Star Wars Trilogy

Review by Guido Henkel

Star Wars Trilogy  (1977)
20th Century Fox

Length:        Various
Rated:          PG
Format:       Anamorphic Widescreen · 2.35:1
Languages:English - DD 5.1 EnglishS, English - DS, French - DS, Spanish - DS
Subtitles:    English
Extras:        Commentary Tracks
                     Documentary
                     Featurettes
                     Preview
                     Photo Galleries
                     Trailers and much more

It may have taken a small eternity, but finally the wait is over and the original Star Wars Trilogy is making its DVD debut in a 4-disc box set, featuring all three films , "A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return Of The Jedi" as well as a separate DVD filled with bonus materials.
Expectations for this release are unusually high, of course, as these have been THE single-most eagerly awaited DVD releases in the history of the format and adding to it the Star Wars fanaticism that goes hand in hand with it, it is easy to see that everyone in DVD-land has his sights set on this release. So, I was eager to find out how the DVD set would satisfy my expectations.

Discussing the films themselves is utterly superficial in my opinion as there is nothing that hasn’t been said or written about these movies. However, let the record show that the films included in this DVD set are the Special Edition versions of the movies, which have been reworked once again from the 1997 versions to further improve upon the original vision. The original versions of the films are not part of this release and if all you’re looking for are the original versions, go look somewhere else. There’s nothing to be found here for you.

I’ve been following the "Star Wars" controversies for many years now and quite frankly, I don’t get it. I’m not sure why people would get worked up about whether Greedo or Han Solo shoots first. They are both fictional characters, in a fictional world, in a movie! George Lucas could just as well have decided to have Greedo shoot first in the original version and no one would ever have given it a second thought. This brings me to another point – the fact that George Lucas can do with his films however he pleases. These are his films and if he would decide tomorrow to have them entirely destroyed, it is well within his rights as the creator and artist to do so – and I would respect that. The incessant tirades about the original versions of the films is truly getting tiresome, if not obnoxious and in my opinion many fans are having this deluded sense of entitlement that just because they like and enjoy these films George Lucas has an obligation towards them – and frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. Only George Lucas can – and should - decide what he considers to be his vision and if new technology accommodates his original vision – especially since he’s been driving that technology to that point – it would almost be a crime to leave these movie landmarks in the rut of their outdated 70s special effects. It is really that simple as long as you don’t forget that these are really only movies made for entertainment, and not a religion or something to run your life around. But be that as it may, you can save your flame mails in case you disagree because I won’t be reading them.

As I pointed out the films have been reworked once again with subtle changes in edits and re-rendered computer graphics that now blend in with the original elements even better than the 1997 versions, since the technology has advanced dramatically within these years yet again. Overall the films now exhibit a much stronger resemblance to the new films now, giving the entire franchise a much stronger sense of continuity and cohesiveness.

On the presentation side, these DVD versions are nothing but simply jaw-dropping. I can guarantee that you have never seen these movies like this before, ever. The image quality is phenomenal with a razor sharp image that holds a level of detail that wasn’t even visible in the original theatrical prints. Every single frame of these movies ahs been cleaned up to remove every single speck of dust or grain. The result is an image that rivals the completely digital recording of "Clones" as you won’t be able to find a single blemish anywhere.
The level of definition is simply staggering as you see even the smallest seams and stitches in the costumes, including never-before seen detail in Darth Vader’s black outfit. The whites of the icy planet Hoth, the desert sands of Tatooine, the pores in actors’ skins, the fabric of the costumes, every little thing is right there for you to behold. The thing that amazed me the most, I suppose, is the fact that despite this amazing level of detail and sharpness there is not a hint of edge-enhancement visible anywhere in the presentation, making the viewing simply and utterly breath-taking.

