Plot: What’s it about?
Star Wars. Just saying the name gives me goosebumps. As someone who has dedicated nearly twenty years of his life to reviewing movies, I think it goes without saying that Star Wars has always been there. I remember back in the early days of the DVD format, an online petition to bring the “original trilogy” to the format. Eventually it worked, though I’d have to imagine that the studios saw what a force (pardon the pun) DVD was and found a new way to sell a twenty year old film. I remember back in 1997 when they re-released Star Wars with newly added digital footage. Amazingly it made another $150 million at the box office. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s hard to imagine movies without thinking of Star Wars. Having praised the franchise a few times already, I will say that in 1999 Star Wars: Episode I is the first (and so far only) movie I’ve ever walked out of. I hated it. The first three movies had a few choice scenes, but I’m wagering that they’d like to be forgotten by the movie-going community. However, it’s now been just a shade over a decade since Episode III and it’s time to move on. Were expectations high? You bet. Did the movie deliver? The box office numbers would say so. But let’s dive into The Force Awakens…
It’s been several decades since the Empire was defeated and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) saved the galaxy. We learn, via the iconic prologue, that The First Order has sprung up in the ashes of the Empire. The resistance is now called the Republic and a new, much larger, Death Star has been constructed. However Luke Skywalker is missing and a small droid, BB-8, has the key to his whereabouts. Leader of The First Order is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the son of…well let’s just say two well-established stars of the film, who will stop at nothing to find the whereabouts of the last Jedi. A storm trooper with a conscience, Finn (John Bodega) has crash landed on a planet where he meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who happens to stumble across BB-8. Narrowly avoiding The First Order, they manage to procure the Millennium Falcon and meet up with Han and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Now joining forces, their goal is to protect the whereabouts of Luke and stop The First Order from destroying countless planets.
Having seen the film, I think the title The Force Awakens, might not have been the best choice for the film. I think maybe The Search for Skywalker might have been more fitting. No? Let’s face it, nothing I can say or do will impact the film. It made nearly two billion dollars at the box office and in fans’ eyes was a worthy sequel to Episode III. Director J.J. Abrams is no George Lucas, but he’s done a fine job with the sheer scale (and responsibility) of one of the most important movie franchises ever. My personal point of view is that the movie was good, fun and entertaining but it’ll always be compared to the first three Star Wars films. There’s no getting around that. It’s nice to see the some of the stars that made the first three films so memorable step back into their roles after so long – it really is a trip down memory lane for so many movie-lovers. With a mix of old, familiar faces and some new, fresh ones – Star Wars: The Force Awakens is certainly everything that made the first three films so memorable.
Video: How’s it look?
If ever there was a film that should look (and sound) good on Blu-ray I would have to imagine it’d be a Star Wars film. Not that it matters much, the rabid fans of this franchise have watched Luke and Han on every format available from VHS to Beta (yes, Beta), LaerDisc, DVD and now Blu-ray. I don’t even want to think how many copies of these films are on shelves. Having said that, Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes to the format sporting a beautiful-looking 2.40:1 AVC HD image. Obviously the number of digital and CGI effects will play a part in how the film looks, but they’re so seamlessly integrated into the film you hardly even notice they’re there. We see the sheer scope of the wide image both in space and on the desolate planet. Flesh tones, for lack of a better word, look warm and natural. Detail, as one might imagine, is impeccable showcasing every grey hair, wrinkle and nuance that the film has to offer. Put it this way, if there was a fault to be found – I wasn’t able to spot it. This is as good as anyone would imagine.
One of the real draws to this new edition is the addition of a 3D disc. I’ve gone back and forth over the years on 3D and I usually opt not to view films in it. I feel the color is a bit off and it doesn’t feel like the “traditional” movie-watching experience for me. But that being said, this is Star Wars we’re talking about and I think in this case I’d make an exception. Donning the glasses, I was immediately pretty impressed. The 3D in this film is done very well (as you would expect) and it actually immersed me into the movie a bit more, which is the point of 3D. The effects seemed more naturalistic, but seeing an explosion in the background, characters running at you in the foreground really did heighten the overall feel for me. Fans of 3D will really enjoy this as it’s one that’s done right and not just for the sheer effect of it.
