Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Blu-ray Review

We previously did two comprehensive movie reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The “Light Side” review offers a more positive outlook on the movie, and the “Dark Side” review offers a dissenting, less favorable opinion. Check them both out below!

Light Side Review of the Movie HERE

Dark Side Review of the Movie HERE

The Video:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was primarily shot on 35mm film using Panavision Millenium XL cameras and a combination of Panavision C and E series lenses, as well as a set on PVintage lenses. One sequence in the film, the “Escape from Jakku” sequence, was filmed using IMAX 15-perf/65mm cameras.

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The Force Awakens was shot entirely on film, and was mastered using a digital intermediate at 2K resolution. The film was available on 35mm film, IMAX DMR 15/70mm film, IMAX Digital 3D, and Digital 2D and 3D. The film, other than one sequence in 1.44:1 IMAX film aspect ratio and 1.90:1 IMAX Digital aspect ratio, was projected using a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This Blu-ray, released by Disney, is presented in 1080p with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio from start to finish. As much as it pains me to report, the single IMAX sequence was not visually enhanced for home video presentation.

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That being said, The Force Awakens is stunning in 1080p. Starting with the opening crawl, the text is sharp, crisp, and bright. The opening scenes on Jakku are warmly colored against the backdrop of nighttime, with excellent contrast and detail. The sets really come to life, and close ups are amazingly crisp and detailed. The filmmakers really pushed for an emphasis on physical sets and props, and while main of the larger scale effect sequences are primarily digital, so many of the characters are actual costumes and actors working with real sets, unlike the previous two Star Wars films. Their costumes are fantastic, and hold up well under the scrutiny of home video.

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Being shot almost entirely on 35mm film negative, The Force Awakens has a healthy layer of grain that remains rather tame through the majority of the feature. It really only comes out in force during night-time exposures, and never becomes overwhelming. The single sequence shot using IMAX 65mm cameras has been cropped nicely to 2.35:1, and is nearly grainless in its appearance. A few sequences are a little soft in appearance, especially those where digital creatures are composited against real life actors, but it hardly ever becomes ugly. The large majority of visual effects shots are crisp, and feel authentic. A shot here or there looks slightly cartoonish, like many of the more recent Marvel films, but it never really distracts.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally  hit home video, and it hits hard in the visual department, with an essentially perfect visual transfer.

5/5

The Audio:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is presented on Blu-ray with a 7.1 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack. For review purposes, it was listened to using a 5.1 surround sound system.

Wow. This movie doesn’t just need a subwoofer, it demands a subwoofer. Right off the bat, explosions are frequent and plentiful. Blaster fire zips from one side of the frame to another, expertly moving through the soundstage in a realistic manner. Spaceships zoom in and out of the frame, coming up through the frame from the surrounds into the front spread in a classic Star Wars style, echoing the sound design of the classic Star Wars films.

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How can one talk about a Star Wars soundtrack without mentioning the use of John Williams’ brand new Star Wars score? Needless to say, it fills the room, generally finding its place in the surrounds and the front stereo speakers. The music is crisp, and reproduced accurately. Overall, this DTS-Master Audio soundtrack is stellar.

5/5

Special Features and Packaging:

The Best Buy Exclusive edition features artwork of Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma in a sleek looking steelbook, which fits in easily with the rest of the Star Wars steelbooks that are floating around. It’s shiny and quite attractive, with it’s glossy cover. The inside of the case features art from the Millennium Falcon chase scene where Rey and Finn escape from Phasma on Jakku. Included are two Blu-ray discs (the film and special features) and one DVD copy of the film, as well as an insert with a digital copy and Disney Movie Rewards points code.  This version is highly recommended, and is the must own version for steelbook collectors.

The Target Exclusive edition of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is presented in a cardboard case that folds open to reveal two drawings, one of the film’s villains, and one of the film’s heroes. The pictures are detailed, and interesting. From there, it opens up once more to reveal 4 pictures, one of Leia, one of Han, one of Rey, and one of Finn. All are detailed, colorful, and eye catching. The front artwork of the film features a composite of all of the 4 previous pictures, as well as one of Kylo Ren, and BB-88, in six quadrants. The back features a shot of a critical moment between Han Solo and Rey, as well as a spread of the film’s other characters. Of course, there is technical info, credits, a paragraph about the film, and a list of special features. The packaging feels kind of cheap, and the discs are held between two pieces of cardboard. Removing them requires you to place your fingers on the data side of the disc, similar to the packaging of Star Wars: The Complete Saga or Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures. When fully closed, the cardboard kind of keeps itself open just a hair. This one looks nice, but it is rather inconvenient in design. Also, the Target Exclusive features are a digital download, which may serve to further turn people off of this edition of the film.