On the audio side things are equally stunning as a newly remixed Dolby Digital EX track is blasting its way through your home theater. With aggressive surround usage, these tracks are as kinetic as the movies themselves, attacking the sound field from all sides and angles. The frequency response is wide and gives you a solid bass representation with clear high ends. The dynamic range is extremely wide making room for the most subtle and the most explosive moments without any problems. Dialogues are well integrated and never drowned out for a second, no matter how busy the sound stage may get.
John Williams’ scores are once again presented in perfect fidelity with every subtle breath intact, adding the final aural touch to the presentation.

The films contain commentary tracks featuring George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Denis Muren and Carrier Fisher. The commentary for "The Empire Strikes Back" also features director Irvin Kershner. The commentaries are a revelation to say the least. Extremely technically detailed at times you get the full scoop as to how these films were put together. However at the same time they feature great anecdotes and Carrie Fisher’s unique sense of humor that will have you laugh out loud frequently. The commentators nicely complement each other giving you a nicely rounded overview over the production of these landmark films and the incredibly harsh circumstances under which they were conceived. No matter how well you know about these films I am sure you will still be able to hear things here you have not heard anywhere before.

Each disc once again contains three sets of menus that are cycled randomly as you boot up the disc, and once again, these menus are extremely well done, keeping these films completely in line with the previously released Star Wars movies.

On the fourth disc of the set you will find a good selection of special features. The heart of that DVD is an over 150 minute long documentary called "Empire Of Dreams" which chronicles the making of all three films. Produced by Kevin Burns, the documentary features countless new interviews and gives an incredibly detailed and candid account of how the films came together. Focussing on "A New Hope" the most, the documentary shows how Lucas has successfully fought the Hollywood studio system – though at a hefty price – how he struggled to maintain his independence, how his iron will and vision were unwavering even when everything around him seemed to collapse and how the success of each film has helped him improve upon the next film. We also get an impression of how George Lucas has changed the movie-making industry over these years, introducing techniques and technologies that were unattainable before he made them available to filmmakers everywhere. The grand visionary, the gambler who put his entire existence on the table to create these films, it is all there and not only by his own account, but also by the people who helped him achieve these break-throughs as well as unattached observers.

Also included are featurettes about how Star Wars has affected other filmmakers and you get to hear luminaries like Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Peter Jackson and others recall the moment they first saw the films and how it virtually hit them over the head. It is not by accident that Ridley Scott started working on "Alien" shortly after "Star Wars" for example, and Peter Jackson fully acknowledges that there probably would not be a "Lord of the Rings" the way we know it, if it hadn’t been for "Star Wars."

Also included is the history of the Lightsabre, a featurette discussing how the idea of the light sabers came about and how they were realized in the films. A featurette about the characters in the movies is also included, all of them filled with great behind-the-scenes footage and interviews.

The DVD also contains a selection of trailers for all three films, including even the most obscure TV Spots that haven’t been seen since they aired some 28 years ago. A large image gallery is also included and once again Lucasfilm went out of their way to provide new content here, not simply rehashing images you have seen a thousand times elsewhere. These galleries are filled with photos that have been previously unpublished and thus offer a lot of great material for fans of the Star Wars universe.

As another highlight, the DVD also contains a featurette that offers a glimpse into the upcoming Episode III which will hit movie theaters next May. It offers up bits and pieces form the principal photography of some scenes and mostly focuses on the key plot point of the film, the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader.

Once again, Lucasfilm is serving up a DVD that is pushing the DVD format to its limits. No one could have imagined these films to looks so spectacularly vivid on these DVDS. They look virtually like they were shot last year or so. It is testimony to Lucas’ dedication and that he has stayed true to his many-year-long promise to make sure these films will be as good as anyhow possible once they find their way to DVD. And they do. The "Star Wars Trilogy" is a revelation on DVD and will once again pull audiences under its spell. Hard to believe the wait is finally over but for me, it was definitely worth the wait. This is "Star Wars" the way it has to be seen and I gladly waited all these years for the privilege of that experience.

    

September 14, 2004

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