Star Wars: The Force Awakens appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. Though not flawless, the image largely impressed.
My only complaints came from a few minor soft spots seen during a couple of wide shots early in the film. Those remained brief and mild, and they cleared up quickly, so the majority of the movie seemed accurate and well-defined.
I saw no jaggies or shimmering, and both edge haloes and print flaws were absent. Whereas Phantom Menace and the Original Trilogy 4Ks showed some digital noise reduction, that didn’t occur here, so we got a nice layer of grain at appropriate times.
Colors varied dependent on setting. Military locations – primarily those used by the First Order – focused on blues and reds, while Jakku went with a sandy orange feel.
Other spots – Maz’s planet, the Resistance base – tended toward greens. All these hues seemed well-reproduced, and the disc’s HDR gave them added oomph and impact.
Blacks showed good depth and density, and low-light shots provided nice delineation. Shadows were appropriately clear without too much thickness, and the HDR brought greater clarity to whites and contrast. All in all, the image worked fine.
One disappointment: the lack of IMAX-expanded visuals. The Falcon’s escape from Jakku was shot with IMAX cameras, and when seen on an IMAX screen, that sequence would open up to fit the format’s aspect ratio.
Other Blu-rays such as Interstellar and the second issue of Star Trek: Into Darkness went from 2.40:1 to 1.78:1 during those scenes. While this didn’t duplicate the IMAX ratio, at least it gave Blu-ray viewers a taste of the expanded visuals.
Unfortunately, Awakens failed to do this, though it’s not a huge loss due to the brevity of the segment in question. While Interstellar boasted more than an hour of IMAX footage and Into Darkness had about 30 minutes of this material, Awakens used IMAX for less than 10 minutes.
Perhaps those behind the disc thought it’d be a distraction to alter the disc’s aspect ratio for such a short sequence, but wouldn’t the same argument hold true for IMAX screenings of the film? I don’t know why Awakens lacked the expanded ratio, but I remain disappointed.
Even better than the visuals, the film’s Dolby Atmos mix offered the whiz-bang impact we expect from a Star Wars movie. Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, matters started a little slowly, as the first battles seemed reasonably immersive but not exactly dazzling.
Gradually that changed, as the mix became more absorbing as the film progressed. The Falcon’s escape from Jakku used the spectrum in fine fashion, and the material continued to prosper after that. The climactic Resistance attack on Starkiller Base probably offered the most active sequence, but the whole track kept us engaged.
Audio quality seemed solid as well. A few looped lines – mainly from Maz – could be a little “off”, but those were a minor concern at most. Dialogue was natural and well-integrated most of the time.
Music sounded bold and full, while effects packed a strong punch. These elements showed good definition and contributed excellent low-end response. The soundtrack suited the story and added a lot to the experience.
How did this 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray release? The movie’s Atmos track expanded on the prior disc’s DTS-HD MA mix, and visuals showed an upgrade as well.
This meant the 4K looked better defined and offered stronger colors. The Blu-ray looked good but the 4K became an obvious improvement.
For another comparison, I considered the film’s 3D version that came out in a “Collector’s Edition”. As much as I enjoy 3D, the picture improvements and the addition of the Atmos soundtrack made the 4K edition the way to go. I’m glad to have both options but expect to go 4K for future viewings.
On the included Blu-ray disc, we get an audio commentary from director JJ Abrams. Previously found only on the CE, Abrams provides a running, screen-specific look at his childhood love of the franchise, story/character domains, sets and locations, cast and performances, costume and production design, various effects, music, audio and connected domains.
Early on, Abrams warns us that he'll offer a disjointed, stream of consciousness commentary. Don't believe him - Abrams brings us a thoughtful, insightful discussion that touches on a nice variety of subjects. Abrams conveys information about a lot of challenges and decisions in this enjoyable and useful track.
All of the package’s remaining extras reside on a separate Blu-ray, where we open with a four-part documentary called Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey.
It runs one hour, nine minutes and 14 seconds as it presents comments from Abrams, co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, series creator George Lucas, production designer Rick Carter, VFX supervisor/2nd unit director Roger Guyett, head of design Doug Chiang, visual effects creative consultant Dennis Muren, composer John Williams, supervising sound editor Matthew Wood, co-producers Ben Rosenblatt and Michelle Rejwan, producer Bryan Burk, senior art director – vehicles Gary Tomkins, ESN art director Alan Tomkins, creature and droid FX creative supervisor Neal Scanlan, CG supervisor Daniel Pearson, visual effects supervisor Patrick Tubach, editor Mary Jo Markey, director of photography Dan Mindel, executive producer/unit production manager Tommy Harper, 2nd AD Chloe Chesterton, costume designer Michael Kaplan, construction manager Paul Hayes, animation sequence supervisor Phil Tippett, set decorator Lee Sandale, concept artist Christian Alzmann, model maker Oliver Steeples and Lee Towersey, and actors Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Gwendoline Christie, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Simon Pegg, Oscar Isaac, Peter Mayhew, Joonas Suotamo, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, and Anthony Daniels.
“Journey” looks at the revival of the franchise and bringing together the film’s team, concept art and design, story/character choices and the screenwriting process. From there “Journey” covers various effects, cast and performances, sets and locations, photography, ships, droids and costumes.
Given my love for the Star Wars series, I could’ve watched four hours of this material. Still, 69 minutes offers a good length for a show of this sort, and “Journey” brings us a solid overview of the production. It blends interviews and behind the scenes footage to form a satisfying glimpse of the movie’s creation.
With The Story Awakens, we get a four-minute, one-second look at the table read. We get notes from Abrams, Kasdan, Kennedy, Isaac, Driver, Ridley, Boyega, Fisher, Ford, and Hamill.
