Star Wars: The Force Awakens (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)2015 (March 31, 2020)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm/Bad Robot (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
“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…”
Thirty years have passed since the events of Return of the Jedi, but time has not been kind to our Rebel friends. The New Republic they sacrificed so much to build is under siege, but only General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her Resistance can see the danger. As The Force Awakens begins, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid BB-8 are sent by Leia to the planet Jakku, where they recover a map that could lead to the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). But when Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order strike, Poe is taken prisoner. Escaping with the map, BB-8 meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a resourceful young scavenger who hopes one day to be reunited with her parents. Rey saves BB-8, even as Poe is rescued from Ren’s Star Destroyer by Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who’s decided he can no longer serve his evil masters. Poe and Finn escape in a stolen TIE Fighter but are shot down on Jakku. This eventually leads Finn to Rey, and both of them to the heart of a new and galaxy-wide conflict between the dark side and the light.
Director J.J. Abrams and Empire and Jedi screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan had an impossible task with The Force Awakens. Not only did they have to re-introduce this universe and these iconic characters to bring back fans of the original trilogy, they had to avoid alienating younger audiences whose first experience was the prequels, and to captivate an all-new audience with a new characters as well. It’s no surprise, then, that The Force Awakens cribs so from the original film. Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew return (as Han and Chewie) along with Fisher and Hamill, but it’s the new cast members who do the heavy lifting and the introduction of Rey, Finn, and Poe directly mirrors that of Luke, Han, and Leia back in 1977. Each is a welcome addition to the story and it’s good to see a young woman and a black character at the beating heart of Star Wars. The film certainly has its flaws; it sometimes feels as if key parts of the narrative are missing—left on the cutting room floor perhaps—and the plot twists are a bit too convenient. But there’s good humor, lovely nostalgia moments, and genuine emotion. Eschewing the overuse of CG, the filmmakers have created a tactile, lived-in world, one far more like the original trilogy in tone and texture than the prequels. The Rathtar sequence is a bit of genius—finally, we get to see Han Solo in full space pirate mode. For a good two-thirds of its running time, this film crackles with energy. And it would be hard to say enough good things about composer John Williams’ score. Rey’s Theme in particular is lovely, brimming with charm, hope, and strength. In the end, perhaps the best thing that can be said about The Force Awakens is this: It’s just a good deal of fun.
The Force Awakens was shot mostly on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL2 cameras with Panavision anamorphic lenses, but some footage was shot in 65 mm using IMAX cameras along with digital capture in the ARRIRAW codec (at 2.8K) using the Arri Alexa XT. The film was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate in the 2.39:1 scope ratio (with 1.43 and 1.90 for one sequence in IMAX venues—the 4K is 2.39 only). For its release on Ultra HD (and for Disney+ streaming) the film was also graded for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is available on disc, though Dolby Vision can be found on the Digital presentation). The resulting 4K image is terrific. Detail is clean and a notable step up from the Blu-ray, with only a bit of anamorphic softness here and there. Fine textures of metal, costume fabric, and the sands of Jakku are quite pleasing. But the real showstopper here is the color enhancement offered by 10-bit HDR! They’re not only noticeably richer, they’re more nuanced as well. Shadows are deeper and blacker, while the highlights have a very nice added pop that’s just shy of eye-reactive (peak brightness is set at 1000 nits, per the disc’s metadata). The disc’s average datarate is in the region of 50-60 Mbps (with much higher peaks), so it bests the Disney+ presentation (of 15-25 Mbps) by a significant margin with more vibrant colors and noticeably improved dimensionality. This is a great looking film-sourced 4K image.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in English Dolby Atmos. Additional options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio and French, Spanish, and Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, with subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, and Japanese. The mix offers tremendous clarity and fidelity, with a strong foundation of bass. Unlike the previous Blu-ray mix, this sonic experience has a little more satisfying bite. The soundstage is big and wide, with lovely atmospherics—the interior of the crashed Star Destroyer (and the hangar of Ren’s when Poe comes aboard) offers lots of spacious echo. Dialogue is clear and natural, save of course for Ren’s voice filtered through his mask. Williams’ score sounds delightful. The opening piano chords of Rey’s Theme linger in the air when we first meet her. This is a very good mix, not quite reference quality but a definite improvement upon the previous Blu-ray audio. Note that the included movie Blu-ray offers 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (the same mix as before), English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
Disney’s Ultra HD package is a 3-disc set that includes the film in both 4K on UHD and 1080p HD on Blu-ray (the latter is mastered from the same 4K DI as the actual 4K disc and the previous Blu-ray editions, though it is a newly-authored disc with new menus). The package also includes a separate Blu-ray Disc of bonus material, but there’s nothing new here—all of it is curated from previously-available content. (Both Blu-rays are coded for Regions A, B & C.) Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
DISC ONE – 4K MOVIE
There are no extras on the 4K disc.
