AFJ is happy to welcome Randy "RJ" Davis aka "The Dentist," to the fold as our newest contributor. By day, Randy is a dentist but by night he is a full on Jedi with a high Midichlorian count. He is a Rutgers dental/medical grad, loves old school video games and even found his own Princess Leia and is set to marry next year. His favorite figure line is STAR WARS: UNLEASHED.
By Randy Davis
Well, fellow Junkies, the day has finally come - we have a new Star Wars film out on home video. If you're anything like me, Star Wars is life, and this movie was one of the most important pop culture events in recent memory. I personally have been a Star Wars fan as long as I can remember and have spent much of my life collecting various collectibles (especially action figures) related to the subject.
As soon as I walked out of the theater on December 17th, 2015, I was already thinking of the home video release. My current setup at home is a 65 inch 4K setup with 7.1 surround sound, so I was eagerly anticipating being able to enjoy this film in all of its glory from the comfort of my own home. However, when I was reserving my copy of the film online (months ago, obviously), I realized how confusing this was going to be to the average consumer. Every store seems to be offering different versions with exclusive content. Well, rest easy Junkies, Dr. Davis is here to clear up the confusion and give you an honest review of this release and all of its versions.
Let's move on to why you're reading this - the home release itself. I'm going to review the main package first and at the end, I'll delve into the differences between the versions.
AUDIO/ VIDEO QUALITY
This is Star Wars guys. This is why they build theaters and surround sound. The quality of the video is superb. Almost flawless. Watch it on as big a screen as possible. The audio is also top notch. The surround sound is awesome when cranked all the way up and the dialogue mixes well with the music in terms of volume. My one complaint- THERE IS NO 3D VERSION! This is the first sign that a double dip in imminent...
Here's where things lose their luster a bit. The entire menu in a static image of the interior of the wrecked star destroyer that is explored by Rey in the beginning of the film with a projection of whatever chapter or special feature you've selected. That's IT. The menus are not animated well and offer little in terms of cool sound effects. This is a letdown considering how cool the menu designs were of the BLU-RAY's for 1-6. Disappointing to say the least.
Oh brother. This is where things really fall apart. Once again, if you're like me, you're aware of how much was cut from the initial version of TFA. In fact, the initial finished cut was around 40 minutes longer. There was a subplot featuring a character by the name of Kor Sella who was sent to the republic by Leia to plead with them for military support in combating the First Order. There was a subplot featuring Unkar Plutt (the blob who was paying Rey for her scavenging) chasing our heroes down to Maz's cantina. There was a scene featuring Maz Kanata using the force during the invasion of Takodana. There were characters featured in the toys which were supposed to get screen time. I can go on and on. Guess how much of these are featured in the deleted scenes? ZERO. That's right folks. ZERO. We get a paltry THREE minutes of deleted scenes, much of which is filler nonsense or unfinished special effects shots. Finn confronting a Jakku villager, X-wings going into hyperspace, and a lame snowspeeder chase that lasts all of 20 seconds. The only deleted scene of value here is Kylo Ren searching the Falcon after it lands on Starkiller base. A cool scene but doesn't add much.
Disney is definitely holding out on us with these deleted scenes for an inevitable "extended cut" double dip. Incredibly disappointing and upsetting.
There is a cool documentary called "The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey" included in this release. Its a well made documentary but it doesn't offer much new to the superfans who have been following the movie since its inception. Going further into the menu, you realize there are some featurettes. Don't get excited though. These should have just been a part of the longer documentary, but just seem chopped up to add fluff. They are, however, cool insights into the making of the film, including a fun look into the first table read that was behind that famous black and white photo that surfaced a couple of years ago. My favorite was a featurette about BB-8, showing how the droid was pretty much all an amazing practical feat of animatronics and puppetry. All in all, a good behind the scenes look into one of the most secretive productions of all time. It really made me wonder how they all kept their mouths shut the whole time! Definitely worth a watch but nothing groundbreaking.
One thing that is clearly lacking is directors commentary. I would have loved to have seen JJ and Kasdan walk us through the movie with insight into certain decisions but there is none of that to be found here. JJ Abrams is one of the most vocal directors of all time, so this just adds more fuel to my belief that we will be getting a double dip with this feature sooner than later.
There is also a stunning lack of online features in this release. I was expecting some sort of link to an exclusive look at ROGUE ONE, but I was disappointed again. One documentary chopped up to give us the illusion of more content. No commentary. Bare bones online features.
OVERALL IMPRESSION AND SCORE
It pains me to say that I was very disappointed in this release. It is clear to me that the powers that be are going for a double dip on this movie very soon. I believe that we are going to get an extended cut with all of the extra scenes that are nowhere to be found on this release, along with commentaries and cooler menus. My guess in November. So should you shell out the 20-30 bones for this release? If you don't mind double dipping for Star Wars and aren't too into bonus features, I say go for it. You owe it to yourself to watch this movie at home with your family and friends on a nice home theater but just be ready to shell out more money very soon. If you're a stickler for an "ultimate" release, then THIS ISN'T THE DISC YOU'RE LOOKING FOR.
OK! There you have it. A disappointing release. By now I hope you've decided on whether or not you're buying it. If you have chosen disappointment, which version should you pick up? Let's break it down...
BEST BUY STEELBOOK
This is my favorite version of the movie. You get zero extra content but you get a cool Steelbook that matches the other Steelbook releases for 1-6. It looks beautiful on my shelf and the image of Kylo Ren on the front is badassery at its finest. Great packing, same content.
