Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past. (from IMDB)
Ever since Disney purchased Lucasfilm and its monstrous franchise, Star Wars, most fans of the space-traveling sci-fi series have been cautiously optimistic about where they may be taken next within this galaxy set far, far away. And while Disney's gluttonous merchandising of the series has been one-part exciting / one-part embarrassing, it's also not at all surprising or unexpected (and in some ways, not at all unwanted). But the Mouse House has been surprisingly careful and strategic with how they're handling this beloved brand. 2015's soft reboot of the series in the form of Episode 7, The Force Awakens, went on to become the highest grossing film at the box office of all-time, polarizing fans as a love-to-hate entry in the series. That film has since been diagnosed largely as a rehash of the original 1977 film, Star Wars (AKA A New Hope), introducing very little that's actually new. But two more years -- and a wonderful side story in Rogue One -- later, and we have Episode 8, the direct follow-up to Force Awakens and the 8th episode in the Skywalker Saga.
I was completely unfamiliar with director Rian Johnson's work, so upon hearing about him taking the helm for Episode 8, I got my hands on a copy of The Brothers Bloom (a movie I actually had been interested in after originally seeing previews for it, but had never gotten around to seeing it). What I discovered was an off-the-wall indie comedy with fun characters, a great script, and a unique storytelling style. While I wasn't sure how this would translate to the Star Wars world, my interest was certainly stirred for what Johnson could bring to the franchise.
The promos for Star Wars: The Last Jedi have been rather ominous, but they tease enough familiar concepts to justify feelings of fear that Episode 8 may be a retread of Episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back. We saw a young Jedi being trained by a master. We saw land speeders attacking gigantic walkers. And bits and pieces of the imagery just screamed for this film to do nothing but continue to piggyback on the original trilogy. Thankfully, these hunches were not true. While, yes, there are some similar elements to Empire in Last Jedi, a retread it is most certainly not. The film opens in what seems to be maybe a few days or weeks after the events of The Force Awakens, and then it takes us to Luke's island where we first see Luke and Rey meet (and finally speak). Meanwhile, we finally get to see Supreme Leader Snoke in the flesh as he confronts his apprentice, Kylo Ren, about his failure against Rey. The stakes seem a bit higher this time around, too, as the Resistance take some nasty hits from the First Order in retaliation.
It was great seeing Luke Skywalker's long awaited return to the big screen, but now I can certainly see why Mark Hamill struggled with some of the choices Rian Johnson made for the character. Furthermore, it's another semi-faithful treatment of one of the original characters that isn't entirely handled as satisfyingly as it could have been. To be fair, every longtime fan of the original trilogy will have their own ideas of where these characters should go (or have gone). But doing things like killing off a main character in the previous entry, The Force Awakens, does nothing but sour the victory at the end of 1983's sixth chapter, Return of the Jedi and turn a happy ending into a somewhat heartbreaking one. The Last Jedi does satisfyingly address the dismissal of Han Solo, but his absence is surely felt, and it still stings to know we'll never see the original dynamic trio together again on the big screen.
The Force Awakens had the tough task of having to introduce all new characters and make us care about them, so there wasn't a ton of time to show a lot of depth there. Some dialog between Leia and Han in that film are some of the weakest moments of the film, whereas, in The Last Jedi, there really aren't any weak spots in the acting department. Even Carrie Fisher, who seemed a bit rusty in the previous outing, was wonderful here. And since her passing a year ago, it's fitting to see her final performance be a really good one. Mark Hamill delivers as well, even if he is playing a grumpy old version of the character. Daisy Ridley is also solid once again, proving she was an inspired choice for the lead in the new trilogy. Adam Driver, meanwhile, is also good, but because his character calls for him to be sort of a whiny, temperamental villain-in-training, he's far less menacing than what one would expect for the franchise's "Big Bad." If you try to compare Kylo Ren to Darth Vader, there's just really no comparison. However, the story actually addresses this head on, and it helps separate this trilogy from what's come before it (Even to the point where Anakin couldn't help going down that path, while Kylo is trying to force it but has trouble making it happen). Unexpected things unfold in The Last Jedi, and it's that unpredictability that makes it all the more enjoyable.
