- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A $2 billion blockbuster still percolating cash in movie theaters now takes audiences back to a galaxy far, far away in the confines of their multimedia entertainment room in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rated PG-13, $39.99, 138 minutes).

Director J.J. Abrams‘ triumphant continuation of George Lucas’ cinematic space fantasy arrives on a single Blu-ray with a second disc tossed in to house a meager supply of extras.

Before diving into details, allow me to add context to this “Star Wars” fan’s history.

I remember seeing the first “Star Wars” with my parents back in 1977, my dear dad actually feel asleep during the action, but I quickly became a devoted fan. “The Empire Strikes Back” was the pinnacle of my piety to the franchise, yet I still suffered through the prequels with my young son just to try and recapture the magic.

Well, it took a decade more before my faith was finally restored in the Force via the new film. I can now boast that the “Star Wars” mythology remains entranced in my family with generations, now having appreciated the Skywalker Saga over nearly 38 years.

The new story finds an orphaned female named Rey (Daisy Ridley) on desert planet of Jakku desperately waiting for her parents to return for her. She meets up with the Resistance-owned droid BB-8 that is carrying a map to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker.

On her quest to return the droid to the Resistance, she gets help from a deserting Stormtrooper FN-2187 nicknamed Finn (John Boyega). They embark on a journey to find the rebel base and avoid capture by minions from the heir apparent organization to the Imperial Empire, the First Order.

I loved the re-emergence of legends Han Solo (Harrison Ford finally getting the satisfying plot point he so dearly wanted back in 1980s), Gen. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher looking at bit out of sorts throughout) and just a glimpse of Skywalker (played with a pensive reverence by Mark Hamill).

However, with the action-packed tale, I was most concerned with the primary villain named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a frustrating character wearing what looked like a haphazard Harry Potter-esque Dementor costume and wielding a homemade crossguard lightsaber.

Behind his dented black mask, he is a man-child, a sniveling coward beholden to a mysterious leader named Snoke. Ren, wielding an incredible amount of Force power twisted by the dark side, wants to make the galaxy pay the price for his mommy and daddy issues.

I hated the concept of the guy at first, he would never be my Darth Vader, but his narcissistic villainy grew on me during each viewing of the movie.

The overall plot structure is akin to Mr. Abrams stealing the plans and crafting a new Death Star. He concocts a nostalgic romp by recreating a little too closely the essence of the first film “A New Hope” but giving fans what they had desperately wanted from a “Star Wars” film.

That being a respect to the mythology, powerful heroes and villains, quirky creatures and a story that occasionally tugs at the heartstrings and dazzles with rousing action scenes.

The best part of the Blu-ray is not the warm and impeccable digital transfer (2.40:1 aspect ratio, making it the best-looking home theater release of a “Star Wars” film to date); or the booming DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack unleashing John Williams new musical score, laser blasts and lightsaber sizzling sounds upon welcoming ears.

Nope. It’s the chance to finely comb over and replay or freeze every frame of the movie for Easter egg detail.

For example, in the scene in the basement of Maz Kanata’s cantina, Rey touches a famed relic from a Jedi past and is flooded with memories. While listening in the movie theater, I was unable to discern all of the familiar voices bought forth. After the sixth replay of the scene, I was content that I heard from many from the “Star Wars” canon.

On a slightly negative note, I was disappointed that developers did not include the Jakku escape scene shot in maximum-sized IMAX format. I remember how cool it was when “The Dark Knight” Blu-ray release offered the bonus that expanded some of the action from the 2.40:1 to 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

The extras arrive on a second disc and, though perfunctory, offer little revelations for hardcore fans.

Best of the bunch is a 69-minute, four-part documentary offering a sweeping overview on the making of the film. Interviews are abundant with “Star Wars” legends and include words from George Lucas, Mr. Ford, Miss Fisher, Mr. Hamill, ILM effects maestro Dennis Muren, writer Lawrence Kasdan and Mr. Williams along with Mr. Abrams and the new cast members.

An additional 45-minutes of featurettes cover more aspect of the films such as creature and droid building, special effects and a tiny peek at the first table read with the cast. Some of content overlaps with the documentary and could have easily been incorporated into a longer main extra.

I’ll not discuss the disappointing, 4-minutes worth of deleted scenes.

What’s sorely missing is an optional commentary track with the old cast and Mr. Abrams, any mega-documentary on the history of the “Star Wars” phenomenon and an extended cut of the movie, similar to what Peter Jackson had done for the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies.

Despite the omissions, “Star War: The Force Awakens” on Blu-ray is an enjoyable blockbuster for the average movie lover and a fun adventure for the Skywalker saga fanatic.

Most importantly, it’s existence as a digital download and on disc guarantees a new generation of youngsters and their families easy access to its rich fantasy universe.

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