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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Collector's Edition Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) movie poster Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Theatrical Release: December 18, 2015 / Running Time: 138 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: J.J. Abrams / Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt (screenplay); George Lucas (characters)

Cast: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Lupita Nyong'o (Maz Kanata), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Max von Sydow (Lor San Tekka), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca Double), Pip Andersen (Lead Stormtrooper), Simon Pegg (Unkar Plutt), Kiran Shah (Teedo), Ken Leung (Admiral Statura), Greg Grunberg (Snap Wexley)

Buy Star Wars: The Force Awakens from Amazon.com:
Collector's Edition Blu-ray 3D Combo • Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

After breaking just about every domestic box office record it could while winning over as many fans (even the lapsed ones) and critics imaginable, Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets revisited eleven months after its theatrical debut in a new four-disc Collector's Edition set that presents the film on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. With the franchise fully revitalized, a much-anticipated eighth episode now in post-production, and spin-off film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just weeks from opening,
Disney's $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012 looks wiser every day. It's a good time to be a Star Wars fan and to be creatively involved with adding to the universe George Lucas began building forty years ago.

Having reviewed the film just seven months ago, there seems to be little need for a new viewing and new analysis. In the event you haven't already read my review of the film for its Blu-ray debut, you can do so now. If you have, you can re-read it. Or you can scroll down to find out what's new about this edition.


By many measures, Star Wars is the biggest franchise in the history of cinema. The original 1977 film redefined the word "blockbuster" with a gross above and beyond anything previously heard of. Its two sequels, released over the next six years, were not as profitable, but still earned more than twice as much as any other film from their years. Though ostensibly dormant for the next decade and a half, the Star Wars trilogy remained insanely popular through rampant, repeat home video viewings. When creator George Lucas reissued the three movies in theaters with tweaks and additions as Special Editions in early 1997, each opened in first place and added significantly to their already substantial returns. Only seven new films released that year pulled in more at the North American box office than the original Star Wars.

The enduring passion extended another two years when Lucas began releasing a new trio of prequels that preceded his iconic trilogy. Though tough to quantify, it seems as though Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace may have been the most anticipated film ever. It performed extremely well at the box office, but the heightened expectations seemed to breed some disappointment from critics and critical moviegoers. Things got worse before they got better, but even the more favorably received Episode III - Revenge of the Sith was not enough to lift this new trilogy to the level of the beloved original one in most fans' eyes.

Furthermore, that original trilogy was increasingly rubbing the faithful following the wrong way as the result of Lucas' unwillingness to release it in its original, unaltered form. In Lucas' mind, Star Wars belonged to him, not the people who made him a multi-billionaire. So if he felt the need to keep making changes here and there, as he did, he was going to do it and no one could tell him otherwise. After the prequels, Star Wars seemed destined to live on in television animation and a steady stream of merchandise, but no one was really clamoring for Lucas to make good on his long-shared claim of the original trilogy being Episodes IV through VI in a nine-episode saga.

Guess who's back, back again. Solo's back, tell a friend. Harrison Ford reprises his lovable rogue pilot Han Solo in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Then, out of seemingly nowhere, in the fall of 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm and all that came with it for $4 billion. Having reaped the benefits of Bob Iger's brand-driven philosophy and a blockbuster-or-bust strategy, Disney already had the highly regarded and highly lucrative Marvel and Pixar universes in their stable.
Star Wars, though, somehow felt bigger than either of those companies, even considering the tarnish of those prequels and Lucas' curious refusal to stop tinkering with the past. Disney's first move upon landing Lucasfilm was to greenlight a seventh episode taking place some thirty years after 1983's threequel Return of the Jedi.

Enlisted on this revival was J.J. Abrams, who had successfully transitioned from passion-generating ABC television ("Lost") to big budget cinema. Uniquely qualifying him for the job was Abrams' crowd-pleasing 2009 reboot of the Star Trek film franchise, which drew many comparisons to Star Wars, to the dismay of some of those who had always sided with Trek in the uneven battle of sci-fi institutions. Employing a faster timetable than Lucas' three-year approach, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released a week before Christmas 2015, barely three years after Disney acquired sequel rights in the Lucasfilm transaction.

