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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG-13 // April 5, 2016
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted April 6, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Star Wars The Force Awakens Blu-ray Review Star Wars - The Force Awakens is the latest installment in the epic space saga started by writer-director George Lucas with the 1977 original. In The Force Awakens, the seventh episode in the series, co-writer and director J.J. Abrams picks up the story 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. It is the first film in a new Star Wars sequel trilogy. 

Star Wars - The Force Awakens is produced by director J.J. Abrams (Super 8), Bryan Burk (Lost), and Kathleen Kennedy (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, The Sixth Sense) and it is executive produced by Tommy Harper (Mission Impossible 3) and Jason D. McGatlin (The Adventures of Tintin).

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammill) has gone missing. The resistance looks for a missing piece of a map which will lead to the location of Skywalker. Leia (Carrie Fisher) is leading the resistance in looking for her brother, Luke, who is the last of the Jedi. Resistance x-wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) looks for the missing piece of the map on the planet Jakku and enlists the help of his adorable droid BB-8 (who becomes a scene-stealer almost as entertaining and lovable as R2-D2) .

Finn (John Boyega), a former Stormtrooper, helps the resistance and befriends the scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) while on the planet Jakku. The two set off together (and even take flight upon the legendary Millennium Falcon) as they go on a galactic adventure filled with returning heroes and surprising new foes: Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and the ominous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

What a joy it is to see Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) back together again. Han Solo has a prominent role in the new film and Ford manages to remain perfect in the role. Han Solo is still as awesome a character as ever and Ford delivers many of the film's best one-liners and moments. There are also many fun character returns including fan favorites like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb. And what Star Wars film would be complete without R2-D2 and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)?

Few films in the history of cinema have been as anticipated as Star Wars - The Force Awakens. Many fans of the Star Wars saga have been looking forward to seeing an Episode 7 in the saga for decades. For many audience members it's the most anticipated motion-picture experience of their lifetime.

The good news is that the film is a wonderful success and it should please both new and longtime fans of the series.  It triumphs as a wonder of filmmaking: as a great entry in the beloved series. While it would have been impossible for any filmmaker stepping into the director's chair for a new Star Wars installment to please every Star Wars fan, co-writer and director J.J. Abrams brilliantly succeeds at bringing to life the saga for generations of fans.

The film has a lightning fast pacing to it which never let's go throughout the entire course of the film's journey. The editing of The Force Awakens by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey (both of whom worked with J.J. Abrams on Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness) is delicate throughout while also precise. The pacing feels both simultaneously organic and energetic. There is good energy throughout: an energy so majestic that one might even say that "the force is strong"  with this film.

The film was incredibly executed by everyone who worked on the production. J.J. Abrams approach to this film was to rely more on traditional filmmaking techniques (sets, make-up, animatronics) while also utilizing CGI when it was deemed necessary. The idea pays off big time. This film perfectly blends together both new and old moviemaking techniques.

The film has sweeping, epic set designs and remarkably well designed CGI elements which compliment the more traditional filmmaking approach. The production design by Rick Carter (Avatar, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump) and Darren Gilford (Oblivion, Tron: Legacy) astounds. Both artists give the film a grand scope in design perfectly suited for the vast universe of Star Wars.

The senior art direction by Alastair Bullock (Batman Begins, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hugo) and Gary Tomkins (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Fifth Element) also helps the film to look as beautiful and complex as fans would hope to find. Set decorations by Lee Sandales (Maleficent, War Horse) ensure the film looks as beautifully detailed as any fan could ever dream for.

The effects are almost unparallel. Few films have as breathtaking special effects as the films in the Star Wars saga. The original Star Wars pushed the envelope in technical wizardry when it opened in the 1970's. The Force Awakens features stunning special effects which are beautiful and remarkably effective. Industrial Light and Magic are the best in the film business and the effects on this film help to make this universe one which is even more exciting and expansive. Their work is that of great artistry which dramatically enhances the success of the filmmaking.

