HTS Moderator , Reviewer
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away……. Ahhh, for anyone with a PULSE the name “Star Wars” is a known household name. The people who haven’t seen the series, or at least SOME form of the series can probably be counted on one hand. George Lucas pioneered a new vision for science fiction and fantasy back in 1977 and has continued influencing the world with his most famous creation up until the point that he sold Lucasfilm to Disney a year or so back for the tune of $4 Billion. Now Disney has given the reins to new blood and with it has created something feels the closest to the original “Star Wars” trilogy out of all the new material since 1983 (well, besides the new “Star Wars: Rebels” TV series). “The Force Awakens” has been anticipated ever since the announcement of another “Star Wars” film (something thought impossible until recently), and fans salivating behind their computer screens has almost become a national past time. We knew it was going to be big (it’s the first “Star Wars” in over 10 years), but nothing prepared Disney for cleaning box office records like there was no tomorrow. In a matter of a few short weeks, “The Force Awakens” netted 2.053 BILLION dollars worldwide, crushing records as if they were made out of paper Mache. This is mind boggling in and of itself, but even MORE impressive when you factor into the equation the reality that no movie released in the December/January time slot has ever done numbers like that. The biggest opening weekend in that slot was “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” raking in $70 million, while “The Force Awakens” breezed right on past with an insane $248 million dollar opening weekend. A number that rivals giant blockbusters opening right in the heart of summertime madness!
I’ll have to admit that I’m a rabid Original Trilogy “Star Wars” fanboy. I grew up at the ripe old age of 6 years old watching the movies and have watched them yearly ever since (sometimes multiple times a year). I was one of those crazies who actually played hooky from school on my Senior year of high school, walked 3 miles down the road to the nearest theater and pre-ordered my tickets over a month in advance for “The Phantom Menace”, only to leave the theaters crushed with disappointment. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, so I must be insane as I did the same thing with “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” only to be disappointed just as much. At this time in my life I actually can’t even watch “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones” anymore (and barely am able to finish “Revenge of the Sith” due to how much I dislike the prequel trilogy. So you can bet that I’m MORE than a bit nervous when we hear that J.J. Abrams has been given full reign (along with Kathleen Kennedy) to forge ahead in the future. Would the new movie be any good? Can lightning not strike twice, meaning that we’ll never get another fun “Star Wars” film? These were the thoughts going through my head after each and every bit of marketing was slowly released to the public. However, as each trailer and teaser was announced I was becoming more and more excited, almost bringing me back to the same level of excitement that my teenage self experienced when Lucas released his first trio of sequels. So you can bet your last dollar that not only was I there opening weekend to see “The Force Awakens”, but I was traveling 100+ miles to the next largest city to be able to watch it in the latest Dolby Atmos theater in Phoenix, Arizona.
This time, in a galaxy far far away, we’ve had some time pass since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) defeated the Emperor and helped redeem Anakin Skywalker/Vader back to the light side of the force. Decades have passed in fact and the galaxy is a bit fractured. The Empire is in shambles, and the rebellion has formed a new Republic, much like the old Republic, only they have not gotten ALL of the systems in line. The First Order, an evil much like the Empire has arisen from the remnants of the destroyed Imperial order lorded over by Palpatine and Vader and it has much the same goal as its predecessor. Lorded over by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), the First Order is at war with the New Republic, especially with the Resistance, a specially formed guerilla army comprised of many of the old world Rebellion leaders, including General Leia Solo (Carrie Fisher). Luke Skywalker has vanished into the outer rim and now the resistance is doing everything they can to find him, as the Jedi are the only hope of bringing order to the chaos that is ensuing.