DISC TWO – BLU-RAY MOVIE
- Audio Commentary with director JJ Abrams – from the 2016 Blu-ray 3D Collector’s Edition
DISC THREE – BLU-RAY EXTRAS
- Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey (HD – 69:14)
- The Scavenger & The Stormtrooper: A Conversation with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega (HD – 11:45)
- The Story Awakens: The Table Read (HD – 4:01)
- Crafting Creatures (HD – 9:34)
- Building BB-8 (HD – 6:03)
- Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight (HD – 7:02)
- ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force (HD – 7:55)
- John Williams: The Seventh Symphony (HD – 6:51)
- Dressing the Galaxy (HD – 6:27)
- Foley: A Sonic Tale (HD – 4:02)
- Sounds of the Resistance (HD – 7:15)
- Inside the Armory (HD – 8:17)
- Deleted Scene: Finn and the Villager (HD – :31)
- Deleted Scene: Jakku Message (HD – :47)
- Deleted Scene: X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed (HD – :22)
- Deleted Scene: Kylo Searches the Falcon (HD – :50)
- Deleted Scene: Snow Speeder Chase (HD – :48)
- Deleted Scene: Finn Will Be Fine (HD – :23)
- Deleted Scene: Leia & The Resistance (HD – :17)
- Deleted Scene: Unkar Plutt at Maz’s Castle (HD – :50)
- Deleted Scene: Tunnel Standoff (HD – 1:00)
- Force for Change (HD – 3:22)
There’s no new content here, but the good news is that this disc collects everything that was produced for the previous Blu-ray editions and adds all of the retail exclusive content too. For example, The Scavenger & The Stormtrooper: A Conversation with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega and Inside the Armory were only available with the Target version. Dressing the Galaxy, Foley: A Sonic Tale, Sounds of the Resistance and two of the deleted scenes (Leia & The Resistance and Unkar Plutt at Maz’s Castle) were from the later Blu-ray 3D Collector’s Edition. And one more deleted scene, Tunnel Standoff, was a Digital exclusive. The rest of this material was all available on the wide-release Blu-ray. It’s all good stuff and the interesting thing is that the Jakku Message deleted scene actually includes a bit of footage of Carrie Fisher (as Leia) that was later repurposed for The Rise of Skywalker. The only thing you don’t get that was released previously is the Blu-ray 3D version of the film (though you can still get it on Amazon here if you wish). Note that the Bonus Disc also has optional subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, French (Québécois), Castilian Spanish, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, and Japanese. As you would expect, there is a code for a Movies Anywhere Digital copy on a paper insert in the package.
Given the impossibly high fan expectations and reservations, the success of The Force Awakens was far from a sure thing. The fact, then, that it actually achieves so much of what it needed to—faults and all—was a minor miracle. It marked the first time in thirty years that many fans felt like they’d finally returned to the Star Wars universe, and that was no small achievement. The film’s first spoken line is “This will begin to make things right” for good reason. The Force Awakens isn’t perfect, but it is perfectly wonderful. Disney’s new 4K Ultra HD offers the film in terrific quality and it’s probably the last time you’ll be able to buy it on disc. So don’t miss the chance. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt
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