Sunday, April 3, 2016

Review: 'The Force Awakens' Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

By: Dominic Jones

Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday (and is already available digitally!), making it possible for fans to revisit the film that just five years ago most never thought they would ever see. There's still something surreal about the fact that Star Wars Episode VII exists, and getting to place the blu-ray on the shelf next to other six films was another "pinch me" moment, of which there have been so many over the past few years relating to this film.  

The packaging for the box set is, all things considered, pretty plain.  The cover features the film's poster and the back has a simple collage of the film's main characters (Rey, Finn, Poe, Han, Leia, Chewie, Kylo, and BB-8 are all represented).  The set comes with three discs, all of which--in contrast to the box in which they come--look really cool; the blu-ray features the Millennium Falcon, the DVD features Rey and BB-8 walking into the Jakku sunset, and the bonus features disc displays the famous first cast photo from the table read. 

The included special features do not disappoint.  The feature length documentary Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey offers an engaging overview of the making of the film.  There are lots cool behind the scenes shots from the development and production phases.  Some highlights include Kathleen Kennedy’s announcement to the Disney board that JJ Abrams had been signed to direct the film, Harrison Ford hugging Chewbacca on his last day on set, and Gwendoline Christie talking about her approach to playing Captain Phasma.  While Secrets of the Force Awakens has nowhere near the depth of the documentary that was included on the The Phantom Menace DVD (The Beginning), it still provides a good overview of what went into creating The Force Awakens.  

If the Secrets documentary does gloss over a few things, most of them are addressed in the featurettes.  In fact, one of them, "John Williams: The Seventh Symphony", contains what for me was one of the stand out moments on the blu-ray: getting to hear John Williams break down his thought process for the "Jedi Steps" piece of music heard in the final scene.  The "Table Read" featurette is also a lot of fun, as members of the cast and crew reflect on the day they all came together to read the script for the first time.  It was funny to hear both Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) and Daisy Ridley (Rey) admit that they felt their performances that day were not that great, seeing as they are the two most important actors in the film!  The other featurettes, "Blueprint Of A Battle: The Snow Fight", "Crafting Creatures", "Building BB-8", and "ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force", all offer some great insights into some of the more technical aspects of the film.  

One of the most anticipated aspects of the film's home media release was the deleted scenes.  Most of them are cool, but in most cases it's easy to understand why they were cut.  The two deleted scenes that stood out for me were "Kylo on the Falcon" and "Jakku Message".  It seems as if it must have been a late decision to cut the Kylo scene, given that it features original music and the editing looks a lot smoother than the other scenes, and I wish they had chosen to leave it in the movie.  Kylo has a moment in the cockpit that is similar to the one Han has earlier in the film, but in Kylo’s case he doesn't seem happy to be there.  Whether it’s the pull to Light he's feeling again, or a flood of negative memories associated with The Falcon, is up for interpretation.  The "Jakku Message" scene was also cool to see as it was General Leia's original introduction into the film and gives us a little more insight on the Resistance.  In a way, it reminds me of the Luke and Biggs deleted scenes from A New Hope, which were originally intended to be Luke's introduction.  They're both interesting to see and offer new and interesting insights, but all the same, it's hard to argue with the chosen introductions for those characters.

Of course, the main incentive to pick up the blu-ray is to own the film itself.  The Force Awakens looks great on blu-ray, plus it's fun to be able to pause the film to look for Easter Eggs and characters that inexplicably got action figures before the film's release (I'm looking at you, Constable Zuvio).  I also recommend watching the film with headphones to fully appreciate the sound mix.  The "Force Back" scene in particular is where I heard several things I didn't notice any of the thirteen times I have seen the film in theatres (so far!).  There were more familiar voices and lines in that scene than I initially realized.

The only real disappointment about the blu-ray release is the lack of a commentary track for the film.  While the documentary and featurettes do an excellent job of covering the making of the film, it would have been really cool to hear people like Abrams, Kennedy, and Lawrence Kasdan provide a running commentary about the film.

Overall the The Force Awakens Blu-ray/DVD combo is a solid release.  The film looks and sounds great on blu-ray and the special features are pretty cool.  While a commentary track would have been nice, the Secrets of The Force Awakens documentary is a great addition to the pantheon of Star Wars "Making of" documentaries and the featurettes show just how much love and effort went into the creation of this film.  

Score: 8.5/10

You can follow me on Twitter: @DominicJ25

This article is an opinion piece and represents the views of the writer, and not the entire Star Wars Underworld organization.

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