After Star Wars: Episode VII, aka The Force Awakens, audiences and fans knew that what had supposedly been asleep was arising from its snooze — literally and figuratively. With that film’s director, J.J. Abrams, stepping aside for Episode VIII — it would be interesting to see how the story would progress without this trilogy’s originator. Looper helmer Rian Johnson steps in — a stellar choice — and brings us the next paths for The Force with Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Now that the eighth installment of the series, started by George Lucas many moons ago, has landed on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital formats, it is a chance to delve deeper into the film, the franchise’s mythology and hopefully, get an inside look at that beloved galaxy far, far away with a beautiful bevy of bonus features.

As our story commences, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has landed on Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) island fortress of solitude. He’s on a self-imposed exile from the universe. Why? Well, we do discover the answer to that question. That is one part of the challenge that Rey faces as she attempts to solicit the Jedi Master’s help as a disturbance of The Force is at the highest levels since The First Order reared its head.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and Snoke (another stellar motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis) are doing their best to have evil stamp out the Resistance and its band of fighters, including returning heroes Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). A brilliant new addition arrives with The Last Jedi in the form of feisty Rose Tico (a star-making performance by Kelly Marie Tran).

Johnson has, in many ways, taken a different path than the one laid out by Abrams in The Force Awakens. That frustrated and angered many fans, but not this one. The risks the filmmaker took in this installment paid off in droves in dramatic power and emotional turmoil. It also gave (finally) Luke a wide plot scope that Hamill hasn’t had the pleasure of diving into since the character first premiered in 1977. As such, he turns in his best performance in the entire series.

Skywalker is coaxed into training Rey, who discovered her Force-ly powers in Episode VII. Before long, it becomes clear that she is far stronger than anyone he has trained, and that scares him immensely. We learn that he was once the mentor of Kylo Ren and we all know how that turned out. It is also revealed why Ren is so viciously angry at Skywalker and his father, Han Solo (who he murdered in the last chapter). It is fuel to a fire that is a fascinating turn.

If one thinks about it, during that first trilogy, A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, we never really learned what it was that drove Darth Vader to the dark side of the Force. Sure, it was hinted at, but never fully laid out. Lucas would leave that to an entire prequel trilogy that was ripe with messes, issues and… well, let’s just not go there and even remind ourselves of the terribleness that was those three films. Here Ren’s reason for evil is a little more warranted, although some of the backstory on this evil-spawning event is a bit of a reach, especially for longtime Star Wars fans. But, this is about the film trilogy and if what happened to Ren happened to any one of us… yeah, we’d be pretty pissed. Maybe not start a war pissed, but still!

Even though the film came out months and months ago, we will not be divulging too much more of the plot than we already have here. What we will say is that Johnson made some bold choices and they are ones that will permeate throughout this galaxy for some time. The filmmaker truly wowed us with his weaving of action, emotion, drama, and world expanding. That last part is a tricky thing. After all, this is a landscape that has pierced the soul of pop culture for decades. Like it or not, one has to admit that Johnson moved the needle on this franchise, whereas Abrams truly played it safe with his installment. Where the series goes from here, what with Abrams returning to the director’s chair for Episode IX, is anyone’s guess.

But… those kinds of thoughts come later.

There are over two hours of bonus features that are simply stellar. As with The Force Awakens, Disney and Lucasfilm have entrusted their leader (aka the director) to make the movie he wanted to make, all the while having one eye on the home video release and those coveted featurettes that fans will dissect, ingest, discuss and savor until the next chapter arrives in a few years.

For those of us who want more than we got into theaters, we could not recommend enough the Johnson introduced two exclusive scenes. One, “Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)” features Serkis’ Snoke — prior to his digital turnaround — and 14 never-before-seen deleted scenes. Yes, 14 scenes that didn’t make the cut for fans to explore! One can see why they were omitted from the final product. Issues could have been time, how they fit into the overall narrative that Johnson was seeking. The helmer explains his thought process before each and for those desiring more from the entity that is The Last Jedi, this is an awesome look at the filmmaking process in general.

Film, particularly today, is a director’s medium. That could not be truer than it is exhibited with the Star Wars series. Sure, Lucasfilm executives have a whole lot of say in terms of what gets to fit into the lexicon that is this universe. But, once all is said and done, the helmer has the last word and with each successive chapter, one can see the director’s handprints all over each segment.

“The Director and the Jedi” takes viewers inside the creative mind of Johnson. It proves to be a remarkably intimate featurette that illustrates an artist who has achieved a lifelong aspirational journey, joining the rarest of fraternities… Star Wars directors. What else comes through in this featurette, that we have not seen in many other like-minded bonus features, is one gets a keen feeling as to what it means to be the captain of a ship that is an iconic franchise and an indisputable monolith of cultural importance.

Even for the detractors who take issue with what Johnson did with their beloved Star Wars, “The Director and the Jedi” at least provides an astute exploration for the whys behind everything he did and brought to the movie experience.

In that vein, do not miss “Balance of the Force,” which further explores the legendary mythology of the Force and gives us another rich study of Johnson’s choices and his interpretation of the beloved series.

The “Scene Breakdowns” series shines a spotlight on some of the most explosive, dramatic and emotionally riveting moments in the entire film. The headliner must be “Showdown on Crait.”

It is the moment that has been building for fans of this latest trilogy since the opening credits of The Force Awakens. Johnson, and all those involved with what time will judge as one of the more iconic battles in the Star Wars realm, break the scene into its barest of bones. It is a fascinating look at how filmmakers of today utilize practical sets and craft a marriage between those, the performers and the CG that makes scenes pop. Also, a joy is the thought processes that went into the visual updates of the AT-ATs, the creation of those stunning crystal foxes and well, let’s not ruin too much of the surprises of this wildly entertaining, enthralling and enlightening featurette.

As a longtime appreciator of Serkis, I found “Snoke and Mirrors” another celebratory chance to salute everything that the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and Planet of the Apes motion capture wizard has brought to the art form. Filmmakers offer an incredible look at what it took to capture Serkis’ lightning in a bottle magic and craft a master villain for this third Star Wars trilogy.

It would not be a Star Wars movie if there weren’t edge-of-your-seat space battle sequences. “Lighting the Spark: Creating the Space Battle” puts the viewer front-and-center into a virtual pilot seat of what it took to bring The Last Jedi’s most astounding battle royale to life. This too is an utter do not miss.

There is so much going on throughout The Last Jedi that makes it a must-own. Not the least of which is that priceless ability to be able to witness the magic repeatedly. On one of those views, we could not recommend enough that it should be done with the audio commentary turned on. Johnson talks passionately throughout, and one can easily sense that this is not only a lifelong dream come true for the artist, but the viewer can glean so much more from the film itself. Yes, the bonus features give us so much into the making of this film. But the Johnson audio track provides layers upon layers of richness that only elevates the entire Star Wars experience.

Film Grade: A
Bonus Features: A