There's a lot to unpack when talking about this film (but it's tough to discuss when you're trying not to reveal any spoilers) -- and it throws a lot at the viewer, giving them a lot to process, especially if that viewer is a diehard fan (like this reviewer). I, personally, grew up on the original trilogy as a child, then saw the prequel trilogy in my post-college years, and am now experiencing a new trilogy, which involves the heart of the original trilogy, as a father to a young son. I rewatched Episodes 4, 5, 6 and 7 with my son leading up to Episode 8 (all of which he has seen before too), and this was the very first time I experienced a brand new Star Wars movie at the same time he was (he's 7 now). He absolutely loved it. Plus the experience of revisiting the originals leading up to this new story only helps the experience.
The content of the film is on par with The Force Awakens. There are plenty of explosions that consume the lives of people on ships and in speeders, and one character is cut in half with a lightsaber and then we see their body fall apart. It's not gory, but it's a little gruesome. Somehow, it still doesn't feel as gruesome as some of the violence in Revenge of the Sith, even though in ways it is worse. A couple action scenes show helmeted characters being impaled with lightsabers and, in one instance, a quick shot of one of the helmeted heads getting cut off with a saber. There's a minimal amount of blood shown--mostly in the form of some bloody lips or cuts on a character's arm or something, but it's never focused on. The worst, in this case, might be the deep scar we see on Kylo's face and shoulder from Rey's lightsaber blow dealt at the end of The Force Awakens. Lastly, there's a little language, but it's just a couple uses of "d*mn," "h*ll," and one each of "b*stard" and "*ss."
There are some many stellar moments in this film for a Star Wars fan. Whether it's a surprise appearance by a favorite character or a very meaningful callback to the original film that really hits the fan right in the heart, these "fan service" moments feel organic and natural for this Star Wars universe. At the same time, things like unnecessary creature-centric moments or the impossibly cute birds, called porgs, probably feel out of place to an adult viewer, but if we're honest with ourselves, it's become rather expected for Star Wars. The prequel series may have abused this aspect of the franchise, but the original trilogy certainly had their ewoks and other surrounding creatures. Other overtly comedic or almost cartoonish moments occasionally spring up during the film, and they can be a bit jarring at times (like seeing Luke milking a large beast), but it's ultimately forgivable. (Only time will tell how those moments hold up with repeat viewings.)
Here we are, three films into Disney's revival of Star Wars. As a lifelong fan, I'm finding more things about these new movies to get excited about than to get bent out of shape over. I can't remember the last time I was this excited to see a new movie and The Last Jedi delivered. Where the franchise will be going next is unknown (and I have my concerns), but there's serious potential for more greatness and exciting Star Wars adventures, and that's enough for me. If you liked The Force Awakens, or even if you had problems with it but like aspects of it, The Last Jedi shouldn't disappoint. After realizing how much The Force Awakens retread the 1977 original story a little too much, I found myself saying I'd forgive it if the following movies took things in fresh, new directions. After seeing this next installment--at this point, after having just watched it once--I'm happy to say that The Last Jedi is a worthy entry into the Star Wars canon (despite it being kind of a game changer in some ways), and I do look forward to revisiting it again and again.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 12/15/17)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 4K UHD - There are a lot of ways to enjoy The Last Jedi at home (although, those in the U.S. will need to order an import from the UK if they want a 3D Blu-Ray copy), but here I'm going to cover the 4K UHD / Blu-Ray / Digital HD combo pack release. Now, how does the film look in 4K UHD? In all honesty, I was surprised by how grainy it looked. So far, Murder on the Orient Express was the most gorgeous 4K release I've seen so far, but I have to admit that my first 4K Star Wars experience was a bit underwhelming. I've loved Blu-Ray's HD presentation for some time now, and I've yet to find 4K to be all that much better. Thankfully, we get the UHD digital copy with it and a standard Blu-Ray. Don't get me wrong, it's quite crisp and colorful; I'm just not quite sure it's better than standard Blu-Ray.