There is a version of this movie exclusive to Target which has around 20 minutes of extra content. There are some catches, though. The first thing you'll notice is the shabby package. It's literally a piece of paper that is folded up to house the discs. The artwork is cool and features the banners that were used to promote the film, but it just feels cheap. The extra content is only available on a computer, not even an in-disc menu! What a joke. The content itself is more of the same. It has interviews with John Boyega and Daisy Ridley and some insights into the stunt work done for the film. Again, it feels like it should have been all just a part of the main documentary. No cool deleted scenes, sorry. I don't recommend this version unless you're a completist.
Some of you may flock to this version of the film for one reason - BB-8. This version offers no new content but has a cool slipcover featuring a BB-8 graphic that folds out. It's definitely a cool, but cheap, extra. It also comes with a Galactic Connexions trading disc, much like the exclusive ones that were offered to early adopters last September during Force Friday. Cool, but not enough for me to purchase this version. For completists or BB-8 nuts only.
DISNEY STORE VERSION
OK, this version is the standard release except it comes three big lithographs in a nice folder. They feature Kylo Ren, Rey with BB-8, and a shot of TIE fighters. They are cool if not a little underwhelming. Definitely not the kind of stuff to frame, but again, cool for a completist.
GO WITH THE BEST BUY STEELBOOK AND BE READY TO PURCHASE THE INEVITABLE 3D EXTENDED EDITION SOON!
Since it is my debut article here on AFJ, I am also giving a brief review of the film itself for some new feedback and comments. If you have already seen the film 200 times and have your mind made up, you can skip it. But as a hardcore fan of 30 years, you may find my review interesting.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 6 months, you've already seen Episode 7, so I'm not going to rehash the plot at all. Bottom line - its a solid, fun film worth your time and serves as a great introduction for new fans while tickling the old fans with callbacks. As a first view, the film stuns with nostalgia and all of the bells and whistles you've come to expect from a good Star Wars film. On repeat viewings, its flaws begin to shine and you realize how much better the movie could have been if more risks were taken.
I always like to get the bad stuff out of the way, so let's start with what doesn't work in this movie. I like lists because they are easy to read. So here it comes. AHEM. THE BAD...
1. REHASHED PLOT
A lonely person on a desert planet with little hope of ever finding her way out of the simple life runs into a droid carrying important information. She then finds herself fighting a galactic struggle against an evil dark lord and his super-weapon, capable of destroying entire planets. Sound familiar? Well, it should. While archetypes and following story beats in fantasy and legend are common, Abrams and Kasdan simply stayed too safe here. I'm sure some faceless Disney executive was pulling some strings here and telling them not to try anything too brash given the reception of the prequels and I get that part. Jar Jar was a risk. Having Anakin as a whiny teen was a risk. Relying on untested CGI technology was a risk. These all ultimately backfired and caused Star Wars fans to be leery about the future of the franchise, so I can see how relying on nostalgia and recycled plot points were the safe bet. It makes for a GREAT first viewing but the giddiness you feel at seeing Han, Leia, and Luke again for the first time in 30 years does not hold up on repeated viewings. I'd say the only unforgivable plot device was Starkiller base, or as I call it, Death Star 3. ANOTHER planet-sized gun that blows up other star systems? You've gotta be kidding me. At least they blow it up at the end.
2. FINN IS TOO MUCH AT TIMES
While John Boyega is a talented actor, he turns it up to 11 in this film too many times in what seems to be an attempt to emulate young Will Smith. His over-reactions and constant attempts at humor can seem desperate at times. I would have liked this better if he wasn't an ex-stormtrooper. Perhaps he would have been played better as a sort of dull comic relief, like Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. His performance just took me out of the movie too many times.
3. PRINCESS LEIA WAS UNDERUSED
She pretty much just stands around a base the entire time looking worried. Wheres the heroine of the earlier movies?
4. LACK OF IMAGINATION
This one sort of falls under the rehashed plot category, but it bothered me enough to warrant its own bullet. None, and I repeat, NONE of the locales in this movie wowed me. Say what you will about Lucas and his terrible writing/direction/editing, but the guy had a great imagination. Even though Episodes 1-3 were badly written, nobody can deny that they were visually stunning and imaginative. Battle droids, underwater cities, clone factories, lava planets, 4 armed cyborg villains - all absent in this movie. We get a desert, an ice planet, a forest planet, x-wings and TIE fighters. Literally nothing new. No new ships, no radical designs. Disappointing and once again, too safe.
Now for the GOOD...
Daisy Ridley does a great job as the new hero. She's vulnerable, likable, and heroic. Yes, she is a bit TOO good at things at times, but so was Luke in A New Hope. Plus, she's a great role model for young girls and hopefully will bring more of the finer sex into Star Wars fandom.
2. KYLO REN
OK, this ones is controversial. Many didn't like the emo Darth Vader wannabe. I did. He worked for me. He was a badass and becomes even more badass when you look into his history (Remember the table of ashes in his interrogation room? Yea, that's the ashes of his enemies according to Abrams). He walks around with a commanding aura the entire film and his subordinates are arguably more afraid of him than the imperial officers were of Darth Vader. Then he takes off his helmet. He's just a young dorky kid! To me, this was a powerful moment and a symbolic one - you never know what is truly happening on the inside.
3. HAN SOLO
Harrison Ford falls right back into the role like he never missed a beat. Arguably better than his ROTJ appearance. Well done, sir.
4. SPECIAL EFFECTS & DESIGN
All accurate to the original trilogy and the use of practical effects really stood out. It looked like Star Wars and made me feel like I was watching the OT again.
OVERALL SCORE FOR THE FILM ITSELF - 7/10. Good but could have been better if they didn't recycle so much.