April has been a big month for “Star Wars” fans. Not only did “Good Morning America” debut the brand-new teaser trailer for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” on April 7, but “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” finally became available on own on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack with Digital HD.
The highest grossing movie of all time in North America, “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” isn’t just better than the “Star Wars” prequels—it’s arguably as engaging as the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Although the story by Lawrence Kasdan (“Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi”), J.J. Abrams (“Mission: Impossible III,” “Super 8”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Toy Story 3”) might seem a little too familiar, the powerful performances by the young, relatively unknown cast will keep audiences glued to their seats anxious to find out what happens next.
Led by the charismatic Daisy Ridley, the film follows a young desert scavenger named Rey (Ridley) and a defecting Stormtrooper with a conscious named Finn (John Boyega) as they set out on a journey with the help of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to return a Resistance droid named BB-8 that may hold top-secret information to finding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Skywalker, it seems, has vanished since one of his former students (Adam Driver)—who coincidentally also happens to be Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han’s son—gave in to the dark side of the Force and massacred a bunch of Jedi in training. Now, it’s a race to find BB-8 as Leia hopes the map the droid contains will lead her to the one who can restore peace to the galaxy while Kylo Ren (Driver) and the newly risen sinister First Order are hot on BB-8’s trail desperate to get to Skywalker first so that they can destroy the last Jedi.
Similarities to “Star Wars: Episode V – A New Hope” aside, there are few faults to find with “The Force Awakens.” The cast is terrific, the score by John Williams is as perfect as always and there’s plenty of humor sprinkled throughout the script. While it’s great to see the original “Star Wars” cast back in action, the film is at its best when Ridley, Boyega, Driver and Oscar Isaac (who plays Resistance starfighter pilot Poe Dameron) are on-screen—which is a good thing since the story is sort of a passing of the torch to the next generation. “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” didn’t just deserve to be North America’s highest grossing film of all time—it deserved to be the world’s top grossing film, too, and definitely deserved as much Oscar recognition as “Mad Max: Fury Road” received.
The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (MSRP: $39.99) is equally impressive, starting with its sleek black packaging. Approximately two hours of bonus features are contained on a separate Blu-ray disc, including the informative four-part making-of documentary, “The Secrets of ‘The Force Awakens:’ A Cinematic Journey.” Featuring interviews with the cast and crew and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, the extra covers everything from the original cast’s hesitations with doing another “Star Wars” film (“We waited this long?” Fisher asks. “I looked better 10 years ago—we could have done it then!”) and George Lucas selling Lucasfilm to Disney to filming in Abu Dhabi and at Pinewood Studios in the U.K. It also features snippets of Ridley’s audition tape, footage of Lupita Nyong’o bringing the character of Maz Kanata to life and details on filming arguably the movie’s most controversial scene (“It was a necessary component,” Abrams states matter-of-factly), including Ford’s take on it and how he felt Han Solo should have been a human sacrifice at the end of “Return of the Jedi.” Other highlights include hearing how excited the cast and crew was when Ford filmed the now iconic “Chewie, we’re home” scene aboard the Millennium Falcon (they’re fans just like us!); Ford recalling how he questioned if things were positioned right in the Millennium Falcon cockpit because he couldn’t remember where they were before; Ford asking a crew member if there was enough money in the budget this time around for the Millennium Falcon’s control switches to have real springs in them so they didn’t revert back to the off position like they did while filming the original trilogy; and being introduced to the two lucky fans who ended up building R2-D2 for “The Force Awakens.”
While the feature-length documentary offers plenty of insight into the making of the film, the Blu-ray release also features several additional making-of featurettes that surprisingly don’t repeat too much of what “The Secrets of ‘The Force Awakens’” already covered. There’s a feature on crafting the 105 practical and CG creatures seen in the film that includes a brief interview with Warwick Davis (Wicket from “Return of the Jedi”) as well as a look at Chewbacca’s knit woolen suit; a feature on building BB-8 that shows where the look of the lovable droid came from (a Post-it note from Abrams) and the many different versions that were built, including one which was much lighter for the cast to pick up while filming; a feature on the decision to shoot the movie’s climatic snow fight scene on a set versus on location and the stamina Ridley, Boyega and Driver needed to get through that intense lightsaber battle; and even a feature on the John Williams’ incomparable score and the challenges he faced with composing “Rey’s Theme.” There’s also a featurette on the geniuses over at Industrial Light & Magic that talks about their spirit of fearlessness and how they had to use some restraint with “The Force Awakens” since Abrams wanted to shoot as many practical effects as possible.
Fans can also see clips of the cast’s first table read during “The Story Awakens: The Table Read” feature, which is comprised more of interviews on how everyone felt seeing the entire cast come together for the first time than anything else. It is funny to hear both Driver and Ridley say that they thought they did an awful job and Boyega comment on how he thought he was still auditioning for the role at that point and that the table read was “the last test.”
Six brief deleted scenes are also included among the extras: “Finn and the Villager,” where Stormtrooper Finn lets a villager go during the opening battle sequence instead of shooting her; the wisely cut “Jakku Message,” where audiences would have seen Leia and C-3PO much earlier in the film instead of building up the anticipation of their introduction; “X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed,” which features a comical line where one pilot asks, “Is there any other speed?;” “Kylo Searches the Falcon;” “Snow Speeder Chase” and “Finn will be Fine.” None of them really add anything to the story other than “Snow Speeder Chase,” which helps explain why Rey is seen wearing Finn’s jacket briefly in the film.
Rounding out the bonus features is “Force for Change,” a quick look at the charitable initiative the film set up that also includes the viral video of Harrison Ford surprising a fan during a Skype call by asking her who her favorite “Star Wars” character is after she initially responds with Padmé Amidala.
Although it would have been nice to have had a feature-length commentary track from Abrams included among the extras or a fun featurette on Boyega’s many off-screen antics and his budding bromance with Ford, it seems only natural Disney would save some things for the inevitable Special Edition re-release of “The Force Awakens” once this new “Star Wars” trilogy is complete. While it seems odd that there’s no mention of Bill Hader (who worked as a voice consultant on BB-8) or Domhnall Gleeson (who played General Hux) in any of the features, the Blu-ray release still contains enough extras to please even the biggest “Star Wars” enthusiast, making “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” a worthwhile addition to any fan’s home video collection.
“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is now available on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack.