Theaters have taken all other films out of circulation to screen it; media outlets have put other news on hold to talk about it; the rumor mill has been grinding heavily the entire year leading up to it. For fans who've been counting down the days until they could see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there's absolutely no question about getting tickets. But once you get to the ticket booth, there is often a question of what screening format to pick. Given the cost difference between a "regular" screening or higher-definition IMAX it's not odd to ask, is The Last Jedi in IMAX worth it?
It might help to know what you're getting for your ticket price with each. If you're unfamiliar with screening formats, most "regular" screenings today are either 35mm film prints, or DCPs (Digital Cinema Packages), basically a digital form of the film that plays from an encrypted USB drive. Purists often argue that if a movie was shot on film, it's best to see it on film, but that doesn't really hold for something like The Last Jedi. So much of the film was created using digital effects, animation — even entire characters exist only digitally, added into the movie after initial filming was completed.
IMAX is another film format, where each frame is 70mm wide instead of 35mm. That's a lot more space per image, nine times larger than 35mm, resulting in screenings with a higher level of detail at a much larger size. In fact, to accommodate a frame size that large each frame of the film is printed horizontally, not vertically like 35mm. It takes a special projector and theater setting to screen IMAX film, which is why tickets cost more. What you're paying for are rich, gorgeous images shown so large you feel fully immersed in the world of the film. But there's a catch.
Most of the theaters showing IMAX films aren't actually screening 70mm projections. As Gizmodo details in their full article on chain theaters' IMAX setups, what you're getting is probably the best experience that theater has to offer, but it's not really IMAX-as-gigantic-projection. In many cases, it's also usually a digital projection instead of film, albeit a higher-quality one that's tweaking itself in real-time. Is a chain theater's IMAX screening worth the extra $5?
You'll likely get the best that theater has to offer by way of sound and screen, and the transfer process for films shot on 35mm to IMAX, even digital projections, is carefully overseen and tweaked for higher resolution. The process usually takes films from a 2k-4k resolution to a 4k-8k resolution. For comparison, Kodak has said 35mm film is the equivalent of 6k. In general, if that level of detail is always worth it to you, then go for it, but if you're buying tickets for you and 10 of your friends... they probably won't notice too much of a difference on most films. Most films. And here's the second catch.
It turns out the purists were right on that earlier count — it's good to see a film in the format it was shot. Unfortunately, since IMAX cameras and films cost more to use, many movies just go with shooting regular 35mm or digital, and transfer the final cut to IMAX film. As just mentioned, there are entire teams working to nearly double the resolution quality of the final product. But blowing up a smaller image to a larger size won't give you details that weren't there to begin with. The full beauty of IMAX shines brightest when shooting with the larger 70mm film capturing all those details to begin with.
So, it would be absolutely worth the extra dough to see a movie blown up to greater detail if it was shot in greater detail. Which is precisely the case with The Last Jedi. While it's still prohibitively expensive to shoot the whole movie on 70mm, in February 2017 IMAX and LucasFilm announced they were shooting key scenes of The Last Jedi using IMAX 70mm cameras. They have plans to do the same for several slated LucasFilm releases, including the upcoming Han Solo prequel. That means even in a chain theater IMAX, you'll get additional detail and depth because the print comes with more detail and depth (in key scenes, at least) to begin with.
If you truly want the real deal, two-story-tall IMAX experience the company originally envisioned, you'll need to go to an IMAX theater. There aren't that many in the country, but here's a full list of the ones available. If you're lucky enough to be near one, the specially shot IMAX scenes will pop in richness and detail, but if all you have is an IMAX-refit in your local theater chain, it's still worth the splurge.