Star Wars: Episode 7- The Force Awakens Blu-ray Review
“The Force Awakens” is proof that the future is bright for the “Star Wars” franchise.
It may sound like a cliché at this point, but I am (and have long been) a “Star Wars” geek. “Star Wars” is my all-time favorite film and the saga is my favorite film series. Back in 2005, I thought the film franchise was done forever after Episode 3 was released. So, imagine my surprise when I woke up one morning (October 30, 2012 to be exact) to discover that new “Star Wars” films were being planned. My mind raced at the possibilities, but more than that, I was just happy that I was going to be able to dive into the universe once again. In December 2015, I, and what seemed like the whole world, were able to revisit a galaxy far, far away once again. The result? Well, you’ll just have to read on to find out about that.
If you don’t know the story of Episode 7 by now, where have you been? It involves a missing Luke Skywalker, the villainous First Order, the heroic Resistance, a strong and force sensitive young woman (Rey), an AWOL stormtrooper (Finn), and one bad son (Kylo Ren). It may not sound like much, but the story isn’t the highlight here. It’s the characters (old and new).
In terms of the new characters here, they are primarily the reason Episode 7 is such a success in my eyes. Yes, the returning favorites are a major bonus (which I’ll get to shortly), but it’s the new faces that make such an immediate impact. Daisy Ridley is at the forefront of those new faces as the strong, independent and mysterious Rey. She might have been an unknown actress before TFA, but she justifiably became a movie star once the film came out. She really drives the narrative as the audience essentially goes on a journey with this character. Not to be overshadowed here is Kylo Ren who, for me, steals the entire movie. Adam Driver gives an incredible performance as the fierce, unpredictable, wound beating dark side villain with a serious inner conflict. John Boyega (Finn) is sort of the co-star of the movie and he livens everything up with humor and instant chemistry with the rest of the cast. BB-8 may only be a droid, but for my money, he’s the best droid character we’ve ever seen (bold claim I know). The character is funny, emotional, and, best of all, can keep up with the action! Maz Kanata is clearly a Yoda esque character, but the quirky “wise beyond her years” alien proved to be a welcome addition thanks to the motion capture talent of Lupita Nyong’o. Oscar Isaac has limited screentime as Poe Dameron, but he’s certainly a bad-ass Resistance pilot who I’d like to see more of. Not a lot of people are crediting Domnhall Gleeson (General Hux), but they should be. He does the bad guy British Officer tradition proud. Likewise, mo-cap expert Andy Serkis shines (albeit very briefly) as what is arguably the most intriguing new character- Supreme Leader Snoke. We barely know a thing about him, but I already love theorizing about who he is.
Of course, the new characters aren’t the only ones gracing the screen here. We get many returning favorites that fans have been waiting to see for 32 years. The biggest of which is Harrison Ford stepping back into the Han Solo role (which he does so with ease). From his opening line to his selfless climactic action, Ford brings great depth to the old smuggler once again. Carrie Fisher may not have a lot to do as General Leia, but her moments with Han proved to be among the film’s most emotional scenes. Luke may be integral to the story, but you only see Mark Hamill for a quick moment. Regardless, he looks great and I can’t wait to see what writer/director Rian Johnson does with his character in Episode 8. Let’s face it, the Millennium Falcon is a character itself and it has what is easily the best action sequence in the entire movie (not to mention the most perfect introduction). Last, but not least there’s Chewbacca who is the biggest surprise to me in this movie. Not only does he have the best comedic moments, but the “Chewie rage” scene as I like to call it is one of my favorites in the entire film.
Cast aside, the film wouldn’t have been possible where it not for co-writer and sole director J.J. Abrams. Despite what one may think about his abilities as a storyteller and filmmaker, there’s no denying the fact that he knows how to create a crowd pleaser. Juggling characters has always been his strong suit (even in the “Star Trek” franchise) and he wisely surrounded himself with talent that knows how to make Ep. 7 look and feel like a “Star Wars” film. In typical “mystery box” esque fashion, he also leaves you with many unanswered questions thereby hooking you back into the saga’s subsequent installments (not that we wouldn’t be hooked in anyway).
