Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Blu-ray 3D) (2015)

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Released 2-Nov-2016

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Sci-Fi Action Audio Commentary-with Director J.J. Abrams
Featurette-Making Of-Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (69:14)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-The Story Awakens: The Table Read (4:01)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Crafting Creatures (9:34)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Building BB-8 (6:03)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (7:02)
Featurette-ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force (7:55)
Featurette-John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (6:51)
Deleted Scenes-x9 (6:39)
Featurette-Force for Change (3:22)
Featurette-Foley: A Sonic Tale (4:02)
Featurette-Sounds of the Resistance (7:15)
Featurette-Dressing The Galaxy (6:27)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-The Scavenger & The Stormtrooper (11:45)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Inside The Armory (8:17)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2015
Running Time 138:06
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By J.J. Abrams
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring John Boyega
Daisy Ridley
Harrison Ford
Oscar Isaac
Adam Diver
Peter Mayhew
Gwendoline Christie
Domhnall Gleeson
Lupita Nyong’o
Andy Serkis
Max Von Sydow
Mark Hamill
Case Soft Brackley-Opaque-Dual v2
RPI $44.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 7.1
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Spanish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    From the moment that the iconic opening title crawl begins - accompanied by John Williams’ exhilarating, iconic Star Wars theme - it’s clear that 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is in safe hands. With George Lucas stepping aside, Star Wars is finally being handled by filmmakers who actually care about the beloved franchise and know how to create genuine big-screen excitement. Ignoring all the prequel trilogy nonsense, The Force Awakens is more interested in recapturing the magic of the original trilogy, picking up thirty years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi left off and bringing back familiar faces to kick-start a new slate of sequels and spinoffs. Under the watchful eye of director/co-writer J.J. Abrams, who also enlisted the help of The Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan, it’s a phenomenal nostalgia trip as well as an efficacious world-building exercise, and it genuinely feels like Star Wars in all the right ways.

    Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished, and in his absence the tyrannical First Order have risen from the ashes of the Empire, led by the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). A critical piece of information pertaining to Luke’s location is discovered, but Resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) is compelled to hide the map in his droid, BB-8, when stormtroopers destroy his ship and capture him. Finn (John Boyega) is a stormtrooper who feels disillusioned after his first taste of combat, breaking Poe out of his cell in the hope of escaping the clutches of the First Order. After crash landing on the desert planet of Jakku, Finn meets scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who’s in possession of BB-8 and feels determined to deliver the droid to the Resistance. Reluctantly teaming up, the pair soon encounter Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who have tried to avoid getting involved in the fight against the First Order. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) leads a frantic search for BB-8, assisted by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

    Undertaking a project like The Force Awakens would be intimidating for any writer. On top of the obvious cultural significance surrounding the production, Abrams and Kasdan were tasked with bringing back old characters, introducing new characters, and establishing a fresh direction for this new trilogy. Hence, the script has ample baggage to deal with, so The Force Awakens does contain a fair amount of set-up that will likely pay off further down the track. Added to this, there is a certain degree of familiarity permeating the material; this is more or less A New Hope 2.0, borrowing elements of the 1977 hit which started it all, as well as aspects of the original trilogy in general. The film does threaten to come apart at the seams due to this, but The Force Awakens overcomes its noticeable shortcomings by concentrating on what matters most: compelling characters, focused storytelling, rousing action, and a sense of humour. There is more humanity here than ever before, with some worthwhile comedy to break up the drama that miraculously comes across as organic rather than cheap.