With the faults of the prequels forgiven if not forgotten, the public, seemingly aware that the series was no longer in the hands of the aging flannel and jeans wearing creator whose methods were increasingly questioned and criticized, embraced The Force Awakens wholeheartedly. The film easily eclipsed Avatar's domestic box office record set six years earlier. Force's $937 million North American gross, nearly $200 M more than Avatar (and nearly $300 M more than 2015's second biggest hit, Jurassic World), seems unlikely to be bested anytime soon. And though the sequel trails Avatar and previous James Cameron box office king Titanic worldwide, there is no denying its cultural impact around the globe.

What's important is that The Force Awakens was able to achieve its success while appeasing critics and most of the moviegoing public. Its giant numbers inevitably inspire some backlash, contrarianism, and elevated scrutiny, as did hits like Avatar, Titanic, and The Avengers. But the negativity that hung over the name Star Wars for many adults and most cynics for a number of years seems to have largely cleared up. Disney's game plan to release a new sequel every two years and a spin-off film in the off year between them (starting with the imminent Rogue One) will no doubt reopen the door for complaints and concerns of Shrek-like oversaturation. But for now, with promising and talented filmmakers lined up to advance or complement the mythos, the franchise seems to be in a very good place artistically, not to mention commercially.

Scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) emerges as a heroine for a new generation.

Written by Abrams, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi scribe Lawrence Kasdan, and the esteemed Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine), The Force Awakens models itself closely after the original 1977 Star Wars, later subtitled Episode IV - A New Hope. The parallels between the two are strong enough for claims that this was as much a remake as a sequel to emerge as one of the biggest of the few criticisms leveled against the film. We open, per tradition, with the iconic John Williams theme and an angular scroll of text. Luke Skywalker, the last living Jedi, has disappeared. Finding him is a priority for both the First Order, a powerful group that rose from the ashes of the Empire and their opponents, our good guys, the Resistance.

On the desert planet Jakku, an old man (screen legend Max von Sydow) gives BB-8, a droid (comparable to but more adorable than R2-D2) holding directions to Luke, to the pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). The First Order's young commander, masked Darth Vader worshipper Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), pursues this lead and sends forces to locate BB-8, but the droid rolls into the company of strong-willed scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). She crosses paths with Finn (John Boyega), the repentant stormtrooper formerly known as FN-2187, who claims to be part of the Resistance and is genuinely committed to eluding his former colleagues.

While making their escape, Rey, Finn, and BB-8 take old ship the Millennium Falcon for a narrow getaway. That ship leads them to encounter none other than that the Falcon's owners, lovable rogue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his shaggy co-pilot, the Wookie Chewbacca. They and others plot to attack the First Order's giant planet-turned-superweapon Starkiller Base, while Han hopes to bring out the light that is buried within Kylo Ren, also known as his son.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) faces his father with a lush head of hair.

Though his comments registered as the sour grapes of a suddenly powerless old genius who may have regretted his sale and certainly had his creative input refused, George Lucas wasn't wrong in stating that he always tried to invent new worlds and characters. The prequels were full of those, but many of them weren't well-received.
All sequels have to perform that balancing act of giving viewers more of the same without just giving them more of the same. The Force Awakens is a lot like A New Hope, but being similar to one of the most popular and successful films ever made is not a bad thing. It's not a lazy or unimaginative sequel. It just knows how to put new spins on compelling old themes and ideas, as well as how to make use of characters, plots, and places so many have fallen in love with over the past forty years.

The new cast members all seem to be better suited for Star Wars duties than the actors cast in Lucas' prequels were. From the entirely unknown (Ridley) to the lightly seasoned (accent-hiding fellow UKer Boyega, of Attack the Block) to the reasonably familiar (Driver and Isaac), the newcomers are talented, appealing, and up to the film's dramatic, action, and effects challenges. (The one exception is Domnhall Gleeson, who does nothing with a one-dimensional minor role.) These fine principals are complemented by the old guard, specifically Ford, who is as charming as ever as Han Solo, a character it's so much fun to catch up with. Though his top billing is more the result of stature than screentime, Ford almost qualifies as a lead once he shows up around 40 minutes in. We also get to reconnect with other sacred staples of the saga, including Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, a laughably second-billed Mark Hamill very briefly as Skywalker, C-3PO, R2-D2, Admiral Ackbar, and Nien Nunb.

