Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)2019 (March 31, 2020)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm/Bad Robot (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B
“The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE…”
A year after the events of The Last Jedi, the remaining Resistance forces have regrouped on the jungle planet Ajan Kloss. While Rey (Daisy Ridley) completes her Jedi training under the tutelage of her new master, General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Finn, Poe, and Chewie (John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Joonas Suotamo) recover intelligence from a First Order mole confirming not only the return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) but the impending galaxy-wide invasion of his vast Final Order fleet. Palpatine’s forces are gathering on the Sith world of Exogol, which Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) spent years attempting to locate. So now Rey and her friends must follow clues in the ancient Jedi texts to find Exogol so the Resistance can strike it before Palpatine launches his attack. But Supreme Leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) isn’t about to cede his power to Palpatine. And when he learns the true secret of Rey’s origin, he knows it’s the key that could turn her to the dark side forever.
Forty-three years after George Lucas first changed the lives of an entire generation of young filmgoers, director J.J. Abrams has delivered final chapter of the epic 9-film Skywalker saga that’s long been the beating heart of Star Wars. Whatever comes next for this franchise, it’s been a fascinating journey thus far. The good news here is that Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver give by far their best and most confident performances in the sequel trilogy here, saving their best for last. Isaac and Boyega are strong as well, and Anthony Daniels actually has more to do in this film (as C-3PO) than he has in some time. But perhaps the most surprising thing about The Rise of Skywalker is just how much the filmmakers have been able to make the late Carrie Fisher an active part of the story. Using deleted footage shot for the previous installments, they’ve built whole scenes around her that actually work. And with the help of her daughter, Billie Lourd (who not only costars but actually stands in for Carrie in a few scenes), along with outtake footage shot for Return of the Jedi in 1983, they’ve actually given us a peek at young Luke training young Leia in the Force. It brings tears to the eyes, tears that return with Harrison Ford’s brief cameo, when Hamill’s Luke bookends a beat from The Empire Strikes Back (to a direct music cue from that film), and when Chewie gets a couple of much-deserved moments too. Sure, as was true of Abrams’ The Force Awakens, it often feels as if key parts of the story have been left on the cutting room floor. Yes, the ultimate reveal of Rey’s parentage is a little convenient. And yes, Palpatine’s return hasn’t been set up at all in this trilogy (though it does makes sense in the context of the larger 9-film narrative). But whatever—there is so much that’s good in this film, and that feels emotionally honest and earned, that it’s not worth complaining about. The Rise of Skywalker had an almost impossible set of goals to accomplish. The fact that Abrams and company manage to stick the landing on so many of them is worth celebrating.
The Rise of Skywalker was shot mostly on 35 mm photochemical film using Arriflex 435 ES and Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 cameras with Panavision anamorphic lenses (with a bit of 65 mm photography using the Panavision Panaflex System 65 Studio camera as well). It was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio and graded for high dynamic range for its Ultra HD release (in HDR10). The disc’s image quality is outstanding. Overall detail is impressive, with well-refined textures, and a lovely light-moderate wash of photochemical grain. The anamorphic glass adds its trademark clarity to the center of the image while the edges fall off just a tad. Shadows are truly deep, yet retain very nice detail on their own. The HDR grade expands the contrast while allowing the highlights to really pop—the brightest parts of the image are just eye-reactive (per the disc’s metadata, peak brightness is 1000 nits with a deep floor). And the color palette! Hues are vibrant and nuanced, with an added luster that’s visible right from the start—just take a look at the crystal panels of Ren’s Sith “wayfinder” and the many different environments as the Falcon lightspeed-skips. What’s more, with an average datarate of 60 Mbps, the quality here is markedly better than the currently available digital 4K streams (and I speak from experience, having just watch the Vudu presentation). It’s just so much more dimensonal and luminous, there’s almost no comparison. This is a gorgeous 4K image—I’ll personally never watch this film any other way.