    Abrams is renowned for his “Mystery Box” approach to moviemaking, determined to keep a lid on practically everything in an attempt to restore some of the sense of surprise that movies used to afford before internet spoilers and online gossip. What’s particularly remarkable about The Force Awakens is that the returning characters have a bearing on the narrative at large, and they serve a purpose beyond the obvious passing of the torch. This is especially true of Han and his ever-dependable walking carpet, with Abrams ensuring the pair are vital participants in this story - and they also have a part to play in the overarching narrative leading into Episode VIII. Even more critically, Han feels like a three-dimensional character, as does General Leia (Carrie Fisher, who has aged surprisingly well), and their relationship does strike an emotional chord. Ford is an absolute joy to watch, with the aging thespian showing a surprising amount of enthusiasm throughout; he’s effortlessly charismatic, and he’s a believable man of action. The Force Awakens also finds time for effective fan service, with the characters here perceiving Han, Leia and Luke as legends due to the events of the original trilogy. (Heh, that’s subtle.)

    The new characters unquestionably work, which is a huge deal in the Star Wars universe, and I already look forward to spending more time with them in future instalments. And despite the strong sense of homage, there is far more nuance and depth to all of the fresh faces, who bely simple labels like “The New Luke” or “The New Han.” What’s interesting about Kylo Ren is that he’s not Darth Vader; he’s a disgruntled Jedi student who aspires to live up to the legacy of his personal deity, but lacks the skill and refinement to reach that level. Ren is more fallible than expected, and his character development is intriguing. Also remarkable is new droid BB-8 (an astonishing practical effect), who actually gives a better performance that most of the actors in the prequel trilogy. Through well-timed bleeps and bloops, and some expressive movements, the droid is able to convey humour, frustration, exasperation, excitement, and other emotions. In short, he’s an absolute scene stealer.

    Free of the acting vacuum that is George Lucas, the actors here are allowed to emote and express passion, carving out characters we can instantly latch onto. Choosing little-known thespians for Finn and Rey may seem like a calculated attempt to recapture the magic of the original trilogy, but both Ridley and Boyega convincingly knock it out of the park. Ridley is a thrilling screen presence, radiating welcome spirit and emotion, while Boyega can actually act. However, it’s Isaac who ultimately steals the show as the pilot Poe Dameron, arguably the best new character. Almost effortlessly, Isaac makes one of those rarely-seen instantaneous turns from “good actor you’ve seen in a few movies” to “bona fide movie star.” Driver is just as promising, essaying a wonderfully nuanced villain, while British actor Domhnall Gleeson makes a great impression as General Nux. A handful of recognisable names do pop up who will presumably return in the future, but the film unfortunately wastes three cast members from The Raid, who aren’t even given the opportunity to show off their insane fighting abilities. What was the point?

    A large chunk of Disney’s marketing campaign has revolved around addressing fan complaints towards the prequels, most notably in regards to the visuals. Indeed, Lucas lathered the prequels in an unholy amount of CGI, but Episode VII harkens back to the old-school approach, with a heavy reliance on practical effects and vast sets. Computer-generated imagery has undeniably reached breaking point due to overuse; blockbusters look too digital, with visual effects shots frequently coming across as workmanlike and phoney. But with a heavy element of practicality and tangibility to the action scenes, there’s a level of excitement here that’s seldom glimpsed in contemporary blockbusters. We have never seen spaceships look so vivid and utterly real, and it’s often impossible to discern what’s digital and what’s practical. Above all, The Force Awakens is comparatively modest, with realistic physics, and at no point looks like a cartoon. Admittedly, there are a few motion-capture characters who do not look as impressive, including Snoke and Maz (Lupita Nyong’o), but this isn’t not a deal-breaker - it’s just that the puppetry and make-up is far more appealing. Furthermore, Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel elected to shoot on 35mm film stock to emulate the look of the original trilogy, affording a fine grain structure. Better, the picture has not been colour-corrected to death. And by mixing old-fashioned special effects techniques with the new, Abrams and his crew have not only created a film that’s aesthetically similar to the original Star Wars trilogy - they have also constructed the most convincing, visually distinctive sci-fi blockbuster in recent memory.

