As the lights went down and the familiar “Lucasfilm Ltd.” logo appeared on the screen before the opening credits of “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” my 11-year old nephew let out a yell in the movie theater. “My friend just ruined it for me. He sent me a text telling me …”
I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film by relating the full message. I will tell those people – few as they may be – that if you are getting the new home video release of the J.J. Abrams blockbuster to watch the film before diving into the disc of bonus features or you'll spoil it for yourself.
The Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack of “The Force Awakens” has a full disc dedicated to bonus features including the documentary “Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey,” in which the big surprise plot point is discussed in detail so keep that in mind before watching it.
The disc also includes seven featurettes (about 4 to 7 minutes long) and deleted scenes. The best thing about everything on this bonus disc is the sheer fandom of the cast and crew, especially filmmaker Abrams who can’t hide his joy – or the huge smile on his face – at various moments like when he saw the life-sized Millennium Falcon for the first time. It's a missed opportunity, then, to not have Abrams - the ultimate fanboy - give a commentary to accompany the film. (Perhaps for the next video release of the film?)
The 90-minute documentary is another intriguing and well-made work by Laurent Bouzereau, who has made some of the best movies about filmmaking. We learn how the enormous crew took great pains to follow Abrams' mandate to make a "period science-fiction film" that felt like the original 1977 film and to do as much "on the set" as they could before using computer-generated imagery. It's a marvel to see how they did that with sets, props and creatures.
I loved hearing Carrie Fisher talk about being “the custodian of Princess Leia,” and how she kept messing up the first day on the set. And there are some great crew stories especially about how many of the crew at the legendary Pinewood Studios in England followed in the footsteps of a family member who worked on the original trilogy. (Gary Tomkins, senior art director/vehicles, worked on the same drawings his father, Alan, had 36 years earlier as the art director for “The Empire Strikes Back.” Their pride is evident.)
My only complaint is the constant mention of “passing the baton” and “new generation.” We get it so stop making original “Star Wars” fans feel old and unwanted.
I headed right to the deleted scenes, and like usual, was disappointed. (We always forget deleted scenes are deleted for a reason and that if there was anything important in them, they would be in the film.) The six deleted scenes clock in at only about 4 minutes. One is unintentionally funny in that it is titled “Finn Will Be Fine” and is simply that: Rey is told “Finn will be fine.” Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
But as a Greg Grunberg fan, I was happy to see him in two of the deleted scenes: “Jakku Message” and “X-Wings Prepare for Lightspeed.” The 40-second “Kylo Searches the Falcon" is a taut and weighty scene despite its brevity – especially if you know the film’s big reveal.
Here’s a look at a few other featurettes.
“Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight” is a too-short look at that fantastic snow forest set – yes it was a set .
“John Williams: The Seventh Symphony” is about the creation of the Oscar-winning composer’s seventh score for the “Star Wars” saga. The 83-year-old discusses creating character themes, including how his theme for Kylo Wren was an extension of Vader’s Imperial March. If you are fascinated by film music, you'll find this segment is too short.
“If you take John Williams out of ‘Star Wars,’ it would be a fundamentally different experience,” Abrams said.
“ILM: Visual Magic of The Force” looks at the creation of the many real sets and props, as well as computer-generated imagery and how they balance real and CGI.
“Building BB-8.” Yes, Abrams really did draw the original design of what he wanted for BB-8 on a post-it note – you’ll see it here along with the various real robotic versions created to make him work on set.
You'll also get “Crafting Creatures,” “Force for Change” and “The Table Read.”
Story topics: Star Wars: The Force Awakens