Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray Review: Return of the Franchise (to Great Heights)

One of the more memorable blockbusters in recent years, and the high-def presentation is a fantastic showcase for it.
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens might well have been one of the most anticipated films of all time if the numerous box-office records it set are any indication. Since Star Wars (released in 1977, amended in 1981 with the subtitle Episode IV: A New Hope), the franchise went on to become a major pop-culture juggernaut with a presence in every medium thanks to its devoted fan base and the talented contributors who expanded the fictional universe. The Force Awakens, “Episode VII” of the main film series and the first of a planned sequel trilogy, is an action-packed, thrilling space adventure that delivers a wonderful return of beloved characters and an introduction to intriguing new ones. There's enough entertainment to satisfy fans new and old, even though the script is filled with repurposed plot points and questionable character motivation. The technical marvel of the film's video and audio are well captured on the Blu-ray.

Taking placing 30 years after the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), the Empire has reorganized as the First Order and a Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), battles against them. Luke Skywalker has gone into hiding after losing a young Jedi student, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and the dark side of the Force. Kylo wishes to emulate Darth Vader, although the reason why (beyond his daddy issues) is unclear since Anakin ultimately renounced the dark side.

On the desert planet Jakku, ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) gives his droid BB-8 a map of Luke's whereabouts, which the First Order will stop at nothing to retrieve. Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scrap-metal scavenger who has waited the return of her family, and Finn (John Boyega), a former Stormtrooper forced into servitude when the First Order killed his parents, along with a well-known smuggler and his Wookie partner unite to bring BB-8 to the Resistance. However, Finn's ulterior motive is to get away as far away from the First Order as far as he can. The First Order has a planet-destroying weapon known as the Starkiller Base, which is powered by draining a star's energy. The Resistance must stop it, and luckily, there's a weakness that can be exploited once the base's shields are disabled.

Director J.J. Abrams and his team have created an impressive blockbuster with The Force Awakens. There are great moments throughout, from the numerous large-scale action sequences filled with memorable imagery and a return to practical effects to small moments of humor and tenderness between the characters. The story leaves the viewer wanting to know more about the characters, such as how Rey is able to tap into the Force so easily, and if they aren't explored in future episodes, they will surely be revealed elsewhere, like a book.

And while the film deserves much of the lavish praise placed upon it, there are areas in the story that are puzzling. Considering the filmmakers thought so much of the Original Trilogy that many ideas were copied from the first two Star Wars films, it's surprising the old heroes are treated so poorly. Would Luke really stay in hiding with the First Order active, especially after the great disturbances in the Force their ruthless destruction cause? Would Han, who has survived so long on his cunning (and luck and Chewie's help, etc.) be so easily outsmarted by Kylo? Of course, the torch needs to be passed on, but it shouldn't be by altering who the characters are.

The video has been given an impressive 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer presented at a 2,40:1 aspect ratio. The images comes through with vibrant colors, inky blacks, and bright whites. There is great depth and detail on display in the objects, and yet the special effects blend very well with everything else. The audio is an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track that engulfs the viewer within the scenes as sounds move across the surround channels. The dynamic range is impressive with clarity at both ends of the spectrum, from the loud, subwoofer-booming explosions to softer sounds like footsteps on dirt. Dialogue is consistently clear.

A second Blu-ray contains the HD Bonus Features. Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (HD, 69 min) is a feature-length, four chapter documentary that offers an in-depth exploration of many aspects of the production. Taken from the same interviews, additional subjects, essentially deleted scenes from “Secrets of...,” are covered: "The Story Awakens: The Table Read" (4 min), "Crafting Creatures" (10 min), "Building BB-8" (6 min), "Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight" (7 min), "ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force" (8 min), "John Williams: The Seventh Symphony" (7 min).

Secrets of The Force Awakens - Building BB-8 Bonus Clip:

There are Six Deleted Scenes (4 min), which can be played all together: "Finn and the Villager," "Jakku Message," "X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed," "Kylo Searches The Falcon," "Snow Speeder Chase," and "Finn Will Be Fine." As well as a look at crew's charity work in Force for Change (3 min).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the more memorable blockbusters in recent years, and the high-def presentation is a fantastic showcase for it.

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