“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” – a mixed bag of delight and dismay

Updated: May 11


UPDATED 4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

Rey is face-to-face with Supreme Leader Snoke during Episode VIII - The Last Jedi.


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“STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI”


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2017; PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence; streaming via Amazon Video (4K), Apple TV, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)


Best extra: "The Director and the Jedi" documentary









CRITICS LOVED IT. But millions of Star Wars fans – not so much.


RottonTomatoes’ audience score doesn’t even hit 50 percent. Still, bean counters give it high marks; “The Last Jedi” is the 2017 U.S. box-office champ earning $620 million and, worldwide, $1.3 billion. All disc formats sold out at Amazon in three days.


But what works and what doesn’t? At 152 minutes, this is a long one. An opening space battle where Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) surprisingly knocks out most of the rebel fleet goes on. And on. Sadly, Poe, a character who was so good in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a drag here.


The story perks up when John Boyega’s Finn, the ex-First Order stormtrooper, who is now a Resistance hero, comes into play. He’s joined by two new characters; maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and DJ (Benicio Del Toro), a mysterious character they meet on Canto Bight, the casino planet. Like Vegas on Earth, Canto Bight hides a dark atmosphere behind its glittering façade.


(1) Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) flies the Black One against the Dreadnought Fulminatrix. (2) First Order starships are under the command of General Armitage Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). (3) Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) (4) Captain Canady (Mark Lewis Jones) orders to fire the orbital autocannons. (5&6) The last Resistance Star Fortress bomber drops its payload and destroys The Fulminatrix and the Cobalt Hammer as Poe watches.






Rey (Daisy Ridley) continues to drive the action as she tries to convince Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to rejoin the rebellion. While she trains with Luke, she shares an intermittent psychic connection with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He might be ashamed over his defeat at the end of “The Force Awakens,” but seems to have become angrier, and more powerful and focused. At last Kylo feels like a threat. But Rey senses conflict within him that she feels is similar to what Luke and his father, Darth Vader experienced. We begin to care for Kylo because Rey cares, wondering if she could be right. The suspense is good.

Still, like J.J. Abrams and his co-writers before, director/writer Rian Johnson never quite gets the hang of the original characters. Luke and Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) have some good moments. Fisher sometimes sparkles. Other scenes, as when the general bids farewell to Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern in plum haute couture), ring false.


By the finale, however, there’s a sense of the old “Star Wars’” energy – and that’s very good.


(1&2) Rey arrives on Ahch-To and finds Luke Skywalker on a small rocky island, where the ancient Jedi text are stored. A number of marine mammals called Thala-siren are on the island. (3&4) Before Poe and BB-8 can board their X-wing starfighter, Kylo Ren fires a torpedo into a hangar and destroys most of the Resistance fighters.






VIDEO

When Disney announced it would release “The Last Jedi” on 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos, possibilities of it becoming an amazing experience – especially since it was rendered and mastered in 4K – increased. That guarantees excellence at the highest level.


“The Last Jedi” was captured on 35mm film (2.39:1 aspect ratio - digital in a few spots with 2.8K to 6.5K cameras) and processed daily at Cinelab in London. It was then scanned digitally in 4K so film editor Bob Ducsay could start the assembling, while Johnson, producer Ram Bergman, and cinematographer Steve Yedlin, (longtime collaborators since USC film school) watched dailies at Pinewood Studios – the same studio where George Lucas launched Episode IV.


The 4K is superior to other viewing formats. It’s not even close, especially in wide shots. The clarity upgrade is noticeable at the start, with John Williams score and the opening crawl: “Episode VIII – THE LAST JEDI – The FIRST ORDER. Having decimated the peaceful Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy….”


Clarity again shines when young, would-be Jedi Rey arrives at Luke Skywalker’s island refuge, filmed off the west coast of Ireland. The jagged rocks are well-defined, while facial close-ups reveal the smallest markings, even a faint scar on Rey’s cheek. HDR is excellent with highlights bouncing throughout the clouds, to shadow detail inside Luke’s small hut, to the deeper and realistic orange-tones of campfires and the saturated reds at Snoke’s throne chamber. A natural wash of film grain enhances the cinematic experience.


AUDIO

The Dolby Atmos is only available on the 4K, heightening Williams’ nostalgia-inducing, Oscar-nominated score, the jazzy casino theme, and endless effects which envelope the room from ceiling to floor, and front and back.


The Blu-ray has a dynamic eight-channel DTS-HD soundtrack, providing a punch of its own. Overall, the soundtracks were mastered at a slightly lower volume, so it’s necessary to crank it up.



