Star Wars to remain fresh and relevant, it can’t continue simply to be the story of the Skywalker family. Nor can it be an endless cycle of a resurgent Jedi triggering a corresponding rise of Sith, and vice versa. The franchise needs to go in new directions, while retaining the essence of what makes Star Wars so compelling – the sense of adventure, the Force within all of us, that binds us all together, the mythological idea of good rallying to defeat evil, and the quest for a better way that benefits everyone. That struggle of good and evil, and the balance of the Force, will always be the heart of Star Wars, but to keep the franchise alive it needs new stories, told from new perspectives, set in new far-flung locations, featuring new and unlikely heroes.
That’s not to say The Last Jedi is perfect, or doesn’t have missteps. There is, perhaps, too much comedy up front, starting with Poe’s missed-connection conversation with Hux. Luke casually tossing away the lightsaber Rey offers him is also played a little too large, such that it almost feels like slapstick. Both of these things are jarring given the film’s overall tone. Star Wars films have always had humor, to be sure, but rarely so early out of the gate. Perhaps the biggest misfire is Finn and Rose’s trip to Canto Bight. The plotting here feels awkward: We leave the ticking clock situation of the Resistance fleet in order to take a side trip to find a guy who can come back and help solve the ticking clock situation. It’s also frustrating because it’s motivated by a new First Order technology that can track ships through hyperspace, a plot device that not only seems contrived, but ill-advised. It’s similar to an idea Star Trek: The Next Generation briefly flirted with, which is that the use of warp drive damages the fabric of space. It might make sense conceptually, but it needlessly constrains future storytelling. (Indeed, Star Trek writers dropped the idea almost immediately.) A better idea here might have been to have the First Order able to track the Resistance fleet because Finn, as a former Stormtrooper, has a tracking device implanted in him. This would have helped his character arc in the film too; for the first time in his life, Finn wants to turn and fight the First Order, but he has to flee to save his friends – something they may or may not have understood. Rather than taking place in a Phantom Menace-esque CG hangar bay, his final confrontation with Phasma could have happened on Canto Bight instead (giving Phasma more to do). And Kylo could have sensed his mother’s presence on Crait through the Force, so the story could have ended up there anyway, with all of the characters coming back together for the final confrontation. These plotting issues aside, however, there’s so much that feels refreshing and unexpected in The Last Jedi that it’s easy to forgive the film’s missteps. Yoda’s scene with Luke alone is worth the price of admission, ranking highly among this franchise’s best moments. Luke’s redemption arc is brought to life by a deeply human performance by Mark Hamill, quite possibly the finest of his career. Without intending to, the film also gifts us with a beautiful final performance by the late Carrie Fisher, one that honors both the actor and her character’s legacy perfectly.
For those who can’t overlook this film’s flaws, and find them to be particularly outrageous or unforgivable, perhaps a little perspective is in order. Go back and read the “letters to the editor” printed in the pages of Starlog magazine (and the fanzines of the day), in the year or two after The Empire Strikes Back was released in theaters in 1980, to see all the complaints there were. You might be surprised to learn how many people called the revelation of Darth Vader as Luke’s father lame, upsetting, and a “plot hole” because of Ben’s comment to Luke that Vader had killed his father, etc. The more things change, the more they stay the same. One can’t help wondering (and shuddering to think) what the negative reaction might have been had the Internet and social media existed in 1980. Such angry fans appear to have ignored Yoda’s admonition to “unlearn what you have learned.” Perhaps Yoda should have been more specific: “Not to be taken seriously, the Internet is.”
Star Wars: The Last Jedi was photographed partly on 35mm photochemical film using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses (with a bit of 65mm footage shot using IMAX cameras) and partly with digital capture in ARRIRAW (2.8, 3.4 and 6.5K) using Arri Alexa cameras. (Note: The final mix of film to digital is about 50/50.) It was finished as a 4K Digital Intermediate, graded for high dynamic range (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are available), and is presented on 4K Ultra HD in the 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Steve Yedlin’s cinematography (and the stunning production design, inspired in part by Kurosawa’s Ran) is bold and striking, and this 4K image represents it perfectly. Detail and fine texturing is absolutely exquisite. You’ll see this right up front, as the usual pin-prick starfield pans down to reveal a gorgeously detailed planet, with a light-but-steady (and lovely) photochemical grain structure in evidence. When Poe begins his X-Wing run on the First Order Star Destroyer, note the texturing in his flight suit, the dust and reflections on his fighter canopy, even the subtle detail of wear and tear on his helmet. This is something of a dark film, so your appreciation of the contrast and HDR here will be improved either by viewing this on a truly bright display or by your ability to view the film with Dolby Vision. Either way, this image delivers truly dark blacks, and genuinely bright (eye-reactive but not blinding) highlights. And the color! One glimpse of C-3P0’s gleaming gold plating in either HDR10 or Dolby Vision will immediately reveal the benefits of HDR in broadening and deepening the color palette of a film like this, not to mention the way it enhances the transitions between those colors.
