As I wrote in my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens two years ago, I was quite disappointed in the unimaginative story. So, I was concerned that the next installment in the main story sequence, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, would be more of the same.
Even worse, it’s not on Dolby’s list of titles graded in Dolby Vision. On the other hand, neither is Coco or Thor: Ragnarok, and they looked gorgeous in HDR when I saw them in my local Dolby Cinema. Also, The Force Awakens is on that list, and it looked fantastic in Dolby Vision. So, I bought a ticket two months before The Last Jedi opened and hoped for the best.
I was very pleasantly surprised that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is far better than its immediate predecessor. Naturally, the same themes reappear—a small band of resistance fighters against an overwhelming tyrannical regime, hope in the face of hopelessness, blah blah blah. But Episode VIII goes deeper into the personal relationships, and there are a number of real surprises that kept my interest throughout its two and a half hour run time, the longest in Star Wars history. (To be completely honest, the movie did feel a bit too long, but unlike The Force Awakens, I was never bored.)
Many long-familiar characters return, including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, replacing Peter Mayhew for the first time) along with droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), and BB-8 (performed by Brian Herring). And of course, many principle characters from The Force Awakens are featured as well, including Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Important new characters include resistance maintenance tech Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), resistance Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), and wily thief DJ (Benicio Del Toro).
I won’t say much about the plot, except what is already known from The Force Awakens. Led by Leia Organa, the resistance is still fighting the evil First Order, which was formed by Supreme Leader Snoke from the ashes of the Galactic Empire. His will is carried out by General Hux and Kylo Ren, originally Ben Solo, son of Leia and Han Solo and grandson of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. The Force is strong with Kylo, who has turned to the Dark Side.
Meanwhile, Rey found Luke Skywalker in his self-imposed exile at the end of The Force Awakens. She begs him to return with her to rejoin the resistance. The Force is also very strong with her, which unsettles Luke as he tries to train her in the ways of the Jedi.
As you might expect, there are many stunning visuals in The Last Jedi. For example, Snoke’s throne room is spectacular with richly saturated colors. Another beautiful effect is when the speeders are racing across white salt flats, leaving bright red trails as the thin layer of salt is flung away to reveal the dirt below.
My one big complaint was the HDR imagery. Outer space—which forms the backdrop in many scenes—was not the inky black I’ve come to expect from Dolby Vision. I noticed this as soon as the movie started, which was immediately after the Dolby Vision sizzle reel that ends with a full-black screen and the words, “Yes, the projector is still on.” That black was beautiful, but as soon as the opening starfield appeared, the black level rose considerably and stayed there throughout. Also, the shadow detail in the many scenes within dark caves was mediocre at best. The brightest highlights seemed pretty bright to me, but that did not assuage my disappointment in the blacks.
After the screening I saw, I ducked into a conventional theater showing Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It looked even worse in terms of black level and shadow detail. I honestly don’t know if the Dolby Cinema version was graded in Dolby Vision or not. It could have been a conventional grade that simply looked somewhat better from the Dolby Vision projectors because of how they operate.
On the other hand, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack was mostly excellent. Of course, there are lots of space ships flying all around, which is represented beautifully throughout the hemispherical soundfield. And the music—another great score by John Williams—is mixed well into the room. My only complaint here is that the sound was quite a bit brighter than I’m used to in that room, and the dialog intelligibility was not great.
The volume was almost exactly at reference level: Leq (average RMS level over the entire length of the movie plus trailers) = 95.6 dBZ (flat), 84.7 dBA, 94.1 dBC; Lmax (maximum 1-second RMS level) = 120.1 dBZ; L10 (level exceeded 10% of the time) = 97.3 dBZ; L50 (level exceeded 50% of the time) = 81.9 dBZ. There were certainly some loud moments, but it wasn’t out of line for such a movie.
Overall, I’m delighted with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s got heart, soul, surprises, and lots of laughs along with the requisite battle scenes. I applaud director Rian Johnson for breathing new life into the franchise. And many Star Wars fans are sure to shed a tear knowing it’s Carrie Fisher’s last performance. However, if it looks like what I saw in all Dolby Cinemas, I can only weakly recommend that you see it in one; for a list of locations, click here. The image was better than a conventional cinema, but not by much.
Check out the official trailer: