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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

April 4th, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

After ranking Star Wars: The Force Awakens for those who still haven't seen it, we can do a full featured review. The film smashed box office records here and earned 92% positive reviews. Is it as good as its box office / Tomatometer Score? Or did people just get caught up in the hype?

The Movie

Let's start with the opening crawl. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....

Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed.

With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE. She is desperate to find her brother Luke and gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy.

Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission to Jakku, where an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts….

... Three. Three periods in an ellipsis.

On Jakku, Poe Dameron meets with Brewmeister Smith, who has vital information that General Liea needs to find Luke. Unfortunately, they barely have time to greet each other when BB-8 spots First Order ships landing. Poe tries to leave, but his X-Wing is shot before he can finish powering up. He gives the data to BB-8 and tells the droid to get away shooting several storm troopers in the chaos. It is at this time we first see one of the stormtroopers acting odd. They are confused and out of place.

Shortly after, Kylo Ren lands and after a short interrogation of Brewmeister Smith, Kylo Ren kills him. This causes Poe to reveal himself, only to get captured immediately. Captain Phasma then asks what to do with villagers and he says kill them. All of the stormtroopers carry out her order, except that one we saw acting strange, who we learn is FN-2187.

Next we are introduced to Rey, a scavenger living on Jakku, which apparently was the site of a massive battle. She removes some parts off of a Star Destroyer and sells them to a scrap dealer, Unkar Plutt, for a mere quarter portion before heading home. (In this case, home is the remains of an AT-AT.) She's clearly been there a long time. (I'm sure someone has counted all of the marks, but I'm not going try.) While eating, she hears BB-8. The droid was grabbed by Unkar Plutt, another scavenger. Rey argues with Teedo and cuts BB-8 free. She tells him where to go, but it decides to follow Rey instead.

Meanwhile in space, Kylo Ren is trying to get the information about the map from Poe after Poe resists the usual techniques. Kylo Ren is able to get that it is in his droid on Jakku. However, shortly after that, FN-2187 gets Poe from holding, ostensibly because Kylo Ren wants him. However, in reality, FN-2187 wants to escape from the First Order and needs a pilot. Their escape lasts long enough for Poe to rename name FN-2187 Finn and tell him about BB-8 and the map to Luke, but they are shot down. Finn is ejected and lands away from the TIE fighter. By the time he gets to the TIE fighter, there's no sign of Poe, only his jacket.

Finn heads through the desert and luckily stumbles across the only settlement in the area. There he spots Rey defending BB-8 from thieves before BB-8 spots him and recognizes Poe's jacket. At first BB-8 and Rey think he stole the jacket, but when it tells them the truth, or a version of that, they decide to work together to get BB-8 home. But first they need a ship. ... Fortunately there's a YT-1300 that has been sitting idle for years. Unfortunately, a lot of people are looking for that ship, including a couple of old friends.

I asked an important question earlier. Does Star Wars: The Force Awakens live up to the hype? The answer is no. I don't think any film could live up to the hype this movie generated. Even without the hype, there are some problems that need to be addressed. Firstly, this film follows the plot of A New Hope way too closely. I'm not talking about following The Hero's Journey, which is a archetype that many, many movies follow. I'm talking about Jakku and Tatooine both being desert planets, droids having vital information, and some more spoiler-deep details. This is an issue and it hurts the movie. One of the things I really liked about Attack of the Clones was the mystery and the political intrigue. It was something new within the Star Wars universe. The Force Awakens doesn't do enough to separate it from A New Hope, there's less reason to watch this movie instead of the original.

The second major problem is a problem that the currently number one film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, is also dealing with. There is way too much setup and not enough payoff. The ending of The Force Awakens has a lot of potential, but not much in terms of closure. Because of this, I'm not as enthusiastic as most critics. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Age of Ultron, I don't have nearly a dozen movies to look at to judge how well these loose threads will be dealt with.

There are also some odd issues, like Finn going from being horrified at killing unarmed civilians to being willing to kill his fellow stormtroopers really quickly. If anything, he should have more empathy knowing what they went through.

That said, it is still an entertaining movie. The new characters are engaging, while the film makes good use of the returning characters. Kylo Ren is frightening as a villain, mainly because he seems so familiar to anyone who spends time on the internet. He acts like the typical 4Chan rage machine come to life. The action scenes are intense and of course it is a technically brilliant film. It might not live up to the hype, but it still has high replay value. This is the third time I've watched it and I will very likely watch it again next week.

The Extras

There are no extras on the main disc, which means no audio commentary track. Disappointing.

Extras on the second disc begin with a four-part, 70-minute making of documentary. That's the good news. The bad news is that the rest of the extras are 50 minutes combined. The Story Awakens is a four-minute look at the first table read. Crafting Creatures is a ten-minute featurette on the alien species created for the movie. Building BB-8 is a six-minute featurette on building BB-8. There is a seven-minute featurette on ... a spoiler. There is an 8-minute featurette on the work Industrial Light and Magic did on this movie. John Williams is the focus of a seven-minute featurette. There are four minutes of deleted scenes. Finally, there is a three-minute PSA for Force for Change.

The Verdict

Star Wars: The Force Awakens earned 92% positive reviews and broke so many box office records it is hard to keep track. It would have been virtually impossible to live up to that and The Force Awakens doesn't. It follows A New Hope too closely and there are too many plot threads not resolved in the film. The Blu-ray Combo Pack is still definitely worth picking up, but until we see how the rest of the new trilogy plays out, we won't know for sure if it is a true classic.

Filed under: Video Review, Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens, Star Wars, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Bill Hader, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Peter Mayhew, Simon Pegg, Kiran Shah, Max von Sydow, John Williams, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Daisy Ridley