Created by: George Lucas
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Alec Guinness, Ewan McGreggor, Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, Liam Neeson, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Terence Stamp, Warwick Davis, Sebastian Shaw
Synopsis: This is a review of the Blu-Ray release of the most popular epic saga in cinematic history. Star Wars routinely tops lists of the best film ever made in many polls. For this release, fans get what they desire by seeing this pair of trilogies upgraded to high-definition, as well as having a raft of extra features, delving into the archives of LucasArts.
Much has already been written about this release of the Star Wars saga, most prominently George Lucas’ continued tinkering with the franchise and the resulting dismay of the fan base. It is impossible for me to refrain from such comment myself, but here I attempt to give an overall review of everything that this release provides, with special features, transfer quality, and overall value in purchasing this collection.
The quality of these transfers, as one would expect, is amazing. The visuals and sound are both absolutely stunning. For the prequels, these films have not been viewed in this level of detail since their cinematic release. High definition brings new life to the level of detail which is available in each frame.
The prequel trilogy remains a poor cousin to the original saga. My opinion of these matters I have documented previously, even going so far as to making a number of changes to the saga personally such that the elements that detract from it are reduced. I will link these posts here for those whom are curious to know what I would change;
Star Wars Reimagined
Episode III remains the strongest of these three features. Though the first two episodes both have some very strong points, they are both weak on character development, especially in the case of Anakin Skywalker. Episode III though is the whole reason why those two films exist however, and the final battle between him and Obi-Wan is suitably both spectacular and very emotional.
To see the original trilogy in high-definition is the true joy of this set though. To see a major element of one’s childhood at this level of quality is a true dream. It is amazing to think that in many ways, the story itself perhaps would not have been exceedingly different to many B-grade science fiction efforts from the same period. Yet there is something magic about Star Wars that truly sets it apart from its contemporaries. Whether it be the concept of Jedi Knights and the Force, the inclusion of cinema’s most recognisable villain, the sweeping beauty of John William’s score (even more amazing on Blu-Ray), or a combination of all the above and more, you cannot go past these films if you are looking for high quality entertainment.
For those living under a rock, Lucas’ tinkering with the franchise has long been the source of great debate. In his eyes, he is improving the saga, and making it more cohesive. Many fans feel that he is tampering with history and should be stopped.
Initially, these changes started with the 1997 Special Editions of the film. This did not generate so much debate at the time, given that many of these changes did not affect the overall drama of the films. In fact, many of the inclusions I would argue enhanced the films, such as an included scene of han chatting with Jabba in A New Hope, further fleshing out the later price on Han’s head, and an extended Wampa sequence in The Empire Strikes Back. These scenes were originally intended to be present, however due to budget or the time, they were not included in the final films.
Following the prequels however, fans have really gotten mad. In addition to the fan outrage over “Who shot first?” between Han and Greedo, there were other changes that really stuck in people’s throats for the first DVD release of the film. Most prominently, Hayden Christensen replaced Sebastian Shaw’s ghost at the conclusion of Return of the Jedi. This change remains on the Blu-Ray, and time does not make a fan less forgiving.
Also changed with this specific release is that puppet Yoda is replaced by a CGI Yoda in Episode I. This I must say does not affect me too much. I think this is largely due to the fact that when it comes to the prequel trilogy, I care a whole lot less. Another well-documented change is the scream Ben Kenobi emits to scare the Tuscan Raiders away from Luke. This was not really necessary, but I also must admit, it does little to change perception of the film as a whole. The one change that really does stick in my gullet though comes with Vader’s final victory over the Emperor. Rather than see him silently torn between his master and his son, it has been dubbed over with the same anguished scream of “NOOOOOOOOOO!” which worked so poorly in Revenge of the Sith. It just simply is not necessary, and just does not feel right. To now have this as a one-two punch with Christensen’s presence in the final frames of the film, it just means that after enjoying a fantastic film, you are just left with a dirty feeling that something just isn’t right.
Does it mean it is not worth buying the Blu-Ray discs at all?? Perhaps not. However, I think it is cause enough for me to reinvest if the untampered films are ever released in high-definition. A release where you get the choice between the original and the updated releases would be really cool, similar to how the recent Blu-Ray release of the original series of Star Trek were formatted.