Audio: How’s it sound?
There has been no change in the audio offering on this new disc. Seeing as how George Lucas invented THX, it would stand to reason that most any Star Wars movie would sound incredible. And that’s the case here. The included DTS HD Master Audio 7.1 track uses every channel in its arsenal and with great effect. From the high-pitched laser fire to the humming of the lightsabers, and everything in between. Planets blow up, ships crash into the forest and battles are fought. Suffice it to say that this track has pretty much everything you’d expect out of a Star Wars movie and perhaps even a bit more. I’m a bit surprised that this doesn’t contain one of the next generation (Dolby Atmos or DTS X) tracks, but if we know one thing about these films is that they like to release them…again and again. The LFE have a field day, bringing a vast robustness to some of the more action-oriented scenes. Essentially everything you’d expect this movie to sound like is realized here. A top notch effort, to be sure.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey – (I’m leaving out the chapter titles as they might contain a spoiler in the film. Watch this after you’ve seen the movie). Running at 70 minutes, this four part series tells complete story behind the making of The Force Awakens, revealed through in-depth footage and exclusive interviews with the actors and filmmakers in this feature documentary.
- The Story Awakens: The Table Read – Cast members familiar and new reflect on the memorable day they all first came together to read the movie’s script.
- Building BB-8 – See how the filmmakers brought the newest droid to the screen, creating an instant fan favorite in the Star Wars universe.
- Crafting Creatures – Watch movie magic as the filmmakers bring a cast of new creatures to life.
- Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight – Go deeper into the epic, climactic lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren.
- John Williams: The Seventh Symphony – The legendary composer shares personal insights of his work on Star Wars and The Force Awakens.
- ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force – An insider’s look into the remarkable digital artistry of the movie’s visual effects.
- Force For Change – Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. See how the Star Wars: Force for Change initiative has united Star Wars fans all over the globe to help others.
- Deleted Scenes – Six total, which add up to a few minutes. At 136 minutes the film is faily lengthy to begin with, so these really added nothing new. There are three additional new deleted scenes added to this release.
- Foley: A Sonic Tale – An assortments of foley artists: Denise Thorpe, Jana Vance, Ronni Brown, Andrea Gard, and Kim Patrick talk about their work on some key sound effects for the movie.
- Sounds of the Resistance – Another assortment of sound experts discuss their work combining some of the iconic Star Wars sound effects and blending them into the film.
- Dressing the Galaxy – Costume Designer Michael Kaplan discusses the costumes and how they were incorporated into the movie.
- Audio Commentary – Director J.J. Abrams delivers an impassioned commentary track that truly conveys that this project was a labor of love. Some might think it a conflict of interests that Abrams is involved with both Star Trek and Star Wars, but not me. I think he’s done a great job with these films and it’s communicated in this track. It’s full of details, both big and small as well as the sheer task of undertaking this project. Suffice it to say that true fans of this film will get a kick out of this track – bar none.
- The Scavenger & the Stormtrooper: A Conversation with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega – Originally available on the disc exclusive to Target, this has found its way to this new Collector’s Edition. In this segment we see the “new arrivals” to the franchise and they discuss their love and passion for the films, what it meant to them and their work both on and off the set.
- Inside the Armory – Also from the Target disc, we see some of the more practical uses of technology combined with some of the more advanced uses to make the time-honored weapons appear a little more sleek.
The Bottom Line
Fans of the original trilogy can rejoice! While this is a worth successor, it’s not a worthy replacement. Still, The Force Awakens manages to entertain while continuing the saga that so many of us grew up with. The Blu-ray both looks and sounds amazing and the supplemental material is more than the standard offering. While it’s early in the year, I can imagine that this one will be a best seller for a long time to come.