The end is near, though, as the Resistance has located one of the last pieces of a puzzle that will show where Luke Skywalker is hiding out and they have sent Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the best Starfighter pilot in the Resistance, to retrieve it. After being ambushed by New Republic storm troopers headed by Supreme Leader Snoke’s right hand man, a dark force wielder by the name of Kylo Ren, Poe entrusts the map to his droid BB-8 before getting captured. Being taken into custody by Kylo, Poe is tortured until he gives up the information that the First Order needs (as they have their own reasons for tracking down Skywalker), but not before Poe is broken out of the command ship with the aid of a defecting storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega). Crash landing on the planet below, Finn runs into a young girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley), an orphaned girl who just so happens to have picked up BB-8. Knowing what he knows now, Finn and Rey have to run from the advancing gave of Kylo Ren and the First Order and get back to the resistance with the last piece of the map in a last ditch effort to find the last of the Jedi Order.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=68034[/img]I nerded out BIG TIME when watching this in theaters, and have to say that “The Force Awakens” is a LOT of fun in entertainment department. Abrams and crew had some really big shoes to fill, and had a lot of goodwill to regain from longtime fans who were heavily disappointed with how the prequel trilogy turned out. He was stuck with not only making a good movie, but making it good enough to not be labeled Jar Jar Abrams for the rest of his life if he made a misstep. The end result of all their hard labor is quite impressive, but also rather flawed at the same time. “The Force Awakens” is probably the most “Star Wars” feeling film out of the last 4 movies produced, and really uses the feel of the original trilogy to its advantage. The series is now set 30+ years after the fall of the Empire and things have changed a lot, but still stayed very much the same. Tie fighters are more advanced, with rotating cannons and all sorts of upgrades. The same thing goes for the classic X-wing fighters and even the command cruisers as well. Things aren’t as rough and gritty feeling like “A New Hope”, but don’t look overly glossy and digital like the Prequel Trilogy was famous for.
HOWEVER, even though J.J. kept the tone and feel very much “oldschool” he played things a bit TOO safe at times. As much as I enjoyed “The Force Awakens”, if you stand back and take an objective look at the film there are WAYYYYYY too many similarities to “A New Hope”. I wouldn’t call it a direct remake, but J.J. did the same thing that he did with “Star Trek: Into Darkness” and copied a LOT of material in his telling of the new story. We’ve got the desert planet where a young force hopeful is awaiting, the Rebellion….errrrr….Resistance fighting off the evil Sith, a giant weapon the size of a planet (this time just a Death Star on steroids), a group of rag tag fighters infiltrating said space station and taking out it’s shields, and even the inclusion of a trench run with X-wings. It is almost like Abrams and crew were SOOOO worried that they wouldn’t get the old trilogy fans on board that they went overboard and just made it TOO similar. It’s not a wild deal, but it is rather obvious if you look at the film critically.
The next set of problems and pleasures come in the form of the characters. Harrison Ford is back as the wise cracking smuggler, Han Solo, and Chewie is right there with him. Ford has waned in his film efforts over the years, but much like Van Damme in “Expendables II”, the aging actor put his heart and soul into the character once more, breathing life into a character that many thought would never be seen again. Carrie Fisher is there in a limited capacity, and actually does quite well, but really these guys are here to hand the torch to the new generation. Boyega as Finn and Daisy Ridley as Rey are now going to be the foremost characters (along with Kylo Ren, who I’ll address in a second). Boyega is fairly mediocre as the Stormtrooper on the run, but it’s mostly a script issue as he’s just not given the greatest of lines to work with. The real joy and shining jewel of the movie is Rey. Ridley is magnificent as the young girl who just wants to make a future for herself. She’s funny, witty, and equally a very capable fighter (there’s a few nods to Finny trying to be rather over protective and her putting him in his place when needed). The end battle with her and Kylo Ren is just plain awesome and shows that we’re going to be seeing a LOT more from the young girl in the upcoming film.
