Just like you, I have been spending the past few days voraciously consuming all of the bonus content on the recently-released Star Wars: The Force Awakens Blu-ray.
(Thanks to the kind folks at Lucasfilm for sending us a review copy.) As always, spoilers from here on out.
When it comes to special features and home video releases, Star Wars has had something of a rocky history. So how does the TFA release stack up? In short it is thorough, entertaining, and well-crafted. The TFA Blu-ray provides some of the best behind-the-scenes looks that I could have hoped for.
The three-disc combo pack includes an HD Blu-ray disc, a DVD, and a third Blu-ray disc that’s set aside entirely for the bonus content. For this review, I mainly want to focus on the bonus content. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen the film multiple times in theaters, so how does it look at home? The presentation is absolutely gorgeous. A nearly flawless transition to home video which, with the appropriate home system might even be a superior experience to seeing it on the big screen. (And you can save $8 on theater popcorn.)
There is one reason why you should absolutely pick up the Blu-ray release. And that is the special documentary Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey.
This is divided into four chapters and offers a remarkably in-depth look at the entire production process of the film. Expect in-depth interviews with the likes of Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and much of the cast and crew chronicling the entire production process from an inside glimpse at the audition tapes, to the pre-production art phase, the construction of all the amazing creatures, and finally the incredible creation of the final tragic moment of Han Solo’s death.
What really surprised me about the documentary is how it takes a rather raw and honest look at some of the difficulties that come with revisiting all of these beloved characters so many years later. For both the actors and storytellers, there were a number of challenges which were highlighted by Carrie Fisher and her transitioning back into the role of Leia, Mark Hamill and how to approach the mystery of Luke, and of course Harrison Ford.
God bless Harrison Ford.
The man gets the character of Han Solo more than I dare say many fans do. At one point during the documentary, Ford spoke to the need to have Han Solo add weight to the story through personal sacrifice. That kind of understanding of the impact of the character Han Solo has on Star Wars fans and cinema in general coming from the mouth of the actor who portrayed him was just incredible. But, there are many such moments in the documentary. Touching moments with JJ, wondering if he could succeed, from Fisher, who was nervous reprising her role, to Ridley, apprehensive about her first day on set with all the attention focused on the scene she was filming. This is the single best feature of the entire Blu-ray release, and takes the viewer on a true behind the scenes experience not just with the technical movie-making process, but the emotional part, the challenges of creating a film, and the reverence that its creators had for the source material. The responsibility felt by everyone involved in creating the film was tremendous, and that dynamic shows clearly in the documentary.
The single issue I might have with the Blu-ray is how some of the more dramatic, insider elements of the production are either briefly covered, or not even covered at all. The writing process and transition from Michael Arndt to Lawrence Kasdan and JJ Abrams is very quickly covered, and the entire faulty “hydraulic door” ordeal with Harrison Ford was simply omitted from the documentary. I imagine this is still an ongoing issue for the studios, so they simply didn’t cover it, but I think it would have been nice for fans to get an inside look at how that affected the production process of the film. However, that might best be saved for a making-of book years down the road.
The Blu-ray release features 5 additional featurettes:
- The Story Awakens: The Table Read
- Crafting Creatures: Building BB-8
- Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight
- ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force
- John Williams: The Seventh Symphony
Of these, I have to say my favorite of these is The Story Awakens. It was absolutely incredible seeing Mark Hamill read the script for the actors’ first gathering together. The other amazing feature was John Williams’ 7th Symphony. The fact that at 84 years old, John Williams is still able to put such enormous effort, heart, and joy into a Star Wars score is just absolutely awe-inspiring, and it’s a great privilege to witness his creative process.
Overall, The Force Awakens Blu-ray is nearly every bit the release I was hoping for. There might be some additional deleted scenes that would have been nice to see, or a little bit more of the dramatic creative process during the early production, but I have to say I’m very pleased with the with the TFA Blu-ray, and look forward to many more re-watches of the film itself and the behind the scenes content!
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