STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS 3D Blu-ray Review
There has been an awakening. The New Republic has splintered and The First Order’s power is strengthening. Much like The Empire, they feel like the galaxy needs to be ruled with an iron fist and will stop at nothing to do it. A warrior and student of the darkside named Kylo Ren has a mission to hunt down the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, but he needs the last remaining piece of a map to find him. The New Republic sanctioned group called The Resistance is after the same piece. Their best pilot named Poe Dameron has hidden the map inside of a droid named BB-8 but had to leave him on the planet Jakku. A scavenger on the planet named Rey finds the droid and she will do what she can to help him get back to Poe to save The Resistance.
Since 1977, STAR WARS captured the hearts and imaginations of so many people across the world with a great story, lovable characters, action, and adventure. EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was a huge hit in 1980 and broke the typical “a sequel never surpasses the original” rule. Then in 1983, RETURN OF THE JEDI was set to be the last film in the trilogy but the universe would not just dwindle away right then and there. Older fans began to create fan fiction, new characters and expand the universe in a way that I don’t think anyone could have predicted. The children that grew up with the movies would play with their toys and continue the adventures until they were old enough to put those thoughts and ideas out in the world. Together, these fans made sure that STAR WARS would become a household name and through the 1990’s, people would beg George Lucas to make the prequel movies that he had hinted at ever since he gave the original films episode numbers. Fast-forward almost a decade and EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE was released. It wasn’t received very well when the tone of the franchise became more streamlined to a certain age group. Fans worried that this was the end of their beloved after the prequel trilogy concluded and that’s when Lucas decided that he would give in to The Mouse.
Disney acquired Lucasfilm as well as everything associated with the company and as the ink was drying, the wheels were already set in motion. The announcement for EPISODE VII was made and fans, like the heroes in the film, have something they haven’t felt in a long time: hope. This hope was with the original cast returning and JJ Abrams at the helm. He has taken his imagination and, with the help of so many, crafted a film that is a worthy of beginning not only a new trilogy but also a new generation of fans.
I liked that this movie went with the “everything old is new” idea to pay tribute to the 1977 original. There was enough in the film to pay homage without calling it a remake. JJ Abrams was the best choice for the film after breathing life back into the STAR TREK series. Taking those visionary ideas along with the various people at ILM, Skywalker Sound, and Disney backing the project came together to make an awesome film. It was nice to see the original cast back but the standouts in the movie were the new characters. First, I’d like to give praise to Oscar Isaac. His character, Poe Dameron, is a mix of Han with his cockiness, a touch of Luke & TOP GUN’s Maverick with his piloting skills. Isaac has the acting chops to use his full range, making the character likable and believable. Adam Driver also does a great job of bringing the evil Kylo Ren to life. I feel like his best work is while he is under his mask but when he pulls the mask off, you do get the sense that The Force tortures him. He can come off a little whiny at times but I don’t think there was any way he could’ve played it differently. He’s a weird dude and that’s who he is.
John Boyega played Finn and he is one of 2 characters who have the most screen time. He definitely does an awesome job as a character that is taken way out of his comfort zone. Being a stormtrooper was all that he knew and he had a question of conscience to motivate him to do the right thing. I loved Boyega in ATTACK THE BLOCK and you can see that some of his scenes in that movie are what landed him the role here. I’m excited to see him in the next installment to branch his character out even more. My absolute favorite in the film is Daisy Ridley’s Rey. This newcomer brought everything she has to the role and holds nothing back. Her range of emotions is mesmerizing to watch on film. She starts out a girl who is waiting for someone and scavenging just to get by until the person she is waiting for returns. When she meets her new companions, you can see the wonderment and excitement in facial expressions as she is being introduced to a world that is bigger than what she knows. There are also times when you see this tremendous emotional pain that she has been carrying for years that finally comes to a head. I hope to see her in more things and have a flourishing career. These are some of the best casting choices that I’ve seen in recent years and I have no real complaints about any of them.
Harrison Ford – Han Solo
Mark Hamill – Luke Skywalker
Carrie Fisher – General Leia Organa
Adam Driver – Kylo Ren
Daisy Ridley – Rey
John Boyega – Finn
Oscar Isaac – Poe Dameron
Lupita Nyong’o – Maz
Andy Serkis – Supreme Leader Snoak
Domhnall Gleeson – Genereal Huxx
Anthony Daniels – C3P0
Peter Mayhew – Chewbacca
This is easily one of the best 3D conversions that I’ve seen for a home release. It doesn’t look that far off from what I remember in the theater. The picture has excellent use of depth along with great use of a gradual foreground to background. There are a few scenes where some objects in the background look flat but proportions are correct. Of course the vehicle movements look incredible but one of my favorite scenes is the first flight of the Millennium Falcon vs the TIE fighters on Jakku. The camera movements following the ships through the wreckage of the star destroyers creates excitement from the realism. All of the arial scenes are excellent but this was the one I really enjoyed the most. One of the other well converted scenes is with Kylo Ren and Han Solo on the bridge on Starkiller Base. There is a wide-angle shot where you see them on the bridge, Rey and Finn on a high balcony, a smokey fog and the room wraps around a huge pit. Again, the fog is in the foreground over the people on the various platforms and the backgrounds curve properly. The coloring is also on the brighter side, even though 3D is typically darker due to the glasses and what the viewing device needs to display the images.
