Updated: Feb 14, 2021
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Princess Leia dispatches Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her team including Finn (John Boyega), Chewie, C-3PO, and Poe (Oscar Isaac) to the desert of Pasaana, to meet a mysterious contact. What they find is ten of thousands celebrating the Acky Acky Festival of the Ancestors.
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“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action; Streaming via Amazon Video Prime (4K), Apple TV, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The two-hour documentary “The Skywalker Legacy”
NO MATTER how you feel about the final installment of “Star Wars,” producer/writer/director J.J. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio (“Argo”) took a stab at finishing the nine-part saga, stretching over 43-years, with a fanboy enthusiasm. Critics and fans were divided; some consider it an absolute mess and others praise the adventurous scramble.
Overall, audiences were less receptive. The global box office tanked a $1 billion less than Abrams’ first, “Episode VII – The Force Awakens” (2015) that cracked $2 billion-plus worldwide. It also fell $300 million less than Rian Johnson’s (“Knives Out”) middle chapter, “Episode VII – The Last Jedi” (2017), when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) met with an unexpected death. It didn’t sit well with fans, who then rebelled against the franchise and Disney’s ownership.
But Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren, a.k.a Ben Solo is what keeps “Rise of Skywalker” on track. He’s still reeling from Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) decision to side with the Resistance instead of joining him as Supreme Leaders of the iniquitous First Order. Kylo remains unaware he’s being manipulated by Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), who has plans for Rey before she finishes her Jedi training with Princess Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher in archival footage.
(1&2) Kylo Ren leads a vicious assault against Alazmec colonists on Mustafar, to get the Sith wayfinder. (3) The device guided Kylo to Exegol to find the returned Sith Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).
That leftover footage of Fisher from Episode VII became a godsend for Abrams and company helping to build several key scenes. In one instance, Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd, already cast as Lieutenant Connix, plays a young Princess Leia during a brief flashback. The similarities to her mother are striking. Originally, Abrams was a producer until director Colin Trevorrow (“Jurassic World”) was fired.
“We couldn’t let Leia not be in this story,” producer and President of Lucasfilm Ltd. Kathleen Kennedy says in the comprehensive “Skywalker Legacy” documentary. “Leia is extremely important as a part of the conclusion of this saga, so we had to figure that out.”
During a backstage clip from “The Empire Strikes Back,” Fisher says, “I will probably be Princess Leia till I’m 85 years old. Are you happy now?” Kennedy also thanks to George Lucas for creating what she calls, “Certainly one of the feistiest female heroines ever in cinema.”
Mark Hamill chimes in about his onscreen sister, and how Leia is different from a traditional fairy tale princess. “She was far from being a damsel in distress,” he says. He also recalls an early scene in “Episode IV – The New Hope” when he [Luke] and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are trying to rescue Leia. He says, “She found both Han and I incompetent. And, you call this a rescue? Give me those guns.” He concludes, “It still makes me laugh.”
In a clip from Episode IV Han says, “What the hell are you doing?” and Leia responds, “Somebody has to save our skins.” Fisher goes on to say, “She’s [Leia] just authoritative and just plows ahead, it doesn’t matter…I like her independence.”
(1&2) Footage of Carrie Fisher from Episode VII was used to create meaningful scenes between Princess Leia and Rey. (3) The celebration of the Acky Acky Festival of the Ancestors. (4) Rey discovers she has unleashed powers that destroy a transporter.
Abrams was confident that he, his editor and visual effects supervisor could make the footage work and would be “100 percent Carrie Fisher,” says producer Michelle Rejwan. Terrio and Abrams started writing the script based on Fisher’s unused lines. There was constant communication with editor Maryann Brandon on each piece of film. “What is she doing, how does she look, how does she say the line?” Brandon says. Strangely, they didn’t consider using any leftover footage of Fisher from Johnson’s Episode VIII.
In an interview before the first script reading of Episode VII, Fisher says, “What I felt like with J.J. was he loved these films in the same way a lot of people do. They’re part of your childhood. And so there’s a tremendous responsibility to that. To this thing that he treasured.” Abrams wanted to make sure her footage both served a story purpose, an entertainment purpose, and honored her and the character. Another challenge was staging, where other characters were placed around Leia. Animated storyboards were created with her footage, with hand-drawn figures added representing other cast members.
