Star Wars: The Force Awakens appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not flawless, the image largely impressed.
My only complaints came from a few minor soft spots seen during a couple of wife shots early in the film. Those remained brief and mild, and they cleared up quickly, so the majority of the movie seemed accurate and well-defined. I saw no jaggies or shimmering, and both edge haloes and print flaws were absent.
Colors varied dependent on setting. Military locations – primarily those used by the First Order – focused on blues and reds, while Jakku went with a sandy orange feel. Other spots – Maz’s planet, the Resistance base – tended toward greens. All these hues seemed well-reproduced.
Blacks showed good depth and density, and low-light shots provided nice delineation. Shadows were appropriately clear without too much thickness. All in all, the image worked fine.
One disappointment: the lack of IMAX-expanded visuals. The Falcon’s escape from Jakku was shot with IMAX cameras, and when seen on an IMAX screen, that sequence would open up to fit the format’s aspect ratio.
Other Blu-rays such as Interstellar and the second issue of Star Trek: Into Darkness went from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1 during those scenes. While this didn’t duplicate the IMAX ratio, at least it gave Blu-ray viewers a taste of the expanded visuals.
Unfortunately, Awakens failed to do this. Granted, it’s not a huge loss due to the brevity of the segment in question. While Interstellar boasted more than an hour of IMAX footage and Into Darkness had about 30 minutes of this material, Awakens used IMAX for less than 10 minutes.
Perhaps those behind the Blu-ray thought it’d be a distraction to alter the disc’s aspect ratio for such a short sequence, but wouldn’t the same argument hold true for IMAX screenings of the film? I don’t know why Awakens lacked the expanded ratio, but I remain disappointed. Perhaps like Into Darkness, a subsequent version will restore the IMAX ratio.
Even better than the visuals, the film’s DTS-HD MA 7.1 offered the whiz-bang impact we expect from a Star Wars movie. Actually, like the visuals, matters started a little slowly; the first battles seemed reasonably immersive but not exactly dazzling.
Slowly that changed, as the mix became more absorbing as the film progressed. The Falcon’s escape from Jakku used the spectrum in fine fashion, and the material continued to prosper after that. The climactic Resistance attack on Starkiller Base probably offered the most active sequence, but the whole track kept us engaged.
Audio quality seemed solid as well. A few looped lines – mainly from Maz – could be a little “off”, but those were a minor concern at most. Dialogue was natural and well-integrated most of the time.
Music sounded bold and full, while effects packed a strong punch. These elements showed good definiton and contributed excellent low-end response. The soundtrack suited the story and added a lot to the experience.
All of the package’s extras reside on Disc Two. We open with a four-part documentary called Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey. It runs one hour, nine minutes and 14 seconds as it presents comments from co-writer/director JJ Abrams, co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, series creator George Lucas, production designer Rick Carter, VFX supervisor/2nd unit director Roger Guyett, head of design Doug Chiang, visual effects creative consultant Dennis Muren, composer John Williams, supervising sound editor Matthew Wood, co-producers Ben Rosenblatt and Michelle Rejwan, producer Bryan Burk, senior art director – vehicles Gary Tomkins, ESN art director Alan Tomkins, creature and droid FX creative supervisor Neal Scanlan, CG supervisor Daniel Pearson, visual effects supervisor Patrick Tubach, editor Mary Jo Markey, director of photography Dan Mindel, executive producer/unit production manager Tommy Harper, 2nd AD Chloe Chesterton, costume designer Michael Kaplan, construction manager Paul Hayes, animation sequence supervisor Phil Tippett, set decorator Lee Sandale, concept artist Christian Alzmann, model maker Oliver Steeples and Lee Towersey, and actors Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Gwendoline Christie, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Simon Pegg, Oscar Isaac, Peter Mayhew, Joonas Suotamo, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, and Anthony Daniels.
“Journey” looks at the revival of the franchise and bringing together the film’s team, concept art and design, story/character choices and the screenwriting process. From there “Journey” covers various effects, cast and performances, sets and locations, photography, ships, droids and costumes.
Given my love for the Star Wars series, I could’ve watched four hours of this material. Still, 69 minutes offers a good length for a show of this sort, and “Journey” brings us a solid overview of the production. It blends interviews and behind the scenes footage to form a satisfying glimpse of the movie’s creation.
