Review for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Now that Disney have the keys to the Star Wars franchise, they’re practically churning out the movies at the pace of one a year. J.J. Abrams ‘remake’ of A New Hope in The Force Awakens was workmanlike but entertaining, but it was Rogue One that gave me hope that good things could still come from Star Wars. So when Rian Johnson was given the job of directing Episode VIII, and having seen his Looper sci-fi movie, I was broadly optimistic. Little did I know that when I’d eventually buy the film on Blu-ray, I’d be buying the most divisive, controversial Star Wars film ever. The critics apparently loved The Last Jedi. The same wasn’t true for a vocal section of the fanbase. I’ve managed to avoid most of the spoilers for the film and the online fan feedback, so I’ll be getting the controversy first hand, and unfiltered by expectations.
Following the destruction of Starkiller Base, the First Order has discovered the location of the Resistance. The time has come to evacuate, but The First Order fleet is hot on their tail, having discovered a way to track them through hyperspace. It’s only a matter of time before the beleaguered freedom fighters run out of fuel. Meanwhile, Rey has found Luke Skywalker, but he’s no longer the beacon of hope that the Resistance so desperately needs.
I wrote two words down in my notes, both of them ‘Awesome’. We have awesome image and awesome audio on this Blu-ray, an impeccable 2.39:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and once you nudge the volume up enough, a truly resonant DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround English track. All of the action comes across well, as well as John William’s inimitable music. You also have the choice of DD+ 7.1 French, DD 5.1 Hindi, and Audio Descriptive DD 2.0 Stereo English. There are subtitles in Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, French and English. The Last Jedi was shot on film, and transfers across a treat to Blu-ray. The image is clear and sharp, colours are strong, there are absolutely no compression issues, detail levels are impeccable, and the disc does the world of Star Wars total justice. If you want better than this, you’ll want the 4k disc.
You get two discs on either inner face of a BD Amaray, and once again you can choose between Resistance and First Order o-card slipcovers for your purchase.
Both discs boot to animated menus, and the feature disc will hold its place in player memory after being ejected.
The film gets a useful commentary from writer director Rian Johnson.
The rest of the extras are on disc 2.
The Director and the Jedi is the making of feature which runs to 95:23. It’s in the form of a production diary centring on Rian Johnson’s experiences preparing for, and shooting the film.
Balance of the Force lasts 10:17, and we get to hear more about Rian Johnson’s take on the mystical energy field, and how he approached it in the story.
You get 3 scene breakdowns on the disc, running to a total of 33:01, offering a more scene specific making of featurette.
Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only) lasts 5:49, and is his performance as Snoke, delivered sans CGI, with mo-cap suit and head mounted camera.
There are 14 Deleted Scenes on the disc with an introduction and optional commentary from Rian Johnson. Some of them are really quite good, and at least one of them should not have been left out of the final film.
Rian Johnson has made Star Wars interesting again, which I didn’t think possible. Fun, yes, enjoyable and entertaining certainly, but interesting was unexpected. It’s all down to his treatment of The Force, and the character of Luke Skywalker, which I sense is what has been the most divisive aspect of the film. After all, The Force Awakens gave us a Han Solo that was greyer, but otherwise unchanged from the character we know and love, which is fun, but not too interesting. In The Last Jedi however, the Luke Skywalker we meet is unrecognisable from the young warrior that we left at the end of Return of the Jedi. The thing is that in my view, his evolution from young warrior to bitter and cynical hermit makes sense, given everything we learn about the Jedi order through the films, and especially in the much maligned prequel trilogy.
The film isn’t perfect though, especially as just like The Force Awakens, it’s adhering to the cyclical storytelling approach that Lucas used in the prequels, and it seems that episodes VII to IX are as well. The Last Jedi is this trilogy’s Empire Strikes back, and it’s not subtle about it. Rey’s off (not) training with Luke on (not) Dagobah, while this time it’s the whole of the Resistance Fleet that’s on the run from the First Order, crippled not by a busted hyperdrive, but by the First Order’s uncanny ability to keep track of them. Instead of Cloud City, we get the casino world of Canto Bight, and it saves its Hoth battle for the end, not the beginning.
What also make The Last Jedi interesting are the journeys that the characters go on. As the film begins, Rey’s on a quest to find a mentor, a teacher, as well as her own past, but what she has to learn here is self-reliance, and confidence in her own identity, a journey that is somewhat darkly mirrored by that of Kylo Ren (a lot more interesting here than in The Force Awakens), who has to move past the legacy of his grandfather, and take control of his own destiny. The former stormtrooper Finn has help from a new character named Rose in learning the value of his own existence, as well as dealing with his past. Hot shot pilot Poe Dameron has to graduate from being a hero to a leader. The character arcs make the film feel fresh and original despite its obvious mirroring of Empire.
You can’t get away from the sense that the film is overlong though, and it does suffer from some ill-judged humour, most notably in the opening scene. This isn’t natural humour that flows from the characters, but rather contrived scenes which are obvious in their intent. Then there are the plain dumb moments, of which the Force-assisted EVA is one. Also this film fails in what I had hoped it would provide... Context. While Rey’s back-story does get some fleshing out here, we still have no narrative or exposition filling in the gap between Return of the Jedi and the new trilogy, still no idea how we went from Empire and Rebellion to Republic/Resistance and First Order, and we still don’t know who Snoke is. Sometimes mystery in a film is good as it can provoke thought and inspire the imagination, but sometimes it can be infuriating when the background is left wholly absent of colour. Just a few hints would have helped.
The Last Jedi may still suffer from some of the same issues that made The Force Awakens such a relative disappointment, but by giving us the unexpected, Rian Johnson has at least made the film feel original and fresh. It’s a noticeable improvement over the last one. I had hoped for more originality from Part IX, but with the departure of Colin Trevorrow, and the return of the ‘safe pair of hands’ J.J. Abrams, I suspect we’ll be back to the surface and no depth of The Force Awakens. Still, Rian Johnson has been given a trilogy of his own to play with following that.