This might be one of the best transfers I’ve seen in some time. Just like the film itself, there was so much care that went into authoring this Blu-ray to make sure that you have a similar experience to the theater. On Jakku, the tans are earthy with good contrasting against the people in the few settlements on the planet. Even there, the people’s faces aren’t washed out at all but the warmth in the skin tones aren’t artificially boosted. There is some brilliant coloring peppered in the film such as the red & blues from he lighting and the Lightsabers. Greens tend to be a little brighter than whatever is on the screen and they really show on the planet Takodana where Maz’s Castle was with some planet’s foliage. They’re lush and lively to contrast the desolate planet Jakku. The black levels are deep and inky. There is no crushing or artifacts nor is there any contrasting issues. The planets and exhaust from the ships glow against the vastness of space. The detailing is probably the best part of the transfer. Every single shot shows the textures and sharp lines that the filmmakers have created. Vehicles show wear, clothing shows weathering, and stormtroopers aren’t just “shinys” fresh from the academy. Their armor has real-world scuffing to make the world feel even more “lived in”. Like I said, this transfer looks incredible in HD and has secured its place as a stunning Blu-ray.
The main audio track is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix (48k). Both the 2D and 3D versions of the film share the same audio mix. This is another good example of how Disney puts all their resources into releases to a successful final product. From the moment that the STAR WARS theme begins playing, you can feel the notes moving through you. That’s the beauty of John Williams’ scoring this film. I don’t think it would be STAR WARS without him. The mix as a whole makes sure to keep the score, sound effects, and dialogue hitting their marks and one doesn’t overpower another. To mention the dialogue, there are never any points where the characters are difficult to understand. Not even Kylo through his mask. The voices are clear and level. Being a 7.1 mix, the sound effects are stellar. The whirring of the Lightsabers, whether they’re stationary or during the fight scenes, make the fans excited for the new generation of Jedi. Objects and people move around the sound field realistically during the larger action scenes or where flight is involved. The best example is during the Falcon chase on Jakku and hearing the space freighter weave through the ship graveyard with noisy TIE Fighters in pursuit. Also, every scene has ambient sound present. The treble is even and the deep LFEs are welcome to show the scale and power of some of the larger vehicles as well as Starkiller Base. When it fires, you feel it as if you were standing with The First Order at the time. There aren’t any notable flaws in the mix and I know that everyone will enjoy it as much as I have.
SUPPLEMENTS & PACKAGING
-Audio Commentary: Director J.J. Abrams: This is an commentary that is highly recommended to give a listen. It gives a lot of insight as to Abrams’ thinking from inception to screen.
-Deleted Scenes: There are some new deleted scenes as well as the existing ones from the previous release.
-Foley: A Sonic Tale: This is an featurette from the sound designers about the effects from the film.
-Sounds of the Resistance: This is an featurette about the sound effects, score, and adding them perfectly for the film.
-Dressing the Galaxy: Costume designer Michael Kaplan discusses how they dressed the galaxy.
-Secrets of THE FORCE AWAKENS – A Cinematic Journey: This massive 4-part bonus feature is over an hour long and tells the story of making the film from inception to the final product. This is well worth checking out. I would list the chapter descriptions but I try to be as spoiler free as possible.
-Crafting Creatures: The extra looks at the team creating the practical effects and adding new creatures to the universe.
-Building BB-8: If you didn’t know, BB-8 is mostly made up of practical effects and a working character. They show how the character was brought to life for the film.
-Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight: This extra lays out the lightsaber fight at the end of the movie and how it all came together for the phenomenal final product.
-ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force: ILM is one of the best effect designers in the industry and this clip shows how they implement the CGI & effects into the film.
-John Williams: The Seventh Symphony: This clip discusses the necessity of having John Williamsback on STAR WARS.
-Inside the Armory
4-disc set w/ 1 3D Blu-ray-ray, 1 2D Blu-ray, 1 bonus Blu-ray and 1 DVD
DisneyAnywhere Digital Copy
iTunes Digital Copy
Google Play Copy
3D: 1080p MPEG-4 MVC
2D: 1080p MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz)
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
THE BOTTOM LINE:
I think of lot of people look at this as a Disney double dip and maybe this should’ve been released initially. I don’t see it exactly that way, I almost look at it exactly what it is: a more substantial release of a great film. You’re getting all-new packaging, the 3D version of the film, and a lot of new & awesome bonus features. Put all of these things together with an excellent installment into the STAR WARS franchise and you have a winner. I highly recommend picking up this release and go through the extras in their entirety.