Back Comments (13) Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order. (From Lucasfilm’s official synopsis)

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Who out there is sick of talking about Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Who’s sick of hearing about Star Wars: The Last Jedi? I find either prospect exhausting, following three months of arguing, watching others argue, and desperately trying to avoid arguments on the subject. But, I suppose you’re still reading, because you actually care about my opinion of the film – even if it’s just a means to decide if you want to argue with me or not – so I’ll take a particularly personal slant on this section of the review.

(Generalized, not entirely specific spoilers to follow.)

I’ll start things off by reminding readers/informing new readers that I did not like The Force Awakens. I found it to be a middling, corporatized mess of director J.J. Abrams’ worst impulses. The new characters were interesting and well-cast, but the story was tied up in simplistic nostalgia, hemmed in by its need to recreate the beats of George Lucas’ original Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), and dulled by empty, pointless mysteries about the characters’ origins. The Force Awakens attempted to return the status quo of evil empires and plucky rebellions. It made no compelling argument for this devolution outside of assumptions that audiences wanted to experience more of the same. Abrams set the stage for the next film to replay the dramatic reveals of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), but I honestly couldn’t care less who Rey’s parents are, where Snoke honed his power, or how the two of them (along with every other new character) are attached to the Skywalker clan.

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi
I’d also like to remind readers/inform new readers that I generally enjoy Lucas’ prequels, especially Revenge of the Sith (2005), which, along with sections of Attack of the Clones (2002), verified that the Jedi had truly failed the galaxy and were culpable in Palpatine’s rise to power (despite the nostalgia for the Order’s achievements already seen in the Original Trilogy). Since it appealed to children with its swashbuckling portrayals of heroic adventure, the Clone Wars animated series further acknowledged the fact with the muddied politics behind the war. As a result of Palpatine’s machinations and efforts to erase the Jedi from history, the younger characters of the Original Trilogy are left to decide if these tall tales are true. What they don’t understand is that it doesn’t really matter if the Jedi were heroes or traitors, because they had already lost the Clone Wars the second they agreed to participate in them. In this sense, Lucas was acknowledging the futility of war and subverting the ideas of the Original Trilogy, which depicted an easy to love rebelion battling an easy to hate intergalactic empire for the sake of ending oppression.

Enter Rian Johnson, the writer/director of Brick (2005) and Looper (2012). His work isn’t always as tight and polished as that of more famous, big-budget filmmakers, but he always offers a unique, personable perspective; one that prioritizes theme and character. Tasked with continuing Abrams’ very popular Original Trilogy nostalgia streak, Johnson chose to recognize and supercede fan expectations. This includes executing little swipes at the frivolity of The Force Awakens’ “mystery box” antics (i.e. Snoke’s backstory and Rey’s parentage ultimately don’t matter, because there was no satisfying way to answer either question) and a habit of cutting the audiences knees out from under them, while still sating their appetite for explosive sci-fi action. The Last Jedi is constantly stewing in implicit meanings that invite repeat viewings in a way that a Star Wars film hasn’t managed since The Empire Strikes Back (even my beloved Revenge of the Sith only offers about one level of subtext). The constant stream of post-release online chatter may be exhausting, but it has introduced me to a number of clever readings into the film’s thematic core. My favourites include one that compares the characters and events of the film to the fickle opinions of Star Wars fans and another that boils the movie down to a battle between mature women and adolescent masculinity (I’d go into each further, but I’m sure others have said it better than me already).

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi
My own theories (the ones I managed to develop outside the monolith of social media) tend to pertain to what I see as the film’s central message: there is no such thing as a good war. Beyond all of the film’s narrative and stylistic achievements is the fact that it is the first truly anti-war Star Wars. Yes, as discussed, Lucas’ ultimate point was anti-war, but, within the context of the films themselves, war itself is a glorious thing in his Star Wars canon. Johnson does still glorifies bravery, fortitude, and sacrifice (not to mention the fact that he stages the single coolest lightsaber battle in the series’ history), but he’s also quick to condemn narcissistic bravado. Unfortunately, the value of these (and other) themes is often the source of what I’d consider the most pragmatic criticisms of The Last Jedi’s quality (‘pragmatic,’ as in relating to objective shortcomings, rather than complaints about Luke not murdering enough people or whatever).

For example, Johnson’s film does feel very long, even on a second viewing (not ‘boring,’ just long) and the simplest way to compact its sweeping narrative would probably be to delete most of the Canto Bight casino planet sequence. After all, Finn (John Boyega) and Rose’s (Kelly Marie Tran) sidequest would seem to have the smallest impact on the greater plot, especially since their plan mostly fails and the technology they’re endeavouring to defeat is a J.J. Abrams-level MacGuffin. However, these scenes play the most important role of all in the anti-war themes (among other things), exemplified in the moments in which the protagonists – Finn in particular – learn the literal and moral costs of war (from a morally compromised Han Solo stand-in, no less). Perhaps Johnson could’ve incorporated the subplot into the film more gracefully, but to remove it entirely would sap the film of its unique quality. Similarly, I’d agree with the critics claiming that Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s (Laura Dern) secret escape plan was a convoluted means to conceal an equally convoluted twist, but I disagree that the plot points or character motivations were less than honorable. Again, compassion taking precedence over glorified violence (I’m not even going into the gender politics between Poe and Holdo…) is the underlying purpose of the movie.

