The home video event of the year has arrived at last. With the Rogue One trailer currently whirling fan’s anticipation into a frenzy, it’s time to revisit J.J. Abrams’ vision for a new chapter in the Star Wars saga. We’ve all seen the film but what more can we glean from the special features? Read on for my full review.
What more is there to say about The Force Awakens that hasn’t been said already? Most people loved it, some felt it didn’t move the saga into a new enough direction. One thing that everyone agreed on, however, was that this was light years away from the prequels and recaptured the fun and wonder of the original trilogy. For me, this was the Star Wars film I’d been waiting for and I loved every minute of it. I was fourteen when Episode 1 was released and I don’t think that any film release will ever match the level of excitement I felt for that movie. I remember taping the first trailer off The Big Breakfast and watching it about 100 times at my friend Mark’s house, analysing each frame and developing theories as to what we were seeing. With The Force Awakens, I was very excited to see more Star Wars but I’d been left somewhat stung by the prequel trilogy and, coupled with the transition to Disney, I really didn’t know what to expect or dare to hope for. Could Star Wars continue without George Lucas at the helm?
Then I saw the film on release day and it blew me away. The moment the opening theme and famous text crawl appeared I felt a wave of emotion and nostalgia that lasted throughout the entire movie and beyond. It was like coming home or meeting an old friend from many years ago and picking up exactly where you left off. It was familiar, comforting and exciting. There were a number of moments where I felt myself welling up a little: the opening, Han and Chewie boarding the Falcon, the X-wing battle. I don’t think I ever expected to see Star Wars on the cinema again and I’m so pleased that it’s back.
The Force Awakens Blu-Ray comes with a second disc packed with featurettes that cover the production process from start to finish. These are mostly 5 – 10 minute videos made up of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. There is little new information about the characters or worlds to be heard here, this is mostly the actors and crew discussing how they brought it all to screen. The real attractions to fans are the hour long Making-of documentary and the deleted scenes. Here is a breakdown of what’s included:
Secrets of Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey – This is the headline, hour-long documentary that covers the whole production from the Lucasfilm sale to Disney through to the last day of shooting. There is some wonderful footage of the original cast alongside the new stars and a real feeling that they all got together because the timing and crew were right to make something magical. We are treated to several shots from the production of the original trilogy and a lot is said about how they strove to achieve the same look and feel as those films. This was accomplished in a big way by including as many practical effects as possible, which I think any Star Wars fan can appreciate.
We get a few glimpses of the audition tapes for Daisy Ridley and John Boyega and it’s very clear that they were very passionate about these roles from the get-go. I would have liked to have seen their entire auditions included here. The full size Millenium Falcon that was built for this film is a marvel and as a fan it is quite moving to see the reverence that the crew feel for it, I’m sure I would too! An interesting note from this documentary: J.J. Abrams acknowledges that Maz Kanata’s castle scene is a nod to the cantina from Episode 4 as he felt the audience would want to see these very iconic Star Wars staples in this film. I think they could have addressed the wider criticism that episode 7 is too derivative but personally I don’t feel that way about the film, however it would have been interesting to hear a little more about how they approached the story after such a long hiatus and overwhelming expectation.
Deleted Scenes – Probably the most desired addition to the package, unfortunately the deleted scenes don’t really add much to the lore of the film and the best one was released early as promotional material for the disc. Here’s what you get:
Finn and the villager – Finn as a stormtrooper in the opening Jakku scene, stumbles upon a civilian who he decides to spare from the slaughter as he struggles with his conscience.
Jakku message – A much earlier introduction for Leia and C-3PO. Leia learns that Poe’s X-wing was destroyed on Jakku by the First Order and that BB-8 is missing.
X-wings prepare for light speed – A very quick scene where we see the X-wings departing for Starkiller base.
Kylo searches the Falcon – This is the best deleted scene and in my opinion shouldn’t have been cut from the film. Kylo Ren boards the Falcon during the Starkiller base sequence and enters the cockpit where he can sense Han.
Snow Speeder chase – Finn and Rey are pursued on Starkiller base by the First Order on speeders. I also think this would have made a nice little action sequence, though with everything else going on it may have felt like overkill.
Finn will be fine – Rey watches on as Finn is cared for by medical staff after the climactic battle.
The story awakens: the table read – A short piece where the cast and crew discuss the initial read through of the script, something we’ve seen in photos ahead of the film’s release. On the day it was decided that Mark Hamill would read the script narration instead of J.J. And the short bit that we hear is awesome. You can see both excitement and trepidation on J.J.’s face, giddy at having all of these childhood heroes in the room but nervous about having to lead them. I wish we got, if not all, then at least a larger portion of this read through uninterrupted as it really is a unique and interesting event.
John Williams seventh symphony – John Williams is my favourite film composer, not just because of Star Wars and I relish seeing him conduct and talk about his music at every opportunity. Here, intercut with John conducting the orchestra we hear from the crew about why the music is such an integral part of these films and how there was only one man for the job. We get an insight into the meaning behind some of the pieces and what they represent about the characters. The passion with which John Williams talks about his music really confirms just how much story is conveyed through the score.
Crafting creatures – Designers and animators discuss the need that was identified early on that animatronic creatures would be essential to sell this film and to return it to its roots. I was surprised to see that puppetry technology has moved on so much since the 90s, especially as it isn’t used very often in favour of computer generated imagery. CGI was cleverly used to accentuate the creatures rather than create them.
Building BB-8 – Here we move from the initial sketches and prototypes of the popular droid to see the different models that were used for filming. The actors talk about how much of a benefit it was to have a practical, working model on set to act with. I was impressed to discover that J.J. Abrams came up with BB-8’s design.
Blueprint of a battle: the snow fight – A short segment focusing on the climactic lightsabre fight. Seeing that the forest in this sequence is actually a set at Pinewood amazed me, you would never know. It’s fun to see how much of a Star Wars geek John Boyega is, whenever he appears on camera he is gushing about holding a lightsaber, meeting Han Solo or stepping aboard the Millenium Falcon. I watched this featurette incredibly jealous of the lightsabers that the actors use, I wish I could get one!
ILM: the visual magic of the force – a quick run through of the visual effects of the film, focusing on the motion capture characters such as Maz Kanata and Supreme Leader Snoke. The animators discuss the need to use CG sparingly to greater resemble the original trilogy which I think they have really achieved. There are actually a few shots and characters that I was sure were CG but were actually practical effects!
Force for change – This segment details how a new charitable foundation was established in the Star Wars name to raise money for UNICEF through auctions, competitions and sponsorships.
Overall I think the Star War The Force Awakens Blu-Ray is a great package, the film is incredible and the special features give an interesting insight into the production of the movie. I would have liked to have seen more of the script read through and the new actor’s audition tapes. The deleted scenes also would have benefitted from Director’s commentary but I imagine there will an obligatory special edition released at Christmas when Rogue One releases. I’d recommend this Blu-Ray to all Star Wars fans and if anyone hasn’t seen the film yet, stop what you’re doing and put it on now. It’s certainly one of the best cinema experiences I’ve had in my life.
Movie – 9/10
Special features – 7/10