As much as I enjoy the film, there are things that nag at me as a fan. First and foremost, I have to say that I found a George Lucas-less “Star Wars” to be initially jarring. Having seen it several times, I have naturally adjusted to that fact, but I still struggle with the pacing and editing of the film to a certain degree. It may sound like an odd comment, but having absorbed every moment of the previous 6 “Star Wars” by heart now, the flow of Episode 7 is noticeably different. It moves a little too quickly which leaves very little breathing room. For example, take the Maz’s castle sequence. The editing is so breakneck that you barely get to take the place in. I really wish the story slowed down at points.
On the subject of the story, it’s no secret that it plays out a lot like Episode 4. While I understand why J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt made it familiar and accessible from a mythological standpoint, it would have been more appealing if the story was entirely fresh. True, there is new material here, but in terms of the overall story beats, it’s essentially Episode 4.5.
Aside from those issues, there are a few other minor quibbles I had involving Captain Phasma’s wasted character, the eye-rolling Rathtar sequence, Chewbacca not embracing Leia after a pivotal moment, the lack of establishing the New Republic, and ANOTHER super weapon. It may sound like I’m nitpicking here, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say these elements bothered me a little bit. Did they ruin my enjoyment of the film? Absolutely not, but they did raise an eyebrow.
Flaws aside, “Star Wars: Episode 7- The Force Awakens” is still an overwhelming success. The future of SW is clearly in good hands and that’s what matters most. Now, where’s that “Rogue One” trailer?
Presentation: 2.40:1 1080p. How does it look? Whether you’re watching scenes on the bright desert planet Jakku or scoping out Maz’s dark castle, this transfer is sure to wow you.
Audio Track: 7.1 DTS-HD MA. How does it sound? Come on, now. We all know ‘Star Wars” has THE best sound in cinema history so it’s not remotely surprising that this DTS track is absolute perfection.
* DVD copy and digital copy.
* 6 deleted scenes. Naturally, I went straight to this when I popped in the bonus disc, but unfortunately, there’s nothing worth talking about here. They were all rightly deleted. Where’s the scene with Maz handing Rey the lightsaber? Where’s Constable Zuvio? Where’s Unkar in Maz’s Castle? Perhaps there will be more scenes in a future release?
* “Force For Change”- A near 3 ½ minute piece on the charity
* “The Story Awakens: The Table Read”- You’ve seen the now iconic photo, now you can watch a brief behind-the-scenes look at the first table read that includes interviews with several cast members.
* “Crafting Creatures”- For those who wanted to see more of the aliens in Maz’s castle, this featurette gives viewers a further glimpse of the practical and CGI aliens. You even get to see Warwick Davis and the character he plays!
* “Blueprint of a Battle: the Snow Fight”- This extra covers the climactic lightsaber battle, the impressive snowy set and lightsaber training.
* “ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force”- A pretty standard featurette about CGI and motion capture work.
* “Building BB-8”- A short look at the creation of the BB-8 character. It’s fascinating to see the different versions that were used on screen and the work that went into making him come alive (so to speak).
* “John Williams: The Seventh Symphony” is, obviously, about the legendary maestro. Interviews with everyone from Lawrence Kasdan to John Williams himself are included. John’s thoughts on the character themes and new music are particularly noteworthy here.
* The 68 minute “Secrets Of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey” is the centerpiece of the bonus features and it is without question the best extra. The 4 chapter feature contains interviews with the cast and crew and covers so many topics including (but not limited to), the art department, J.J. Abrams taking the helm, the cast (returning and new members), the writing process, audition tapes, location shooting, set footage, the Falcon set, additional tidbits about Maz, and yes, even some cool easter eggs for astute fans.
* The digital release comes with an exclusive deleted scene titled “Tunnel Standoff.” While it is easy to see why it was cut, it’s probably the best of the deleted scenes as it features some amusing Han Solo quips.
Overall Thoughts: Who isn’t going to buy this Blu-ray when it comes out April 5, 2016? It should be in everyone’s collection. Note: The digital copy is now available if you’re into that sort of thing.
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