Whereas J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens was a jubilant nostalgia-filled romp to the first film in the original Star Wars trilogy, Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi energizes the saga's legacy with new breadth, complexity, and intelligence. The Force is strong with this sequel. On 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, the First Order trembles before a beautiful Dolby Vision HDR presentation, rumbles with a satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack, and continues to entertain with a healthy, worthwhile set of supplements, making the 4K package Highly Recommended.
MILD SPOILER WARNING -- please skip this portion of the review if you want to remain 100% spoiler-free.
If The Force Awakens is a homage to the film that launched the Star Wars empire — in a good and highly entertaining way that felt more like nostalgic tribute than boring duplicate — then The Last Jedi is essentially an echo of The Empire Strikes Back. To be more precise, writer and director Rian Johnson models his follow-up to JJ Abrams' 2015 film after Irvin Kershner's 1980 epic space opera in spirit only, following many of the same plot points and beats without completely seeming familiar or a rehash. Picking up directly where the previous film left off, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is trained in the ways of the Force by a bearded and somewhat disheveled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now a Jedi Master living in monk-like seclusion, which is not all that different from Luke's encounter with Yoda (Frank Oz). We're even given an unexpected twist concerning Rey's parentage, one which some fans find frustrating while others see as wholly in line with the plot's central theme.
That theme is perfectly encapsulated in a single line spoken by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) — "Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to." — which opens a whole slew of possibilities, directions and packed with poignant meaning, providing this sequel with a darker tone than its predecessor. There is the most immediate and obvious interpretation of Kylo wanting to remove every trace of his former self and family in order to be an individual, an opinion he urges in Rey to adopt during their Force-granted mental conversations. This also seems to include harboring feelings of regret and guilt, as expressed by Luke feeling responsible for Kylo embracing the dark side of the Force or possibly being arrogant enough to think he could bring back the Jedi Order. But on a deeper level, the theme points to the danger of turning the heroes of the past into mythical, romanticized icons without faults. As Luke plainly demonstrates, heroes can be inspiring but are most definitely flawed and capable of poor judgment, and for Kylo, that means no longer idolizing or emulating his grandfather, Darth Vader.
Likewise, we see something similar occurring when General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher in her final role) leads her resistance forces away from General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the First Order. In the opening moments, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) disobeys orders, and his defiant arrogance results in the loss of many lives, significantly shrinking Leia's already small army and causing his demotion. As this trilogy's Han Solo comedic relief and unabashed machismo, Poe's fragile hauteur and confident swagger are more dangerous than beneficial when it comes to saving lives. There is a hunger in him to be a hero and perhaps even to be acknowledged for his misguidedly perceived courage. Being recently demoted, he is no longer privy to Vice Admiral Holdo's (Laura Dern) plan, and his hurt pride agrees to Finn (John Boyega) and Rose's (Kelly Marie Tran) side adventure to locate a hacker named DJ on a casino planet named Canto Bight. This subplot is not all that different from Han and Leia's detour to Cloud City, which also goes nowhere except for a carbon-frozen Han. And in a similar fashion to Empire, cross-cutting to Canto Bight introduces some slapstick tonal fluctuations and pacing issues that somewhat stall the movie.
Beyond the script's emotional weight and complexity, Johnson's The Last Jedi is also one of the most visually beautiful and elaborate of all the films in the franchise. Thanks to the amazing camerawork and photography of Steve Yedlin (Looper, Brick), audiences are treated to some mesmerizing action sequences and stunning, artist-like scenery — one involving the jaw-dropping obliteration of a Dreadnought and another showing a showdown against a line of AT-M6s at sunset. But given that, the production is not without some faults, such as BB-8 coming to the rescue when hijacking an AT-ST or Finn and Rose escaping Canto Bight by causing a pointless stampede. Arguably, the chief missteps in the story are Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) being another Boba Fett — doing little except look cool — and Leia suddenly using the Force with little warning or foreshadowing.
In spite of these minor flaws, the film is simply excellent and thoroughly engaging, ranking as the best entry in the series since The Empire Strikes Back.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment brings Star Wars: The Last Jedi to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy code, which can be redeemed via RedeemDigitalMovie.com or MoviesAnywhere for access to the HD SDR version while VUDU users can have the 4K digital version with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. But as past experience has shown, this will vary between users. Inside the black, eco-vortex case with a glossy, embossed slipcover, the dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region Free, BD50 copy. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a static screen with the usual selection along the bottom and music playing in the background.
The Last Jedi flies into action on 4K Ultra HD with a lovely and overall terrific HEVC H.265 encode in Dolby Vision HDR, giving fans a great deal worth admiring and for better appreciating some of the stunning visuals. The movie was originally shot on a combination of traditional 35mm, IMAX 65mm and various digital cameras with resolution levels ranging between 3K and 6K, and the footage was later mastered to a 4K digital intermediate.
The results are beautiful, to say the least, showing plenty of definition in the imaginative costuming. Whether it's the uniform of the fighter pilots and the light-brown suits of officers or the uniquely interesting clothing worn by Leia and Holdo, viewers can make out every thread and ultra-fine stitching in every outfit. Meanwhile, every gadget, button and tiny loose wire aboard the various ships is razor-sharp, even from a short distance. Then, on the cold, damp island with Rey and Luke, one can practically count every blade of grass and plainly make out each pit and black spot on the stones everywhere. Facial complexions appear natural and are highly-revealing, exposing the tiniest pore, wrinkle, out-of-place hair and negligible blemish. Sadly, the movie also comes with its share of softer moments, most of which are noticeable during long wide shots, and there are several instances of aliasing along the sharpest edges. This is most egregious and distracting along the steps of Snoke's throne, and when the camera pushes in closer, those same edges also reveal a great deal of digital noise.
