Star Wars: The Force Awakens US Blu-ray Review
It's reference all the way but we still have a few complaints...
Now that all the fanboy euphoria has settled down, is Star Wars: The Force Awakens actually any good?The simple answer is yes and no. There are elements of the film that work very well and the new characters are generally excellent. The original cast also acquit themselves admirably, especially Harrison Ford who gets the most screen time. However the film does suffer from a lack of originality, possibly playing it too safe; whilst certain plot points either don’t make any sense or are clearly being introduced to set up the narrative threads of later films. As a result the The Force Awakens can at first seem ideal before you begin to think about certain aspects afterwards. The familiarity that initially feels comforting, ultimately results in the film feeling more like a remake of the original Star Wars.The main villain is flawed, which might be deliberate, but he loses much of his threat in the third act and, as wonderful as Daisy Ridley is as Rey, she does seem to be good at everything so she rarely feels in any real danger. However given the pressure he must have been under, you have to admire J. J. Abrams' ambition and his desire to shoot on film and use practical sets and effects wherever possible. The result is a film that certainly feels more connected to the original trilogy than the prequels and it manages to capture a sense of fun whilst often also being very funny. In the end The Force Awakens achieves what it set out to do, reboot the Star Wars franchise and setup the next chapter.
Picture QualityThis review is of the US release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is region free and should be identical to the UK release.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is presented on Blu-ray in 1080/24p using its correct theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and with an AVC encode. The film was shot on 35mm film with certain sequences shot using large format IMAX cameras. Thankfully Disney/Lucasfilm have resisted the temptation to open up these sequences to the IMAX ratio of 1.78:1. Whilst this might work in an IMAX theatre it is incredibly annoying on home video, especially if you use a 2.35:1 aspect ratio projection screen.
It’s a shame that Disney/Lucasfilm has yet to embrace 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray but the film was mainly finished at 2K, so HDR aside there wouldn’t much of an improvement in terms of resolution aside from the IMAX sequences. The Force Awakens was also converted into 3D during post-production but, as yet, no 3D release has been announced. There are however rumours of a 3D set with additional extras and possibly opened-out IMAX scenes being released later in the year.
Shot on 35mm film, the Blu-ray boasts a reference transfer and a lovely film-like quality.
So how does The Force Awakens look? In a word - fantastic. There’s no doubt that the Blu-ray will become the demo disc of choice for AV enthusiasts looking to show off their system. The transfer is sublime with a lovely film-like quality that is further enhanced by a slight sheen of grain; whilst there is plenty of detail apparent in each frame. Just check out the cuts and dents in Kylo Ren’s helmet or the weave in the fabric that makes up his costume as examples of the levels of detail available in this transfer.
The colours are accurate with natural flesh tones and whilst the deserts appear suitably sandy, the snow on Starkiller Base also appears bright white. The highlights are nicely rendered, as are the blacks and there is plenty of shadow detail. There is the merest hint of crush during the early nighttime scenes on Jakku but these are undoubtedly due to the source rather than the transfer. There are no compression or other digital artefacts present, nor is there any edge enhancement or banding evident. Overall all it’s a fantastic image and a reference transfer that is sure to delight fans everywhere.
Sound QualityThe US Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes with a 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which should be identical to the UK release. The film was released theatrically with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, so it’s a shame that Disney has yet to embrace immersive audio at home. However the soundtrack that does come on the disc is an absolute barnstormer with a wonderfully active audio mix that is constantly surrounding the viewer. As Supervising Sound Editor Matt Wood explains in our recent interview, the soundtrack was carefully crafted to deliver a rich and layered soundtrack. From the opening stormtrooper assault we’re treated to a masterclass in sound design and the sides and rears get a thorough work-out as effects are steered around the room. The sequence where the Millennium Falcon is chased through the remains of a super star destroyer is a particularly good example.
There's no Dolby Atmos but the 7.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is still an immersive experience .
The bass is also impressive, underpinning the big effects sequences but also being used in a creative way to move the narrative forward. You can literally feel the entire soundstage fill will low frequency energy as Kylo Ren uses the Force to interrogate prisoners and the destruction of an entire planetary system has real impact. The marvellous John Williams score is also perfectly rendered, filing the front soundstage and being mixed into the sides on occasion. However within all this the dialogue remains perfectly clear and anchored at the front, with even Kylo Ren’s processed voice being completely understandable. The clarity of the soundtrack also means that we can finally pick up all the subtle audio cues during Rey’s ‘Force vision’, which adds to the fun. Our disappointment over the lack of Dolby Atmos support aside, it’s a reference soundtrack that is sure to please even the most demanding audiophile.
ExtrasThe US Blu-ray release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes in a black plastic Amray keep case with a rather nice slip cover. The film itself is on one Blu-ray disc and the extras are on a second, whilst there is also a DVD of the film and a digital copy.
