On Tuesday, March 31, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm officially released Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on two Blu-ray formats, 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) and the older High Definition (HD) Blu-ray discs (BD) in several combinations, including a Multi-Screen Edition with two HD BDs and an insert with a Movies Anywhere digital code for download or streaming. (Other editions include the 4K UHD/HD BD three-disc combination and the exclusive-to-Best Buy Limited Edition Steelbook, which is essentially the 4K UHD/HD Blu-ray set packaged in a metal case with slightly different artwork on the front and reverse covers.)
The physical disc release came two weeks after The Walt Disney Company, corporate parent to both BVHE (which is Disney’s home media distribution arm) and Lucasfilm, issued director J.J. Abrams’ 2019 film, which not only concludes the Sequel Trilogy that includes Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), but also completes the nine-film Skywalker Saga.
Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams join forces once again to take viewers on an epic journey to a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the riveting conclusion of the seminal Skywalker saga, where new legends will be born and the final battle for freedom is yet to come. – Back cover blurb, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Blu-ray.
Like BVHE’s other Star Wars Multi-Screen Edition HD Blu-ray releases since 2018, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker dispenses with a DVD Standard Definition disc. (As far as I know, the last Star Wars film released in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which made its home media debut in March 2017.) Thus, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a two-disc set that includes:
- Disc One: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Feature Film)
- Disc Two: Bonus Features
- Digital Code Insert (Redeemable at Movies Anywhere)
Disc One contains the feature film directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Abrams with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio (based on a screen story by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Abrams, and Terrio). With an approximate runtime of 142 minutes (the second longest in the overall franchise), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is presented in 1080p high definition widescreen format, with four language tracks (English 7.1 DTS-HDMA and 2.0 Descriptive Audio, plus Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks), and subtitles in English (for the deaf and hard-of-hearing), Spanish, and French.
Disc Two contains the Bonus Features, which include (but are not limited to) the following:
- The Skywalker Legacy, a feature-length documentary that gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the final film of the nine-part Skywalker Saga
- Passana Pursuit: Creating the Speeder Chase
- D-O: Key to the Past, a featurette about the new counterpart to R2-D2, BB-8, and C-3PO.
There are several other featurettes, including one about actor Warwick Davis, who reprises his Return of the Jedi role of Wicket the Ewok, and his son Harrison, who plays Wicket’s cub in a cameo set on the Endor moon.
Overall, Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm make a good team when it comes to home media releases of the 11 (so far) Star Wars features. The art chosen for the slip cover is reminiscent of Drew Struzan’s art for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with a similar Light Side/Dark Side design featuring many of the heroes of the Resistance (including Poe Dameron, Finn, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8), with Rey and Kylo Ren (the film’s central characters) dominating the central focus point of the cover art.
The audio-visual content in the two discs is digitally mastered for the best home viewing experience. On even a basic home theater system with a five-speaker setup and a 40-inch (or larger) HD TV set, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker looks and sounds great. The film’s dazzling color palette (which is used to good effect to help depict several different worlds with unique Flash Gordon-like environments) comes to the fore in high definition 1080p resolution, while the movie’s John Williams score and sound effects by Skywalker Sound’s Matthew Wood and David Acord combine seamlessly with the stunning visuals by cinematographer Dan Mindel and the special effects crew at Industrial Light & Magic.
The bonus features are also nicely distributed among a movie-length “making of” documentary and several shorter behind-the-scenes featurettes. The Skywalker Legacy is a solid and often entertaining look at the return of J.J. Abrams to the Star Wars franchise and the creation of The Rise of Skywalker. All of the major cast members are interviewed, and viewers will see how Lucasfilm was able to give General Leia Organa enough screen time to give her a fitting send-off, even though Carrie Fisher died in December of 2016 and thus wasn’t available to participate in the film’s making.
Because Disney-owned Lucasfilm produced the behind-the-scenes material for the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Skywalker Legacy avoids such touchy topics as how Fisher’s death adversely affected the development of the final installment of the Sequel Trilogy. There is no mention of the movie’s original writer-director team, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, who had been hired by Lucasfilm in 2014 along with The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson as part of the Sequel Trilogy’s creative dream team. Under circumstances that aren’t quite clear, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy fired the Jurassic World duo, citing creative differences, and asked J.J. Abrams to complete the Trilogy.
So if you’re looking for controversy and backstage drama in The Skywalker Legacy, forget it. Lucasfilm, like any corporate entity (and especially one that is in the entertainment industry), is not going to air out its dirty laundry, and certainly not in a bonus disc that is intended for general audiences.
Personally, I’m fine with this, but I suspect that there are many Star Wars fans (especially the ones that don’t like Kathleen Kennedy) who would have liked a more nuanced account of how Abrams had to be asked to direct a film that had been assigned to another director during the planning phase of the Sequel Trilogy in the wake of George Lucas’s retirement in 2012 and the subsequent sale of Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Company.
The only disappointment I have with the extras is the absence of a director’s commentary track by J.J. Abrams in the feature film. Unlike Steven Spielberg, who is a willing participant in behind-the-scenes documentaries but never does director’s commentaries, Abrams has recorded such tracks for other films, including Mission Impossible III and Star Trek. The “basic” edition of Star Wars: The Force Awakens also does not have a commentary track by Abrams, although the more expensive 3D Collector’s Edition does. Thus, Abrams is one of three Star Wars directors (the others are Gareth Edwards of Rogue One and Ron Howard of Solo: A Star Wars Story) who have not given fans more insights about their entries in the Star Wars lore. Contrast this to Star Wars creator George Lucas, Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Dave Filoni, or even Rian Johnson, all of whom have contributed commentaries to the home media releases of their Star Wars films.
But, in the bigger scheme of that galaxy far, far away, this is a minor gripe on my part. Overall, Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm delivered a fine home media release of the last Skywalker Saga film. To their credit – and perhaps as a way to brighten Star Wars fans’ morale in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic – Disney and Lucasfilm allowed retailers to ship out units of the Blu-ray (4K UHD as well as HD BD) earlier than the March 31 “drop date.” I had my set by the Thursday before the announced release date, and so did many others.
I have three different editions of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, including the 4K UHD version, because I ordered the Limited Edition Steelbook and the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga box set, both of which are Best Buy exclusives. I can’t review the 4K UHD discs until we set up the UHD TV and compatible Blu-ray player, but at least I’ll have them ready to try out on the day that that is accomplished. Overkill, it may be, but I feel it’s a good idea to have a few spare copies handy in case a disc gets scratched or lost.