Getting to revisit these characters a little over thirty years since their last big screen outing produces incomparable thrills. Getting to do so in a state-of-the-art film that consistently entertains and excites is even better. Abrams clearly knows and loves this universe, something that both fans and detractors of his Star Trek could tell you. He also knows how to craft a big, jaunty action movie with intelligence, craft, and care. Star Wars is so different from other franchises, with a unique DNA all its own. Abrams and his accomplished fellow screenwriters know that and play it up. Those who know and love the saga will appreciate this more than the uninitiated, but very few who enter with an open mind will come away disappointed. The problems you might have with it (for instance, the film's biggest surprise still doesn't sit well with me) are very minor, compared to the ones that plagued the prequels. While every year brings big blockbusters full of ambitious effects and exciting sequences, few are as well-made and satisfying as this one, which excels so much more than 2015's other big draws (Jurassic World, The Martian, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mockingjay, Part 2) did.

Help me, BB-8. You're my only hope!

Though exceptional films with mainstream commercial appeal like The Dark Knight and WALL•E seemed to be what the Academy had in mind when it switched to a ten nominee Best Picture category, switching back to between 5 and 10 has kept the field mostly devoid of marquee attractions (although the underwhelming but well-attended Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road both made it in this year). But like every Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens had to settle for technical recognition, earning Oscar nominations for Editing, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Original Score (which it surprisingly qualified for despite Williams recycling several themes). It lost all of them, most surprisingly Visual Effects to a smaller 2015 sci-fi film with two cast members in common, Ex Machina. As those at Disney using $100 bills as napkins will tell you, this isn't a movie that was made for Oscars. Although the Oscars would be better if a movie like this was in competition for major honors.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Collector's Edition Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Extras only: Portuguese
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Black Keepcase in Embossed Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Previously released on April 5, 2016 as Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD ($39.99 SRP), standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Star Wars is forever associated with technical excellence and you can be sure that even sans certification of the Lucas-founded THX, The Force Awakens boasts outstanding picture and sound on Blu-ray. All big new movies pretty much do, but this one's 2.40:1 picture and 7.1 DTS-HD master audio are especially potent and flawless. The Blu-ray 3D is also without incident. I didn't find the format put to especially dazzling use here, but I almost never do.

J.J. Abrams directs his cast on an elevated set in front of green screen in "The Secrets of 'The Force Awakens': A Cinematic Journey." The cast is comfortably seated for a "table" read.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The feature 2D Blu-ray gets one new bonus feature: an audio commentary by writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams. This movie is an undertaking by many, but if only one of them was going to speak over it, Abrams was the obvious choice. His passion for the film and long-held fervor for the franchise it extends is apparent and gives his screen-specific remarks more weight than your average commentary. Among the topics he touches upon are the cast he values, his preference for practical in-camera sets and production design where possible, moments created in reshoots, and changes made along the way. Many will find this worth a listen.

All remaining extras are found on the bonus Blu-ray, the third of four discs in the set. This too has been updated from the bonus Blu-ray of the film's original combo pack release.

First up and most highly touted is "The Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey" (1:09:14), a great documentary from seasoned Steven Spielberg home video documentarian Laurent Bouzereau.
Loaded with so much good footage (including behind-the-scenes clips from the original trilogy), this four-chapter companion arrests in a thorough and comprehensive fashion, starting with George Lucas' 2012 sale to Disney and proceeding to the shrouded-in-secrecy production. From the script's development via Michael Arndt (who needed more time), Lawrence Kasdan, and concept-supplying J.J. Abrams to the table read, returning cast, characters and crew members, the newcomers' audition process (with clips), BB-8, shooting on film in the desert, and performance capture, there isn't a topic neglected in this standout supplement, even the kind that would be deemed spoilers.

Shorter features follow, starting with "The Story Awakens: The Table Read" (4:01), which provides more clips and reflection of the cast's comfy couch read-through that had Mark Hamill narrating.

Simon Pegg's hefty junk boss Unkar Plutt is one of 105 colorful characters crafted for the film. "Building BB-8" shows two of the droids being brought to life with the use of an ordinary laptop.

"Crafting Creatures" (9:34) looks at the mix of practical and CGI effects used to bring some 105 exotic sci-fi characters to life.

"Building BB-8" (6:03) explores the cute droid's presence on set via puppets to be enhanced by CGI.

"Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight" (7:02) touches on the lightsaber training endured by the three young cast members who featured in this climactic scene.

He's back! John Williams returns for "The Seventh Symphony" and his composing moves look like he's using the Force to throw stormtroopers across the room. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) appears in two of the Blu-ray's newly unearthed deleted scenes.

"ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force" (7:55), of course,
deals with visual effects, including their application to characters and sets.