    Compared to the other entries in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens does not have a great deal of lightsaber action, and any fans expecting plenty of heavily-choreographed fights will be disappointed. Ren only crosses blades at the climax, and with the budding Sith and his opponents lacking in training, the resulting battles are rawer than ever, on top of being full of humanity, and it’s an utter joy to behold. Furthermore, there is no irritating shaky-cam to speak of. The Force Awakens also sees the return of composer John Williams, which is an exceptional touch. Williams’ music is reliably grandiose, though it’s perhaps not as impactful as it was in the original trilogy.

    The Force Awakens was never going to please everybody. Star Wars fans across the world have already mapped out their dream Episode VII in their heads, and it is simply not feasible for one two-hour motion picture to fulfil millions of different mental checklists. No matter what, there was always going to be a contingency of disgruntled cry-babies. At the end of the day, The Force Awakens is not perfect, and falls short of delivering the same gooseflesh-provoking high that Star Wars provided in 1977, but it is a promising new beginning, an almost “safe” way to launch this new franchise on the right note to win back erstwhile fans and bring in a whole new generation of young viewers. It’s accessible without being pandering, deep without being pretentious, and reverent to the original trilogy whilst still feeling fresh. Ultimately, we are now left hoping that  the forthcoming Episode VIII will be the Empire Strikes Back of this new trilogy.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    To allow for maximum breathing room, each presentation of The Force Awakens gets an entire BD-50 to itself, with all of the set’s special features appearing on a separate disc (save for the new audio commentary). Framed at 2.40:1, this 1080p high definition presentation is very good, at times bordering on demo material. The Force Awakens was lensed on 65mm and 35mm film stock, and was completed at 4K. Some scenes were even shot on IMAX 70mm, though these scenes are not opened up on the disc; they retain the 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

    I'll be the first to admit I wasn't crazy about the 3D presentation in the cinema, but heavens me, Disney's Blu-ray 3D transfer is absolutely top-flight in all departments. It retains the tight grain structure and high detail of the 2D transfer (in fact it looks stronger than the 2D presentation in some departments - it's actually a bit lighter at times and I didn't detect any crush), while the 3D conversion itself is state-of-the-art, standing alongside the likes of Titanic in terms of quality. Yes, the movie was converted in post-production, but it looks like it was shot in 3D. Depth is spectacular, with the vistas of Jakku stretching out in front of you, while space looks vast, and there's sensational object delineation. I even flinched a few times when blasters were fired. One particular close-up shot observes Ren's lightsaber being ignited, and the blade appears to emerge from the TV screen. I wound up forgetting I was wearing the glasses while watching the movie, as I became so immersed in the visual illusion, which feels as if you're glancing through a window. Maybe Disney held off from an initial 3D Blu-ray release to refine and perfect the conversion - it's borderline flawless.

    In terms of the encode, I noticed some aliasing during the opening crawl, and there was some slight ghosting on my display during the brief flashes of the stormtroophers right before the opening raid on Jakku. Other than that, I didn't notice any other encoding anomalies - no crosstalk or any other ghosting. Star Wars: The Force Awakens features one of the most problem-free 3D transfers I have ever seen for a live-action motion picture, and it's absolutely worth upgrading if you are 3D-capable and enjoy the format. And that's coming from someone who had no intention of buying the 3D BD, and was only persuaded by the additional special features on this set.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Some commentators online have bemoaned the lack of a Dolby Atmos track on this disc (let's wait for the UHD Blu-ray release), and there are reports from some that the audio lacks oomph, much like the Avengers: Age of Ultron debacle. But I am not Atmos-compatible, so I cannot complain about being given a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, and I did not notice any issues with the levels or the mixing of this track. Luckily, The Force Awakens is reference material on Blu-ray, boasting a tremendous audio mix that leaves very little to be desired. And listening again to the audio mix on the 3D disc, I stand by my original thoughts - the sound is utterly flawless.