I hoped this would offer a complete – or at least long – table read, but we don’t hear much of the actual read itself. “Story” has some decent notes but lacks much substance; “Journey” already covers the read fairly well.
A few featurettes follow. Crafting Creatures goes for nine minutes, 34 seconds and includes info from Scanlan, Pegg, Tubach, Mayhew, key animatronic designer Chris Clarke, creature/droid performer Arti Shah, supervising animatronics designers Vanessa Bastyan and Maria Cork, and actors Mike Quinn and Warwick Davis.
As implied by the title, this piece looks at the design and execution of many non-human characters. It brings us a tight, fun take on the topic.
During the six-minute, three-second Building BB-8, we hear from Abrams, Scanlan, Alzmann, Ridley, Isaac, Daniels, electronic design and development supervisor Matt Denton, senior animatronic designer Josh Lee, and puppeteers Dave Chapman and Brian Herring.
We learn how the team brought BB-8 to the screen. The show adds a nice mix of notes on this iconic new character.
Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight lasts seven minutes, two seconds and features Abrams, Carter, Driver, Ridley, Boyega, senior art director Al Bullock, production designer Darren Gilford and stunt performers Chloe Bruce and Liang Yang.
“Battle” takes on the specifics related to this climactic sequence. Like the other featurettes, it presents an efficient and informative piece.
Next we get ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force. It occupies seven minutes, 55 seconds with remarks from Abrams, Guyett, Kennedy, Serkis, Tubach, Isaac, Lucasfilm EVP/GM Lynwen Brennan, visual effects supervisor Ben Morris, art directors James Klyne and Kevin Jenkins, digital artist supervisor Matt Rank, animation supervisor Paul Kavanagh, asset and environment supervisor Dave Fogler, and environment supervisor Susumu Yukuhiro.
Here we learn of the work ILM did for the film. This one can be a little self-promotional at times, but it still adds a mix of insights.
We focus on music via John Williams: The Seventh Symphony. In this six-minute, 51-second piece, we hear from Abrams, Williams, Kasdan, Burk, Kennedy, and editor Maryann Brandon.
Like “ILM”, “Symphony” can be a little too packed with plaudits. Nonetheless, Williams presents a few good notes about his work.
Finally, Force for Change lasts three minutes, 22 seconds and gives us thoughts from Kennedy and Abrams. They discuss a charitable fund connected to the franchise. It sounds like a good idea.
Nine Deleted Scenes fill a total of six minutes, 39 seconds. We see “Finn and the Villager” (0:36), “Jakku Message” (0:53), “X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed” (0:27), “Kylo Searches the Falcon” (0:56), “Snow Speeder Chase” (0:54), “Finn Will Be Fine” (0:29), “Leia & The Resistance” (0:22), “Unkar Plutt At Maz’s Castle” (0:56) and “Tunnel Standoff” (1:06).
“Villager” reinforces Finn’s humanity, and “Message” would’ve introduced Leia and C-3PO much earlier in the film. “Prepare” just gives us a little prep – it’s fairly forgettable.
“Searches” adds a bit of intrigue via Kylo’s connection to Han, and “Chase” contributes a decent action beat. Finally, “Fine” shows Rey’s concern for Finn before she heads off on her movie-ending journey.
“Plutt” shows the fate of Rey’s former oppressor, while “Tunnel” offers some fun fast-thinking from Solo.
Given their brevity, no one should expect anything major from these scenes. Nonetheless, they’re interesting – at least to a moderate degree. Fans may feel disappointed that the deleted segments lack much substance, but I’m happy to see them.
Should any have made the final cut? Probably not. “Searches” works the best, but that’s the only one that shows any real “need” to be in the film. I’m happy to get a little more screen time for Leia and 3PO, but it works better to save their introduction until later in the story.
Five more featurettes follow. Foley: A Sonic Tale lasts four minutes, two seconds and includes notes from Foley artists Sandra Thorpe, Andrea Gard, Kim Patrick, Ronni Brown and Jana Vance. They discuss their sound recording work in this enjoyable little piece.
During the seven-minute, 15-second Sounds of the Resistance, we hear from Abrams, Kennedy, supervising sound editors David Acord and Matthew Wood, re-recording mixer Christopher Scarabosio.
As expected, they discuss the specific of some aspects of the film’s sound design. These notes work well – especially when we see the creation of BB-8’s “voice”.
With Dressing the Galaxy, we find a six-minute, 27-second reel with Abrams, Driver, Ridley, Ford, costume designer Michael Kaplan, chief textiile artist Tim Shanahan and costume FX supervising modeler Pierre Bohanna.
The show examines costumes for Kylo Ren, Rey, Finn, Han Solo and Leia. “Dressing” provides another useful program.
The Scavenger and the Stormtrooper goes for 11 minutes, 45 seconds and presents a chat between actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.
They discuss their relationship and casting, their co-stars, and some experiences during the shoot. None of this becomes especially informative, though we do get some decent shots from the set.
Finally, we find Inside the Armory. It lasts eight minutes, 17 seconds and features Abrams, Driver, Ridley, Hamill, property master Jamie Wilkinson, hod props and digital manufacturing James Enright, and chargehand dressing props Richard Cheal and Toby Wagner.
This one views props, with an emphasis on weapons. Once again, it brings us a mix of interesting notes.
A rousing return to form, Star Wars: The Force Awakens restores much of the luster lost during the much-lamented Prequel Trilogy. Packed with action and drama, the film reminds us why the franchise enchanted us in the first place. The 4K UHD provides very good picture and audio along with an informative set of supplements. Arguably the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back, Awakens offers a terrific adventure, and the 4K UHD represents it well.
To rate this film visit the original review of THE FORCE AWAKENS