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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Blu-ray Review

Jedi

It’s not hard to see why “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the most divisive “Star Wars” film to date.

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Like many people out there, I am a huge fan of the “Star Wars” franchise. Not only is 1977’s “Star Wars” my favorite film of all-time, but I’m greatly inspired by George Lucas as a storyteller, a world builder, and a visionary filmmaker. In short, “Star Wars” means a lot to me.

Going into “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I was excited by the prospect of seeing something fresh. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was successful in introducing new characters and delivering a fun ride, but it was a safe movie that didn’t offer up a lot of creativity in the story department. As I’m sure everyone knows by now, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” takes a lot of risks. I respect that writer/director Rian Johnson did something different and that he didn’t let fans dictate the direction he wanted his film to go in. At the end of the day, however, it’s up to each viewer to interpret whether those choices work or not and, to me, the bold choices Rian Johnson made are the film’s undoing.

In terms of “The Last Jedi,” there’s been a lot of talk about how critics of the film wanted to see fan service and that personal expectations clouded judgement. While that may be true of some fans, it’s a gross generalization. To me, the film’s shortcomings are not about what I wanted to see, it’s about what’s on the screen. It’s about whether or not the writing holds up to scrutiny and, to me, the script is ultimately what lets this movie down.

I’m going to dive into the script problem by problem here so bear with me. First of all, there’s the running out of gas plot. As astute sci-fi fans will notice, the plot feels like a rip-off of the great “Battlestar Galactica” episode “33.” The one difference is this plot is ridiculous. There’s no reason why a horde of short range tie fighters couldn’t finish off the Resistance fleet if the Resistance ships were out of range from the Star Destroyers’ weapons. It is shown in the film that Kylo Ren and the Ties accompanying him did a lot of damage, but were called back because the Star Destroyers couldn’t cover them. The First Order wanted to play the long game and eventually destroy them after they ran out of gas. And yet, the FO was still firing at their ships out of range and hitting them. It’s a bundle of contradictions.

The gas shortage plot, of course, leads into one of the biggest headaches of this film- the Resistance mutiny. The Resistance are facing extinction, they’re being tracked through hyperspace, time is running out, and yet, there is absolutely no communication between Resistance leaders. Poe creates a secret mission for BB-8, Finn and Rose to disable the hyperspace tracker. Not only does this mission prove to be useless, but it IS useless. Had Admiral Holdo told Poe what was going on with the Crait base plan, confusion, death, turmoil, the mutiny, and the side mission with Finn could have been avoided. Instead, the story is divised in a way to be a lame lesson for Poe to be a future leader and for the Resistance heroes to face numerous trials.

If the story looks and plays like it is detached from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” you’re not alone in thinking that. There’s a severe lack of synergy and cohesion between episodes 7 and 8 due to the production and writing schedules of both films. In hindsight, that was a big mistake as the films do not feel like they are part of the same trilogy at times. It’s especially strange in that so much of what JJ Abrams set up in TFA has been diminished. Again, I’m all for Rian telling his own story, but how can you not feel puzzled by seeing Johnson dismiss Snoke, turn BB-8 and General Hux into cartoon characters, not acknowledge the Knights of Ren, literally toss away Admiral Ackbar, not include established Resistance characters like Snap Wexley and Admiral Statura (seriously, where are they?), and utterly waste Captain Phasma?

Going back to Rian Johnson’s script as a whole, I’m still trying to wrap my head around why and how he told the story the way he did. The movie is constantly subverting expectations which could have been a good thing if it didn’t come across as a bottom tier M. Night Shyalaman movie with its constant twists. Now, fans of TLJ have been vocal about how this challenging approach takes the franchise to new places and, while that may be true, there are ways to evolve the franchise and mythology without gimmicky misdirections and contrarian creative choices meant to showcase the trials and tribulations of each and every character. As for the script’s humor, this is one of the critical missteps of the movie. Humor has always been key to “Star Wars” films, but it’s never been done in a way that undercuts the drama like it is in TLJ. Whether Luke is drinking green milk from a sea cow (don’t ask) or Poe is essentially prank calling Hux, the humor frequently comes across as groan worthy.

Of course, the main talking point about TLJ has been the depiction of Luke Skywalker. Again, there are people who had wild theories about what they wanted to see the character do and how disappointed they were when they didn’t get to see him do it. As for myself, I’m merely critiquing what was on screen. At the end of the day, the major questions in regards to Luke’s character are “Is this convincing?” and “Does this treatment of Luke feel true to the spirit of the character?” For me, it doesn’t and this is the major flaw of TLJ. To put it simply, I don’t buy how his character is portrayed in this film. I don’t buy that he puts himself in exile. I don’t buy that he has a moment of weakness with Ben Solo. I don’t buy that he wants the Jedi to end initially. I don’t buy Luke cutting himself off from the Force. I see what Rian Johnson was trying to do with the character storywise particularly in relation with Rey and The Force, but it feels like a disservice not only to the character but the saga as a whole. You’re essentially wasting a character, a Jedi, and a hero by giving him a slight sendoff. And, let me be perfectly clear, this is no fault of Mark Hamill. He does his job and he acts his ass off here. Speaking of Hamill, even the actor has been vocal about how his character is portrayed here. In “The Director And The Jedi” extra feature, Hamill comments on Rian Johnson’s script by saying “I fundamentally disagree with your concepts of the character and how you use them.” He has every right to express his feelings and, honestly, I think he’s right on the money with those comments.

