Star Wars: The Last Jedi 4K Blu-ray Review
There's no doubt - The Last Jedi is the most talked about Star Wars film since the prequels, and also the most divisive. I'm going to nail my colours to the mast right here and now; I think it's not only one of the best - maybe the best - Star Wars film so far; it's also an astounding piece of filmmaking when taken on its own merits.
Rian Johnson has never been a blockbuster director - his debut, Brick, was a modern noir that turned the genre on its head. He followed this up with The Brothers Bloom and the overlooked time-twisting sci-fi Looper. Each of his movies have been extremely well plotted, paced and all three offer a new take in their respective genres. Since then Johnson's most noteworthy work has been directing some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad; again each had its own feel outside of the narrative of that series.
The Last Jedi is no different. It's undeniably a Star Wars film - the look, the feel, the characters, the history - they're all treated with the utmost respect - yet Johnson took the opportunity to clear the decks and reboot the franchise in ways that no fan predicted. Fan theories were shot down, one by one with satisfying effect. And some fans hated it. They shouted, they stamped their feet and they rated it badly on Rotten Tomatoes.
While JJ Abrams The Force Awakens received heavy criticism for being something of a retread of Star Wars, The Last Jedi has received even more criticism for doing something new. When Abrams wrote the first episode in this new trilogy he also sketched out a larger storyline that would take in all three instalments. Johnson ditched it and went on to write something entirely of his own. Taking the setup he was given and all of the established lore and creating something that would be far more in keeping with what we already know.
I've already written in length about how this film takes in the entire saga and manages to embrace all of them; whereas Abrams film felt like something of a love letter to Lucas' original film, Johnson paid heed to what we've seen across the rest of the series. Yet there are huge parallels to The Empire Strikes Back too - Rey here follows Luke's path with her Jedi training; which she abandons much like Luke does as she runs to save her friends. The film ends on a downbeat note - while undefeated the future looks even more bleak for the Resistance as it did for the Rebellion. We can look on Finn and Rose's sojourn to Canto Bight as being similar in some ways to that of Han and Leia on Cloud City; yet that whole plot also is the closest we've seen to the worlds of the prequels too.
The Last Jedi is peppered with beautiful moments - things that make wonderful cinema. The sweeping vistas of Ahch-To to the stark contrast offered by the salt encrusted Crait all look stunning. The wonder of the moment Leia finally makes use of the Force in a way we've not seen her do before; the silence of Holdo's sacrifice that gives the remnants of the Resistance time to find safe harbour; Luke looking out at the two suns of Ahch-To that hark back to his childhood on Tatooine - the list is never ending and even half a dozen watches in I'm still finding new moments to love.
It's a wonderful film - and while Johnson's screenplay and direction are key, huge credit should also be extended to the cast - Mark Hamill here as Luke is the best he's ever been. The perfect portrayal of a character weary with the weight of responsibility that has driven him into exile. Carrie Fisher's final role was a fitting tribute to her; I'm glad that there was no attempt to reconcile her real-life passing with the events in the film - to do so would have belittled her wonderful final moments here.
Daisy Ridley continues to excel as Rey - she's now the saga's lead and in lesser hands she could have been an irritating character. Instead Rey is fierce and a formidable force going into the final film of the trilogy. John Boyega had a little less to do this time around; but his arc with Rose is one of the sweetest things in the film and it'll be interesting to see how their relationship develops in the future - Kelly Marie Tran is an excellent addition to the cast. Oscar Isaac also perfectly embodies Poe Dameron - cocksure from the opening moments; he undergoes something of an education that sets him up to be a solid leader of the Resistance in Episode IX.
Over on the Dark Side, Adam Driver's take on the fractured and tortured Kylo Ren is outstanding - able to switch from vulnerable and damaged to crazed 'leader' without a moment's thought. His is possibly the hardest role to tie down and he manages it. Domhnall Gleeson continues to be something of a pantomime villain - he may be the highest ranked person in the First Order, but the character feels like an inexperienced child crazed on too much power.
