STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
MOVIE: ****1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
Harrison Ford as HAN SOLO
Mark Hamill as LUKE SKYWALKER
Carrie Fisher as GENERAL LEIA ORGANA
Adam Driver as KYLO REN
Daisy Ridley as REY
John Boyega as FINN
Oscar Isaac as POE DAMERON
Lupita Nyong’o as MAZ KANATA
Andy Serkis as SUPREME LEADER SNOKE
Domhnall Gleeson as GENERAL HUX
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Peter Mayhew as CHEWBACCA
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
BY KEVIN CARR
As a now-grown man who lived and breathed “Star Wars” as a child, there were few more excited about the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” this past December. Not only was it a new chapter in the saga that defined the entertainment of my childhood, but it was a promise to deliver more from that franchise in the years to come.
It was difficult to discuss “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” when it was first released, though, as evidenced by my tap-dancing review from last year. This was a film that no one wanted spoiled but everyone wanted to talk about. Now we are more than three months from its release, which grossed close to a billion dollars in the U.S. alone for Disney. Not that it’s okay to puke out spoilers everywhere you go, but if you are really concerned about keeping all elements of this story under wraps, you had plenty of opportunities to see this thing since Christmas.
Now on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” comes home. And yeah, like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the film does lose the tiniest bit of thrills outside of the big-screen theatrical experience, but also like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the film is still one heck of a wild ride.
The story follows a young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who gets caught up with a defecting Stormtropper named Finn (John Boyega) and a droid with a secret. They join forces with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to bring the droid back to General Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) Resistance, which has been formed to combat the First Order that grew from the wreckage of the Empire. Along the way, the face the dastardly Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a Dark Jedi who is fascinated with the legend of Darth Vader and plans to rule the galaxy.
What makes this film great is the way it balances the old players and the new ones. It’s clear that the Han, Luke and Leia that we all grew up with are very different characters played by the original cast in very different times in their lives. Their days of high adventure and swashbuckling are behind him. In this film, they hand off the reigns to Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to be our Star Wars heroes in the future.
Sure, there’s a lot of similarities to the first film: a giant planet-killing weapon, a masked villain with a red lightsaber, a droid serving as a MacGuffin, a seemingly insignificant hero from a desert planet, and a climactic battle to destroy the aforementioned planet-killing weapon. However, these are all framed in the context of a new adventure. The way the characters handle these things shows a difference in these two generations.
In fact, while you can call Rey the new Luke, Poe the new Han Solo and possibly Finn as the new Princess Leia, they don’t really fit into these easy boxes. Poe is in very little of the film and has more talent – and loyalty – as a fighter pilot than as a smuggler. Rey is the one who forms a bond with Chewbacca, and the Force awakens in her very differently than it did Luke.
And then there’s Finn, who is one of my favorite characters in the mix because he’s really the audience surrogate rather than the hero. Sure, he looks heroic, and he’s in plenty of heroic situations. However, aside from being decent at shooting things and a small inside knowledge of how the First Order works, he kind of fails at everything he tries. In this sense, he’s the most relatable of the bunch because he really has no sense of power aside from being the first Stormtrooper we’ve seen actually say no to his oppressive bosses.
I like to think of Finn as the Jack Burton of this film. Just like Kurt Russell’s character in “Big Trouble in Little China,” Finn certainly looks the part, but more often than not things work out in spite of him being there. I can certainly appreciate this.
In the same way, the villains of the First Order are far different than the Imperial officers of the original trilogy. Sure, they wear similar clothes and march around on the decks of Star Destroyers. But they are all young. They are all unseasoned. Whereas in the original trilogy, you get the sense that these military officers have decades of experience and take their jobs very seriously, those in the First Order feel like they’re playing dress-up in their dad’s work clothes. Rather than commanding a legion of troops, the First Order wields their power like a kid that found his grandfather’s M-16 machine gun in the basement and is now ordering around the kids in the neighborhood, just as likely to shoot one of his own as his enemy.
Here is the new Star Wars, presented like the original films but also very different. And that’s what makes the seeds for the next episode so exciting. It will always be Star Wars, but what comes next will also be quite different.
Now, I know there’s about a half dozen versions of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” available on the market today (and the movie with or without the bonus features has been available on VOD for a week already). I have been given the opportunity to look at the most common Blu-ray choice, which includes the movie on the first disc along with an additional Blu-ray with the bonus features. There’s also a DVD of the film and a Digital HD download in the package.
As expected from a high-end Disney-made home media purchase, the movie looks fantastic. It’s bright and brilliant, retaining the vibrant colors of the theatrical presentation. I also appreciate the bonus features disc being a Blu-ray rather than a DVD to get the full HD experience behind the scenes as well.
There’s no commentary on this edition (which is a bit of a disappointment), but there are plenty of well-produced and rich behind-the-scenes content, along with six deleted scenes (totally about four minutes of screen time) in various stages of completion.
The behind-the-scenes bonus content. starts with “Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey,” a 70-minute, four-part documentary that takes the production from the conceptual stages (beginning with the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm) to the spoilerific climactic moments of the film.
Additional features run between three and ten minutes and include “The Story Awakens: The Table Read” about the cast originally getting together for the first time to go through the script, “Crafting Creatures” which is a look at the development of the many alien species in the film launched from Maz Kanata’s watering hole, “Building BB-8” about the development and practical workings of our new favorite droid, “Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight” about the staging of Kylo Ren and Rey’s climactic lightsaber duel, “ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force” about the visual effects that went into the film, “Jon Williams: The Seventh Symphony” spotlighting the iconic composer coming back for another “Star Wars” film, and a spotlight on “Force for Change,” a charity inspired by Star Wars fans.