Release Date(s)2015 (November 15, 2016)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm/Bad Robot (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
I’ve reviewed Star Wars: The Force Awakens previously, back in March when the film was originally released on Blu-ray Disc (see here). So I’ll simply refer you to that review for my thoughts on the film itself. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed it quite a lot. It’s not perfect, of course, but considering the enormous challenges posed to them in making the film, director J.J. Abrams and his team delivered in a big way. Perhaps the best thing I can say about The Force Awakens is this: At long last, it finally feels like true Star Wars is back on the big screen. It’s a great deal of fun.
What you’d like to know now, I’m sure, is how is the quality of the film in 3D? And how are the new bonus features? Let’s talk Blu-ray 3D first…
The film is presented in 1080p HD and 3D at the 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The bad news is that the 3D presentation does not replicate the variable aspect ratio of the IMAX 3D presentations for those sequences shot in IMAX format. That’s a real missed opportunity and I know that many of you Blu-ray 3D fans were hoping otherwise. The good news, however, is that the 3D presentation is actually quite good. Black levels are occasionally a little bit wanting, but that’s often the case with Blu-ray 3D, especially on darker films. (It actually makes me wish for HDR on Blu-ray 3D.) That said, detail is terrific, colors are vibrant, and there’s a wonderful sense of depth to the image. The X-Wing attack on Starkiller Base is a perfect example. Also thrilling in 3D, as you might expect, is the first flight of the Millennium Falcon. And just watch the film’s ending, as Rey and Chewie pilot the Falcon to meet her destiny – you can see depth in all the flight controls, as well as frost and scratches on the cockpit windows, and the infinite tunnel of hyperspace space beyond. It feels like you’re right there in the cockpit with them.
The standard Blu-ray includes the film in full 1080p widescreen (aspect ratio 2.40:1). The disc’s overall image is near reference quality, with gorgeous clarity and contrast. The colors are vibrant and accurate, image detail is crisp and nuanced without appearing edgy, and the subtle textures of the Jakku desert and the forests of Takodana and Starkiller Base are truly impressive looking. Audio options on both the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D include 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio lossless, along with English Descriptive Audio, and 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes in both French and Spanish. The 7.1 mix’s clarity and staging are excellent, and the dynamics are quite good as well, but the surround channel use is a little more atmospheric and nuanced than you might wish. That said, the mix is certainly true to the theatrical experience and John Williams’ score is well presented. Note that subtitle options include English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
The 2D Blu-ray is not quite the same one that was released originally, in that it now includes an optional audio commentary with director J.J. Abrams. He’s all by himself, which is good, as he’s able to say everything he wants to with no interruptions and no irritating banter. Abrams talks about how the characters changed over the course of the production when the filmmakers realized that some things weren’t working as initially planned. He hints at an elaborate backstory that once existed in the script to explain how Maz got her hands on Luke’s lightsaber. “There are better ways we can tell that story later,” he notes. There’s even a funny moment where Abrams acknowledges (of the scene where Starkiller Base destroys the Republic capitol worlds), “Some people have said “That’s not how space works!” You’re right. Star Wars is not a science lesson.” Abrams confesses early on that he hates recording audio commentaries because his thoughts tend to run all over the place. Honestly, though, he should stop worrying about it and record a lot more, because he’s actually quite good at it. We get insights into the story and characters here that just aren’t available anywhere else, including in the Laurent Bouzereau documentary, which tends merely to skim the surface of everything it covers. Hands down, Abrams’ commentary is the best thing in this set.
The available Bonus Disc is also a Blu-ray, which contains the rest of the set’s extras in full HD. Again, it’s not quite the same disc as was originally released. Additional material has been included here, beginning with a series of new featurettes. Among these are Foley: A Sonic Tale (4:02), Sounds of the Resistance (7:15), Dressing the Galaxy (6:27), The Scavenger & The Stormtrooper: A Conversation with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega (11:45), and Inside the Armory (8:17), some of which were originally available as retail exclusives. The content is all pretty straightforward and exactly what you’d expect given the titles; the Conversation segment is the most interesting of the lot. As before, there’s Bouzereau’s Secrets of The Force Awakens documentary (1:09:14), which isn’t especially comprehensive, though what you get to see is pretty terrific. The other six behind-the-scenes featurettes that were included before carry over here, including The Story Awakens: The Table Read (4:01), Crafting Creatures (9:34), Building BB-8 (6:03), Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (7:02), ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force (7:55), and John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (6:51). There’s also the Force for Change (3:22) promo. A trio of new deleted scenes have been added for this release, including Leia & The Resistance (:17), Unkar Plutt at Maz’s Castle (:50), and Tunnel Standoff (1:00). As you can tell by the run times, none are particularly significant. The six previous deleted scenes carry over too, including Finn and the Villager (:31), Jakku Message (:47), X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed (:22), Kylo Searches the Falcon (:50), Snow Speeder Chase (:48), and Finn Will Be Fine (:23).
The final disc in the set is a Region 1/NTSC DVD version of the film. You get a code for a Disney Movies Anywhere digital version too. I have to say, the packaging for this release is absolutely beautiful. It’s a hardcover Digipack with gorgeous artwork, that slides into a black hardcover slipcase. The front of the slipcase features a large lenticular hologram of Rey’s raised lightsaber in the wintery forest outside Starkiller Base. The package is sturdy and looks slick as hell. Honestly, I’d love to see all of the Star Wars films re-issued on Blu-ray with new 3D discs and similar cases.
Ultimately, though, I have mixed feelings about this new Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D – Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release. Is it better? Yes… but this is the version that should have been released on disc in the first place. Between this and the recent Star Trek reboot films, I’m just not a fan of Bad Robot’s Blu-ray special edition philosophy, nor do I appreciate their frequent scattering of worthy extras as retail exclusives. That’s just an unforgivable way to treat the fans who actually purchase these discs. And if you’re deliberately building a double-dip into your marketing plan, the second release should be an over-the-fence home run. This isn’t it. Even with the new material, I certainly wouldn’t call this an in-depth special edition. Outside of the commentary, none of this material really satisfies. Why not include the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers, and detailed galleries of production artwork? How about a much more extensive documentary, one longer than a TV special, that actually drills deeply into the making of the film? How about a couple more audio commentaries, perhaps one with the writers and another with various cast members? Abrams even refers to additional deleted material in the commentary; why isn’t some of that here? I appreciate the Blu-ray 3D disc and the commentary, which are certainly the highlights of this new edition. But there’s still, I think, a truly comprehensive Blu-ray special edition experience of The Force Awakens yet to be created. The film deserves one… and so do its fans.
If I had a wish, it’s this: I wish that Lucasfilm would take back control of the Blu-ray process from Bad Robot on future Star Wars films, because they actually knew how to make great special editions once. Or, I wish that Bad Robot would raise their game and stop putting their marketing department in charge of their Blu-ray production. This set is still recommended for fans, especially those who haven't purchased the previous Blu-ray edition. But try to get a good sale price.
- Bill Hunt