Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
Rated PG-13, 152 minutes.
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro and Andy Serkis
This is probably the most polarizing STAR WARS film since the prequels. After fans criticized 2015’s THE FORCE AWAKENS for playing things too safe and not taking enough risks with the franchise, one would think THE LAST JEDI should have received universal acclaim. Yet, now the consensus is that director Rian Johnson should have played things a little safer and not taken so many risks with the franchise. Regardless of how fans may feel about THE LAST JEDI, the fact is that, like the prequels, it exists and there’s nothing we can do about it. So we might as well sit back and enjoy it for what it is.
Movie Grade: B
Taking place immediately after THE FORCE AWAKENS, a determined Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks out the help of legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join the Resistance and fight the First Order. Rey also hopes Luke will teach her the ways of the Force. However, Skywalker insists the Jedi don’t deserve to exist and refuses to train her. Rey then must find out what happened to this seasoned hero for him to have changed so much. Meanwhile, General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) desperately flees from the clutches of the First Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as they slowly run out of fuel.
Without delving too deep into spoilers, the events of the film are best described in the words of Skywalker himself: “This is not going to go the way you think.” For all of the complaints on the direction the characters ultimately are taken, this is still a thrilling film with action set pieces to please even the most ardent of fans, as well as a thought provoking approach to the concept of the Force itself. It begs to question how the currently untitled ninth episode may close out the series, but ultimately scratches that itch to return to a galaxy far, far away.
Video/Audio Grade: A
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is not only the first film in the series to see a 4K release, but also is derived from a native 4K digital intermediate. To put it simply, this movie looks incredible in the format. Intricate details on massive ships and even thread textures on costumes are a feast for the eyes. Practical effects look as real as ever, with the hand-woven hair on Chewbacca in particular looking phenomenal. My only instance of feeling the presentation was less than perfection has to be the Canto-Bight casino sequence and the computer generated characters therein. They sadly feel separated from the rest of the practical sets and puppets. Additionally, in the scene taking place shortly after this action sequence in the dark fields outside the casino, the black levels come off as a little crushed and even the exceptional HDR/Dolby Vision does little to save the image. Thankfully, the visual quality is top notch for the remainder of the film.
The Dolby Atmos track is also a stellar creation. STAR WARS films have always had impeccable sound design and this is no exception. Everything down to the blasters, lightsabers, and John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score sound as clear as one would expect. This one will put your speakers to the test.
Extras Grade: A-
No special features are included on the 4K disc, but can be found on the standard Blu-ray of the film. There is also a third Blu-ray disc containing a feature-length documentary on Johnson’s journey through making the film. This documentary, along with all other featurettes, unsurprisingly comes coated in that special Disney brand of varnish that we’ve come to expect after the last two films. (Kathleen Kennedy gushing about how amazing the cast and crew were, slow motion shots of visual effects being tested and fight choreography, etc.) Yet, there is a welcome sense of humanity that Johnson brings to the feature as he struggles with self doubt on the decisions he makes for the film and whether or not fans will be happy with them. Hamill candidly reveals how he profoundly disagreed with the direction his character was taken, yet gracefully did everything in his power to support Johnson’s decisions. It’s a bold move to have a feature reveal such a raw side of the filmmaking process, and may even have been included to acknowledge the cultural backlash THE LAST JEDI ultimately received.
All special features:
- The Director and the Jedi – Go deep behind the scenes with Johnson on an intimate and personal journey through the production of the movie—and experience what it’s like to helm a global franchise and cultural phenomenon.
- Balance of the Force – Explore the mythology of the Force and why Johnson chose to interpret its role in such a unique way.
- Scene Breakdowns:
- Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle – Get a close-up look at the epic space battle, from the sounds that help propel the action, through the practical and visual effects, to the characters who bring it all to life.
- Snoke and Mirrors – Motion capture and STAR WARS collide as the filmmakers take us through the detailed process of creating the movie’s malevolent master villain.
- Showdown on Crait – Break down everything that went into creating the stunning world seen in the movie’s final confrontation, including the interplay between real-word locations and visual effects, reimagining the walkers, designing the crystal foxes, and much more.
- Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only) – Johnson presents two exclusive sequences from the movie featuring Serkis’ riveting, raw on-set performance before his digital makeover into Snoke.
- 14 Deleted Scenes – With an introduction and optional commentary by Johnson.
- Audio Commentary – View the movie with in-depth feature audio commentary by Johnson.
Final Grade: A-
While certainly a divisive entry into the franchise, THE LAST JEDI is a resounding success as the first in the saga to make the leap to 4K.