The primary audio option on the 4K disc is a reference-quality English 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos mix that delivers all the muscular acoustics you’ve come to expect from a Star Wars film, with exceptional clarity and spaciousness, natural and immersive staging, and an incredibly strong foundation of bass. But it’s the effortless precision of this mix that’s perhaps most impressive, not to mention its wonderful sense of atmospherics. In Chapter 7, as Rey picks up her lightsaber in the island environment of Ahch-To, listen as the sound of sea, waves, wind, and Porg calls filter in softly from all around, with an impressively open and airy quality. Moments later, the scene shifts into Luke’s stone hut and the sound environment closes in a bit while still reflecting the space depicted on screen. When the scene shifts again to Snoke’s audience chamber, the soundfield becomes cavernous and cathedral-like. Snoke’s every sneer and whisper lingers in the air for a moment before decaying. The height channels not only complete the soundfield overhead, they engage often with vertical direction cues not just in action sequences but in unexpected moments too. Simply put, this mix is impressive as hell. Additional audio options on the 4K disc include English and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, and English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, with optional subtitles in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.
There are no extras whatsoever on the 4K disc (not even the commentary), but the package includes the 2-disc Blu-ray edition as well. The first Blu-ray is movie-only, with the film in 1080p HD, as well as:
- Audio Commentary with director Rian Johnson
The second disc is all bonus content, and includes the following special features in HD (with optional subtitles in English for the hearing impaired, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai):
- The Director and The Jedi (95:23)
- Balance of the Force (10:17)
- Scene Breakdown: Lighting the Spark – Creating the Space Battle (14:23)
- Scene Breakdown: Snoke and Mirrors (5:40)
- Scene Breakdown: Showdown on Crait (12:56)
- Andy Serkis Live!: One Night Only (5:49)
You also get 14 Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary by Johnson):
- Introduction from Rian Johnson (:49)
- Alternate Opening (1:32)
- Paige’s Gun Jams (:33)
- Luke Has a Moment (1:02)
- Poe: Not Much of a Sewer (:41)
- It’s Kind of Weird That You Recorded That (:54)
- The Caretaker Sizes Up Rey (:37)
- Caretaker Village Sequence (2:52)
- Extended Fathier Chase (5:45)
- Mega Destroyer Incursion – Extended Version (3:49)
- Rose Bites the Hand That Taunts Her (1:05)
- Phasma Squealed Like a Whoop Hog (1:30)
- Rose & Finn Go to Where They Belong (:27)
- Rey & Chewie in the Falcon (:11)
- The Costumes and Creatures of Canto Bight (1:29)
Now this is how you do Blu-ray extras! Let this disc be a lesson to every other studio that’s paying attention. There is no EPK material here, this content is all created specifically for the fans, not for promotion/salesmanship purposes. The bonus features are not glossy but are substantive and candid, giving you a terrific look behind the scenes on the making of this film. It’s clear that Johnson had a hand in curating this content, and that he’s a fan of a great special edition experience. To start with, The Director and The Jedi is one of the best, most honest and refreshing Blu-ray features in recent memory. Your view is fly-on-the-wall, there to see a number of key moments in the production. Two, in particular, are quite moving, including Mark Hamill seeing Frank Oz performing Yoda for the first time in years, and also Mark and Carrie shooting their critical scene together late in the film. The rest of its content you should discover for yourself. The next best feature here is Balance of the Force, which may (and should) deepen your appreciation of what Johnson’s done with this film thematically. The audio commentary is good too, including more production stores as well as additional story and character insights. The scene breakdowns are straight-up featurettes, well worth your time, and there are some genuinely great deleted scenes too. You can understand why these were cut, but they’re great nonetheless. Finally, the Andy Serkis feature is a chance to see the climactic Snoke scene with Serkis’ unenhanced performance. Of course, you also get a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert. There’s also a kind of unadvertised feature available via the Movies Anywhere app: the complete film can be viewed with John Williams’ isolated score only, sans dialogue and sound effects. This is every bit as cool as you’d hope, and the only disappointment is that it’s not actually on either of the Blu-ray versions – frustrating, if you’re not a digital consumer. There are no trailers, sadly, nor are there image galleries. In any case, every bit of the content you do get here is wonderful and welcome. This is the one finest special edition experiences of the last few years, the kind that’s become all too rare on Blu-ray of late.
Rian Johnson’s smart and surprising The Last Jedi honors everything that makes Star Wars and its foundational characters so compelling, while taking significant steps in a new (and much needed) direction for this franchise. It’s a film that will almost certainly grow in appreciation in the years ahead. In any case, Disney and Lucasfilm’s 4K Ultra HD release is straight-up reference quality and its extras are a Force to be reckoned with. This release is highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt
(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)
A Personal Note from the Editor:
Different people can have completely different reactions to a film, both positive and negative, that are entirely valid and justified. I like this film and have a very good argument to make as to why I do. I’m certainly a film expert and a Star Wars expert. In 1977-78 I saw the original film more than 100 times in the theater, I’ve studied film for more than 30 years, and been a professional film critic and historian for more than 20 here on The Digital Bits and elsewhere. I’ve gotten more than my 10,000 hours in. And I found a lot to appreciate in The Last Jedi. Others don’t. I have no problem with that. It’s to be expected, even celebrated, and I respect that wholehearted.
We must always remember that while there is objective truth in the world, the human reaction to art is – first and foremost – subjective and personal. As such, the anger and animosity this film has generated among some fans online is excessive and ridiculous. So much so, in fact, that I tend to think there’s more going on here than mere film criticism. There are some who seem to feel that this film personally attacks and insults their very identities as fans and human beings, and are using this as a pretext to lash out at others online. This is sheer silliness. The flip side of being entitled to an opinion is that others are just as entitled to theirs. And if you want anyone at all to respect your opinion, you have to respect the opinions of others too.
In other words, have and share your opinion! Just don’t be a dick about it.