Star Wars: The Force Awakens (4K Blu-ray) (2015)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 1-Apr-2020

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Sci-Fi Action None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2015
Running Time 138:06
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By J.J. Abrams
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Daisy Ridley
John Boyega
Oscar Isaac
Harrison Ford
Adam Driver
Peter Mayhew
Gwendoline Christie
Domhnall Gleeson
Lupita Nyong’o
Andy Serkis
Max Von Sydow
Mark Hamill
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $39.95 Music John Williams


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Atmos
English Dolby TrueHD 7.1
English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (320Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Japanese Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 2160p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Spanish
Japanese
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    From the moment that the iconic opening title crawl begins - accompanied by John Williams' exhilarating, iconic Star Wars theme - it's clear that 2015's Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is in safe hands. With George Lucas stepping aside, Star Wars is finally in the hands of filmmakers who actually care about the beloved franchise and know how to create genuine big-screen excitement. Ignoring all the prequel trilogy nonsense, The Force Awakens is more interested in recapturing the magic of the original trilogy, picking up thirty years after 1983's Return of the Jedi left off and bringing back familiar faces to kick-start a new slate of sequels and spinoffs. Under the watchful eye of director/co-writer J.J. Abrams, who also enlists the help of The Empire Strikes Back scribe Lawrence Kasdan, it's a phenomenal nostalgia trip as well as an efficacious world-building exercise, and it genuinely feels like Star Wars in all the right ways.

    Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished, and in his absence the tyrannical First Order have risen from the ashes of the Empire, led by the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). A critical piece of information pertaining to Luke's location is discovered, but Resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) is compelled to hide the map in his droid, BB-8, when stormtroopers destroy his ship and capture him. Finn (John Boyega) is a stormtrooper who feels disillusioned after his first taste of combat, breaking Poe out of his cell in the hope of escaping the clutches of the First Order. After crash landing on the desert planet of Jakku, Finn meets scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who's in possession of BB-8 and feels determined to deliver the droid to the Resistance. Reluctantly teaming up, the pair soon encounter Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who have tried to avoid getting involved in the fight against the First Order. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) leads a frantic search for BB-8, assisted by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

    Undertaking a project like The Force Awakens would be intimidating for any writer. On top of the obvious cultural significance surrounding the production, Abrams and Kasdan were tasked with bringing back old characters, introducing new characters, and establishing a fresh direction for this new trilogy. Hence, the script has ample baggage to deal with, so The Force Awakens does contain a fair amount of set-up that will likely pay off further down the track. Added to this, there is a certain degree of familiarity permeating the material; this is more or less A New Hope 2.0, borrowing elements of the 1977 hit which started it all, as well as aspects of the original trilogy in general. The film does threaten to come apart at the seams due to this, but The Force Awakens overcomes its noticeable shortcomings by concentrating on what matters most: compelling characters, focused storytelling, rousing action, and a sense of humour. There is more humanity here than ever before, with some worthwhile comedy to break up the drama that miraculously comes across as organic rather than cheap.

    Abrams is renowned for his "Mystery Box" approach to moviemaking, determined to keep a lid on practically everything in an attempt to restore some of the sense of surprise that movies used to afford before internet spoilers and online gossip. What's particularly remarkable about The Force Awakens is that the returning characters have a bearing on the narrative at large, and they serve a purpose beyond the obvious passing of the torch. This is especially true of Han and his ever-dependable walking carpet, with Abrams ensuring the pair are vital participants in this story - and they also have a part to play in the overarching narrative leading into Episode VIII. Even more critically, Han feels like a three-dimensional character, as does General Leia (Carrie Fisher), and their relationship does strike an emotional chord. Ford is an absolute joy to watch, with the aging thespian showing a surprising amount of enthusiasm throughout; he's effortlessly charismatic, and he's a believable man of action. The Force Awakens also finds time for effective fan service, with the characters here perceiving Han, Leia and Luke as legends due to the events of the original trilogy. (Heh, that's subtle.)