Overall there is a decent set of extras included but we do have a few complaints - firstly there’s no commentary track, which would have been nice. Secondly, although there is a 69 minute documentary about the making of the film it seems to be rather lightweight. It makes no mention of the wholesale changes made to the script when Abrams came on board or Harrison Ford’s on-set accident and it doesn’t go into the changes made during editing that resulted in Maz being removed from the film’s third act. Finally, although there are six deleted scenes included, there are clearly others glimpsed in the documentary that aren’t and one that is only available to stream using an included code. That last point is particularly annoying and if we have bought a Blu-ray we expect all the deleted scenes to be included on the disc. These complaints aside, the extras are all presented in high definition and do at least give the viewer plenty of insight into the film’s production.
Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (1:09:14) - This feature-length documentary includes almost everyone involved with the production and does provide plenty of interesting information about the making of The Force Awakens. However, as mentioned, it feels a little lightweight in places and we’re not sure why the other featurettes weren’t just included within it to bring the running time up to just under two-hours. It almost feels as if there originally was a longer documentary and that it has been cut down for some reason.
The Story Awakens: The Table Read (04:01) - This is a nice little featurette that covers the first read through of the finished script with all the cast and key crew in one place. It places a lot of emphasis on Mark Hamill who, for obvious reasons, reads the script aloud whilst the rest of the cast add their dialogue.
Crafting Creatures (09:34) - This is an interesting featurette that covers all the make-up, prosthetics and creature effects created for the film. It’s only when you watch this that you realise the incredible lengths to which the filmmakers went to ensure that as much was done in camera as possible. Of course the film does include digital creatures as well and this featurette also covers Maz and Supreme Leader Snoke, with the king of motion-capture himself - Andy Serkis.
Building BB-8 (06:03) - Although there was a concern that new droid BB-8 could be an annoying addition, he actually proved to be quite endearing and this featurette covers how he was brought to life. There were a number of different approaches used, including a surprising amount of puppetry.
Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (07:02) - J. J. Abrams wanted a light sabre fight in the snow at night and to make the shooting more practical a forest set was built at Pinewood. This featurette covers the designing and building of the set, as well as the training and choreography that went into the fight itself. It’s interesting to note that the stand-in light sabres used were self illuminated to provide the correct lighting on the actors' faces, another nice nod to greater realism within the film.
ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force (07:55) - This featurette covers the digital effects created by ILM and shows that, despite J. J. Abrams efforts to do as much in camera as possible, The Force Awakens still includes a huge number of computer generated images. The featurette also covers the decades that ILM has been involved with Star Wars and shows how the effects team scanned the original model of the Millennium Falcon to make the digital recreation as accurate as possible.
John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (06:51) - John Williams is a genuine living legend and at 84 he is still going strong, writing his seventh score for a Star Wars film and creating new themes to go along with those that are already part of our collective consciousness. There is archive footage of Williams from early 1977 writing and recording the music to the original Star Wars and it’s funny to see how little he’s changed in the four decades since George Lucas’s ‘little sci-fi movie’.
Deleted Scenes - These deleted scenes are all fairly minor and mostly uncompleted, so don’t expect too much. We also know there are other scenes that haven’t been included, which is a bit annoying. However what we do get is 'Finn and the Villager' (00:31), 'Jakku Message' (00:47), 'X-wings Prepare for Lightspeed' (00:22), 'Kylo Searches the Falcon' (00:50), 'Snow Speeder Chase' (00:48), and 'Finn will be Fine' (00:23). There's a seventh deleted scene featuring Han Solo escaping from Maz's castle that isn't part of this release and can only be accessed online using a provided code.
Force for Change (03:22) - This final featurette thanks the thousands of fans who donated to Force for Change, a charity Lucasfilm set up to raise money for UNICEF as well as other worthy causes over the past few years.
Blu-ray VerdictStar Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, to give the film its full title, has been a massive success not only in terms of box-office where it comfortably dethroned Avatar in the US but also critically. Much of this critical acclaim might stem from the fact that the film is a definite improvement on the prequels and manages to recreate the spirit of the original trilogy. However it tries so hard to emulate the first Star Wars that it almost ends up being a remake, with many key plot points and characters being recycled. Ultimately though the film has rewarded Disney’s investment in Lucasfilm, resurrected the franchise and setup a series of new films that kicks off with the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Even without 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Atmos or 3D this is still a reference Blu-ray release.
The US Blu-ray release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes in a three disc set that includes the film on one Blu-ray and the extras on an other, along with a DVD and digital copy as well. The Blu-rays are region free and the picture quality, sound quality and extras should be identical to the UK release. The transfer itself is superb with a reference picture that retains a lovely film-like quality. The 7.1-channel soundtrack is equally as impressive, whilst there is a decent set of extras. We could criticise Disney/Lucasfilm for not including a Dolby Atmos soundtrack or releasing the 3D version and the extras don’t go into as much detail as we’d like but there’s bound to be another release later in the year. In the meantime this Blu-ray release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens will certainly keep fans happy and is miles better than the bitterly disappointing Blu-ray releases that accompanied the original trilogy and the prequels.
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