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Video


Johnson and cinematographer (Steve Yedlin, who has worked on all three of Johnson’s feature films) shot The Last Jedi using a bevy of camera types and format sizes. The film was optimized for large-format screens, including Arri Alexa 65 and IMAX MKIV rigs, but there was also plenty of footage shot with standard Arri Alexa, Panavision Panaflex, and even 35mm rigs. The footage was post-converted into 3D for some theatrical screenings and the IMAX releases reportedly changed aspect ratio during some scenes, though this 1080p Blu-ray is constantly framed at 2.40:1. The image quality is relatively consistent, despite the mixed media approach, maintaining a 35mm look, including the fine grain, dynamic range, and wide-angle limitations one would expect from the format. I don’t actually know which scenes utilized IMAX and digital cameras, but I can pretty easily guess, based on small differences from shot to shot. Some of the most obvious detail upgrades occur on the lush Ahch-To locations, so I assume IMAX was utilized here. In addition, the areas that required the most digital augmentations, such as Snoke’s throne room or, you know, outer space, tend to have a smoother and sharper digital quality. Each location tends to sport its own palette (the throne room is red & black, Ahch-To is green & cool, Crait is misty & also red, et cetera) and its own gamma/contrast balance (First Order interiors are crushed with heavy blacks, while Resistance interiors tend to be similarly dark, but with more layers). All in all, this is a very good representation of the film as I remembered seeing it in a standard-format digital theater.

Audio


The Last Jedi is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound. As I gently poke fun at the fans that complained about the film not meeting their very specific expectations for the franchise, I also must admit that one of my biggest complaints is similarly shallow and mostly unrelated to the quality of the movie itself. My complaint pertains to the sound design, which is typical for a tentpole, sci-fi action flick, but less inventive than most Star Wars films. Apparently, the reason for this is the absence of original sound designer Ben Burtt, who did work on The Force Awakens and who has been slated to work on Episode IX. This uncompressed track is still some of the best, busiest space noise you’ll ever hear – it’s just missing that special weirdo spark that Burtt had offered the franchise. John Williams did return for another rollicking, Star Wars-esque musical score (his eighth for the franchise). The dramatic quality of the music, which often counteracts the glorified action with a sense of melancholy, is still remarkable, despite it being difficult to recall any of the new cues off the top of my head.

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Extras


Disc One:
  • Commentary with writer/director Rian Johnson – Based on memories of his other tracks, I was expecting Johnson to focus on writing here, but goes pretty in-depth with every aspect of the production. He does have a habit of getting lost while praising every single cast & crew member (which is sometimes vital, because some of them contributed great ideas) or describing the technical aspects of an effects sequence, but his explorations of the conceptual, emotional, and stylistic choices – as well as the changes he made throughout the filming – are consistently interesting. Assuming you’re okay with the idea of listening to a filmmaker explaining his choices and perhaps ‘ruining’ some of the thematic meaning behind them, I’d definitely recommend taking the time to listen. Also note that this seems to have been recorded before the movie was released, so he doesn’t directly acknowledge any of the fan controversies.Disc Two:
  • The Director and the Jedi (1:35:23, HD) – An extensive, feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary on the film, beginning with the announcement that Johnson was directing, pre-production, and set constructions, following all the way through to the wrap party. The all-encompassing, chronological approach helps establish the sheer scope a production like this entails. Highlights include a break in a story meeting when Johnson checks his phone and notices that Russian fans are begging him to ”save” General Hux on Twitter, Carrie Fisher’s sarcastic interviews/on-set behavior, the honest portrayal of Mark Hamill’s disappointment concerning Luke’s fate (most non-retrospective docs like this tend to avoid any real on-set controversy), and a closer looks at the creatures that inhabit the casino.
  • Balance of the Force (10:17, HD) – Johnson explores the history of the Force in the series, the Jedi’s failure, Rey’s Dark Side challenge (i.e. her parentage is not important) mirroring Luke’s Empire Strikes Back Dark Side challenge (i.e. the villain is his father), and opting to have Luke use a Force Projection, instead of a more vulgar display of his power.
  • Scene breakdowns – Step-by-step explorations of the design and execution of three particularly effects-intensive sequences:
    • Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle (14:23, HD) – Concerning the opening battle between the First Order and Resistance.
    • Snoke and Mirrors (5:40, HD) – A look at Andy Serkis’ mocap performance and the process of integrating the CG Snoke into each scene.
    • Showdown on Crait (12:56, HD) – On the extended final battle, which was primarily created using CG.
  • Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only) (5:49, HD) – Raw, pre-digital-effects footage of Serkis’ performance.
  • 14 deleted/extended/alternate scenes with introduction and optional commentary by Johnson (23:03, HD) – These are mostly character and action beats, rather than plot points or big revelations. Overall, it seems that Finn, Rose, and Phasma’s (Gwendoline Christie) characters suffered the most from the trims, though there is a cute, nearly completed sequence where Rey attends a party thrown by Ach-To’s caretakers. Tom Hardy’s secret cameo is fun, too.


 Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Overall


I already knew Star Wars: The Last Jedi (did you guys notice the VIII went missing really early in the advertising materials?) is pretty great and I’m happy to report that I liked it even more the second time around. Now, I’m only afraid that J.J. Abrams will walk back all the stuff I liked about this Episode IX. Disney Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as you probably anticipated, but the better news is that the extras are surprisingly comprehensive and entertaining.

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 Star Wars: The Last Jedi
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: