Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings the universe of these beloved characters and stories alive once again with a swiftly paced and involving adventure that reboots the franchise joyously with enough mix of the familiar and the novel to please most movie fans.
The Production: 4/5
As 2015 slowly drew toward its close signaling to movie fans across the globe that the seventh Star Wars feature was about to arrive in theaters, the question on the minds of nearly everyone was whether the new film would be closer in feel and spirit to the brilliant original trilogy or the trying, disappointing prequel series. Most breathed a sigh of relief when J. J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened revealing a movie which beautifully captured the innocence and larkish tone of the 1977 original and with some fresh new characters embarking on an interstellar adventure in a comfortable, known universe and joined by some familiar faces from decades ago. The film’s worldwide acclaim suggests that in the hands of these masters, the follow-up movies should prove to be as entertaining and as popular as those of the original trilogy.
A scrappy scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a First Order Storm Trooper Finn (John Boyega) who has bolted from the ranks get drawn into the latest plot of the reigning evil power First Order to destroy planets hostile to their takeover and once and for all wipe away any vestiges of the Resistance and the Force. To do that, they must find the long vanished Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), but the only one who has a map of his whereabouts in the galaxy is a rogue pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) who has hidden the map on a drive inside tiny droid BB-8. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) has commanded General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and his enforcer Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to do anything and everything possible to carry out his orders by using their weapon of mass destruction, but Rey and Finn join up with the Resistance still being overseen by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Also coincidentally getting brought back into the fight, some for reasons personal as well as professional, are Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew/Joonas Suotamo), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). Rey especially feels a kinship to the Rebels and begins to sense that the Force is indeed within her.
Director J.J. Abrams created the screenplay along with screenwriters Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan (who helped fashion the best of the Star Wars films The Empire Strikes Back), and they’ve created a story that is at once both familiar and fresh. We’re going to have a heroine as the focal point of this trilogy, and yet there is much about the character of Rey that is as wide-eyed and full of wonderment as Luke Skywalker was in the first two films of the original trilogy while retaining his fighting spirit and search for the truth. If many of the characters retain similar paint strokes to original characters in the first three films: Poe’s confidence is similar to Han’s, Snoke’s sneering evil is a carbon copy of Palpatine’s, Ren’s dark suited menace a younger but similar force to Darth Vader’s, we do have Finn’s renegade Storm Trooper (who was trained as, of all things, a sanitation worker) that’s a new presence and energy in the story. Similarly, those who loved the Millennium Falcon or the light sabers or the different wing ships and destroyers and Death Star as well as the cantina with its colorful collection of aliens won’t be disappointed by this new effort in the least. Director J.J. Abrams keeps the story moving at a fast clip and stages all of the space chases, dogfights, and attacks on the new Death Star to keep viewer interest maximized, and he uses some of the same old-fashioned narrative crawl, wipes, and iris-ins that George Lucas employed in his original movie while also retaining John Williams to write the stirring score and many of the same sound designs originated by Ben Burtt that give this film the familiar sounds of the originals.
The four younger members of the cast all do first-rate jobs establishing characters that we’re certain and eager to see in the upcoming sequels: John Boyega as Finn, Daisy Ridley as Rey, Adam Driver as Ren, and Oscar Isaac as Poe. Of the older generation, Harrison Ford takes the major portions of the spotlight as the older but unfazed by time Han Solo, his quips as fast as ever and his chummy relationship with Chewbacca as flip and feisty as ever. Carrie Fisher isn’t as smooth and effortless as her older co-star in recreating her original role of Leia, but there’s warmth there and genuine affection with Ford’s Han joined as they are by a shared regret that’s one of the film’s surprise revelations. Lupita Nyong’o gives a wonderful motion-capture performance as cantina owner Maz Kanata, and Domhnall Gleeson is imperious and properly unctuous as General Hux. Max von Sydow pops in for an early visit as Lor San Tekka, and Mark Hamill has a few quiet moments as the elusive Luke Skywalker, the years turning him into almost an Alec Guinness clone.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its theatrical 2.40:1 aspect ratio and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Shot on film, the imagery here is very sharp and very inviting with exceptional detail while color quality is superb with especially inviting skin tones. Black levels are first-rate while contrast is exceptionally consistent to produce a reference quality picture. The movie has been divided into 50 chapters.
The film was also converted to 3D for many of its theatrical engagements, but Disney has opted not to release the 3D version at the present time.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is exactly the reference quality immersive aural experience one expects from a Star Wars film. Dialogue has been exceptionally well recorded and has been placed in the center channel. John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score fills the fronts and rears with melodies both familiar and enticingly new, and the atmospheric effects pan across and through the soundstage continually to match the dogfights, explosions, creature sounds, and other expected noises common to the franchise.
Special Features: 4/5
All of the bonus material is contained on its own disc in the set.
Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (1:09:14, HD): a documentary-length feature that details the making of the film from the first press conference held by producer Kathleen Kennedy in 2013 through the pre-production process, the filming, and post production work. Along the way, director J. J. Abrams, production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford, writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, composer John Williams, sound editor Matthew Wood, producers Bryan Burk and Michelle Rejwan, director of photography Dan Mindel, and actors Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Simon Pegg, and Lupita Nyong’o make comments on the production.
The Table Read (4:01, HD): Cameras record Mark Hamill reading the stage directions and the entire company taking part in their first gathering together going through the script.
Crafting Creatures (9:34, HD): Creature effects creator Neal Scanlan introduces us to the various means utilized to create the creatures of Star Wars. Included are the actors who voice the characters and the puppet masters who control the puppet and animatronic creatures in the movie.
Building BB-8 (6:03, HD): Writer-director J. J. Abrams shows his original drawing of the new droid for the movie, and we then meet Matt Denton who is in charge of electronic design and puppeteers Brian Herring and Dave Chapman and actors Anthony Daniels, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac who interact the most with the creation in its various incarnations.
Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (7:02, HD): J.J. Abrams compliments the craftsmen who created the gorgeous indoor soundstage forest set for the climactic fight scene. Production designers Rick Carter and Darren Gilford and actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Adam Driver also add their comments on the experience.
ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force (7:55, HD): Producer Kathleen Kennedy along with director J.J. Abrams praises the various departments of ILM who created the visual effects for the movie. Special effects supervisor Ben Morris also adds some comments.
John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (6:51, HD): the Oscar-winning composer comments on his delight in being able to once again add his voice to the film while behind-the-scenes shots show him conducting the orchestra and being praised by director J.J. Abrams for his efforts.
Deleted Scenes (4:15, HD): six scenes may be viewed in montage or separately.
Force for Change (3:22, HD): Kathleen Kennedy discusses the use of Star Wars for charitable initiatives with this film’s donations being given to Unicef.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings the universe of these beloved characters and stories alive once again with a swiftly paced and involving adventure that reboots the franchise joyously with enough mix of the familiar and the novel to please most movie fans. Recommended!