Star Wars: The Force Awakens doesn’t arrive on DVD and Blu-ray until April 5th, but Disney and Lucasfilm opted to share the behind-the-scenes documentary early at SXSW. It’s a challenge to review in this context because ultimately it’s one piece of a larger special features menu, and that also makes it an unusual addition to the SXSW lineup which is mainly comprised of independent features seeking distribution and select upcoming studio releases. But, Star Wars is Star Wars and if you’re a fan, Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey will be a treat no matter what.
The documentary runs with a very basic format covering the entire filmmaking process from the impact of the original trilogy to the Force Awakens table read and then straight through the shoot. The structure and editing techniques are pretty standard and some of the interviews feel a bit rigid and rehearsed, but that doesn’t take away from the thrill of seeing behind-the-scenes footage and hearing new details about the development of the film. And for those who don’t always have Star Wars on the brain and might come across the piece more causally, the no-frills structure makes Secrets of The Force Awakens an effective look at how one very special movie spawned a cinematic universe and changed so many lives in the process.
The documentary is divided into chapters with Chapter 1 covering the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, George Lucas passing the torch to Kathleen Kennedy, and the original trilogy. (The prequel films are actually only mentioned once the entire film.) Chapter 2 moves into the filming of The Force Awakens, specifically the elements that were shot in Abu Dhabi and some of the sets that were built at Pinewood. Chapter 3 highlights Maz’s (Lupita Nyong’o) castle and the motion capture work, and then Chapter 4 wraps things up by exploring how they approached incorporating Han (Harrison Ford), Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) into the new film. The documentary doesn’t dig particularly deep into any of these topics, but it is a fairly expansive and satisfying overview.
However, there are select specifics that stand out. The piece is light on actual “secrets,” but what do you expect when we’ve been digging for concept art, analyzing news leaks and speculating about plot details for so many years? The most curious bit of new information comes from Oscar Isaac who reveals that originally, Poe Dameron wasn’t supposed to be in the whole movie. Notable behind-the-scenes footage includes interviews during which Daisy Ridley and John Boyega discuss scoring their roles and when the crew filmed the “Chewie, we’re home” line because they both highlight what’s so remarkable about this franchise – it means so much to so many people.
The footage of Han Solo and Chewbacca returning to the Millennium Falcon isn’t exciting just because it’s a pivotal part of The Force Awakens. It’s also incredible because so many crew members were clamoring to see it filmed. And these types of moments don’t just happen when shooting key scenes. Secrets of The Force Awakens highlights how special this franchise is to so many people in a wide variety of ways including Simon Pegg’s excitement about being in the film, Boyega’s non-stop thankfulness and enthusiasm, and one particularly touching bit about an art director whose father worked on Empire Strikes Back in the same capacity.
Secrets of The Force Awakens certainly isn’t a revelation as far as documentary filmmaking goes, but it’s still a joy to watch because the fans and the filmmakers share the same enthusiasm and passion for the material. Their excitement and devotion to the series amplifies your own, making you want to stay in this universe as much as possible whether it means watching a riveting new narrative feature or, in this case, a serviceable behind-the-scenes bonus feature.
Click here to catch up on all of our SXSW 2016 coverage thus far or peruse links to our reviews below:
- Don’t Breathe
- Everybody Wants Some
- In a Valley of Violence
- Midnight Special
- Operation Avalanche
- Sausage Party
- The Trust