What a world we live in nowadays! Back when the first Star Wars film was released in 1977, fans were forced to wait five years until they could have their own copy to watch at home on VHS – and that’s if they were even fortunate enough to own a VCR. Now only three and half months after Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted in cinemas, it’s here in stunning HD for you to own, along with some really nice bonus features if you pick up the Blu-ray.
While we’d normally include a review of the film with our Blu-ray release, I’m going to assume that’s not what you’re here for (you can read my original theatrical review here). I’ll just say that having watched it several times now, I really like this movie. My complaints are pretty minor, with the biggest being the laziness of the ‘Starkiller Base’ plot element. I understand why the film mirrors A New Hope in many ways, but this just seemed too much, particularly since this plot element was already reused in Return of the Jedi. I also still find it a little odd how they felt the need to rename so many things: it’s not the Empire it’s the ‘First Order’, instead of the Rebel Alliance it’s now ‘The Resistance’. It’s almost as if Lucas didn’t sell the full rights to use the proper name for everything. This and some other minor things aside, everyone did a great job on The Force Awakens, making it a joy to watch.
Now let’s get to those discs.
Without exaggeration, I can say that this is one of the best, if not THE best looking Blu-ray I’ve ever watched. The marriage of classic film technique and new digital technology just makes every image pop. It’s crisp without being TOO crisp, modern without feeling TOO modern. While it was made to be seen on the big screen, Disney knew that where it would eventually be viewed the most is in our homes and spared no expense to ensure that it still looks and sounds great on your TV. The Blu-ray set also includes a DVD, chuck it, you don’t need. For this movie it’s Blu-ray or bust. The sound design definitely benefits from a surround sound system, but still sounded pretty great on just my TV speakers.
The biggest extra on this disc is the feature documentary that premiered at SXSW last month, The Secrets of the The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey. In this they go through the entire production chronologically, from acquiring the rights from Lucas, hiring J.J. Abrams, find the screenwriters, casting, first day of production, etc. Since there was so much secrecy around these developments at the time, it’s cool to see some of the behind the scenes footage, but there’s not much here that we don’t already know.
At 70 minutes long, it’s a little lean for what this could have been. As someone who eats up this kind of thing, I probably would have enjoyed a three hour documentary. Parts seem a little glossed over, (some of which are elaborated on in the subsequent featurettes), but this is still very much a superficial promotional piece. Going just on this documentary, the production seemed blessed from start to finish, void of any conflict. They don’t even go into the injury Ford sustained on set that they needed to shoot around for a couple months. There also aren’t any easter eggs here or new reveals (so was Daniel Craig in that Stromtrooper costume or not?!). At least we’re spared cast and crew talking about how much they loved working with one another, the default filler for films with uninteresting productions.
One of the doc’s highlights is an anecdote Ford tells about running into one of the crew members at a department store. He told Ford he was reconstructing the Millennium Falcon so Ford took the opportunity to insist on springs in the toggle switches. Apparently the original set didn’t have enough money to include springs in the Falcon’s toggle switches so they would never stay it place once flipped. “Can you put the springs in the switches this time?” Ford asked. “Yeah boss we got the budget for springs” the crew member assured Ford.
The great thing about this documentary is seeing all of the departments working together. The film’s emphasis on practical effects means that we’re not just looking at green screens, but seeing all of the physical models, props and costumes built. From the very first footage we saw of Abrams on set with that puppet, we knew this is one area this movie would impress and win us over with, and we weren’t disappointed.
The documentary is followed up by six featurettes that run approximately 7-10 minutes each and elaborate on things touched on in the doc, meaning a fair amount of overlap here. They either wanted to keep the doc under a certain running time, or this was just their way of padding out the special features to make it look like we’re getting more here. These are interesting for people who want to delve deeper into these topics, which are pretty self explanatory from their titles: The Story Awakens: The Table Read, Building BB-8, Crafting Creatures, Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight, John Williams: The Seventh Symphony, and ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force.
Lastly, the disc includes six deleted scenes. None of these are particularly special or add much to the story, several are literally just a line or two. Altogether the scenes make up about 4 mins of screen time. Here’s a brief breakdown.
Finn and the Villager: During the first battle on Jakku, Finn as a Stormtrooper encounters a crying woman fleeing with her baby. He raises his blaster at them but lets them go. This would have been redundant, since he basically does the same thing when the troopers are ordered to execute the villagers.
Jakku Message: This scene starts like something out of a Michael Bay movie. A member of the Resistance receives a message about the attack on the Jakku village during Poe’s mission and makes his way through a crowded base to deliver it to Leia. This would have been a much earlier and less dramatic introduction for Leia (and C-3PO), but does include a nice throwback line when she learns BB-8 was not recovered and says “never underestimate a droid.”
X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed: The title really says it all… this scene is about 15 seconds.
Kylo Searches the Falcon: There were several shots from this scene teased in a video Disney released last month. Some cool images here of Kylo Ren exploring his father’s famous ship, but ultimately pointless.
Snow Speeder Chase: Here we see Rey and Fin fleeing in a snow speeder from some New Order baddies on Starkiller base. This scene looked like a throwback to the speeder chase on Endor in Return of the Jedi. It must have been cut pretty early, as the effects are unfinished and there is no explanation of where they got the speeder or context for how the chase began.
Finn Will Be Fine: This is literally one line said by the medic with a wookiee fetish. In case anyone was worried about Finn’s fate, she ensured Rey that her “friend’s going to be just fine.”
There you have it. While this may seem like a pretty robust disc, they certainly left lots of room for future editions. There is still no 3D edition (not that the film needs it), and it would be nice to also have the IMAX sequence included, and perhaps even a commentary some day. This is a minor complaint, but some of the trailers would have been nice to include as well. Oddly enough, there’s no sign of a deleted scene teased in the aforementioned video where Han, Chewie, Finn and Maz get cornered by Stormtroopers in Maz’s castle… it looked like a good one, perhaps it;s an easter egg somewhere on the disc?
Does this Deserve a Spot on your Dork Shelf?
While it remains pretty clear that this will not be the definitive release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s a pretty darn good one. Who knows how long they’ll wait to elaborate on this, so if you love Star Wars, you’re sure to get your money’s worth here as you revisit this eventful film anytime you want. They also did a very nice job packaging this edition. Using black plastic instead of the usual blue for the case makes the dark and simple slipcover look even slicker. An emphatic YES for adding this one to your Dork Shelf.