I always knew there was going to be a weak link in “The Force Awakens” with the knowledge that Adam Driver would be playing the dark force user. He is a wonderful actor in many respects, but really shines when he’s playing a douchey hipster, or some sort of hummus eating, mustache and long unkempt hair twirling man who loves his vinyl records and Birkenstock shoes. My fears were sadly realized, but not just because Adam can’t play something serious. It’s a combination of his hipster panache blended with some writing that makes him as annoying and whiney as Hayden Christensen was in the Prequel Trilogy. His wild temper tantrums and annoyingly whiny nature left you hating him about as much as we all hated Anakin Skywalker back a decade ago. I know it’s hard to make a villain as impressive and as intimidating as James Earl Jones voice combined with a nearly 7 foot tall behemoth body in black leather and a voice modulated mask, but Kylo Ren is about as unintimidating as one can possibly be. There’s a moment where he takes off his mask in front of Rey and out fluffs a gigantic head of curly hair that is completely unmussed by the mask and followed up by a whiny near temper tantrum that really solidifies his position as most annoying character in the movie. He just exudes that selfish hipster vibe that made me ready to believe that some of his dialog with Rey could very well entail him discussing the benefits of going vegan, or that he has the imperial march on Vinyl.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=68042[/img]Disney/Lucasfilm went ALL out for this release and the video score echoes that effort. Shot on Arri Alex and Imax cameras, “The Force Awakens” brings you one of the most photorealistic Blu-ray experiences I’ve ever seen. The movie is just razor sharp at all times, with brilliant colors that mimic the locations that they’re representing. The desert planet of Jakku is covered in Sepia hues that show earthy browns and reddish tints to the sandy arena. The luscious greens of Takodana, where Rey and Finn meet Maz, are brilliant and lush with color saturation (even Rey comments on the greens as they’re flying overhead). Black levels are insanely deep and inky, with blacks that just pop off the screen and integrate well with the blue/grey of the First Order’s “Imperial” type of structures. Fine detail is awe inspiring, allowing the viewer to see every bit of detail imaginable. Just watch Finn when he’s in his Storm Trooper armor during the invasion of the village and see the individual grains of dirt clinging to his helmet, and mixed with the blood of his fallen comrade. Also look at the fine detailing of Daisy Ridley’s hands as she grips her staff in a close ups. The veins and strain marks on her tensely gripped hands actually change color in front of your very eyes, and the clothing detail is immaculate. Bluntly put, this is the best looking Blu-ray that I’ve seen in a VERY long time. I wish I could give it a 6/5 rating as just a 5/5 rating seems a little under selling for the transfer. Sadly we don’t get to see the Imax “shifting ratios” for the bits filmed with ACTUAL Imax cameras, but that’s something that I really am not going to cry about.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=68050[/img]“The Force Awakens” was actually recorded in Dolby Atmos audio theatrically, but sadly Disney has not released a single object based track on home video to date, and this entry is no different. As much as the tech nerd in me would have liked to hear it, I’m not horribly disappointed either. I was there in the theater listening to the Atmos mix and it’s been universally stated that the mix just didn’t really take advantage of the object based encoding. It’s an AMAZING sounding audio experience, but one that didn’t really take advantage of the benefits that Atmos/DTS:X can bring to a sound track. However, the 7.1 track that we do get is a thing of beauty. Aggressive and wonderfully detailed, the 7.1 track just dazzles at every turn. Vocals are crisp and clean, wonderfully balanced with a very impressive dynamic range. The front soundstage is immersive and dynamic, with all sorts of action going on, and the surrounds follow suit with a highly detailed rear end. Blaster bolts sizzle over your back shoulder, and the tearing sounds of trees being demolished during the destruction of the Star Killer base is hauntingly accurate in direction. The roar of the bass is incredibly as it punctuate scenes with the throbbing hum of a light saber coming to life, or the thunderous blast of a starships main guns ripping it up. The audio experience can only be described as perfect, as I really couldn’t find anything at fault in what I was hearing. It sounds less bloated than the over aggressive LFE of “The Phantom Menace” and more rich and immersive than the explosive action of “Revenge of the Sith” for sure. Again, I hate to use the word “perfect”, but Disney’s 7.1 track is just that. Perfect.
• Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey
• The Story Awakens: The Table Read
• Crafting Creatures
• Creating BB-8
• Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight
• ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force
• John Williams: The Seventh Symphony
• Deleted Scenes
• Force for Change
“The Force Awakens” DOES have its flaws, as I’ve outlined above, but it’s still a wildly entertaining movie that does a fantastic job of introducing new characters as well as letting the old ones go out with dignity (well, at least some of them). Summer of 2017 is almost too far away for this “Star Wars” nerd as that is when “Episode VIII” is coming to the big screen and we get to see more of Rey, Luke, Finn and Kylo. The fights were awesome and the audio/video were just off the charts. Easily going into demo film of the last year so far. The torch has certainly been passed, as there is nothing but the future going forward, but luckily with the guidance of some old friends to help the transition and be complete. Many mysteries are left unsolved and with that knowledge, comes great anticipation for what Lucasfilm has for us next. Definitely recommended.
HTS Overall Score:93
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, French, Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Disney/Buena Vista
Runtime: 138 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 5th 2016
Buy Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Definitely Recommended
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