Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray Review

Ralph Potts reviews Episode VII of Star Wars, the latest installment in one of the most successful, popular, and entertaining film franchises in cinematic history.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Film:

Extras:

Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )

97

Details:

Studio and Year: Disney – 2015
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 136 minutes
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC
Video Aspect: 2.40:1
Resolution: 1080p/24

Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio, French/Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyongo, Andy Serkis, Domnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max Von Sydow
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Music by: John Williams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arnot
Region Code: A,B,C

Blu-ray Disc release Date: April 5, 2016

“Every Generation Has A Story”

My Take:

Thirty years following the battle of Endor, the Resistance is still hard at work rebuilding the galaxy from the ashes of the Empire. Remnants of the Empire, namely the First Order, threaten to unbalance the fragile peace in the galaxy. Echoes of the past overshadow the events in the present as two young people begin a journey that will take them to the far reaches of the galaxy looking for answers to the ongoing conflict between the light and Dark Side of the Force.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens saw the eagerly anticipated reteaming of original Star Wars stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, along with Anthony Daniels, the only actor to have been in all seven Star Wars films, and Peter Mayhew. The returning cast was joined by newcomer Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron).

Star Wars: A New Hope or Star Wars, as it was called back then, debuted in theaters on my 13th birthday in 1977. I remember sitting in the theater not knowing what to expect but being excited because I sensed that the film was somehow different from anything I had previously seen on the big screen. Little did I realize how right I was as my jaw dropped upon seeing that huge Star Destroyer come into view and fill the screen. I remained captivated as the story unfolded, introducing me to iconic characters and their compelling plight which would evolve into the most talked about and anticipated movie events over the next six years.

I, like many of you reading this am a Star Wars fan, with a particular love of Episodes IV, V, VI. When it was first announced that a new Star Wars film was in the works I had mixed feelings, until I saw the first trailer. Those mixed feelings were replaced with eager anticipation. On December 29th 2015 I took Star Wars: The Force Awakens in at my local Cineplex. Prior to seeing it I heard minor complaints/rumblings that the film felt like a rehashing of Episode IV. My feeling is that with the direction taken with The Force Awakens, it was essential to establish a definitive correlation between the iconography and thematic foundation of Star Wars (particularly episode IV) and the development of the progression of this next generation.

The film does that by bringing together plot points and past/present characters with the key element appropriately revolving around the question of Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts and the focus on two characters with intertwined destinies. As you might expect with Star Wars there is a power struggle between good and evil, seemingly insurmountable odds combined with an indomitable weapon capable of multi-world annihilation, and a small cache of heroes that must win out despite the cost. For this to happen sacrifices must be made and they are, but with defining purpose and in this case an emotional wallop.

I sat in the theater and took it all in. Did Star Wars: The Force Awakens feel reminiscent of Episode IV? Yes. Did that somehow make it feel like less of a film experience? Absolutely not. There were essential thematic elements present that needed to be there or else it simply wouldn’t have felt like Star Wars. I reveled in the references to the earlier films and felt the impact of the defining dramatic moment that shook fans. I applauded the concept of a strong female heroine whose past appropriately remains a question mark but whose role is without a doubt the quintessence of what we as fans enjoy so much about Star Wars lore. Let’s be clear, Rey is a badass, and newcomer Daisy Ridley has the chops to fill her shoes. I found the idea and connective tissue surrounding Kylo Ren to be apropos and promising. Seeing both of their segues into the force, was gratifying, especially in Rey’s case, portrayed in an “awakening” manner.

The action, humor and emotion was palpable as the film revitalized the essence of what excited me about Star Wars when I was young. The potential in the new generation as seen through these characters and refocused narrative is fresh, fun and chock full of promise. Kudos to co-writer/director J.J. Abrams for his creative choices, composer John Williams for moving and memorable music, and the terrific contributions of the wonderful cast ensemble.

As I sat at home with my family experiencing Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the second time, it didn’t lose any of its luster. Once again I felt like that 13 year old boy sitting in the theater, eyes wide open, imagination piqued and thrilled to partake in the adventure and spirit of the spectacle that is…Star Wars.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt. Lucasfilm president and eight-time Academy Award® nominee Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams, along with his longtime producing partner Bryan Burk, are the film’s producers.

Having established a musical legacy with his iconic scores for the previous six films in the Star Wars Saga, acclaimed composer John Williams returned to score Star Wars: The Force Awakens, ultimately garnering his 50th Oscar® nomination for it.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens shattered box office records upon its debut to become the cinematic event of a generation with over $926 million domestic and $2.05 billion worldwide.

Parental Guide:

The rating is for sci-fi action violence.

AUDIO/VIDEO – By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

Audio: 94
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • Dynamics:
  • Low frequency effects:
  • Surround Sound presentation:
  • Clarity/Detail:
  • Dialog Reproduction:
  • Low frequency extension * (non-rated element):
  • DSU/DTS Neural:X Rating * (non-rated element):

 

Video: 100
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

 

  • Resolution/Clarity:
  • Black Level/Shadow Detail:
  • Color Reproduction:
  • Fleshtones:
  • Compression:

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes to Blu-ray Disc from Disney featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 33 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 5 Mbps.