Getting into the right frame and mind was easier said than done for actress Daisy Ridley. “The reality of having to do a scene with someone who isn’t actually there…was very difficult. I sort of had to walk off and have a moment,” she says. It was also, “Incredibly painful, surreal… all of the adjectives that you can come up with, probably, I felt,” Fisher’s daughter says. “But, I’m so happy, and she would be happy that it’s her movie too.”
“Rise of Skywalker” has plenty of action, minus some of the sight gags and comedy that Johnson had inserted into Episode VIII. A spectacular lightsaber battle takes place on the wreckage of the second Death Star (DS-2), with massive waves crashing on both sides as the love-hate relationship intensifies between Rey and Kylo. A section of the documentary highlights the stunt training Ridley and Driver received from energetic stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart. “Every stunt that happens, she actually projects herself into the role, and she’s doing it. Her entire body is moving in front of the monitor when she watches,” says Kennedy.
Much of the gang is back, primarily Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac, Leia’s successor and co-equal Finn played by John Boyega. We can’t forget Chewie, droids R2-D2, C-3PO and the delightful BB-9. Yes, Billy Dee Williams returns as General Lando Calrissian.
The remaining extras on disc and digital include featurettes underlining the creation of the speeder chase sequence, filming in the Jordanian desert, the return of the Ewok’s, the puppetry team and a digital exclusive “The Maestro’s Finale,” with composer John Williams.
The Three Faces of Rey
4K Disc 4K Digital Blu-ray
Rey's reaction to her unleashed powers was used to examine fine detail between the 4K disc, 4K digital via Movies Anywhere and the Blu-ray. The 4K disc extracted the finest detail from film grain, facial markings and more controlled contrast levels from highlights, mid-tones, and shadows.
Abrams has always been a proponent of filming on 35mm film, with anamorphic lens (2.39:1 aspect ratio), and that’s the case here. The folks at Disney and Lucasfilm made sure it was scanned and mastered in 4K including the nearly 2,000 visual effect shots. The results are stunning – especially the desert scene with its bright landscape and extra level of depth field of focus.
We sampled a brief scene as Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, and C-3PO first see the Acky Acky Festival of the Ancestors. The 4K disc with HDR10 (disc) and Dolby Vision (digital) was the clear winner extracting more of the natural film grain, facial and hair texture, and balanced color toning. The Blu-ay seems to inch out the 4K digital for next best sharpness, but it’s missing a bunch of mid-tones and first level highlights. Clouds are less impressive and separation between the sand and desert bushes is muddy. The Blu-ray is brighter and the colors are slightly pushed to the showy side, but overall a nice watch. In the 4K digital, the colors are a little less saturated than the 4K disc, and the contrast is a half notch less than the disc. But the overall color palette is right in line with the 4K disc.
The 4K disc and digital feature the expansive Dolby Atmos eight-channel soundtrack. It needs to be turned up to get the volume at theater levels. Still even then, the bass response is slightly underwhelming compared to the Dolby Theater experience I had back in December in Southern California. It’s not my system since I have powered subwoofers in my tower speakers and center speaker. The rest of the sound spectrum is full and responsive from the Oscar-nominated sound editing and effects to the music cues from Williams’ who received his 52nd Oscar nomination.
Disney should be saluted for another fine 4K experience, plus for releasing the complete Star Wars Collection this week on 4K disc. There should be enough Star Wars to keep most fans happy for a little while as we wait out the virus. Be safe and let the force be with you.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1&2) Rey, Finn, Poe, and Chewie arrive on the ocean moon of Kef Bif to locate the Sith wayfinder on the wreckage of the Second Death Star. (3) Trusted droids BB-9 and C-3PO.
(1) The battle between Rey and Kylo is on the wreckage of the second Death Star, which was originally 124 miles in diameter. (2) Finn and Jannah (Naomi Ackie) formerly known as Stormtrooper TZ-1719. (3&4) Rey impales Kylo, but then she heals his wound.