The first special features disc is an archives disc on the prequel trilogy. Each film is divided into the individual planets which featured prominently, and this is further subdivided into interviews with cast and crew, deleted scenes, and concept art. The interviews are the true gems here, though not one of them was anywhere long enough, providing bite sized pieces of information. Though there were some interesting elements revealed in these discussions, there was very much a large focus on the technical challenges with each of these environments, with very little focus on character or story development. This in itself is an interesting reflection of the films themselves, because though no-one can argue with the quality of the visuals in the prequels, it does feel as though character and story in these films were elements added as an afterthought rather than as a main focus.
Though the format for the disc covering the original trilogy is identical to that for the prequel trilogy, I must admit the level of fascination I felt delving through this disc was much higher. The best explanation for this difference is perhaps that viewing archival footage from the late ’70s and early ’80s has a greater feeling of historical significance. There is a raft of extended scenes that are amazing, including much more footage of Luke’s fellow Tatooine native and Rebel pilot Biggs. Also of interest is a romantic subplot between Luke and Leia that was much more explicit than the single kiss that made it to the final cut, which would have been exceedingly unfortunate given later plans to make them siblings. Aside from the films themselves, getting a chance to see these deleted scenes is one of the true treats of this Blu-Ray set.
Documentaries and spoofs
The final disc features numerous standard definition documentaries, ranging from the 1970s and today. The Making of Star Wars is an almost painfully dated doco, hosted even more painfully by R2D2 and C3PO. It is more a publicity piece than an actual making of, that retells the movie rather than giving away many film making techniques. SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back is another period documentary, but has an interesting look at the development of special effects, that actually goes beyond Star Wars and looks a special effects throughout the ages. Refreshingly, this one ditches the droids as hosts and adopts a very scripted Mark Hamill. Classic Creatures:Return of the Jedi rounds out these dated reflections, hosted by Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams, by looking at the creation of the weird and wonderful creatures of the Star Wars films, moving right from the Ewoks through to Jabba the Hutt. As with the Empire doco, this one delves further into the magic behind the camera, and is therefore not a bad watch.
The remaining documentaries are all more modern. Anatomy of a Dewback is a feature related to the Special Edition release of Star Wars from 1997, and details the work done to amp up detail on one previously rather insignificant scene. The goal of these changes were to take the Dewback, which had been little more than a rubber statue in the original release, and give it movement and life. It is interesting, but targeted at audiences interested in the more technical side of film restoration. Star Warriors is a very entertaining documentary examining the 501st legion, an international Stormtrooper cosplay group, and their preparations to get a select international group of representatives to appear in the Tournament of Roses Parade. I got extra enjoyment being familiar with the 501st from Supanova, Armageddon, and from both Gametraders Blacktown and Parramatta‘s first birthdays. In many respects, this documentary was Trekkies for Star Wars fans.
Star Wars Tech I feel is not appropriately titled, as it is very much an examination of the fiction and fact of the science behind the technology of the saga. As a physics junkie myself, I found this absolutely brilliant. I was already familiar with many of the physics and biological concepts discussed, and loved that genuine scientific researchers provided these facts. It was great to have these concepts applied to some of the most popular technology to come out of the franchise. The final documentary The Empire Strikes Back: 30 years later is the type of documentary I had actually hoped for more of in this set. It was a documentary that delved into plot and character development as discussed by Lucas, director Irvin Kershner, Lawrance Kasdan, with also an examination of the music with John Williams. If anything, this documentary was way too short!!
The spoofs are for the most part a very entertaining watch. They range right through to the most recent spoofs, including Robot Chicken, Chad Vader, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s recent Funny or Die sketch, filmed while they were making Paul. My only complaint is that they are on the disc in one continuous stream, making it difficult to pinpoint specific spoofs to rewatch. Watching it as a mini film, however, is an entertaining, laugh inducing experience, and provides another convincing reason to but this Blu-Ray set.
There are many reasons to complain about this set, but if you are anything like me, Star Wars in High Definition makes this set worth buying, regardless of any other factor. We would all love to see the original trilogy untampered with, but if Lucas has his way that may never happen. As fans though, we probably own all previous releases anyway.. In the end, these changes, though galling, do not prevent the original trilogy from being classics, and this set provides Star Wars in such a manner that it is a visual and an audio feast. Add in archive footage which sheds new light on the original trilogy and a collection of brilliant spoofs, and you certainly will not regret parting with your hard-earned cash.
3.5 stars out of 5.
Star Wars on Blu-Ray trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLhGocXP-Is]