(1) During the First Order raid, the Raddus's bridge was hit and most of the Resistance's high command was killed, but somehow Princess Leia survives. (2) Maz Kanata tells Poe, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Finn to find the Master Codebreaker in the Casino City Canto Bight. (3&4) Luke teaching Rey about the nature of the Force.








EXTRAS

After 100 days of filming, Johnson (“Looper,” “Knives Out”) told his cast and crew at the Wrap Party, “I don’t want to freak anyone out, but I think we just made a Star Wars movie.”


This opens “The Director and the Jedi,” a comprehensive 95-minute documentary on the bonus Blu-ray disc, and included with iTunes and Vudu streaming. It’s one of the best, right up there with “Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” which detailed Francis Ford Coppola’s work during the filming of his 1970s epic on Vietnam.


Johnson is no Coppola, and that’s a good thing. He’s level-headed, never raising his voice, says Boyega (Finn). LucasFilm Ltd. President Kathleen Kennedy said she had been eyeing Southern California native Johnson for years to direct a “Star Wars’” film.


Once Johnson agreed to do the project, he posted a short video clip on Twitter from “The Right Stuff” showing actor Scott Glenn as astronaut Alan Shepard just before his first mission into space: “Dear Lord, please don’t let me (BLEEP) up.”

A number of Star Wars fans were shocked at how an unrecognized name had taken over for producer/director J.J. Abrams, considered the reboot king (“Mission: Impossible,” “Star Trek”).


(1) Rey starts her lightsaber training. (2) A flashback scene to the burning Jedi temple. (3) DJ (Benicio Del Toro) a thief and slicer. (4) Rey and Kylo join forces against Snoke's guards.






Johnson says he wrote the script as if he wasn’t involved in the movie, “Just as a fan that wants a good movie that delights in a way I didn’t expect.” Episode VIII picks up the action just moments after the end of Abrams’ “Force Awakens.”

Actor Mark Hamill wasn’t shy about his concerns. “I told Rian, I fundamentally disagree with your concept of this character [Luke Skywalker] and how you use him,” he says. But, Hamill goes on to say he’d do everything within his power to realize the director’s vision. “It’s not my character to decide. It belongs to other people. They just rent it out to me.”


There’s footage of Hamill and Ridley (Rey) rehearsing on a grassy mini-park outside one of the soundstages at Pinewood weeks before filming.


Johnson details the genesis of the character Rose, someone he considers a nerd. “She’s someone who I would have actually hung out with in high school. She doesn’t feel like a character who belongs in a Star Wars movie.”


Be prepared to have tissues on hand. Watching Carrie Fisher’s final behind the scene moments, holding her dog during the cast and crew photograph, is an emotional experience.

We see the complete scope and scale of the production, which involved 120 sets filmed in England, Ireland, Croatia and Bolivia. If they took “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” and they put them together, ‘The Last Jedi’ is still bigger – double the size,” says Neal Scanlan, Creature & Droid Effects Creative Supervisor.


Another highlight is watching Frank Oz in action as Yoda, and Hamill’s emotional reaction to the grand Jedi teacher.


The craziest story has got to be when Johnson tells Bergman, during a dinner break, that he had received a coordinated tweeter blitz from Russian accounts, telling him not to kill General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). “#HuxLive.”


And we thought the Russians were only concerned about who became president.


Additional extras include a director’s commentary. Johnson divulges the original opening of the film, with Finn waking up from his coma, then cutting to the bombing sequence, and then back to Finn walking the hallway with water squirting from his coma-recovery suit.

The “Balance of the Force” featurette is about the mythology of the Force and Johnson’s interpretation, which he says, “is not a superpower. The Force is not just about being able to throw things across the room.” He felt “The Last Jedi” needed a reset lesson, especially for kids coming to the movies for the first time. He details Luke’s discovery that the Jedi had done nothing but add problems to the universe, that if he jumps back in, the Sith will rise up again – and “There’s going to be more misery.”


(Hmm… Did fans ever think The Force was a superpower?)


“Andy Serkis Live!” shows two of the motion-capture actor’s on-set performances before his digital makeover into Snoke. There are also 24-minutes of deleted scenes with director’s commentary.


After watching “The Last Jedi” on 4K, it only makes the desire to see Episodes IV thru VII (all shot on 35mm) in higher resolution even greater.


— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer





Battle of Crait

(1) The First Order arrives with a number of All-Terrain MegaCaliber Six (AT-M6) and a Superlaser cannon. (2) The Resistance ski speeders prepare to attack the AT-M6's. (3) Luke Skywalker makes his stand against the First Order. (3) Princess Leia and Poe watch the battle. (4&5) Luke Skywalker makes his stand against the First Order and Kylo Ren.






TRAILER


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