Plot: What’s it about?
If ever there were a franchise that would be considered “Hollywood Royalty” I’d wager to say that it’s Star Wars. It’s been over four decades and it’s still going strong with new movies still to come. Yes, it’s business and these films make money for studios. A lot of money. And in an industry making a Star Wars movie is about as close to a sure thing as you’ll ever get. A couple of years ago we were presented with Episode VII – The Force Awakens. It was met with positive results (and, of course, a lot of earnings) and set the stage for the remaining two films in the series. It also helped eliminate the memories of the first three films and the less said about those, the better. We’ve got a new number, a new title, a new director and we’re now in a world where Han Solo isn’t in it. Rian Johnson posted a .gif from the movie The Right Stuff when he started production on this movie. It featured actor Scott Glenn as he was about to go into space (as Alan Shepard). The quote, in case you’re wondering: “Dear Lord, please don’t let me fuck this up.”
There’s a lot, yet very little going on in this installment. Recalling the ending scene of The Force Awakens, we found that Rey (Daisy Ridley) had managed to track down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in some remote portion of the galaxy. That’s where this one picks up. On one hand we find that both Rey and Luke have much in common. Her main goal is to convince Luke to return with her to “fight the good fight”. Luke has his reasons, many of which are revealed later on, why he’s chosen to seclude himself and his motives are his own. Rey, on the other hand, seems to have a mental link with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Call it two sides of the same coin. Maybe Kylo isn’t the evil madman we thought him to be after all? All the while the action is taking place with Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) are trying to outwit, outlast and outplay the First Order led by Gen. Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and Snoke (Andy Serkis). It’s the melding of these two storylines that manages to seamlessly integrate into one cohesive plot and set the stage for Episode IX.
When you’re in the Star Wars universe, there’ll be a lot of folks paying attention. Writer/Director Rian Johnson seemed to know this and it’s explained in the documentary exactly how important this movie was (is). A particular scene has a producer telling Johnson “George Lucas would like to talk to you. Should I tell him 8:30?” Johnson’s eyes get big, he takes a gulp and says “Yes, that would be fine.” This might be a movie in which I need to go back and watch again. I feel there were a lot of subtle nuances that might have alluded me the first time around. As character-driven as this film is, though, I felt it could have used a bit more action. But it was nice to see that this is mainly Mark Hamill’s movie and it’s a credit to him that he’s still able to carry the moniker of Luke Skywalker convincingly. Then again, who else could? I know that nothing I say in this review will convince anyone reading it to either see it or not. The film serves a purpose and it does it well, blending both the old and new breeds of this ever-expanding universe together while setting the stage for what might be the best movie ever made.
Video: How’s it look?
Being a Star Wars movie, I think it’s safe to say that we’d expect nothing but the best when it comes to the technical specifications. And, thankfully, our prayers have been answered (providing you actually prayed for a perfect transfer on the new Star Wars Blu-ray). There’s nothing to dislike about this 2.39:1 AVC HD encode. It has a glossy, film-like sheen that showcases the very best in what the film has to offer. Contrast and black levels are right on the money, the CGI is so perfectly embedded in the framework of the movie, I had no idea what was real and what wasn’t (well, aside from the obvious). Detail is tack sharp. The sweeping visuals span the width of your HDTV and leave nothing to the imagination. Truly, folks, this is how it’s meant to be done.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Not to be outdone is the included DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. If you want a Dolby Atmos mix, you’ll have to pony up to the 4K version, but don’t let that persuade you into thinking that this is in any way inferior. It’s not. Some of the trademark Star Wars sound effects persist, the firing of the laser cannons, R2D2’s “bips” and “beeps” as well as John William’s iconic score. Every channel is used here and it’s a good thing. The LFE get their turn, several times, and as one might assume – plenty of things blow up. Vocals are rich, pure and crisp. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher’s voices might have altered from their Star Wars days, but they still resonate. Put this disc in, turn it up and have fun with this one. That’s what it’s all about.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Writer/Director Rian Johnson delivers what I think might be one of the better commentary tracks I’ve ever heard. Let’s face it, the guy has written and directed a Star Wars movie! He’s got nothing to prove. He also directed the highest-rated episode of Breaking Bad – “Ozymandias.” So, he’s got that to crow about as well. Johnson is very direct in some of his comments, self-effacing and just calls it like he sees it. There’s a bevy of technical knowledge in this track and it’s the stuff that Star Wars fans will eat up.
- The Director and the Jedi – In the “they really didn’t have to do this, but it’s awesome that they did” department (it’s a real department, look it up) this 90 minute documentary is everything every Star Wars fan has dreamt of. It covers pretty much every aspect of the film, from the initial casting, to writing to the “how are we going to build 120 sets for this film?” issues that they face. Yes, it would appear that not even a Star Wars movie is immune to troubles. If this were the only extra on the disc, it’d be worth it 10x over.
- Balance of the Force – We get some very early screen reads between Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill along with some more candid commentary by Johnson on the relationship between the two. It’s a great segment that really brings out what the film is trying to say.
- Scene Breakdowns – Three of the film’s key sequences are dissected:
- Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle
- Snoke and Mirrors
- Showdown on Crait
- Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only) – We get most all of Serkis’ performance, minus the CGI. I think Serkis is probably the most underrated actor working and when you consider his body of work – it’s second to none. Oddly, most all the other visual effects are complete, minus the CGI for Snoke.
- Deleted Scenes – Several are included, that total just over a half an hour. We get a brief introduction from Johnson and all are available with or without commentary from him.
- 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 to Where They Belong
- Rey & Chewie in the Falcon
- The Costumes and Creatures of Canto Bight
The Bottom Line
I’ll be honest, I preferred The Force Awakens to this one, but that’s not to say that this one didn’t have its moments. It, to me, sets the stage for the final installment much in the same way that the first Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie did for the finale. It’s important in the grand scheme, manages to stand on its own, but we all know what we’re waiting for. The disc looks and sounds outstanding and the included documentary is worth checking out.