With any Star Wars movie, it takes time to separate the hype and initial snap judgments from a more reasoned opinion. Anyone else remember walking out of The Phantom Menace stunned by how not-Star Wars it felt, and how miscast Jake Lloyd seemed? Time and the subsequent prequels gave that story a better context. In The Last Jedi, those street urchin kids felt so uncomfortably Disney that ending on a shot of Broom Boy left a bad taste. Given some space, however, the majority of that movie works. Conversely, to a nine year-old, Return of the Jedi seemed like the best one ever. It’s not. So how does The Rise of Skywalker Blu-ray play, given the vocally disappointed reactions we heard from many quarters?
For those who loved The Last Jedi the most, praising its originality of reusing Battlestar Galactica tropes rather than Star Wars tropes, TROS will never measure up. It’s loaded with callbacks, as most every installment since (and including) Return of the Jedi has been. And the patterns are the point. History repeats, and heroes make the same mistakes as their ancestors…or not. It’s arguable that The Rise of Skywalker cannot stand alone as a self-contained movie, and that’s a problem for some. But it’s heavily tasked with reconciling the original and sequel trilogies, in large part because The Last Jedi shirked that responsibility. And it does that well.
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In fairness, given that the gap between trilogies happens in real time for the movies, there’s no way to give us what we really wanted. The further adventures of Luke, Han, Leia, and Lando happened mostly off-camera. They can’t be put onscreen without awkward recasting, or plastic CG faces, as in the Luke/Leia flashback here. That this installment even tries is bold. And it casually drops a line that should have fueled an earlier sequel series. The reveal that Leia stopped Jedi training when she had a vision that her Jedi path ended in her son dying? That’s some major Greek tragedy substance. This sort of thing should shed new light on a full series rewatch. Original intent matters not — remember, unqualified screw-up politician Jar Jar justifies insanely lucky goofball war hero Jar Jar.
It’s hard to imagine longtime Star Wars fans not feeling any emotion whatsoever at the final beat of Episode IX. On the other hand, imagining fans who only came aboard with Rey/Finn/Poe and feel dissatisfied comes easier. If Rose Tico is part of a viewer’s first Star Wars memories, as opposed to an annoying addition who showed up at the eleventh hour, her shortened screen time plays differently. And yet…for Millennials fond of the clapback “OK Boomer!” phrase, Rey’s final triumph over Palpatine ought to feel like sweet vindication. In many ways, the story here is the ultimate attempt of angry old men to exert their influence over the grandkids whom their squandering has left poor and broken.
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In trying to be all things to all people, The Rise of Skywalker couldn’t possibly satisfy everyone. But it’s the only movie in the sequel trilogy to have all the original heroes and the original villain, one last time. After the initial theatrical shock has worn off, digitally inserted Leia doesn’t look so bad on Blu-ray. The subplot about children being kidnapped to bolster the ranks of the Final Order is also more of a through-line in dialogue than viewers may remember.
The Blu-ray comes with another entire feature on it: the documentary The Skywalker Legacy. Beginning with ’80s footage of fans trying to get a glimpse of the Return of the Jedi set, it covers the entire Rise of Skywalker shoot. And it does so in movie timeline order, which was not necessarily shooting order. In between locations, and where relevant, archival footage from the original trilogy behind-the-scenes comes into play. Here’s Alec Guinness looking unamused by Mark Hamill’s jokes; there now is Guinness’ granddaughter, excited to make a cameo now. Throughout, J. J. Abrams comes across like Dante in Clerks, protesting too much that he wasn’t even supposed to be here again. Ian McDiarmid, on the other hand, considers himself triply lucky, while Daisy Ridley and Hamill express joy in seeing Luke Skywalker finally act noble and heroic again.
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Most of the additional featurettes play like extended and deleted scenes from the documentary. In some cases, as one has come to expect, they use some of the same footage. A digital-exclusive short focusing on John Williams is the best, as he talks through his thought process for the new themes. Describing how they incorporate the old, he mentions adjusting the Kylo Ren theme to become heroic Ben, and merging Rey and Leia’s themes together. Other featurettes go in-depth on the shoot in the Jordanian desert, the speeder chase, the aliens, and Ochi of Bestoon’s starship with D-O. But past meets present in the best way as we watch Warwick Davis induct his son into Ewok-dom. Complete with vintage footage of 11 year-old Davis on set and in promotional videos.
Like every initial release of a Disney Star Wars save The Last Jedi, this lacks any director commentary. (Abrams only added one to The Force Awakens on the 3D double-dip.) There are also no deleted scenes; which is a disappointing, considering how much story seems to have been trimmed. Maybe Lucasfilm’s holding those lost scenes in reserve, but the nine movie 4K box set due out on the 31st seems to have the same extras. So what would they be even held back for?
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Certainly, it’s hard to imagine any buyer just wanting this movie and no other film in the saga. So by itself, it’s primarily a must-buy to collectors who still stick to 1080 Blu-ray. The rest will get the set — the only 4K repurchase in it aside from this new one would be The Last Jedi.
Although the Pasaana sequences drag a bit the second time around, my assessment of the movie itself remains positive. As far as the extras, while they may not be as generous as possible, the documentary feature is a must for any longtime fan. Any potential later double-dip may lower my opinion in the future, but for now…
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is currently available on digital, and hits Blu-ray and 4K March 31st.