    The new characters unquestionably work, which is a huge deal in the Star Wars universe, and I already look forward to spending more time with them in future instalments. And despite the strong sense of homage, there is far more nuance and depth to all of the fresh faces, who bely simple labels like "The New Luke" or "The New Han." What's interesting about Kylo Ren is that he's not Darth Vader; he's a disgruntled Jedi student who aspires to live up to the legacy of his personal deity, but lacks the skill and refinement to reach that level. Ren is more fallible than expected, and his character development is intriguing. Also remarkable is new droid BB-8 (an astonishing practical effect), who actually gives a better performance that most of the actors in the prequel trilogy. Through well-timed bleeps and bloops, and some expressive movements, the droid is able to convey humour, frustration, exasperation, excitement, and other emotions. In short, he's an absolute scene stealer.

    Free of the acting vacuum that is George Lucas, the actors here are allowed to emote and express passion, carving out characters we can instantly latch onto. Choosing little-known thespians for Finn and Rey may seem like a calculated attempt to recapture the magic of the original trilogy, but both Ridley and Boyega convincingly knock it out of the park. Ridley is a thrilling screen presence, radiating welcome spirit and emotion, while Boyega can actually act. However, it's Isaac who ultimately steals the show as the pilot Poe Dameron, arguably the best new character. Almost effortlessly, Isaac makes one of those rarely-seen instantaneous turns from "good actor you've seen in a few movies" to "bona fide f***ing movie star." Driver is just as promising, essaying a wonderfully nuanced villain, while British actor Domhnall Gleeson makes a great impression as General Hux. A handful of recognisable names do pop up who will presumably return in the future, but the film unfortunately wastes three cast members from The Raid, who aren't even given the opportunity to show off their insane fighting abilities. What was the point?

    A large chunk of Disney's marketing campaign has revolved around addressing fan complaints towards the prequels, most notably in regards to the visuals. Indeed, Lucas lathered the prequels in an unholy amount of CGI, but Episode VII harkens back to the old-school approach, with a heavy reliance on practical effects and vast sets. Computer-generated imagery has undeniably reached breaking point due to overuse; blockbusters look too digital, with visual effects shots frequently coming across as workmanlike and phoney. But with a heavy element of practicality and tangibility to the action scenes, there's a level of excitement here that's seldom glimpsed in contemporary blockbusters. We have never seen spaceships look so vivid and utterly real, and it's often impossible to discern what's digital and what's practical. Above all, The Force Awakens is comparatively modest, with realistic physics, and at no point looks like a cartoon. Admittedly, there are a few motion-capture characters who do not look as impressive, including Snoke and Maz (Lupita Nyong'o), but this isn't not a deal-breaker - it's just that the puppetry and make-up is far more appealing. Furthermore, Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel elect to shoot on 35mm film to emulate the look of the original trilogy, affording a fine grain structure. Better, the picture has not been colour-corrected to death. And by mixing old-fashioned special effects techniques with the new, Abrams and his crew have not only created a film that's aesthetically similar to the original Star Wars trilogy - they have also constructed the most convincing, visually distinctive sci-fi blockbuster in recent memory.

    Compared to the other entries in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens does not have a great deal of lightsaber action, and any fans expecting plenty of heavily-choreographed fights will be disappointed. Ren only crosses blades at the climax, and with the budding Sith and his opponents lacking in training, the resulting battles are rawer than ever, on top of being full of humanity, and it's an utter joy to behold. Furthermore, there is no irritating shaky-cam to speak of. The Force Awakens also sees the return of composer John Williams, which is an exceptional touch. Williams' music is reliably grandiose, though it's perhaps not as impactful as it was in the original trilogy.

