For the last three and a half decades, even scruffy looking Nerf herders can’t throw a rock without bulls-eying one of the monolitic wampas of the blockbuster landscape. The very words “Star Wars” have made their way into the cultural milieu across six films, several animated spin-offs, comic books, scores of novels, a handful of television movies and an ill-fated holiday special. The US Reagan Presidency even named their Strategic Defense Initiative after the films. Originally created as a “space opera” in 1977 by George Lucas, a director then best known for the retro coming of age film American Graffiti, what was once known simply as Star Wars changed the face of science-fiction, special effects and Hollywood filmmaking forever.
For those of you just emerging from a cave, our saga takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. While purists may disagree, the saga in its complete form tells the story of the rise and fall of one young Anakin Skywalker. When we first meet him (chronologically speaking of course), he is just a mop-headed boy (Jake Lloyd) on the planet Tatooine, caught in the midst of some kind of intergalactic tax blockade or something. Taken in and trained by Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and later Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Anakin grows into an arrogant young Jedi Knight, one of the sworn guardians of the Republic who are able to wield the mystical power of the Force. Or perhaps simply have a high Midichlorian count.
Eventually, he is corrupted by Sith Lord (and ultimately Emperor) Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and becomes Darth Vader, a minion of the Empire. Yet there is a new hope in young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who may or may not be related to Anakin Skywalker, and who joins the aged Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness), a pair of droids named C-3PO and R2-D2 and the scoundrel Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his hairy sidekick Chewbacca to rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…
For many, the series is ‘review proof’, for nothing we say here will impact on the sales one iota. Taken as a whole, the saga certainly morphs into a whole new dynamic, and not simply because of the added tinkering that George Lucas can’t stop doing every few years (but more on that below). For a generation of people over the age of 25, the original trilogy of A New Hope (or Star Wars as we once knew it), Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi will be the definitive and unquestioningly perfect set of Star Wars films that should never be touched. For all of their flaws, including the introduction of the evil Jar Jar Binks and a weak and often misguided narrative, the prequel trilogy of The Phantom Menace, The Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith will be the films that forever introduced a younger generation to the dysfunctional Skywalker clan. These are very special kinds of film, and neither the ravages of time nor George Lucas’s endless fiddling are going to change that. From the stunning opening to the explosive conclusion, this is a rollicking adventure that you are sure to come back to time and again.
Video and Audio:
When we reviewed the release of the Original Trilogy DVDs back in 2004, the staff of DVD Bits were suitably impressed with the quality of the transfers, bandying around words like “amazing”, “brilliant restoration” and “exemplary”. All that can now be dismissed as hyperbole in the face of these stunning HD transfers. It is no shock that the largely digital Prequel Trilogy looks stunning on these discs. What is really surprising is how good the older films look. We’ve seen some marvellous restorations this year, but the sheer amount of detail in some of the shots is almost like watching a new film. Well, given this is a LucasFilm production it is a new film. C-3PO’s metallic surface shows every bit of tarnish, Leia’s makeup looks caked and Obi-Wan’s beard bristles. The colour correction is marvellous. The sound is perhaps the best yet, with the primary DTS HD Master Audio 6.1 packing a powerful punch. Our windows rattled as the first ships came rattling overhead.
Now for the changes. Yes, everything you have read is true. From The Phantom Menace through to Return of the Jedi, there have been changes made. The first thing you’ll notice is that Yoda is now fully digital in The Phantom Menace, a welcome change from the creepy uncanny-valley puppet used back in 1999. Many of the other changes are the kind of senseless tinkering that George has been doing since back in 1981, with the evolution of Star Wars continuing. The much talked-about sound changes, including Star Wars‘ new Krayt Dragon call and the addition of a few “Nooooos!” to the end of Return of the Jedi are all noticeable to fans. The latter really is unforgiveable as it is not simply tinkering, but changing the silent dramatic tension of another director’s scene. With each of these changes, Lucas is forever erasing the hard work of hundreds of people who worked on the original films, many of whom broke new ground with their special effects techniques. Hell, some of the Blu-ray bonus features celebrate that. Of course, none of this would be a problem if the original films were simply released unaltered alongside these new cuts, as every other filmmaker from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner to Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind/E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial has managed to do. Unfortunately, for generations to come, this will be the only version we get to see.
The collection of bonus features is bizarre to say the least, with far too much emphasis on the ephemera of the Star Wars universe, and not enough on the making of. Sure, the audio commentaries are great: each of the films has two commentaries a piece. The first was presented on the original DVD releases, while the second has been constructed from archival interviews and are new to this release. But where are the PiP tracks? Video commentaries? Seamless branching? If Lucas is on the bleeding edge of technology, then why are these Blu-rays not taking advantage of any of the features available to the HD age?
Discs 7 and 8 of the set are where the majority of the film-related bonus features for Episodes I – III (Disc 7) and Episodes IV-VI (Disc 8) are found. These include deleted, extended and alternate scenes; prop, maquette and costume turnarounds; matte paintings and concept art; supplementary interviews with cast and crew and a flythrough of the Lucasfilm Archives to name but a few. There is a wealth of material here, but not everything. Once again, while there are some great new inclusions, including the much talked about deleted scenes from Return of the Jedi, Lucas has missed a great opportunity to archive all that material we have seen floating around over the years, with few of the DVD documentaries making it over. Unlike the Alien Quadrilogy Blu-ray set, which literally put everything that has ever been committed to disc (including all versions of the films), this misses the mark even with three bonus features discs!
The majority of the new bonus features are to be found on Disc 9 of the set, but the inclusion of some of these is incredibly questionable. Really? An 84-minute documentary called Star Warriors on the 501st Legion, the people who like to dress up like Storm Troopers? This is evidence that either the well has been well and truly milked dry on these films, or that this was another misguided reading of the fans from the House of Lucas. Similarly, the 91 minutes (!) dedicated to the Star Wars Spoofs – covering everything from Family Guy, The Simpsons, How I Met Your Mother and Weird Al – could have just as easily been a small featurette rather than a feature-length documentary. The 25 minute Conversations with the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years On, with chats from George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan and John Williams, is possibly the only strong new addition. The original ‘making ofs‘ from 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1997 respectively are all nice to have, but the 46 minute Star Wars Tech is another misguided documentary (albeit one from 2007) taking up space where proper content could have gone.
Yet it isn’t so much what is on the discs as what is not. Over 9 discs of material, and no space for the original trailers? While it is almost certain there will be double-dip on Blu-ray, especially given the theatrical 3D re-release planned to start next year, we did get a second round of DVDs, and they included the theatrical cuts of the original trilogy as well. We can only live in a (new) hope.
Star Wars: The Complete Saga is released on Blu-ray around the world in the UK on September 12, in Australia on September 14 and in the US on September 16 from Fox Home Entertainment.