One disappointment: unless it’s hidden as an Easter egg, nowhere in “Journey” or any of the set’s other components do we see Daniel Craig’s famous visit to the set/turn as a stormtrooper. Perhaps Craig agreed to this cameo only if it didn’t get revealed in this way, but I wish we could’ve gotten a closer look at his brief moment in the film.
With The Story Awakens, we get a four-minute, one-second look at the table read. We get notes from Abrams, Kasdan, Kennedy, Isaac, Driver, Ridley, Boyega, Fisher, Ford, and Hamill. I hoped this would offer a complete – or at least long – table read, but we don’t hear much of the actual read itself. “Story” has some decent notes but lacks much substance; “Journey” already covers the read fairly well.
A few featurettes follow. Crafting Creatures goes for nine minutes, 34 seconds and includes info from Scanlan, Pegg, Tubach, Mayhew, key animatronic designer Chris Clarke, creature/droid performer Arti Shah, supervising animatronics designers Vanessa Bastyan and Maria Cork, and actors Mike Quinn and Warwick Davis. As implied by the title, this piece looks at the design and execution of many non-human characters. It brings us a tight, fun take on the topic.
During the six-minute, three-second Building BB-8, we hear from Abrams, Scanlan, Alzmann, Ridley, Isaac, Daniels, electronic design and development supervisor Matt Denton, senior animatronic designer Josh Lee, and puppeteers Dave Chapman and Brian Herring. We learn how the team brought BB-8 to the screen. The show adds a nice mix of notes on this iconic new character.
Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight lasts seven minutes, two seconds and features Abrams, Carter, Driver, Ridley, Boyega, senior art director Al Bullock, production designer Darren Gilford and stunt performers Chloe Bruce and Liang Yang. “Battle” takes on the specifics related to this climactic sequence. Like the other featurettes, it presents an efficient and informative piece.
Next we get ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force. It occupies seven minutes, 55 seconds with remarks from Abrams, Guyett, Kennedy, Serkis, Tubach, Isaac, Lucasfilm EVP/GM Lynwen Brennan, visual effects supervisor Ben Morris, art directors James Klyne and Kevin Jenkins, digital artist supervisor Matt Rank, animation supervisor Paul Kavanagh, asset and environment supervisor Dave Fogler, and environment supervisor Susumu Yukuhiro. Here we learn of the work ILM did for the film. This one can be a little self-promotional at times, but it still adds a mix of insights.
We focus on music via John Williams: The Seventh Symphony. In this six-minute, 51-second piece, we hear from Abrams, Williams, Kasdan, Burk, Kennedy, and editor Maryann Brandon. Like “ILM”, “Symphony” can be a little too packed with plaudits, but Williams presents a few good notes about his work.
Finally, Force for Change lasts three minutes, 22 seconds and gives us thoughts from Kennedy and Abrams. They discuss a charitable fund connected to the franchise. It sounds like a good idea.
Six Deleted Scenes fill a total of four minutes, 15 seconds. We see “Finn and the Villager” (0:36), “Jakku Message” (0:53), “X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed” (0:27), “Kylo Searches the Falcon” (0:56), “Snow Speeder Chase” (0:56) and “Finn Will Be Fine” (0:29).
“Villager” reinforces Finn’s humanity, and “Message” would’ve introduced Leia and C-3PO much earlier in the film. “Prepare” just gives us a little prep – it’s fairly forgettable.
“Searches” adds a bit of intrigue via Kylo’s connection to Han, and “Chase” contributes a decent action beat. Finally, “Fine” shows Rey’s concern for Finn before she heads off on her movie-ending journey.
Given their brevity, no one should expect anything major from these scenes. Nonetheless, they’re interesting – at least to a moderate degree. Fans may feel disappointed that the deleted segments lack much substance, but I’m happy to see them.
Should any have made the final cut? Probably not. “Searches” works the best, but that’s the only one that shows any real “need” to be in the film. I’m happy to get a little more screen time for Leia and 3PO, but it works better to save their introduction until later in the story.
A third disc provides a DVD Copy of Awakens. It lacks any of the Blu-ray’s extras.
A rousing return to form, Star Wars: The Force Awakens restores much of the luster lost during the much-lamented Prequel Trilogy. Packed with action and drama, the film reminds us why the franchise enchanted us in the first place. The Blu-ray provides very good picture and audio along with an informative set of supplements. Arguably the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back, Awakens offers a terrific adventure.