Primary audio on the 4K is offered in English Dolby Atmos. The soundstage is huge, both across and vertically. Dialogue is crystal clear, while effects have a full tonal quality. Bass is muscular when it needs to be without ever overwhelming the balance. Effects placement is natural and movement in both the surrounds and height channels is consistently smooth and lively. The mix abounds with atmosphere even in quiet moments, but during setpieces it really scales up dramatically. The soundscape of the festival in the desert on Pasaana is delightful, but then listen as Rey and Kylo have their conversation through the Force—their voices linger in the air all around before the sound decays. Amid the cavernous ruins of Death Star, wind, water, and rattling metal can be heard from seemingly every direction. The mix gets even better during Rey and Kylo’s lightsaber duel amid the towering waves—the buzzing saber blades swing around the listening space as giant walls of water crash up into the height channels. And during the end battle with Palpatine amid the chanting Sith acolytes, you’ll feel the Force lightning in your chest. John Williams’ score is, of course, the sonic highlight and the fidelity is magnificent. For my money, this is reference-grade film audio on disc. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, and French and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. (Note that the Blu-ray movie disc includes 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio as its primary mix.) Available subtitles include English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Disney’s Ultra HD package is a 3-disc set that includes the film in both 4K on UHD and 1080p HD on Blu-ray. The package also includes a separate Blu-ray Disc of bonus material. (Both Blu-rays are coded for Regions A, B & C.) Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
DISC ONE – 4K MOVIE
There are no extras on the 4K disc.
DISC TWO – BLU-RAY MOVIE
There are no extras on the Blu-ray movie disc.
DISC THREE – BLU-RAY EXTRAS
- The Skywalker Legacy (126:11)
- Pasaana Pursuit: Creating the Speeder Chase (14:16)
- Aliens in the Desert (5:59)
- D-O: Key to the Past (5:33)
- Warwick & Son (5:37)
- Cast of Creatures (7:46)
Now, that list certainly doesn’t look like a lot of content. But what you do get is terrific. It starts with Debs Paterson’s outstanding and feature-length The Skywalker Legacy documentary. Not only does it offer a thorough look behind the scenes at the making of this film—including key moments like the filming of Leia’s scenes, the return of Billy Dee Williams and Dennis Lawson, and the recording of Williams’ score—but it frequently cuts back to rare behind the scenes material shot during the making of the original trilogy too. The documentary runs over two hours and it’s worth every moment of your viewing time. The additional featurettes touch upon other aspects of the production and also include vintage material. The highlight is Warwick & Son; many of you will know that Warwick Davis was 10 years old when he played Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi. This piece offers a look at the now 50-year-old Warwick joined by his son Harrison for their cameo in The Rise of Skywalker. And the icing on the cake is that is you get to see a bit of footage from David Tomblin’s unreleased Return of the Ewok mockumentary. Beyond that, there’s the usual Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert in the packaging. Note that the Bonus Disc has optional subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Simplified Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese.
Unfortunately, as so often seems to be the case with Bad Robot productions, there are exclusive extras not found in this package. Widely available with Digital versions is The Maestro’s Finale (11:04) on composer John Williams. It’s very good (and very disappointingly not included on the disc—though you can access it though the Digital code), but at least a few minutes of its content is also found in The Skywalker Legacy. The Vudu version also includes a pair of additional EPKs—End of the Saga (7:39) and Legacy (3:13). The former is a fluffy Q&A piece and no loss, while the latter was released on the official Star Wars YouTube channel (click here to see it). Finally, there’s an exclusive production/production design featurette called A Final Alliance (25:34) that’s only available on a bonus DVD in the Target-exclusive Limited Edition package—again, disappointing not to have it in HD on the Blu-ray. That Target package also includes a Gallery Book of artwork and images with liner notes by Phil Szostak. If we’re being really picky, a Blu-ray 3D version of this film is only available in the UK (at least it’s all-region). And obviously, this package doesn’t include deleted scenes or any kind of director’s commentary, which could mean that a more elaborate version is forthcoming. And yes, all of the above is frustrating. If this package did include a commentary, deleted scenes, and The Maestro’s Finale and A Final Alliance on disc with the other material, I’d be hard pressed not to give these extras an A. As it is now, a B is the best I can do. But again, The Skywalker Legacy is superb. My hats off to Paterson and her whole team for their work on it.
Though some fans seem more obsessed with the Episode IX they didn’t get, J.J. Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker is a solid and fitting conclusion to the sequel trilogy and to the Skywalker saga as a whole. There’s an old saying: Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is a very good film, certainly a fun and entertaining one. And if some of its choices feel a little too safe, Abrams and company have at least been pushed to make a better film than they might have otherwise by the bolder moves of The Last Jedi before it. Speaking for myself, as an original Star Wars fan since 1977, I’m mostly satisfied with The Rise of Skywalker. And I’m very satisfied with the reference A/V quality on this Ultra HD release. If you enjoy the film, 4K disc is definitely the best way to watch it at home. It’s highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt
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