As for the other characters in this story, I can’t say I was thrilled by how many of them were written either. Oscar Isaac’s Poe gets far more to do here, but he is saddled with that mutiny/leadership story which makes him out to be a hothead idiot. Again, it’s not the fault of Isaac, it’s just a poorly plotted character arc. Likewise, Holdo’s (played by the always great Laura Dern) character is hampered by the Poe story arc as well. She does have one great moment though (you’ll know it when you see it). Speaking of another arc that doesn’t work, there’s the Finn and Rose side plot. Finn, who frequently stole the show in TFA, really doesn’t have much to do here as he’s wishing for the safety of Rey and learning to be a Resistance hero. It’s a rather bland arc for the character and it doesn’t feel like Rian Johnson knows what to do with him. Rose has been one of the most divisive characters of the entire saga but the criticisms are extremely overblown. Kelly Marie Tran certainly does the best she can, but I just don’t think the character gets to breathe enough. It feels like Rose is more of a concept than a character in that she represents the ordinary person that becomes a hero. It would have been nice to have seen the character have scenes with her sister Paige or even scenes utilizing her mechanical skills to give her character more depth.

Luckily, there are character arcs that do work here. Much like in TFA, Kylo Ren is the MVP of TLJ. Why? Because you understand him the most. He’s the most developed character of the new trilogy and, as such, is the most compelling. It doesn’t hurt that Adam Driver just crushes it as the villainous conflicted character either. The intensity of his performance never ceases to amaze me. Whether he’s battling in the Throne Room or fuming at the sight of Luke, the character commands your attention. Even though we still have no idea how the First Order rose to power or who Snoke is, I still like Snoke (and the mo-cap performance by Andy Serkis). He’s an intriguing, powerful, and boastful villain that I wanted to see more of. I may be in the minority, but I liked Benicio Del Toro’s codebreaker/thief character DJ. The actor has always been one to make bold decisions and he does so again with DJ. I liked the notion that DJ doesn’t pick a side and that he lives freely. He sees everything as one big war machine. I have no idea if we will see him again, but there’s certainly a lot of potential with this character. General Leia’s role was fairly limited in TFA, but she has a much bigger part here. The late Carrie Fisher truly delivers a touching and poignant final performance both as Leia and in cinema. Lastly, there’s Daisy Ridley’s Rey. The relative unknown Ridley made a big splash in TFA, but her role isn’t so showy here and that’s OK. The character’s journey is often more introspective here which results in a lot of quiet and intimate moments as she finds out about herself and attempts to connect with others. It’s a quality character arc and Ridley delivers an underrated performance.

As for the rest of the movie, there are moments that do stick out (in a good way). The much hyped Porgs are cute and adorable and provide the film’s best comedic moments. John Williams score is easily the best part of the entire film. There’s a nice blend of new music, callbacks, and a further exploration of established themes for new trilogy characters. The aforementioned Throne Room lightsaber battle is a clear highlight (although it does appear overly choreographed on repeat viewings). The closing moments with the force using “broom kid” open up exciting possibilities for future installments. Lastly, there’s my 2 favorite scenes- Luke on the Falcon reuniting with R2-D2 and the Falcon diving into the earth of Crait. To me, these scenes felt more like “Star Wars” than anything else in the film.

Video/Audio:

Presentation: 2.39:1 1080p. How does it look? It should come as no surprise that this is a high quality transfer.

Audio Track: 7.1 DTS-HD MA. How does it sound? Is the force with this 7.1 track? You know it is. Everything from the hum of the lightsabers to the glorious John Williams score sounds fantastic here.

Extras: * Digital copy * 14 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Rian Johnson and an intro by the director as well. For as many deleted scenes as there are, most of them were justifiably cut. I mean, can you believe there’s an even longer Fathier chase scene? There are a few gems here such as the Caretaker Village scene (which has some emotional weight). I appreciated Elements of the Phasma scene (which was more interesting than what we got) and I like seeing more establishing shots of creatures and costumes on Canto Bight. * “Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)” showcases part of the intense mo-cap performance of Andy Serkis as Snoke. * “Scene Breakdowns”- A look at the extensive amount of work that goes into the pre-production, production and post-production of certain sequences- the opening space battle, the hyperspace sacrifice, Snoke in the Throne Room, and numerous elements of the material on Crait. * “Balance of the Force”- This featurette has Rian Johnson and others talking about Luke, Rey and The Force in-depth. * A solo commentary by Rian Johnson that provides a lot of insight into his thought process. * “The Director And The Jedi”- The centerpiece of the extras is this 95 minute documentary that follows Rian Johnson’s journey in directing “The Last Jedi.” Expect to see rehearsals, a chronicle of the production of the film, set footage, a look at the massive amount of sets (120 to be exact), insight into Rian Johnson’s vision, and footage of the cast at work. However you may feel about the film, this is a great extra that I found it more rewarding than the film itself. It’s a really detailed look at the moviemaking and directorial process.

Overall Thoughts: I don’t want it to seem like I’m picking on Rian Johnson’s work here. I respect his craft and artistry, I think he’s talented, I have enjoyed previous work of his (especially “Looper” and his “Breaking Bad” episodes) and I am curious to see how his future new trilogy pans out. When it comes to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” however, I just don’t buy his creative choices here from the character actions to the plotlines. There are elements that work, but as a whole, it’s a mess of a movie.

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March 23, 2018 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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