    The first thing which sticks out about this track is John Williams’ majestic score, which comes through with superb clarity during the opening titles. The music makes terrific use of surround channels, and never overpowers the dialogue. Every line is easy to hear and comprehend, while Kylo Ren’s dialogue is deep and impactful. The subwoofer is put to great use for every action scene, with lightsaber noises, laser blasts and explosions all packing plenty of impact. It all sounds simply marvellous, as to be expected from a new release title of this calibre. The walls do shake at times, too.

    The dynamicity of the track is astounding. Ships seem to cruise from one side of the room to the other thanks to expert panning and spacing, and effective ambient noise is used throughout to enhance each scene. No issues crop up throughout, with the track always remaining on-point, and with nothing in the way of dropouts or crackling. I couldn't have wished for anything more.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The first double dip has arrived. After a decent but underwhelming selection of special features on the original Blu-ray release back in April, we now have an audio commentary, five additional featurettes and three extra deleted scenes, as well as all the previously-released extras. It is annoying for those of you who bought the initial release, but I'll take it. And Disney will get more money out of me when the inevitable UHD Blu-ray release rolls around. I'm a sucker, what can I say?

    Disc 1 of the set only contains the 3D presentation of the film. All of the extras are over on the 2D discs.

Disc 2:

Audio Commentary by Director J.J. Abrams **NEW**

    The one extra that I've wanted since the very beginning, here we have a scene-specific commentary track featuring Abrams, who flies solo here. Abrams has a lot to say, touching upon a variety of subjects - he talks about his approach to each scene, his thinking behind various narrative & character decisions, material that was deleted (including stuff that was long-rumoured, and still doesn't appear in the deleted scenes on this set), some scene re-ordering, the decision not to kill off Oscar Isaac's character (as originally intended), rewrites during production (including how the script changed during the break in filming after Ford got injured), and more. He also discusses his dedication to practical effects - in a number of key scenes, CG was only used to paint things out. In addition, he mentions using the voice of Alec Guinness, and bringing in Ewan McGregor for a couple of lines. It's clear that Abrams is very proud of his film, and worked very hard to make the best movie that he could. Luckily, this commentary does not disappoint.

Disc 3:

Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (HD; 69:14)

    Feature-length making-of documentaries are becoming rarer, and never appear on new release Disney titles anymore. Thankfully, Disc 2 on this set starts off with a tremendous, in-depth look at the making of The Force Awakens, created by special features veteran Laurent Bouzereau. It’s split into four chapters plus an introduction, tracing the genesis of the project, Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm, the writing process and casting, before covering several major chunks of filming. Interviews with countless members of the cast and crew are interspersed throughout, including Hamill, while tonnes of on-set B-roll footage is available. Many important aspects of the movie are covered, including the construction of the Millennium Falcon, the making of the cantina scene, the reunion of the lead actors, Han Solo’s place in the story, and so on. It’s seriously enthralling stuff, but I still wish that it was twice as long. Indeed, the documentary does avoid covering any production issues (Ford’s injury should have been discussed), and I would have liked an extra chapter dedicated to post-production. Nevertheless, considering the usual standard for Disney movies, this is an excellent extra that you must watch.

The Story Awakens: The Table Read (HD; 4:01)

    Rather than a video of the full table read, this is a brief featurette on the first table read with the actors all meeting for the first time. The newcomers talk about how intimidating it was, while the veterans talk about how nice it was to see old friends. Hamill was also present to read the prose in the script.

Crafting Creatures (HD; 9:34)

    As the title implies, this brief but highly enjoyable and informative featurette concentrates on the creatures seen in the movie. Naturally, the focus is more on the practical effects and puppets as opposed to the mo-cap characters, and it’s wonderful to see such dedication to old-fashioned cinematic techniques. The creation of Chewbacca’s suit is particularly fascinating.

Building BB-8 (HD; 6:03)

    Droid BB-8 is the focus of this particular segment, which examines the techniques used to bring the little guy to life on-screen. Of course, using practical effects was important to the filmmakers, so a team of skilled puppeteers and electricians were recruited.

Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (HD; 7:02)

    This excellent featurette examines the creation of the climactic lightsaber battles in the snow. Ample behind-the-scenes footage reveals the construction of the set, the extensive rehearsals, and the shooting process. Well worth watching!

ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force (HD; 7:55)

    As implied by the title, this is a brief look at how ILM tackled the movie’s special effects. This is an interesting featurette, especially with the technicians talking about seeing the original Star Wars movies as kids, but it’s far too short, leaving too many stones unturned. I would have liked to have seen the use of practical effects and models, a topic that this featurette refuses to touch on.

John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (HD; 6:51)

    Here we have a featurette dedicated to composer John Williams. Several of the filmmakers talk about Williams’ legacy and work ethic, while Williams reflects on past Star Wars movies and discusses his approach to this particular project.

Deleted Scenes (HD; 6:39)

    I predicted in my original review that Disney were saving more deleted scenes for a future double dip, and my prediction has come true. Here we have all the previously-released special features, including the former iTunes exclusive, plus an additional two scenes. The best of the new scenes is "Unkar Platt At Maz's Castle," which brings back Simon Pegg's minor role for a brief standoff with Rey and Chewbacca that I really enjoyed. Meanwhile, "Tunnel Standoff" (the aforementioned former iTunes exclusive) remains incredibly fun.

Force for Change (HD; 3:22)

    Another extra recycled from the original BD release, we have a brief look at the charity work behind the production. There is some cool stuff here, including some great B-roll and footage of the actors getting involved in charities.

Foley: A Sonic Tale (HD; 4:02) **NEW**

     In this pleasant featurette, several of the foley artists (all of whom are female) walk us through their contributions on The Force Awakens, and show us how some of the sounds were achieved.

Sounds of the Resistance (HD; 7:15) **NEW**

    An extension of the previous featurette (which was more concerned with banal sounds like cloaks and BB-8's movements), this is an examination of the more recognisable sounds, such as lightsabers and creatures. Many of the key sound designers chime in (including Ben Burtt), while Abrams also discusses his vision.

Dressing The Galaxy (HD; 6:27) **NEW**

    Another wonderful featurette, this piece concentrates on the production design, from the costumes to the sets. The design of Han Solo's outfit is covered, and there's plenty of insightful behind-the-scenes footage.

The Scavenger & The Stormtrooper: A Conversation With Daisy Ridley And John Boyega (HD; 11:45) **NEW**

    Previously only available as part of a Target exclusive set in the United States (and only as a digital download), here we have twelve minutes of Ridley and Boyega talking about their experiences during the production of the film, intercut with loads of on-set footage. Another worthwhile inclusion.

Inside The Armory (HD; 8:17) **NEW**

    Another featurette which was part of the initial Region A Target exclusive, this final extra focuses on the weaponry in the movie, logically enough. The segment touches on the lightsabers, which actually lit up on-set, as well as the various blasters and other guns used by the various characters.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    All editions worldwide are identical this time around. Buy local with confidence.

Summary

    In spite of the vocal minority who hated it, I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It's a rousing science fiction fantasy adventure, and a worthy continuation of the Star Wars franchise. It does fall short in a few areas, but it does so many things right that it's hard to hold too much against it.

    Disney's Blu-ray release is extremely good, surpassing the initial release. Video and audio are still top-flight, especially the phenomenal 3D presentation, and now we have a more complete special features package. If you own the original release, sell it quickly and buy this new set. And if you don't own the film yet, this is the set to buy, even if you aren't 3D-capable. I have no regrets about upgrading. This set receives my highest recommendation.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Thursday, November 03, 2016
Review Equipment
DVDPlayStation 4, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42LW6500. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationLG BH7520TW
SpeakersLG Tall Boy speakers, 5.1 set-up, 180W

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