From a production standpoint alone, Star Wars - The Force Awakens is easily one of the best films of the year. The level of detail put into make-up and prosthetics helped to create a vast array of alien creatures never seen before. New designs utilized in the film expand upon the already large canvas from which the Star Wars galaxy resides in. The costumes designed by Michael Kaplan (Blade Runner, Star Trek) are terrific throughout the journey taken (both for human characters like Rey and Finn and otherworldly characters like Chewbacca.)

The cinematography by Daniel Mindel (Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness) is exquisite. This is easily one of the best looking films of the year and it perfectly fits into the legacy of Star Wars alongside the aesthetic look of the originals. Like the original trilogy, Star Wars - The Force Awakens was shot on film and the aesthetic quality of this creative choice is perfect for the filmmaking. Mindel's exquisite cinematography harkens back to great cinematography of Hollywood classics from the 70's while also feeling cutting-edge at the same time. Many moments (including several on the planet Jakku) makes it feel as if no time has passed at all between the production of Star Wars and Star Wars - The Force Awakens).

Legendary composer John Williams returns to score his seventh Star Wars film and delivers one of his best scores in the saga. The score is something of a departure in that the score is largely focused on emphasizing the new characters and this is something which led to several new themes from Williams. The best new theme in the film is Rey's Theme, which is beautiful, melodic, and moving. The film rarely uses classic themes from the Star Wars universe but when Williams does he utilizes them with perfection.

Based on the characters and universe created by George Lucas, the screenplay for The Force Awakens was written by Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back) & J.J. Abrams (Super 8). The original draft was written by Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) but was dramatically changed when Abrams and Kasdan became involved with the project.

The script manages to be exciting from start to finish and brings the story to new territory while perfectly fitting into the established world of Star Wars. The Force Awakens script manages to feel both fresh (especially through its emphasis on new characters) while remaining steeped in the lore of the Star Wars mythology. It's exceptional storytelling which brings both new and exciting elements to the Star Wars saga while feeling very much at home within the universe that started the cinematic journey.

Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek) was the perfect choice to continue the Star Wars legacy. When Disney announced new films would be produced in the saga (without George Lucas in the director's chair) the first name that occurred to me as a possible director was J.J. Abrams. Within seconds of the announcement, I was hoping it would be him directing the new episode. He is the perfect choice. He is one of only a few major Hollywood filmmakers working today who has learned so much from the directorial styles of Hollywood legends like Lucas and Spielberg.

Abrams has an impeccable gift as a filmmaker. He manages to make films which are enormously entertaining and full of visual spectacle while still focusing on characters and traditional Hollywood storytelling. His style of filmmaking is always brimming with energy without sacrificing good storytelling in the process. Abrams, who was so inspired by Star Wars, stepped up to a daunting task of making a new Star Wars film and succeeded.

The original Star Wars is one of the most iconic and important motion-pictures ever made. To a legion of fans worldwide, it is considered one of the best films of all time. It pushed the envelope in terms of special effects and technical wizardry in filmmaking and it did so while telling a story which connected deeply and profoundly with audiences around the globe. It's a heroes journey of epic proportions which has inspired generations of filmgoers. The Star Wars saga even explores important spiritual themes through its exploration of The Force and the idea of Jedi.

The opening film in this new Star Wars trilogy manages to be a non-stop thrill ride which will leave fans wanting more. In fact, one of the only disappointments from The Force Awakens (which is not so much a criticism of the filmmaking itself) is that it is going to leave fans wanting more. This feeling is perfect for this kind of journey, though. As soon as Episode 7 concludes one can't help but want to immediately start Episode 8. This might annoy audiences now but once viewers can marathon all of the new Star Wars episodes it should be a delight.

Star Wars - The Force Awakens is a love letter to the original films as well as a bold vision for where to take the saga to next. J.J. Abrams wisely brings a strong focus to the new characters carrying the journey of The Force Awakens while still focusing on the story that resulted in this fantastic journey in the first place. The Force Awakens is one of the most entertaining films of the year and a must-see motion picture event for anyone who has ever considered themselves a Star Wars fan.