Thankfully, the 4K presentation comes with many other areas worth gushing and admiring, starting with an excellent contrast that delivers some significantly bright moments, enough to possibly make viewers squint at the screen. Granted, the stylized photography of Steve Yedlin has been done with a slightly subdued and lightly toned-down appeal, and the transfer is true to those intentions. But in spite of that, whites are immaculate and radiant, such as the nearly sterile, clean walls of the Resistance fleet or in the clothing of the nun-like Caretakers. Most impressive is the brilliantly luminous light emanating from the light sabers with a thin red, blue or green rim that's equally vibrant and resplendent. Specular highlights are also quite stunning, keeping the intensely brightest and blazingly hot areas tight and under control, allowing for exceptional detailing in the plumes of explosions, the firepits, when light partially covers faces or in the sparkling crest of the overcast clouds in the distance.
On the other end of the grayscale, we have rich, luxurious blacks that wash over the frame with inky, pitch-dark shadows that never ruin or engulf the smallest bit of visual information in the background. This provides the 2.39:1 image with a gorgeous cinematic quality, feeling as though watching it again for the first time in cinemas. The best parts are, of course, any scene aboard the First Order's ships where we can plainly make out the difference between the various shades, from the black floors, walls and consoles to the many different fabrics used in some uniforms.
For fans with the audio system to appreciate this sequel's sound design, the Star Wars universe has just taken a huge leap forward by being the first in the franchise with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack (at home). When listening strictly from that perspective, however, the track is not quite as active and spatially immersive as one would hope, especially in respect to the noticeably limited use of the ceiling channels. Occasionally, a fighter will zoom across the room and the roar of the engines are distinctly heard above, or debris from explosions will feel as though raining down the listening area. But such instances are so sporadic and seemingly random that they almost feel blatant and draw attention from the visuals, taking us out of the illusion and moment somewhat. John Williams' score, on the other hand, makes better use filling in the overheads, and a couple of the conversations inside the cave echo throughout with a great sense of realism.
The design's real strength is in the constantly active surrounds, filling the entire room with various atmospherics and sound effects that flawlessly pan from one channel to the next, creating an awesomely immersive 360° soundfield. The soundstage, too, is highly engaging and continuously bustling with convincing off-screen activity that fluidly moves between the three channels, generating a splendidly broad and spacious wall of sound. The mid-range exhibits superb detailing and distinction in the loudest, action-packed sequences, allowing for every bit of debris to be heard moving in every direction and for the electrically-charged swords to feel tensely dynamic when clashing with one another. As with previous entries in the series hitting home video, the low-end is not particularly standout or remarkable, but bass is nonetheless satisfyingly adequate and plentiful to provide the action with appreciable weight and presence. Amid all the commotion and chaos, vocals are well-prioritized and precise from beginning to end.
All the supplements are stored on the second Blu-ray disc while the first disc contains an Audio Commentary with writer and director Rian Johnson. The filmmaker talks extensively — and not surprising, enthusiastically — about his involvement, writing the plot with a unique vision and aspirations in mind and sharing his experience on the set, working with the cast and praising their performances along the way.
The Director and the Jedi (HD, 95 min): Lengthy and exhaustive documentary taking viewers into a sneak peek of nearly every aspect of the production, but it's particularly focused on the aspirations of the director with various figures involved interviewed, talking about taking part in his vision.
Scene Breakdowns (HD, 33 min): Three pieces made of interviews and tons of BTS footage, each taking a closer look at shooting the epic space battles and the effects for bringing them to life, the motion capture work behind the Snoke character, and a breakdown of the film's final massive showdown.
Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle
Snoke and Mirrors
Showdown on Crait
Balance of the Force (HD, 10 min): The director shares his thoughts on the mythology of the Force.
Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only) (HD, 6 min): Raw, original footage of Serkis' mocap performance.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 23 min): 14 sequences with optional commentary and director introduction.
ALSO: If you redeem your Digital Copy via Movies Anywhere or a streaming partner linked to your Movies Anywhere account, you get access to one more digital-only bonus feature:
Score Only Version of The Last Jedi – Sit back and enjoy John Williams' iconic music over the entire film.
UPDATE 3/26/18: This bonus feature is now also available via iTunes.
Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi immediately became a box-office hit, but not without some controversy and to the dissatisfaction of very vocal fans who did not care for the direction the latest installment has taken. Following in the footsteps and in the spirit of The Empire Strikes Back, the sequel to J.J. Abrams' 2015 film comes with a darker tone and more complex theme than its predecessor, giving audiences a highly-engaging follow-up that genuinely surprises and is arguably the best in the franchise since Irvin Kershner's 1980 epic space opera.
The epic saga spreads into Ultra HD territory with a beautiful 4K Dolby Vision HDR video and an excellent Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The overall presentation comes with a couple minor and arguably negligible drawbacks, but all things considered, it is the best way to enjoy the fantastic follow-up. With a good, healthy collection of bonus features to boot, the 4K package is highly recommended for fans of the film and UHD enthusiasts hungry for more HDR goodness.