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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Blu-ray Review)

Star-Wars-Force-AwakensStar Wars: The Force Awakens shattered box office records upon its debut to become the cinematic event of a generation with over $926 million domestic and $2.05 billion worldwide. As announced this morning by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Iger at The Walt Disney Company’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders, the epic movie will be available to own early on Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on April 1. It comes home on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD on April 5.  Discover the complete story behind the making of Star Wars: The Force Awakens with in-depth documentary and bonus material that will take fans on an exciting journey behind the scenes.  Secrets will be revealed through extensive footage, never-before-seen deleted scenes, and exclusive interviews with the actors and filmmakers.

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Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat from the evil Kylo Ren and the First Order. When a defector named Finn crash-lands on a desert planet, he meets Rey, a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top-secret map. Together, the young duo joins forces with Han Solo to make sure the Resistance receives the intelligence concerning the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi Knights.

A short time ago, in a movie theater in our respective home towns we all gathered for one of the most exciting events in cinematic history; the Star Wars sequel to 1983’s Return of the Jedi that brought back the trinity of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford).  For all intents and purposes, the film lived up to expectations, pleasing most critics and audiences while dominating the domestic and global box office, becoming the #1 film all time in the United States.  We all dreamed of that kind of successful launch, but to see it happen firsthand was a lot of fun.  Its true, all of it.

Staying true to George Lucas’ thematic “song and rhyme” approach to the Star Wars saga, JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan’s script takes us through what feels like familiar territory and plot beats but both fulfilling preconceived notions and changing them up some.  Same but different.  Seconds verse, kinda like the first.  One of the most fascinating reads as a Star Wars fan is the Ring Theory, which unlike fan theories is one based on actual intentions of the filmmaker/creator and is fully researched without skewing evidence and admitting at times where things may be a stretch.  Some of the harsher critics of The Force Awakens have had a hard time seeing past the similarities between the original trilogies “greatest hits” that are traveled through here, but even The Phantom Menace followed those footsteps.  In a way, its how Star Wars always has been and probably will be.  In the end, when it came to bringing out Star Wars again to a whole new generation and one that maybe had been adrift for many long years, it appears to be the right move.

Leading us into the next generation is a rich lot of characters that have surprised the folks at Lucasfilm and become insanely popular.  Daisy Ridley as Rey is a star making breakout performance.  I loved Rey.  She’s a badass in every sense of the word.  Watching her journey in this film is incredibly gripping and what a big moment when she summons and grabs the lightsaber.  Every time I see it I get a butterflies in my stomach.  Joining her on the journey is Jon Boyega who gets to shine in a big movie as the comedic Finn.  His path is one of a defector from The First Order, something of the likes we’ve never seen in a Star Wars film either goody guy or bad guy (Aside from the obvious Anakin Skywalker).  Oscar Isaac is a cinematic treasure and enrichens every bit of the screentime he has and hopefully he gets more in the next film.  Likewise goes for Captain Phasma.  Kylo Ren brings about one of the most unique characters and a great performance from Adam Driver.  This character is everything George Lucas had to have been hoping Anakin would have been in the prequels, but JJ Abrams actually executes it.

Of the returning characters, the most we spend time with is Han Solo and Chewbacca.  Harrison Ford slips comfortably back in to his role as the old smuggler.  It feels like forever since he’s seemed like he’s had so much fun in a film (Including Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).  The man doesn’t miss a beat and reminds of the guy he was when he had his breakout performance that led to superstardom back in 1977.  Carrie Fisher’s general Leia is fine with what we’re given from her.  She has a good scene with Han, but she’s mostly commanding in her presence.  And Luke…well…let’s say he has one moment, but Hamill absolutely NAILS it.  Its one of the perfect mixes of performance, scenery, cinematography and scoring in the entire film.  Its a unique scene to end a Star Wars film and its perfect.

One thing that’s ever present in every frame of the film is that there is a lot of care taken with pretty much every step of the way.  A lot of behind the scenes decisions very much affected the success of the film as well.  Starting with the pre-visualization artwork evoking a certain style really set the tone for the film.  This led to other decisions like using a lot of practical effects where applicable, building huge sets, ships and shooting the movie on 35mm film stock.  This wasn’t really a rushed production per se, but it was a large blockbuster film that had a limited window to get done.  The new characters, weapons, ships, places and background objects and people are incredibly interesting which is something you ultimately want in your Star Wars film.