The Standard Blu-ray edition that was sold at most retailers was seemingly one of the less popular options amongst online communities, but it ended up being a very nice option. The beautiful black slipcover is embossed with a shiny, holographic “Star Wars” logo, and is very solidly constructed, as Disney slipcovers tend to be. They always seem to have a bit more weight and structure to them than a typical slipcover, so they look great on a shelf. The interior Blu-ray keepcase stays with the black theme, as it is a completely black case, giving the whole release a very nice space-themed appearance. Interestingly enough, the interior structure of the Standard Edition keepcase are an item of controversy amongst collectors right now. It seems to be that if you had a copy with a raised and embossed Blu-ray logo on the top of the case, you received stacked discs on the inside, which is not favorable in the collector community. If you received a copy with a “painted on” and flat Blu-ray logo on the case, the three discs are separated by a plastic flipper on the inside, with two discs on the front and back of the flipper, and the DVD on the right side hub. When looking in stores, I would suggest grabbing a copy with the flat Blu-ray logo to avoid the mess that is stacked discs. Nobody likes a stacked disc, as they can risk being damaged as they rub against one another, and it simply does not look as clean. A standard Digital HD copy is included in this release as well, which can be redeemed through iTunes and also includes Disney Movie Rewards points. Simply put, this is definitely one of the nicest Standard Blu-ray in my collection right now. If you wanted a limited edition or retailer exclusive and could not find one, the Standard Blu-ray is a worthy competitor to any of the other releases.

Now onto the features, starting with the features included on the Bonus Features Disc.

Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey – a feature length documentary, in which we get a thorough account of each of the major sequences of the film. We get a detailed look at the shoot in Abu Dhabi, and sound sets at Pinewood Studios, and how the cast and crew lived in the world of Star Wars during the production. The documentary is an engaging way to spend an hour, and features excellent interviews with many members of of the cast and crew. It gives us an incredible amount of context that most films don’t allow us to look into. This one is absolutely worth your time.

The Story Awakens: The Table Read – a short bit about the table read, in which members of the cast recount their memories of the event. They way they discuss the event, it just makes me wish they’d released the whole thing!

Crafting Creatures – an in depth look at the creation of the various characters, and their backstories. Features appearances from guys like Warwick Davis, the Chewbacca costume, and the team that used CGI to augment the limited capabilities of some of the physical suits. Pretty interesting, actually.

Building BB-88 – an in depth look at the construction of the various models of BB-88, the droid from the new film. The actors discuss the impact of its presence, and the builders go deeper into the various versions of BB-88 that they made for the film. I honestly never expected building a spinning ball to be this complicated!

Blueprints of a Battle: The Snow Fight – a brief look at the construction of the set used for the snow fight sequence from the end of the film, as well as the training that Daisy and the stunt team went through to create the final fight.

ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force – a rather shallow look at the process of designing and implementing the visual effects of Star Wars. Nothing too exciting here, just surface glimpses at how it all comes together.

John Williams: The Seventh Symphony – a quick look at the process of creating the score for The Force Awakens. We get to hear a small bit of what John Williams thought of when he created these new themes, and variations. It’s absolutely awe inspiring to watch him conduct like this. I love it.

Deleted Scenes – about five minutes worth of deleted scenes, with varying levels of finished visual effects. Some are pretty amusing, but others definitely would have slowed down the pacing of the film, so I can see why they were cut.

And now onto the Target Exclusive Features, which are accessed through the Disney Movies Anywhere website.

Inside the Armory – a brief look at the designing, and redesigning of the weapons for The Force Awakens. They discuss the use of 3D printing, the designing of the the new lightsabers and blaster weapons, and the construction of Rey’s staff. A fascinating look at all of the work required to create these props

The Scavenger and the Stormtrooper: A Conversation with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega – an 11 minute long conversation in which they discuss their thoughts and memories about shooting in the desert, being on set with various Star Wars legends, getting to work on the Millenium Falcon, establishing chemistry, and various other topics. Ends in a rather cute, amusing way. I liked this one a lot.

The Target Exclusive Features, while small in number, are pretty decent extras, especially the conversation between Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, but I’m not entirely sure it is worth braving the cheap and difficult packaging in order to get your hands on these digital extras.

So, that’s it for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens special features. The bonus disc features are substantial, in large part because a feature length documentary on the production of the film was included which is absolutely incredible. The deleted scenes are minimal at best, and outside of the piece featuring John Williams, all of the other included features are not very satisfying, at least to me as a fan of the film.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Overall:

Love it or hate it, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a force to be reckoned with. It hits home video with the force of a proton torpedo, featuring an excellent 1080p video transfer, and an explosive 7.1 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack. The extras are for the most part inconsequential, but the included feature length documentary on the production of the film is worth the price of admission alone.

As for packaging, I’m tempted to lean towards the standard edition of the film, with the slip cover. It’s got great artwork, and is fairly easy to obtain at most retail locations. The Target Exclusive edition feels cheap, although the artwork is superior to the other releases of the film. The steelbook edition is recommended for those that enjoy steelbooks and those who have the other films in steelbook form, but does not contain any further exclusives to entice you.

Overall, I was incredibly satisfied with the Blu-ray release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

4.5/5