- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2018

Another billion-dollar blockbuster chronicling George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away moves from movie to home theaters to unleash a nearly perfect ultra-high definition experience in Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi, Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 152 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $29.99).

Director Rian Johnson, who also wrote the story, takes viewers on an ominous adventure about the near-extinction of the fledgling Resistance as the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Gen. Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (a motion-captured Andy Serkis), doggedly hunt them across the galaxy.

Although heroes such as Gen. Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), Finn (John Boyega), Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Vice Adm. Holdo (Laura Dern) put up a good fight, it may take the Force-fueled Jakku scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) to snap Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) out of his self-imposed exile on the planet of Ahch-To and restore hope to a galaxy.

Sure, the extremely long movie has some issues. I can harp on about wasting the creepy villain Snoke and the unusual metallic Stormtrooper Capt. Phasma or some of the poorly placed humor that can literally suck the suspense building right from a scene.

“The Last Jedi” has been favorably compared to “The Empire Strikes Back” for its heroic desperation, but it really lacks the emotional impact and any monumental reveals comparable to the identity of Luke’s father.

Still, moments such as the takedown of Snoke’s flagship, the battle on the mineral planet Crait, Dameron’s use of an X-Wing, the frenetic unraveling of the petulant Ren and a final scene with Luke and Leia deliver the canon’s goods.

I also really appreciated the way Luke’s story played out. Now a mentally broken Jedi master, purposely cut off from the Force and realizing that all the success he had against the Empire and saving his father Darth Vader was for naught, he has given up hope.

After Rey’s attempts to resurrect his fire falls on deaf ears —(spoiler alert!) — it takes prodding from a familiar green Jedi master to get him to react. It’s the most epic scene, and the most welcomed dose of nostalgia in the entire film.

Despite grumbling from the “Star Wars” masses, take it from a guy who is one of the masses and still has all of his Bantha Tracks (the official Star Wars Fan Club Newsletter) neatly tucked away on a shelf, “The Last Jedi” served its purpose handsomely and makes for a thrilling evening of entertainment.

4K UHD in action: Viewers get a reference quality, native ultra-high definition experience culled from the 4K digital intermediate (that combined 35mm, IMAX 65mm film stock and digital footage) and high dynamic range enhancements from a Dolby Vision infusion for vivid color and brighter picture.

The results never disappoint with visuals delivering a substantial increase in both clarity, texture and color range to bring every scuff and ding from Ren’s helmet to an X-Wing cockpit right to the forefront of an audience’s inspection.

Details immediately appreciated included the brushed metal on BB-8’s head; each moving piece of Luke’s metal hand; the fibers of Snoke’s highly textured, gold lame robe and the fine pieces of hair fluff on the grotesque villain’s head; the Crait crystal foxes with Mylar sparkly fur; ice crystals forming on Leia’s hand as she floats in space; and even the shadow cast from Rey’s lips to her front teeth (I can’t believe I even noticed that).

Scenes requiring multiple playbacks to catch every nuance included the opening space battle with the fiery destruction of Resistance bombers and the First Order’s Dreadnaught, Rey and Kylo fighting off the Red Guard in Snoke’s throne room (watch for the sparks as combat weapons strike) and that wondrous battle on Crait.

That battle features the latest version of the bad guys’ gorilla-esque Walkers pounding and kicking up flakes of red crystals from the planet’s surface and the Millennium Falcon navigating though an intricate crystal cavern.

Backing up the 2160p visual splendor is a booming Dolby Atmos soundtrack that swirls through speaker systems as space battles explode on the screen or a lightsabers crackle in the midst of combat.

It also delivers a much-deserved richness to John William’s latest, thematically rich, “Star Wars” musical score. Suffice it to report: Crank up the volume to get immersed in the aural adventure.

Best extras: “Star Wars” nerds in the family (that’s me!) will find all of the must-see bonus materials contained on a pair of included Blu-ray discs in the package.

And, first, what better way to get an authoritative understanding of the writer/director’s motivations than to watch the film again and listen to Mr. Johnson dissect and critique his work through an optional commentary track.

He talks nonstop, much to my delight, and honestly analyzes near every decision on the film touching on camera choices, the cast, comparisons to other “Star Wars” films, the uses of practical effects whenever possible, dialogue changes and even admitting to rerecording a piece of the track after incorrectly calling an actor Hermione Granger.

A few highlights include:

Mr. Johnson wrote the opening crawl first, had help with grammatical errors on it, and he reminds us that John Williams always rerecords the opening fanfare new for each film.

• He explains the awkward Monty Python-paced joke sequence between Dameron and Hux at the film’s beginning, making viewers understand that they should have fun watching and “it’s OK to laugh.”

• He explains the conception and ultimate shortening of Luke’s famed dialogue segment: “It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

• The director actually stomped on Ren’s helmet to completely destroy it, and used an X-Wing door as the entrance to Luke’s hut on Ahch-To.

Fisher ad-libbed the line about her hair during the very emotional meeting between Luke and Leia.

Next, dive into a 95-minute-long, nuts-and-bolts look at the production with cameras following Mr. Johnson around as he inspects, shoots, creates and encourages staff during various stages of the exhausting filmmaking process.

Interviews abound with key cast and crew members including Mr. Hamill (who fundamentally disagreed with how Mr. Johnson used the character); Fisher; producer Ram Bergman (who speaks often and consoles the director); cinematographer Steve Yedlin; producer Kathleen Kennedy; first assistant director Jamie Christopher; creature effects supervisor Neal Scanlan; special effects supervisor Chris Coulbould; costume designer Michael Kaplan; film editor Bob Ducsay; and production designer Rick Heinrichs.

On-set moments not soon to be forgotten by fans include: Mr. Hamill meeting Frank Oz as he practices working with Yoda; actors preparing for with Pretorian Guard battle; effects staff gushing about finding and using the original molds of Yoda; and Mr. Johnson revealing the name of the movie to Mr. Hamill. Yes, it’s a definitive, intimate documentary for the “Star Wars” devotee.

Viewer also get 14 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Mr. Johnson. He laments that pacing caused the excising of most all of the segments. The best of the bunch include Rey rescuing Ahch-To’s caretakers, much to Luke’s delight, Finn meeting an old Stormtrooper pal on Snoke’s flagship, and Rose biting Gen. Hux.

Finally, another 48 minutes of featurettes cover Mr. Serkis performing as Snoke in motion-capture gear, a discussion on the current state of the Force, and breakdowns of the space and Crait battles.

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