    The Force Awakens was never going to please everybody. Star Wars fans across the world have already mapped out their dream Episode VII in their heads, and it is simply not feasible for one two-hour motion picture to fulfil millions of different mental checklists. No matter what, there was always going to be a contingency of disgruntled cry-babies. At the end of the day, The Force Awakens is not perfect, and falls short of delivering the same gooseflesh-provoking high that Star Wars provided in 1977, but it is a promising new beginning, an almost "safe" way to launch this new franchise on the right note to win back erstwhile fans and bring in a whole new generation of young viewers. It's accessible without being pandering, deep without being pretentious, and reverent to the original trilogy whilst still feeling fresh.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    According to IMDb's technical information, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed with 35mm and 65mm film stock, and completed with a 4K digital intermediate. Disney's long-overdue HEVC/H.265-encoded ultra high definition presentation was presumably created from the native 4K DI, making this a necessary and welcome upgrade. The movie was actually exhibited in Dolby Cinemas with High Dynamic Range back in 2015, and it has been streaming on Disney+ in 4K with Dolby Vision HDR, which makes you wonder why the House of Mouse took so long to release this disc (yes, yes, I know they tied it in with The Rise of Skywalker, but it should've been tied in with The Last Jedi). As with all Disney UHDs so far, The Force Awakens is placed on a dual-layered BD-66, and the disc is pretty much full to capacity, resulting in an average video bitrate of just below 48 Mbps, which is considerably higher than the 1080p Blu-ray from 2016. The 2160p transfer also retains the movie's original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and the framing does not open up for the IMAX sequences. In short, this is an outstanding UHD presentation which tops the Blu-ray and the 3D Blu-ray with confidence, emerging as one of the best discs that this format has to offer.

    Thankfully, it's clear from the outset that Disney left the grain in-tact while preparing this 4K transfer. The increased resolution combined with the superior video codec ensures the grain is tightly-defined throughout; it's evident but not often intrusive, and it never appears overly blocky or chunky. Indeed, the grain only serves to augment the outstanding textures on display throughout this beautifully refined and razor-sharp transfer; whereas the Blu-ray occasionally looked a little smooth, there are no such shortcomings with the UHD. I found that the grain does noticeably spike when Finn wanders across the desolate Jakku landscape following the TIE Fighter crash, and this section does look a bit rough on the whole, but this is fleeting. Besides, this appears to be related to the source, and it's fortunate that no digital noise reduction was applied to smooth out the textures. And speaking of the textures, heavens me, fine detail looks sensational - The Force Awakens has never looked this finely-resolved before, not even in the cinema back in 2015. Close-ups reveal an insane amount of detailing on faces and clothing; in fact, it's even more unflattering towards Ford's grizzled face. The spaceships (including the Falcon and the Star Destroyer) look so lifelike, as the 4K transfer immaculately resolves every intricacy, and the digital effects, as well as the SFX make-up, capably stand up to the added scrutiny of a 2160p encode. It's the long shots that look most noticeably improved compared to the 1080p Blu-ray; in fact, certain shots on the Blu-ray look soft and muddy in comparison.

    The star of this disc is the High Dynamic Range grading, which (as usual) is only encoded in HDR10 as opposed to Dolby Vision. (You can stream the movie in DV on Disney+.) The Force Awakens opens with a dark action sequence on Jakku, and the HDR works to bring out all the highlight information that the source will give up. I noted that, on the Blu-ray, Kylo Ren's black robes lack highlight detail in the opening sequence, but the HDR ameliorates this shortcoming. The HDR grading also restores highlight information to skies and lightsabers. One shot of Rey in the Falcon cockpit on Jakku does look blown out (see 33:15), but this is ostensibly source-related. The HDR also restores a ridiculous amount of highlight detail to the First Order's Starkiller weapon; just see the shot at 69:50, which has never looked this precise on any previous home video versions. Additionally, blacks are deeper and truer here compared to the SDR Blu-ray, image depth is improved, and the increased luminance is perpetually apparent on explosions and lightsabers. Hell, see the burning TIE Fighter at 24:45; the flames look more vivid than ever. Also, Kylo Ren's vivid, red lightsaber stands out all the more in the dark, rainy weather at the 66-minute mark during Rey's vision. The colour palette gets a boost on the whole thanks to the HDR and wide colour gamut, and it's difficult to imagine going back to the SDR Blu-ray, which just looks drab in comparison. I do think that space looks a touch milky, but that appears to be a creative decision - and it doesn't look as milky as The Last Jedi.

