Wednesday, March 28, 2018

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Vic's Review)

The First Order strikes back against the Resistance, sending them on the run and in need of a hero. Rey tries to convince Luke Skywalker to come back with her, but things get complicated when she finds herself drawn to Kylo Ren and the Dark Side. Stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson.

The Last Jedi is the somber follow-up to 2015’s The Force Awakens, and gives us our long-awaited reintroduction of Luke Skywalker into the Star Wars universe. Sure, we got a glimpse of Luke at the end of the last film, but in this one, he actually gets lines.

Since its release, The Last Jedi has polarized fans, although almost everyone agrees it is highly entertaining and visually stunning. The divide comes in Rian Johnson’s approach to both classic and new characters, which takes directions fans were not expecting.

Herein lies the problem with listening too closely to fandom when judging a film. The Force Awakens is incredibly entertaining, but took criticism for being too derivative of A New Hope. The Last Jedi, on the other hand, took hits for being too different. It’s proof you won’t ever be able to please anyone, and it seems the final verdict on this film will take time to develop. After all, even the prequels have achieved a new level of love in recent years. There are a number of truly classic moments in The Last Jedi, which should win it more affection in the future from the fans who deride it now.

That being said, there are issues with the film. I found The Last Jedi disappointing emotionally, and yet, highly watchable visually. As a member of the original trilogy generation, my issues with the film begin with how both Luke and Leia are handled in this story, which we all knew would serve as a handoff to the newer cast. I have no problem with that, and find the trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe to be fantastic choices to lead the franchise forward.

If you're looking for an angry rant of Johnson's approach to the film, I suggest hitting YouTube, where there is no end of vicious people willing to break down every aspect of the film. However, I feel it necessary to point out the obvious flaws in the film, and I don't mean bombs falling in space or milk from space cows. I speak of the narrative's structure and pacing, and the mishandling of key characters.

The Force Awakens left some characters in odd positions to begin The Last Jedi. Namely, why send Rey to find Luke, when Leia was the obvious choice? Especially when Rey turned out not to be a Skywalker, sending her made no sense. I realize Carrie Fisher is not the actress she once was, but The Last Jedi would have been a far more effective film if it had revolved around Luke and Leia on the island talking it out, instead of Luke and Rey. If you’ve seen Hamill and Fisher at conventions, you know the chemistry they have. Could you imagine that back-and-forth as the emotional anchor for The Last Jedi? It would have been incredible.

Some of the new characters seem superfluous, whose sole existence seems only to confound the new trio and keep them separated. Rose is a likable character, but her role could have been easily filled with Poe, who is marginalized for this film. He and Finn would have made a great pair going to Canto Bight, so the creation of a whole new character for this purpose seems pointless. Likewise, Holdo seemed to be a character created merely to take Leia's place in the plot. Holdo's cold cynicism was a poor substitute for Leia's sarcastic feistiness.

Oddly, we are expected to emotionally invest in the relationship and loss of characters after no more than five minutes of screen time. At the same time, we are denied the chance to see Luke Skywalker, the iconic hero to everyone watching the film, mourn the loss of his friend and fellow icon, Han Solo. After being denied an on-screen reunion, not being able to share our sense of loss from The Force Awakens with Luke is a huge letdown.

The pointless extra characters and subplots (seriously, did Canto Bight make any difference to the plot in the end?) weigh down a film that had so much going for it, slowing down what could have been a far better roller coaster ride.

At the very least, The Last Jedi gives Luke Skywalker some great scenes involving R2-D2 and Yoda, and his emotional final scene is very well done.

I’m actually glad Rian Johnson chose not to change the film to reflect Carrie Fisher’s passing, and left her role intact. I would have hated to see her role in this film minimized even more, as her presence throughout the film is one of its best aspects.

The Last Jedi may not be what everyone wanted or expected, but that is exactly what Rian Johnson intended, for better or worse. It’s an exhilarating and bittersweet send-off for two classic characters, and I’m anxious to see what J.J. Abrams will do with what Johnson has handed off to him for Episode IX.

The Blu-ray gives us a wonderful transfer, with all of the sharpness you would hope for. High definition really shows off the film’s achievement of pulling off Snoke, blurring the line between the real and digital worlds at an almost eerie level. The colors are bold, as the film’s red highlights indicate. It is, at times, breathtaking.

The audio is a 7.2 DTS HDMA track that is so active throughout the channels, your system might squeal with delight. This movie sounds incredible, and the mix is expertly done, allowing a fully surrounding, sensory-bending experience.

The 2-disc Blu-ray set comes with a disc devoted entirely to extras. As was offered with the home video release of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi comes with a full-length documentary which delves deep into the making of the film. The additional featurettes and deleted scenes are fantastic.

The bonus features are as follows:

“The Director and the Jedi” documentary. Every aspect of the film’s production is covered here, as seen through the eyes of Rian Johnson. A fascinating watch. Running time: 95 minutes

“Balance of the Force” featurette. Director Rian Johnson discuss how he chose to portray the Force in The Last Jedi. He also delves into Luke Skywalker’s journey and his decision that the Jedi must end. Running time: 10 minutes

Scene Breakdowns. Three scene breakdowns are included: “Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle” (Running time: 14:23), “Snoke and Mirrors” (Running time: 5:40), and “Showdown on Crait.” Rian Johnson describes how he approached the filming of key scenes. (Running time: 12:56)

“Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)” featurette. This fantastic featurette shows Andy Serkis’ original motion capture performance as Snoke in the final throne room scene. It is a must-see to appreciate just how much of Serkis is in the final CG character. It’s stunning. Running time: 5:49

Deleted Scenes.  14 scenes are included: “Alternate Opening,” “Paige’s Gun Jams,” “Luke Has a Moment,” “Poe: Not Much of a Sewer,” “It’s Kind of Weird That You Recorded That,” “The Caretaker Sizes Up Rey,” “Caretaker Village Sequence,” “Extended Fathier Chase,” “Mega Destroyer Incursion - Extended Version,” “Rose Bites the Hand That Taunts Her,” “Phasma Squealed Like a Whoop Hog,” “Rose & Finn Go Where They Belong,” “Rey and Chewie in the Falcon,” and “The Costumes and Creatures of Canto Bight.” An introduction by Rian Johnson is also included, and optional commentary by Johnson during the scenes is available.

Audio Commentary. Rian Johnson is the sole participant, and he provides wall-to-wall insight into the film. He mentions that he is recording the commentary before the film is released, which should put many of his comments on his directing choices in an interesting context.

Digital Copy. A Movies Anywhere code, redeemable for a digital copy of the film, is included.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The Last Jedi isn’t the film it could have been, but there is still plenty to like
Despite some pacing and tone issues with The Last Jedi (not to mention character treatments), Rian Johnson has produced a visually stunning adventure. It may not rank high among everyone’s favorite Star Wars films, but there’s a lot to like here. The technical presentation on the Blu-ray is superb, and the extras are well done.

Release Date: March 27, 2018
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 152 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Audio Language Tracks
Subtitles: English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French & Spanish
Special Features: “The Director and the Jedi” documentary, “Balance of the Force” featurette, 14 Deleted Scenes, Three Scene Breakdowns, “Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)” featurette, Digital Copy.
Audio Commentary: With writer/director Rian Johnson
Label: Lucasfilm

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