This film utilizes a variety of settings, visual schemes and cinematographic processes to create its world (s) and having seen it theatrically I had high hopes for its presentations on Blu-ray. I wasn’t disappointed. The video is razor sharp with a pristine quality that enhances its seemingly flawless rendering of detail. Images are gradationally adept and three dimensionally depicted so that wide angle perspectives, unevenly lit interiors, and shadow laden environs have a seemingly infinite level of depth. This presentation delivers some of the richest and velvety textured blacks that I have seen on Blu-ray. Colors are vibrant, delineated and when called for, deeply saturated and warm, without appearing unnatural. The palette of secondary hues used throughout are eye pleasing and vivid. Flesh tones are lifelike with varying degrees of complexional separation among the cast. Contrast is well balanced and dynamic which energizes colors, empowers whites/grays and engages blacks. The video has a pleasing aesthetic that plays hand in hand with the film’s stark visual style, providing an incredibly entertaining experience that looks superb regardless of the size of your display.

Having seen this film in the theater I had high hopes for its soundtrack in the home environment and I wasn’t disappointed. Many may feel this is a missed opportunity for an immersive lossless soundtrack (Dolby Atmos or DTS:X) and perhaps it is, but that doesn’t negate the fact that this DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio soundtrack is demonstration quality. This recording has excellent dynamic range and boasts superlative clarity and high level detail that is truly impressive. Dialog is definitive and appreciably lucid through the center channel, never getting lost even during the film’s most active moments. Front channel separation and imaging is excellent. This draws out both large and small sound elements and allows their directional correlation based upon the onscreen events to be readily definable.

The mix makes effective and aggressive use of the surround channels to reproduce the spatial and discrete sounds of this engaging soundtrack. At times the listening position is submerged in a 360 degree web of sound that can be riveting as it bombards the senses with a combination of well-placed sound effects and music. This is a dynamically charged sound mix that frequently utilizes the subwoofer to provide room energizing impact. The audio’s low frequency effects are applied authoritatively to underscore the bombastic aspects of the presentation and in most respects, does so quite effectively. There are moments, especially during some of the multi-staged engagements, where deeper bass extension seemed warranted but didn’t hit as hard as anticipated. This isn’t a shortcoming per se but seemed more like a creative decision. This shouldn’t be taken to mean that the audio presentation suffers from anemic bass because it doesn’t. There are sequences where its palpable presence fills the room with refined low frequency detail that is appreciable and on occasion, skin tingling.

This is a sophisticated sound design that is loaded with various sound effects, spatial cues, music, and dialog. Each is clearly represented with enriching clarity, prioritization and dynamism. I had a blast…

Bonus Features:

  • Disc 1: Star Wars The Force Awakens High Definition Feature FilmDisc 2: Star Wars The Force Awakens Bonus Features
  • (HD) Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey – For the first time, discover the complete story behind the making of The Force Awakens, revealed through in-depth footage and exclusive interviews with the actors and filmmakers in this 4 part documentary – 69 minutes
  • (HD) The Story Awakens: The Table Read – Cast members familiar and new reflect on the memorable day they all first came together to read the movie’s script – 4 minutes
  • (HD) Building BB-8 – See how the filmmakers brought the newest droid to the screen, creating an instant fan favorite in the Star Wars universe – 6 minute featurette
  • (HD) Crafting Creatures – Watch movie magic as the filmmakers bring a cast of new creatures to life – 9 minute featurette
  • (HD) Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight – Go deeper into the epic, climactic lightsaber battle between Rey and Kylo Ren – 7 minute featurette
  • (HD) John Williams: The Seventh Symphony – The legendary composer shares personal insights of his work on Star Wars and The Force Awakens – 7 minute featurette
  • (HD) ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force – An insider’s look into the remarkable digital artistry of the movie’s visual effects – 8 minute featurette
  • (HD) Force For Change – Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. See how the Star Wars: Force for Change initiative has united Star Wars fans all over the globe to help others – 3 minutes
  • (HD) 6 Deleted Scenes
  • Bonus DVD
  • Digital HD Copy

Final Thoughts:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens lived up to the hype and exceeded my expectations, delivering one of the most enjoyable film experiences of 2015. It comes to Blu-ray from Disney featuring one of the best looking high definition presentations I have seen from the format, reference quality lossless surround sound and a complimentary supplemental package that offers lots of insights from the cast, crew and those responsible for bringing the film to the big screen. Star Wars: The Force Awakens makes for a terrific audio/video presentation on Blu-ray and belongs on the shelves of every fan. I eagerly await the next installment…

 

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS500 3D/4K Ready High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman 5 & C6-HDR Meter from Spectracal)
Stewart Filmscreen – Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16×9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV8802A 13.2 Channel Audio/Video Processor
Sherbourn Technologies – 7/200 Seven Channel Amplifier
B&K Reference 200.7 Series 2 Seven Channel Amplifier
Oppo BDP-103D Universal Disc/3D capable Blu-ray Player
Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Sony Playstation 3 Blu-ray disc Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/iRule Pro HD Universal Remote Control
Canton “Ergo” and In-Ceiling series speakers
Axiom Audio QS8 Quadpolar speakers
SVS PB-13 Ultra (Rosenut finish)
SVS PC12-NSD
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
Cool Components – CP-CP102 cooling package