There aren't any special features on the 4K disc, but the standard Blu-Ray disc has some real gems on it.
The Director and the Jedi (1:35:23) is actually a feature-length documentary about Rian Johnson's journey as writer and director for The Last Jedi. There's no rating on the film, but I'd probably give it a PG-rating due to some mild language. The film opens with the wrap party, news quotes about the film, and then some great behind-the-scenes footage of Rian with Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill sitting around in a room reading the script. The documentary then digs into the story, making props and discussing the logisitics of how they're going to make things happen - like the film's large budget and how it cost more than Rogue One and The Force Awakens combined! We see them creating and puppeteering the "sea cow," Rian's surprise birthday party presented by the cast and crew, Anthony Daniels recording dialog for C-3PO, and lots more. The doc also touches on the fact that Hamill "fundamentally disagreed" with Rian's direction for the character of Luke. It seemed like Mark was absent from aspects of the documentary--and there weren't a whole lot of cast interviews featured here--but they did revisit Mark's thoughts on the character later before the documentary's end. He admitted that his role as an actor is to make the director's vision a realization, whether or not he agrees, and to give it his all (and I have to say, he really did!). We see some filming from the first day of shooting, lots of great B-Roll footage, prop design, designing Kylo Ren's scar, bringing Yoda and Frank Oz back, and casting Yoda's original puppet mold to make a new pupprt, and bringing back Andy Serkis to motion-capture-film Snoke. We also see some amazing footage of Hamill filming his reaction as Luke in the flashback scene after he sees that Ben had burned the Jedi temple. Even after the cameras stopped rolling, Hamill was bent over in utter devastation! The documentary focuses a lot on filming the Canto Bight casino sequence and the character design featured in it as well. It then comes to an end with final takes for both Daisy and Mark, and then we get a voyeuristic view behind the camera as Mark and Carrie Fisher filmed their reunion scene. It's such a treat to get to see here! Sadly, the most disappointing aspect of the documentary is that some mild language was kept in, including some unnecessary (albeit candid) uses of blasphemy (mostly from Johnson, actually). In addition to one bleeped "F" word from a press clip and 1 bleeped "*ssh*le," the following are audible: 1 "J-sus," 2 "J-sus Chr-st," 3 "a" words, 1 "For G-d's sake," 2 "G-d," and 8 "Oh my G-d."