Of the new faces, Benicio Del Toro feels somewhat disappointing. While his role in the story wasn't unnecessary, it didn't feel quite as intrinsic as the casting would have suggested. Laura Dern on the other hand was fantastic as Vice Admiral Holdo and despite her character feeling abrasive on our first encounter by the end of her character's arc in the film she feels like she's been here with us all along.
The Last Jedi is one of the longest Star Wars films to date - and while some have criticised the pacing; I'm going against the grain - I think Johnson has worked things perfectly here offering room to breathe when the opportunity suits but then adding additional peril through taught storytelling later on. We'll talk about cut scenes in more detail later, but while each of them has plenty of merit on their own, their removal from the film does largely make sense - even that third lesson that Luke promised Rey - her hasty departure with that lesson unlearned makes much more thematic sense than her completing her 'training'.
The 4K Blu-ray release features both the full UHD transfer on one disc along with the standard Blu-ray edition of the film and a third disc of extra features. The UHD disc features the best looking Star Wars transfer - it looks stunning. Pin sharp, with space-based scenes making the most of HDR bringing deep, dark blacks and a vibrancy like no other we've seen. The digital effects look splendid here too - and the contrasting colour schemes on Crait literally pop adding an almost 3D edge to the picture. The standard Blu-ray is also great, lacking some of the punch that the HDR aspect of its more advanced sibling it still offers a sharp, detailed picture with a good colour range.
The Dolby Atmos track on the 4K disc is, as usual, the pick of the bunch - not only showcasing John Williams wonderful score beautifully, it also offers an atmospheric and deep audio experience. Non-English soundtracks are provided in Dolby Digital 7.2 with a 2.0 channel Audio Description track. The Blu-ray offers an excellent DTS-HD 7.1 track and there's very little to tell between that and the lead Atmos track on the 4K disc.
The lead extra is the audio commentary in which director, Rian Johnson, gives us a detailed look at the making of the film. Most interesting is his dissection of effects sequences giving us an insight into just how much of the film was created with practical rather than digital effects - a marked departure from the prequels. He also reveals just how much thought and detail has gone into almost every aspect of the film, from the recreation of Yoda - from the original Empire Strikes Back moulds - to his seemingly photographic memory of names of almost everyone involved in every scene of the film. It's pretty clear just how much Rian Johnson both loves Star Wars, and also how much care he put into bringing his ideas to life.
Disappointingly the audio commentary is only on the Blu-ray disc so isn't an option for listening with the 4K presentation. In addition to the commentary we have the utterly fantastic The Director and the Jedi documentary that delves even more deeply into Rian Johnson's work on the film. This is an astounding watch and almost worth the cost of the disc on its own.
There are fourteen deleted scenes from the film - many of them have already been shared online ahead of release diminishing their value somewhat, and most accompanied by statements that the scenes here are better than those that made the final cut - and for the most part, as standalone scenes they're all great - but every single one of them would have been detrimental to the film's pacing had they made it into the cut. Taking Finn and Phasma's confrontation - yes the deleted scene is great out of context, but had it been used in place of the chosen alternative it would have stopped the plot progressing at one of the most taught moments of the film. Likewise 'Rey's final lesson' is decent enough, but it doesn't add anything to the film and Rey not having that lesson feels far more appropriate; giving her similarly curtailed training to that which Luke received in The Empire Strikes Back.
The remaining extras are a less essential but worth a watch - Balance of the Force is a ten minute short that sees Johnson tell us more about the mythology behind the Star Wars universe' mystical energy. There are also three scene breakdown that run to just over 10 minutes each and a six minute segment of Andy Serkis in his motion capture garb as he brings the digital Snoke to life.
While it is inevitable that we'll be seeing a full trilogy collection at a later date that will likely pack in even more, this is still an amazing release and the fact that it's the first UHD Star Wars release makes it even more impressive.