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!
Go buy it now!
“State your name for the record.”
Felicity Jones’s character, Jyn Erso, is escorted in handcuffs through the Yavin 4 base. What could she have done to require the Rebels to “arrest” her?
“Forgery of Imperial documents, possession of stolen property, aggravated assault, resisting arrest.”
A harsh sounding Rebel General (rank gathered by his insignia) reads off Jyn’s record in the presence of Mon Mothma — confirmed to be played by Genevieve O’Reilly, the actress who played Mothma briefly in Episode 3 (Speaking scenes deleted).
We also see the character played by Diego Luna, who looks to be a Rebel Captain based on his insignia. Some speculate that he may be Biggs Darklighter, but he doesn’t seem to be acting as a pilot in this trailer. I don’t believe Biggs has been given a rank in canon.
“On your own from the age of fifteen. Reckless, aggressive, and undisciplined.” Mon Mothma seems to know even more about Jyn’s past.
“This is a rebellion, isn’t it?” — Jyn Erso
We see Jyn fighting in an environment that looks reminiscent of Tatooine. I speculate that this is later in the story, rather than a taste of her actions before the Rebels capture her, as Diego’s character can also be seen. Though this could be how they met.
In the first image, behind Jyn, we can see the first glimpse of what is likely Alan Tudyk’s droid character. Is he with Jyn from the beginning, or is he a character she teams with for the Rebel mission?
Jyn can be seen fighting with a tonfa-like weapon (which seems like her preferred weapon) and also a trooper’s blaster.
A shadowed figure sets off a charge, blowing up some troopers as Jyn and Diego’s character dive for cover.
“I rebel.” Mon Mothma seems amused by Jyn’s response.
“We have a mission for you. A major weapons test is imminent. And we need to know what it is and how to destroy it.” — Mon Mothma
The Rebellion knows that some sort of weapon is being tested. Is this initial test thwarted by the Rebels, giving the line by Vader in EP4 new perspective? “There will be no one to stop us, this time.” Why have they chosen Jyn, and not a trusted member of the Rebellion, for this sensitive mission? What skills and/or knowledge does she possess that they need so badly?
We see a possibly apprehensive Jyn in some kind of transport.
The Death Star’s laser dish is set into place. Star Destroyers are dwarfed by its size.
“Is that clear…?” — Rebel General
“Yes, sir.” — Jyn
We get a sense of antagonism between Jyn and the General. He likely doesn’t trust her, and she likely doesn’t like authority. Is she given an offer she can’t refuse, or does she realize the importance of this mission at the start and willingly join. Will she and the General stay antagonistic? Will she earn his respect? Crazy theory: Could he be a traitor?
Rebels readying for action with Jyn and Diego’s character.
Red Four and Gold Five?
Biggs with a standard helmet?
Ben Mendelsohn’s Imperial Admiral. Though he wears a white uniform (Grand Admiral attire in “Legends”), his rank insignia is that of an Admiral. Note that he is holding a blaster. Is he ready to fight, execute, contemplating suicide after failing his mission, or all three?
An Imperial tank (note new tank trooper armor) riding down a Tatooine-like street (same place where we saw Jyn fighting troopers?). Who are the other characters? They don’t seem to match the pics we have seen of the crew so far, though the character behind the masked one is similar to Jiang Wen’s, with a cylinder of some kind on his back left shoulder. Have these figures been captured, or are they just watching the proceedings?
Forest Whitaker’s character. Mercenary? Bounty Hunter? He has a limp and, possibly, a more rustic Vader-like life support suit. Is Jyn connected to this character? Is she trying to get his help for the mission? He seems very wary of her involvement against the Empire.
“What will you do when they catch you?” — Whitaker’s character
Captured Rebel pilots being marched through a market. Same Tatooine-like location?
Jyn, Diego’s character, and a droid (likely Alan Tudyk) running through an Imperial setting. And troopers presumably running after them. Note the new trooper variation, reminiscent of Episode 6 Scout Troopers.
Are the Death Star plans on this?
“What will you do if they break you?” — Whitaker’s character
Donnie Yen’s (likely-blind) character fighting troopers with staff. (Note the downed black X-Wing in the background) If he is indeed blind, could he – like Maz Kanata – be using the Force without being a Jedi? Crazy theory: A pirate trained by Maz? He is already my favorite Rogue One character so far. I hope he survives at least till the end. I would hate to see Yen go out early.
“Shadow” Troopers firing massive blaster bolts on a beach. The beach battle sections are evocative of Normandy and Vietnam beach warfare.
What looks like an Imperial shuttle or troop transport blowing up. Reminiscent of Kylo Ren’s command shuttle but with four wings. Is this Mendelsohn’s ship, or maybe just a fancy troop carrier?
More explosions on the beach.
Ben Mendelsohn’s Admiral striding through the battlefield, dead troops littering the beach. Is this a walk of victory, or shame?
Who is the kneeling, cloaked figure? Is it Vader and they are hiding him for the trailer by giving him a hood? Note the Emperor’s Royal Guard. No doubt the Emperor will appear in this scene in some form. Have the effects been changed to hide a hologram of the Emperor? Crazy theory: is this Snoke?
“If you continue to fight…” — Whitaker’s character
Could Whitaker’s character be a former warrior who now questions his actions and what fighting a war can do to a person?
Jiang Wen’s character. His last stand?
An amazing shot of AT-ATs on the beach with Jyn and Diego’s character running the gauntlet towards them. What could be worth the risk of running towards AT-ATs?
“…what will you become?” — Whitaker’s character
Jyn in an Imperial disguise similar to TIE pilot gear. And most importantly (and largely missed, it seems), under Whitaker’s final line can be heard… the sound of Darth Vader’s mechanical breathing! This gives Whitaker’s final line much more weight: “If you continue to fight, what will you become?”
Until next time. May the Force be with you. Always.
Have you been wondering when we were going to review some Star Wars comics again? Today is your day, with not one, but two comic reviews in this episode of Star Wars Bookworms!
- Harry Potter Bookworms? We decided to test the April Fools waters with a little joke. But is a Harry Potter podcast completely out of the question for us?
- More Ahsoka please. We talk about the announcement of a new Ahsoka Tano novel coming from Disney Press.
- Emails. We reply to emails and discuss This is Madness, the origin of our intro, and much more. Keep the emails coming!
- Not just a books show. We discuss and review two comic volumes, Star Wars Volume 1: Skywalker Strikes and Kanan Volume 1: The Last Padawan.