    Luckily, I was unable to find any encoding errors throughout; no aliasing, banding, macroblocking, or anything else. Indeed, aliasing is no longer present during the opening crawl. However, much has been made online of a random red dot in the bottom right corner of the screen at 125:00, for about 10 seconds. This dot does not appear on the regular Blu-ray, the 3D Blu-ray or the HD iTunes master, but it is apparent on the 4K Disney+ stream, so it seems to be a fault of the 4K master. It only appears for a few seconds, and it's not a huge distraction, but you cannot un-see it once you notice it. Still, this is a minor knock against the presentation. Aside from the red dot, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a winner in every conceivable aspect: gorgeous textures, immaculate sharpness, top-notch HDR grading, and lovely grain. It's worth the upgrade.

    Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Japanese and Spanish. The English track appears to be the same that was included on the 2016 Blu-ray: it's well-formatted, easy to read, and free of errors.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Audiophiles can rejoice, for their prayers are answered. Whereas the Blu-ray contained a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, Disney brings The Force Awakens to 4K Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that has a lossless Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core. As ever for a Disney track, you'll need to raise the volume slightly higher than normal listening levels to get the full effect, but apart from that, there's very little to complain about. From the opening crawl, the Atmos track is powerful and authoritative, with John Williams' majestic score coming through clearly, and with sufficient impact to every explosion, laser blast and lightsaber. Much has been written about Disney audio tracks lacking in low-frequency effects, but this Atmos mix has no such issues - even growls from the various alien creatures sound deep, while Ren interrogating Poe at 17:40 likewise exhibits sensational LFE. An explosion at 72:13 will shake your walls, too. The track's dynamic range is thankfully not compressed, as panning effects are evident whenever ships fly in and out frame. The extended action sequence on Takodana from the 72-minute mark is a great example of separation and panning, as the surround channels consistently come alive, making you feel as if TIE Fighters and X-Wings are all around you. I cannot comment on the overhead activity as I only have a 7.1 system, but the track sounds immaculate on my set-up.

    The climactic battle around Starkiller Base is another superb showcase of the Atmos track's abilities, with consistent surround activity for sound effects and music. As Rey and Kylo cross lightsabers during the climax, sounds of flames are isolated to the rear speakers. When Rey walks up the steep landscape of Ahch-To right at the end, bird sounds come from the rear channels. Prioritisation remains spot-on throughout, as dialogue is consistently comprehensible and clear amid the sound effects and music, even during the most frenetic of action sequences. There are no encoding or source-related flaws to speak of - no hissing, popping, drop-outs or sync issues. Instead, the Atmos track is pristine and crystal clear, never coming across as compressed or tinny. At no point could I detect any shortcomings that are typical of Disney soundtracks - i.e. underwhelming subwoofer activity or compressed dynamics. From start to finish, the audio consistently delivers, and then some. Anybody who was disappointed with the original Blu-ray's 7.1 mix should be more than satisfied with this Atmos track.

    The disc also contains English descriptive audio, and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 tracks in French, Japanese and Spanish. For the purposes of this review, however, I focused exclusively on the Dolby Atmos mix.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    As with the other Disney Star Wars 4K titles (and unlike all other Disney catalogue releases), this is a three-disc set. The 4K disc is accompanied by the movie on standard Blu-ray, and a bonus disc with special features. Luckily, Disney includes the discs authored for the 3D collector's edition with the additional extras, including the J.J. Abrams commentary and several featurettes.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    All 4K discs worldwide are identical, with the same encode and language options. Buy local.

Summary

    In spite of the vocal minority who hated it, I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It's a rousing science fiction fantasy adventure, and a worthy continuation of the Star Wars franchise. It does fall short in a few areas, but it does so many things right that it's hard to hold too much against it.

    I've been waiting for The Force Awakens to hit 4K since it initially came to home video in 2016, and Disney's long-overdue upgrade is worth every cent. The 2160p video presentation is flawless, showing tremendous improvements over the standard Blu-ray, while the Dolby Atmos track is equally exceptional. The set also contains all existing special features. Highly recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE