Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a lot of heavy lifting to do. Not only did it have to bring back beloved characters in acceptable ways, it had to shake off the failings of the prequel trilogy, hone in to what was loved about the original films, and introduce new characters and things that help to expand the universe. For the most part it succeeded.
Since the film is one of the highest grossing movies of all time, it’s not worth spending too much time on the minutia. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is supposed to get a map that needs to go to the rebellion, but he’s intercepted by would-be Darth Vader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), so the task is passed to both Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) to get his BB-8 droid to Leia (Carrie Fisher). It’s a map that leads to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), so when they meet Han Solo (Harrison Ford), he and the Millennium Falcon get involved. It turns out that Kylo Ren has some history with the rebellion, and some people are more force sensitive than others.
As someone who both grew up with Star Wars, and as someone who hasn’t much enjoyed writer/director J.J. Abrams output as a filmmaker to this point, color me surprised that the film works. Abrams leaves a lot of tough questions and hard decisions for future Star Wars helmers Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow, but he does what he’s great at: mimicry, casting and set up. And he sets up a lot brilliantly, as the new stars of the franchise are immediately engaging, and you invest in their journey. The most awkward elements are the old cast. Harrison Ford seems that he came to play and though he’s thirty years on, he gives a lot of classic Han moments, while Carrie Fisher acquits herself well, and Hamill does fine work with the material he’s given. But the film gets you ready for the new journey, partly by doing a lot of the things that worked the first time. You can argue that the film is partly or mostly a remake of the first film, but it does succeed on its own in certain areas.
How is the Blu-ray? It looks great, but the supplements leave much to be desired.
The set comes with a DVD and digital copy. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 7.1 surround on the first disc. There’s nothing else on the first disc, no promos, no additional material, so it seems that the max bit rate has been used, and the picture and sound quality are excellent for it. It’s a tremendous presentation, and the movie looks as good as it did in theaters. Disney wisely kept the film bonus trailer free, so it doesn’t start with ten minutes of promos. You can just jump in.
Extras are all on the second disc and they kick off with “Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey” (69 min.), which gets much of the cast and crew to talk about the making of the film. Starting from George Lucas selling Star Wars to Disney, the film walks through the creative process through to the shooting. As put together by documentarian Laurent Bouzereau, this is very much the safest possible look at the making of this blockbuster. It talks about the scripting process, but how the initial script was abandoned, and Michael Arndt‘s contributions get little attention other than an aside by producer Kathleen Kennedy, and has been noted before, no mention is made of Harrison Ford being injured on set. But everyone involved is interviewed, including Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. It’s broken into four chapters, and the best stuff comes when they talk about the big scene in the movie, with Ford commenting on how it’s something he wanted initially, but is happy didn’t happen until this chapter.
The rest of the supplements are short. “The Story Awakens: The Table Read” (4 min.) highlights that Hamill read the stage directions, which is good as he has no actual dialog in the film proper. “Crafting Creatures” (10 min.) highlights what’s always been the motto of this movie: when at all possible, do it practically, and it gets into, albeit briefly, the new creatures and character designs in the film.
“Building BB-8” (6 min.) showcases how there were a number of tricks used to animate this new character, with one being a guy controlling the puppet while wearing a green suit to stay invisible. “Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight” (7 min.) shows how much training went in to the final confrontation between Kylo Ren, Finn and Rey, and the set used to film it, and it’s very impressive, while “ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force” (8 min.) showcases the digital work done on the movie, which was inevitable, but mostly seamless. “John Williams: The Seventh Symphony” (7 min.) gives the composer his due, and this couldn’t be glossier, but does point out how he’s brought in one of the only new themes in the film and how it gets stronger as the film comes to a close.
What fans are probably most anticipating is easily the weakest supplement: the deleted scenes. There are six, all running less than a minute (the play all runs 4:15). “Finn and the Villager” shows Finn choosing not to shoot an innocent person while “Jakku Message” shows Leia getting the message about what happens in the first ten minutes of the film. “X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed” is exactly what the description suggests, “Kylo Searches The Falcon” offers Kylo unaware about the upcoming raid as he investigates the Falcon, “Snow Speeder Chase” offers Finn and Rey a little bit of useless action, while “Finn Will Be Fine” highlights that John Boyega will be returning for the sequel. Finally, there’s “Force for a Change” (3 min.) which highlights the charitable donation the film’s production and its stars have been involved with.
What’s missing? Abrams has talked about much more deleted footage that obviously wasn’t included. Possibly it’s because those scenes might have changed the possible directions of future episodes of the series, so it’s understandable. The biggest missing element is a commentary track by anyone, though it’s likely when this new trilogy is done there will be more perspective, and a gigantic box set available come Christmastime 2020. The problem with franchise building is that it puts greater worth on keeping how the sausage is made a secret. And that’s understandable from a business perspective, though it’s not as appealing for those who want to know how movies are made, especially films on this scale. Maybe someday there will be something more thorough, but that information is probably best found in the books. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this release is that it doesn’t include the trailers and TV spots that were so winning.