Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Adventure > Action > Space Opera > Science Fiction > Comedy > Drama > Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015/Lucasfilm/Disney Blu-rays w/DVD)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015/Lucasfilm/Disney Blu-rays w/DVD)

Picture: B+ & C+ Sound: B & C+ Extras: B Film: B-

After the original Star Wars Trilogy (1977 - 1983, especially in its original versions before creator George Lucas kept changing visuals and 'upgrading'/replacing original visual effects with not always better digital ones), the franchise moved into a sort of hibernation period, only slowly coming back and becoming popular again starting with the trilogy's rerelease in the late 1990s that would be followed by the mixed results of a prequel trilogy. Original fans who might not have been happy with the changes to the original films nor pleased with the new ones were left sort of short changed, especially since you could not see 'Han shoots first' among other things.

Then a remarkable series of events happened, staring with Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm to go with their Marvel Comics purchase. Many wondered if Lucas would stick to retirement, something many preferred after all the changes, but then who would write and direct whatever 'Episode 7' turned out to be. After some reluctance due to his work in the semi-rival Star Trek franchise, the somewhat shocking news J.J. Abrams would direct what was finally entitled Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) caused fans to wonder if a new series of disasters were on the way or might something good happen if they could get the original cast together?

One good sign is that they got the original cast (most still with us, luckily) together, then Abrams boldly showed off the fact that he would shot the whole big budgeted production on film stock, upsetting film haters worldwide and sticking with one of the biggest reasons he's a success today... embrace high quality even when the 'haters' want you to abandon it for no good reason. With Disney and Lucasfilm subdivision ILM (which created Pixar and has always had rights to all their secret technological innovations as part of the sales terms Lucas established when he spun it off so long ago) having the best digital visual effects around, the film was guaranteed to be a few steps ahead of every other kind of blockbuster trying to be like it. Yes, it was sounding like 1977 again in the best way.

So what do we get? The box office shows some loved it bigtime, while there were more than a few people who actually thought it was awful, lame, unimaginative and everything we've seen before, reenforced by Lucas' voicing that his ideas for the films had been tossed away (aka stored secretly away for no reason), so Disney was taking a huge risk that could have backfired like Howard The Duck meets a stock market crash... but that did not happen.

Instead, they got people who loved the films deeply enough involved, with the key win behind the scenes was getting Lawrence Kasdan back to revive the wit that had been missing from the recent films, penning the screenplay with Abrams and Michael Arndt. Thus the film weaves the introduction of new characters with the return of the classic originals in what might be the most commercially successful achievement in wish fulfillment in commercial cinema history, but the real success here is totally throwing out all the phoniness of 1980s phony action cinema and stay in the world of the original films.

The two parallel storylines meld together nicely enough built on the schematic of remaking the 1977 film and the timing and shots usually work. However, even I have to admit I could tell there was one thing missing here that started to fade in Return Of The Jedi and barely turned up in the prequels enough: The George Lucas Touch. The heart, soul and quirks that put the original film on the map and forever cemented the franchise as the modern model of fun commercial blockbusters is gone, a part of 'The Force' no one can duplicate and that this film (resolving the original storylines for all the initial characters) might be the conclusion of that discourse... sadly.

A nice early touch is getting the legendary Max Von Sydow in the opening sequence, able to take on everyone and everything (including the visual effects) in the first moment that the makers are hardcore serious about making this a winning film. It works, then we meet a storm trooper (John Boyega in one of the great star-making performances), a rebel pilot (the always watchable Oscar Isaac), a young survivor who stands alone and does what she has to to survive (the instantly amazing Daisy Ridley), an evil new warlord named Kylo Ren (the underrated Adam Driver proving how great an actor he really is) and many more pleasant surprises that I was not surprising because the film takes on enough of a life of its own to deliver to most of the cynical doubters.

Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew and Mark Hamill are all back as well as can be expected not trying to be something phony, but who the characters would be at this point and bravely not afraid of age. I could hear a little shock at each turn when they appeared in this respect, but unlike phony franchises since 1977 (they all want to be Star Wars!), the film's strength is not denying age or mortality in fake ways, fakeness that seems especially dated post-9/11, but that makes the film all the more winning for what does work.

No, its not perfect and it could not exist without the the first two films in the franchise in particular, but here it is and for most people, it pulls off what could have gone very, very badly otherwise. Yes, some of it might seem contrived from a distance in some ways and others could say what it does best took too long, but better late than never. Star Wars: The Force Awakens may not always be original, but it has the energy to overcome its limits like the best cinema of the time the 1977 film arrived; an energy itself we used to see all the time, but one that has dimmed into near darkness from a cinematic galaxy far, far, far, far away...

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer is from the full 35mm version of the film, so the aspect ratio does not expand during the IMAX 70mm-shot footage is in reduction mode, yet the exceptionally shot film (shot on Kodak's stunning Vision 3 65mm and 35mm color negative Vision 3 series T-grain stocks) is one of the best-looking films of the year with ease. They could have tried to make it look like bad HD, a flaw many using film for the first time would make with mostly bad HD as a reference, but Director of Photography Daniel Mindel (Enemy Of The State, Spy Game, the underrated Amazing Spider-Man 2, Abrams' two Star Trek films so far, Mission Impossible 3) also uses the very widescreen frame to its fullest extent and very important as he has before, shot for a very big screen. Thus this visually pays off nicely. Also released in good-looking 3D theatrically, this 2D-only Blu-ray still shows the depth intended and despite some small flaws, you can now experience the look and feel intended pretty much throughout. The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image DVD also included is passable at best, but not great, making the Blu-ray the way to see this at home until Disney starts issuing titles in the amazing new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format.

At its best sonically in theaters, the film was issued in the Dolby Atmos 11.1 and IMAX 12-track sound presentations, but Disney has settled on a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mix that is usually an effective mixdown with some fine sonic moments for the most part. Some theaters even had D-BOX and we suspect that might be here too. However, unlike my theatrical screening that was also a mixdown, I am a bit disappointed to report that some sound effects and directionality fall a little flat, but this is inherent to the discs's mix and something we hope to hear more about in the near future. Otherwise, the sonics deliver well enough. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD is still so much less warm and structured, it is still no match for the DTS lossless here.

Extras in this nice slipcase packaging include Digital Copy, Deleted Scenes and featurettes Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey, The Story Awakens: The Table Read, Building BB-8, Crafting Creatures, Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight, Force For Change, ILM: The Visual Magic of The Force and John Williams: The Seventh Symphony. That's all on its own Blu-ray disc and will be plenty for fans and the curious alike.

- Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com