The Blu-ray:


Star Wars - The Force Awakens arrives on Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1080p High Definition presentation in the original 2.40:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. The film looks stunning to behold. It has a quality encoding with a high 30 mbps bit-rate. The presentation is exquisite which excellent colors, detail, and depth. The image is remarkable throughout the presentation. There are no issues with banding and the image looks crisp and clean. This is a stunning video presentation for a stunning film.


The Force Awakens features a 24 bit lossless 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation which doesn't disappoint. The lossless quality surround sound presentation is an engaging and exciting sound presentation. The sound design is one of the best of the entire year. This is a robust sound design which places great emphasis upon the effects throughout the action sequences and it perfectly presents the majestic score by John Williams. Fans will not be disappointed by this energetic and crisp audio presentation.
Subtitles are provided in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), Spanish, and French.


Please Note:

This is a Blu-ray Feature Film + Blu-ray Bonus Disc + DVD Feature Film + Digital Copy Edition. The 3D Blu-ray Edition will be released later this year (most likely around the December release of Star Wars: Rogue One).

Star Wars - The Force Awakens has an incredibly well produced set of extras. These are some of the best and most engaging supplements I have seen on a recent release. The behind the scenes making-of documentary is heartfelt and informative. Audiences will get a rather nice glimpse into the making of the film and the process behind its creation and development.

The extras included with this release are entertaining and cover a lot of different aspects of the production: the script, the stage designs, the special effects at ILM, the costumes, the score by Williams, and much more. Fans will certainly consider this a worthwhile

The extras included on this release (contained on a separate Blu-ray Bonus Disc and presented in high-definition) are as follows:

Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (1 Hr. 9 Min.) is a feature length making of documentary in four segments. Each segment of the documentary focuses on a different element of production. The documentary explores the move of Star Wars to Disney, Kathleen Kennedy becoming president of LucasFilm, the search for the director of Star Wars Episode 7, the early days of filming, screenplay development, creature designs, casting the film (and finding the leading actors for Rey and Finn), bringing back Han Solo, art development, and more.

This is a remarkably well-made documentary which covers many aspects of the production. This is easily this release's best supplemental feature and it should be considered essential viewing for anyone who is interesting in the making of The Force Awakens

The Story Awakens: The Table Read (4 min.) is a brief overview about the table read done for the Star Wars - The Force Awakens screenplay.

Crafting Creatures (10 min.) explores the development of the new creature designs produced for the film and J.J. Abrams involvement in encouraging creativity and selecting designs that would become a part of the final film.

Building BB-8 (6 min.) is about the construction of the BB-8 character.

Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (7 min.) explores the construction and filming of this important set-piece in the film.

ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force (8 min.) is about the important special effects work done by Industrial Light and Magic for the film's CGI special effects.  

John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (7 min.) focuses on William's collaboration with director J.J. Abrams and his approach to scoring the latest Star Wars film.

There are six short deleted scenes provided on this release (with a less than five-minute total run-time for all of the scenes combined). Each scene is a brief sequence cut from the final version of the film. Scenes included have unfinished special effects.

Deleted Scenes:  

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 (3 min.) is a brief piece on the important charity work being done around the world by Star Wars fans.

Final Thoughts:

It's been decades since the original Star Wars ushered in a new era of epic filmmaking and helped redefine science-fiction genre filmmaking. George Lucas inspired so many filmmakers and artists with his vision for Star Wars (including the filmmaker at the helm of the latest film in the series, J.J. Abrams).  The Force Awakens is an exciting adventure which takes the Star Wars story forward while paying homage to the classic films in the series. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are both terrific additions to the Star Wars cast and are sure to become huge stars. Harrison Ford remains perfection as Han Solo.

It's heartening that Star Wars fans continue to be so dedicated and passionate about these stories and characters. It shows how much the stories and universe means to so many around the world. Star Wars has a significant and important cinematic legacy. With The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams honors that legacy with a breathtaking new entry in the series. This is a must-see motion picture event. 

The Blu-ray release has an impressive presentation of the film and an absorbing collection of well-produced supplements on the making of The Force Awakens. It's an incredible package which well deserves DVD Talk's highest recommendation:  DVD Talk Collector's Series.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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