"John Williams: The Seventh Symphony" (6:51) considers the decorated composer's return to this universe with themes new and old. Naturally, it's a feel-good piece.

UPDATED! The deleted scenes section has been sneakily and subtly expanded. The original release held six short scenes running 4 minutes and 15 seconds. This reissue holds 9 scenes running 6 minutes and 39 seconds. The additions will be of greatest interest to fans of Carrie Fisher, whose Princess Leia appears in two of them. We also get an appearance by a partially completed Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg's character) and an additional moment in which Han Solo and stormtroopers stand off. Recycled deletions include Kylo Ren exploring the Millennium Falcon, a look at Star Wars emergency rooms, and Finn and Rey's snow speeder chase. Once again, the scenes are not introduced or commented upon. And they still have time codes running over them.

"Force for Change" (3:22) pays notice to the charitable deeds born out of the film for UNICEF and charities hand-picked by the cast.

NEW!

That's where the original Blu-ray combo's extras ended, but this disc keeps on going, unearthing five additional featurettes you haven't already seen.

This disco ball gives BB-8 his rolling sound, as demonstrated in "Foley: A Sonic Tale." That's Ben Schwartz (Parks & Rec's Jean Ralphio) working as a voice consultant for BB-8 in "Sounds of the Resistance."

"Foley: A Sonic Tale" (4:02) lets new and longtime Lucasfilm Foley artists share with us their process of using objects to make the sounds for the ones seen in the film, from Kylo Ren's cloak to BB-8 (a rolled disco ball) to stormtroopers (jostled roller blades).

"Sounds of the Resistance" (7:15) gives thought to the film's sound design as a whole, specifically as it applies to giving droids and creatures their voices. It offers looks at the work of "voice consultant" Ben Schwartz ("Parks and Recreation") and Bill Hader.

"Dressing the Galaxy" (6:27) talks costume design, sharing some insight into why characters wear what they do.

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega have a pleasant chat in "The Scavenger & The Stormtrooper." Director J.J. Abrams tests out a practical lightsaber in "Inside the Armory."

"The Scavenger & The Stormtrooper: A Conversation with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega" (11:45) lets the two young leads chat about their experiences, their remarks complemented by still more behind-the-scenes footage.

Finally, "Inside the Armory" (8:17) covers the construction and design of weapons, paying special notice to practical lightsabers.

Oh, and hidden on the disc, you'll find The Star Wars Holiday Special in its entirety. Just kidding. A Wookiee can dream.

Once again, DVD viewers get no bonus features. That barebones standard definition disc is identical to the one sold on its own and included in April's Blu-ray combo pack. Even the disc art is unchanged, although the print quality isn't as good.

With no bonus features accompanying the movie disc on either DVD or Blu-ray, the menu still looks barren but neat. Extras get their own disc on Blu-ray only.

MENUS and PACKAGING

This rerelease distinguishes immediately itself physically with a box that is thicker than two standard Blu-rays stacked. The sturdy lenticular-faced outer box, surrounded by a thin potentially disposable wraparound, holds a thick six-sided Digipak, which uses two sides to hold the four uniquely-labeled discs and the rest for tasteful artwork. Two inserts join the disc, supplying codes for accessing the film and the Collector's Edition bonus features digitally. (The film's code is hidden behind a peelable BB-8 and shrinkwrapped in plastic.)

Once again, the movie discs' menus plays clips in a hangar while excerpting the iconic score. The Blu-ray 3D does render this menu in 3D. Also once again, the bonus features disc makes use of behind-the-scenes footage from the extras for its main menu.

Second-billed Mark Hamill gets to be creepy and silent in a film-closing appearance that amounts to a powerful cameo.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

An appealing and worthwhile blend of new and old, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just about everything you'd like it to be, laying the foundation for a promising new age for the franchise while remembering everything that made the original trilogy so special. The best film to hold the all-time domestic box office crown since the original Star Wars did thirty-nine years ago, this is a blockbuster that most should be able to get on board with.

The film's Collector's Edition Blu-ray 3D combo pack adds five new featurettes, three new deleted scenes, an audio commentary, and fancier packaging to the already fine presentation and assembly of extras. It's probably only worth the upgrade if the Blu-ray 3D presentation is important to you. But, if you passed on the initial release, waiting for something better, this is something better. It's most likely not the film's definitive release but it's tough to imagine it being improved upon in a major way anytime soon.

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Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed November 6, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd., Bad Robot, and 2016 Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
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