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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Blu-ray Review: A grand return to a galaxy far, far away

April 5, 2016Ben MK

Set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens reunites Star Wars fans with their favorite characters from George Lucas' original trilogy, including Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). At the same time, it also introduces audiences to a new group of galactic heroes, who find themselves facing a villain following in the footsteps of none other than Darth Vader.

The movie begins with the familiar crawl of yellow text. But, thankfully, this time there's no mention of senate discord or governmental affairs. Instead, what we get is a classic Star Wars set-up informing us that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing, and that Leia, the leader of the Resistance, has dispatched X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to the desert planet Jakku to retrieve valuable information that could lead to her brother's whereabouts. Meanwhile, the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), an agent of the First Order that has emerged from the ruins of the Galactic Empire, is after the same intel, for he won't rest until the last Jedi is destroyed.

From there, the film dives straight into the action, which sees Poe captured by Kylo Ren, but not before entrusting the top-secret data to his steadfast droid, BB-8. Luckily, Poe ends up on the same ship as a Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega), whose self-doubt about his own allegiances leads him to rescue the Resistance pilot. Soon, the pair are back on Jakku, where Finn encounters BB-8 and a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley). And, together, they must not only evade Kylo Ren and the First Order's army of Stormtroopers, they must also put a stop to its fearsome new weapon, Starkiller Base, a planet-destroying monstrosity capable of ending the Resistance once and for all.

Of course, there's much, much more to be said about the plot. But to do so would be like flying the Millennium Falcon directly into spoiler territory, as writer/director J.J. Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have made familial ties a major element of the narrative. Suffice to say, The Force Awakens has resoundingly succeeded in achieving what the prequel trilogy could not, which is to capture the feeling of the first three Star Wars films. And with episodes VIII and IX — not to mention, spin-off films like the upcoming Rogue One — on the horizon, that's great news for longtime fans, who can rest assured that the fate of this galaxy far, far away is in good, good hands.

It would have been a genuine surprise if this film did not look and sound spectacular on Blu-ray; and, thankfully, there are no surprises here. From the sun-scorched exteriors on Jakku to the gunmetal gray interiors of the First Order Star Destroyers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks every bit like the sci-fi blockbuster that it is, whether it's the colorful orange markings on BB-8, the intricate details of the wear and tear on the Millennium Falcon, or the stark contrast between the pitch black darkness of Kylo Ren's cloak and the bright white sheen of the Stormtrooper armor. Likewise, the movie's primary DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is sheer perfection as well, providing great fidelity and excellent balance between dialogue, composer John Williams' score and action elements like the familiar hum of the lightsabers, the "pew pew" of blaster fire, and the screams of attacking TIE Fighters as they fly by.

Disney's three-disc Blu-ray release includes an iTunes digital copy, a DVD and a second Blu-ray disc entirely devoted to the following extras:

  • Secrets Of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (1:09:14) - A four-part making-of documentary that charts the filmmaking process, covering such topics as the franchise's acquisition by Disney, the practical and digital effects, the new and returning characters, the iconic visuals and set pieces, the filming locations and more.
  • The Story Awakens: The Table Read (4:01) - The filmmakers and the cast talk about the first cast read through of the script.
  • Crafting Creatures (9:34) - Creature & Droid FX Creative Supervisor Neal Scanlan discusses the various alien creatures created for the movie, from legacy characters like Chewbacca and Nien Numb to the new creatures brought to life through puppetry, animatronics, prosthetics and CG effects.
  • Building BB-8 (6:03) - A piece about the design and construction of BB-8, as well as BB-8's different iterations and the puppetry work that helped bring the character to life.
  • Blueprint Of A Battle: The Snow Fight (7:02) - A behind-the-scenes look at the movie's climactic fight between Rey and Kylo Ren, from the set design to the actors' fight training and their performances.
  • ILM: The Visual Magic Of The Force (7:55) - A featurette focusing on the work of the artists at ILM, from the creation of alien characters like Maz Kanata and Supreme Leader Snoke to the design of the new Millennium Falcon.
  • John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (6:51) - A look at iconic composer John Williams' score for the film, including his newly-created themes for Rey and Kylo Ren.
  • Deleted Scenes (4:15) - Six scenes ("Finn And The Villager," "Jakku Message," "X-Wings Prepare For Lightspeed," "Kylo Searches The Falcon," "Snow Speeder Chase" and "Finn Will Be Fine").
  • Force For Change (3:22) - A brief look at the Star Wars themed charitable initiative and the effect it has had globally.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is available from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment as of April 5th, 2016. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. The total runtime is 2 Hrs. 15 mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on December 16th, 2015.

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