Deleted Scenes (24:31) - While The Forece Awakens only had a handful of deleted scenes, The Last Jedi offers an impressive 24-minutes worth, complete with optional director's commentary. "Intro" (0:50) features Johnson prefacing that these scenes were left out mostly for time and pacing (since it was already a long film). "Alternate Opening" (1:37) shows us a rumored original opening that actually started the film immediately with Finn waking up in his regeneration pod, and we see Poe before he goes on his mission to confront the First Order. "Paige's Gun Jams" (0:39) is a little moment where she's trying to fire her ship's guns but they lock up, and she thinks of her sister in that moment. "Luke Has a Moment" (1:07) is a beautiful moment where we see Luke crying in his hut on the island, struggling with his destiny finding him despite his efforts. "Poe: Not Much of a Sewer" (0:47) shows Poe catching Finn up to speed with everything that's happened since he got hurt and then hands him his iconic jacket (which had been sliced by Kylo's saber), with staples over the torn parts. "It's Kind of Weird That You Recorded That" (0:59) shows Finn sitting with BB-8, who shows him footage of Rey talking to him while he was unconscious (which inspires him to go after Rey). "The Caretaker Sizes Up Rey" (0:43) is a short moment where we see one of them give her a dirty look. "Caretaker Village Sequence" (2:58) is one that is REALLY good to have been cut out. In the scene, Luke and Rey see lights on the horizon and he tells her they're pirates of sorts that come to raid and pillage the town below. Rey hurries down the mountainside to the rescue and smashes through their gate... only to find the caretakers having a party. Rey then realizes that Luke was just mocking her Jedi passion, for which she admonishes him. It's a scene that's VERY unlike what we'd expect from Luke Skywalker, and it would have only fueled some fans' hatred for the film had it been left in. Honestly, it's kind of sad that Johnson thought this was a good idea long enough to even have filmed it at all. "Extended Fathier Chase" (5:50) merely adds more time and nonsense to an already overlong and unnecessary scene. "Mega Destroyer Incursion - Extended Version" (3:55) is more footage of Finn, Rose and DJ trying to sneak on the First Order ship. It creates some great tension, but then there's a really bizarre moment where a Stormtrooper with a southern accent recognizes Finn... who is actually performed by actor Tom Hardy, although you'd never guess! It gets way too silly by the time the Stormtrooper congratulates Finn--thinking he was promoted to an officer (I mean, really? The First Order Stormtroopers don't all know Finn is a traitor by now?). In "Rose Bites the Hand That Taunts Her" (1:11), General Hux taunts Rose... who bites his hand. "Phasma Squealed Like a Whoop Hog" (1:35) is an alternate fight sequence between Finn and Phasma, where he tries to turn the Stormtroopers against her. "Rose and Finn Go to Where They Belong" (0:32) is a brief moment where the twosome decide to reunite with The Resistance. "Rey and Chewie in the Falcon" (0:16) is a tiny moment where the two spot the walkers firing on the ground in front of the base on Crait and she suggests they go around back. (Incidentally, in the documentary, this shot was shown as having been the very last thing Daisy filmed for the movie.) "The Costumes and Creatures of Canto Bight" (1:31) isn't really a scene; it's just a montage of creatures and characters from the sequence. Most of the scenes weren't necessary, although "Luke Has a Moment" would have been great to leave in. Still, it's neat to see here what was left on the cutting room floor.
Balance of the Force (10:17) - As what almost seems like a featurette aimed to address fans who have concerns (and complaints), director Rian Johnson talks about why Luke is shut off from the Force in this film, and how he sees the Force as not a superpower but something deeper. Additionally, they show how they filmed that mirror sequence with Rey (which is really cool). Overall, this is a very insightful look into Rian's approach.
Andy Serkis Live: One Night Only (5:49) - This is an awesome featurette that shows almost a full sequence of Andy Serkis acting in his gray motion-capture suit with Daisy as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. It's cool to see Andy's intense performance before it's covered over by a CG character.
Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle (14:24) - Rian talks about focusing on character over action for even the action scenes. Cast and crew then talk about creating the action and the sounds. Carrie Fisher and Oscar Isaacs talk about the sequences and their characters, and then we see how they had actually used practical effects to blow up the Resistance's shuttle bay! (2 "bad *ss", 2 "oh my G-d")
Snoke and Mirrors (5:40) - This segment takes a more in-depth look at designing Snoke's CG character and filming Andy's scenes.
Showdown on Crait (12:57) tackles the finale sequence, revealing that they recorded some footage in the salt flats of Bolivia! And then they talk about how they designed the look for the red sand, as well as the all-new First Order walker.
Score-Oonly Version of the Movie (2:31:51) - In addition to a feature-length commentary version of the film by Rian Johnson, you can watch a Score-Only version of the movie. In it, you literally watch the movie with NO dialog and NO effects, with the only audio being John Williams' fantastic score. It's not really necessary to experience the film this way, but it's certainly a cool option... and I can see this being something I may put on in the background sometime.
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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