- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The billion-dollar blockbuster that concluded the Skywalker saga debuts on ultra-high definition in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, 142 minutes, $44.98)

The nine-film, over-four-decade odyssey finds director J.J, Abrams at the helm once again to bring one of the most popular franchises back on track with an epic ending that delivers much to either a fan’s mortification or audience’s delight.

The tale about a nobody, now a somebody, has the Force-fueled Rey (Daisy Ridley) training with Gen. Lei Organa (Carrie Fisher) while her Resistance friends including Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) fight off extinction from the First Order.

Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hunts down the ultimate ally or enemy, the assumed very dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who wants to unleash the Final Order  and destroy the Jedi.

Well, as a diehard “Star Wars” fan since 1977, I still own an original “Chewie” T-shirt that added to my therapist bills in high school thanks to plenty of verbal abuse from bullies, I immediately got a headache after watching the under-explained plot unfold.

We get it, Mr. Abrams. Rian Johnson’s curveballs in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” handcuffed you in many ways, and pesky fans demanded retribution.

However, simply throwing away any conventions of storytelling and over appeasing what he thought fans wanted to see is no way to spend $275 million.

Yet, the nostalgic Kool-Aid drip trip may cloud minds like a Jedi mind trick as we see an older but still classy Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) returning while a scene in which a young Luke and Leia train together makes it hard not to smile.

I’ll also admit, the movie had a few reasons to appreciate the effort. By far, the most emotional moment was watching the tragedy of Chewbacca as he watches all of his longtime friends die.

Still, watching Mr. Abrams and his minions lay waste to numerous subplots introduced by Mr. Johnson will cause heads to shake.

What’s the point of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) other than an encouraging extra now? What happened to the Force being a universal power that any “nobody” could possess?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a few more headscratchers. (SPOILER ALERTS)

• The complete lack of foreshadowing of the return of Emperor Palpatine is troubling. What? Did I miss something? The last time I saw the deformed old man, he was being tossed down a Death Star reactor shaft by Darth Vader.

• On that topic, viewers get a non-explanation for the Emperor surviving his apparent demise. The average viewer is not going to dive through books and graphic novels that might explain his resurrection.

• Who the heck are Rey’s parents and how did she suddenly become Palpatine’s granddaughter.

• The complete waste of what viewers thought were important characters. The most powerful Dark Side leader Snoke is dead, but duplicated pieces of him are pickled in the Palpatine’s‘ laboratory. Is he a clone, was he a clone, are we building more clones?

• Keri Russell as Poe Dameron’s former love interest Zorii Bliss was a complete waste. She’s in a stupid helmet during the entire movie and other than her lifting her visor to make eye contact with Poe, is a massive missed opportunity for an emotional connection that the cocky pilot sorely needed.

• Fear the powerful Knights of Ren, fear the powerful Knights of Ren. Well, the mysterious order founded by Kylo Ren to cause havoc in the galaxy was killed off by the Sith wannabe in the blink of an eye in the film. What a waste of another intriguing collection of characters that we barely got to know.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a serviceable film but unfortunately, George Lucas’ mighty space fantasy sort of ends with a thud.

So, I must now travel to the far reaches of digital streaming space to embrace the Disney Plus pay service where I may still find some level of “Star Wars”-fueled, geek-ified respite in shows such as “The Mandalorian” and upcoming “Star Wars: Obi-Wan.”

4K in action: Whatever one might find distasteful to the plot will get erased by a pristine 2160p viewing experience delivered from a 4K digital intermediate.

Detail and colors revel on the screen with help from high dynamic range enhancements as one can examine every electrified imperfection of Kylo Ren’s crossguard lightsaber with crackling red blade; witness Palpatine’s regenerating and disintegrating face; and appreciate minutiae such as a tear from Rey falling and soaking into the back of Leia’s robe.

Equally impressive was the Millennium Falcon lightspeed skipping across the galaxy through varied color saturated terrains, Chewbacca walking against the panoramic desert landscape of the planet Pasanna, examining the enormous wreckage and rusted beams of the Death Star crashed into a moon of Endor and squinting at the explosive destruction of the planet Kijimi.

Clarity remains excellent throughout, although I only noticed the slightest of grain when Rey visited the sterile white chambers of Kylo Ren but that was quickly ignored while examining the various shades of black of a burned and disfigured mask and helmet of Darth Vader popping from the room’s starkness.

Equally impressive was the Dolby Atmos soundtrack embellishing every sound effect trick ever used in “Star Wars” films and, by far most important, in loving and reliving John Williams’ stellar musical score. The composer embraces nearly every theme he has used in many of the eight Skywalker films and while music booms from the speakers, I could practically anticipate the notes in many a scene.

This transfer will challenge any naysayers wishing to abandon viewing films via traditional discs and simply watching blockbusters through any often inconsistent streaming services.

“Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” is a truly epic, home theater visual and audio experience.

Best extras: The highlight is Debs Paterson’s more than 2-hour-long, bittersweet retrospective of the entire 9-film Skywalker saga loaded with vintage behind-the-scenes clips of the actors that “Star Wars” fans love as well as almost too much production fodder on the new film.

It scores big joy points when watching an early interview with Carrie Fisher on “The Empire Strikes Back” set, outtakes with Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin or Harrison Ford screwing up his lines during a rehearsal in the Millennium Falcon (the exasperated look on Alec Guinness’ face is priceless).

Also, seeing John Williams appear in a bar scene and learning that the shelves behind him held chachkies and gadgets representing all of the movies from his 52 Oscar nominations was as eye-opening as learn about greebles from prop designers (add fake widgets to make something look more technologically advanced than it is, a trademark of craftsman building the “Star Wars” universe).

Not so fun is watching the new movie’s behind-the-scenes silliness as John Boyega wastes time on the sets, and filmmakers try to rationalize choices made in the latest film narrative including Palpatine’s return.

Viewers also get a 15-minute look at creating the speeder chase in the Wadi Rum desert reserve in Jordan, a couple of featurettes on alien design and, my favorite, a 5-minute look at Warwick Davis recreating the role of Wicket the Ewok for the latest film. He was even joined by his 10-year-old son dressed as an Ewok.

Additionally, use the included digital code, and don’t watch the film, we already discussed this, but enjoy another extra not on the discs.

Specifically, watch an 11-minute look at Mr. Williams’ career with “Star Wars” including vintage footage of the maestro in action and interviews with the composer, all guaranteed to deliver some goosebumps.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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