There was a lot at stake with The Force Awakens.  Shrouded in a lot of mystery massive expectations for both quality and box office, it managed to go beyond both.  Its a fast paced, fun return to the galaxy far far away and catching up with some characters that everyone fell in love with from 1977-1983.  But most importantly, it introduced us to some very strong new characters whose adventures and fates we are extremely excited to see play out.  JJ did a great job with this, but we even get an upgrade at director next time out with Rian Johnson.  Like in 1977, its an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan as the galaxy is set wide open, we don’t know what’s going to happen and we can’t stop speculating on the endless possibilities as we eagerly wait to be reunited with Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC 

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail:  The Force Awakens debuts on Blu-ray looking just as magnificent and beautiful as you’d expect it to.  Its got a nice aesthetic to it, that seems to be the benefit of the source being shot on film.  Things are nice, share, colorful, but real-like and never distracting or unimpressive.  Special effects, both practical and CGI, transfer of wonderfully here.  The film looks both fresh and new but also, more importantly, looks and feels like its a part of the original Star Wars universe its piggy backing off of.

Depth:  Theatrically, the film was a postconvert 3-D film.  Spacing it great and everything moves smoothly and appears freely in its environment.  Background imagery and detail is very good.

Black Levels:  Due to the nature of this being shot on film, the blacks are much richer and give deeper more delightful presence.  No crushing at all and detail is still left intact.

Color Reproduction:  What a rich, beautiful palette on display here.  Many shades, tints and such are used to successful degrees.  Oranges and greens especially pop.  There is also a good amount of terrific looking browns here too.  

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones have a natural appearance and maintain that look throughout the duration of the feature.  Facial details like wrinkles, stubble, lip texture, scarring and the like are pretty impeccable.

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean

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Audio Format(s): English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics:  Well, this doesn’t disappoint at all.  The movie begins with some rumbling, then shortly after plenty of blasting.  You get a real sense of its impact and fullness right away.  With something like Star Wars, you know the mix is going to be well thought out, calculated and perfected.  And it shows.  

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer has plenty to do.  From ion engines, to explosions, blasters, lightsabers humming and light speed, it does it all.

Surround Sound Presentation:  Plenty to get excited about here.  The battle scenes have something individualized happening in every channel it seems.  Movements and volume placements are done to a perfect “T” when it comes to sound traveling in this mix.  Even the films lower, quieter moments are an exercise in both restraint and being involved and active with the side and rear speakers.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud, crisp and clear.  Every breath or piece of diction is accounted for.  Kylo Ren’s voice distortion is exceptionally good here.

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Extras Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dexter-0

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a 2 Blu-ray set that also comes with a DVD Copy and UltraViolet Digital Copy of the film.  All bonus material is found on the second Blu-ray disc of the set.

Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (HD, 1:09:14) – Told in four chapters, this documentary takes you on a trip through the whole process, beginning with George Lucas signing over Lucasfilm to Disney and anointing Kathleen Kennedy to the shooting of the final scene.  Its energetic, insightful and unveils some facts, sketches and things that haven’t been generally seen or known yet. 

The Story Awakens: The Table Read (HD, 4:01) – A little more detailed look at the legendary table read than the Secrets documentary.  Features portions of it with interviews from Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams and the cast.

Crafting Creatures (HD, 9:34) – A featurette that focuses on the practical creatures in the film, the people who construct them and the actors who bring them to life.  It also details how to seamlessly marry both practical effects and CGI.

Building BB-8 (HD, 6:03) – I mean, subject says it all, right?

Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (HD, 7:02) – This goes over the finale’s saber battle in the snow.  Features plenty of behind the scenes and raw footage along with interviews talking about the idea and execution of the scene.

ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force (HD, 7:55) – This one focuses on the digital effects angle of the film, including a good portion on performance capture.  They place an importance on talking about not being able to discern what is digital and what is real in the film.

John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (HD, 6:51) – Everyone talks of John Williams’ importance to Star Wars and cinema.  Williams discusses his take on the revisiting older pieces, themes for Rey, Kylo Ren the lightsaber duel and the final scene in the film.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 4:15) – “Finn and the Villager”, “Jakku Message”, “X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed”, “Kylo Searches The Falcon”, “Snow Speeder Chase”, “Finn Will Be Fine”

Force For Change (HD, 3:22) – An advertisement for the charity foundation to help UNICEF that began coinciding with the start of production for the film.

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Summary Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dexter-_5

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is blast of a film to check out and its only getting better and better for me with subsequent views.  Its laid the groundwork for what could be a terrific trilogy as the new characters are all quite magnificent and have us all engaged and eager to see where they go next.  While this was a “Mystery Box” film, there is far from any mystery on its presentation as the film looks and sounds to perfect.  Surprisingly, we’re given quite a good wealth of extras that include a full documentary on making the film.  The release is actually quite back for this one’s first time out as we know this is the first of MANY releases and rereleases and eventually box set inclusions for it to come.  I feel fortunate they even decided to let us review these as Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a surefire seller.  Everyone is going to be grabbing for it!

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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