Complete Star Wars saga on Blu-ray — “Stop messing with it, George”

Stop messing with it.  When you’ve been working on a project that has taken forever to complete, especially if you are a perfectionist, you might mess it all up in the end, putting on too many finishing touches.  At Comic-Con, Frank Cho told us his art work is never quite perfect enough for his standards–it’s the sign of a true perfectionist.   Some folks need someone else to tell them “enough already, it’s great!”  George Lucas has modified his original Star Wars trilogy and even his more recent prequels with each new release, probably with more modifications than any other part of cinema ever.  Whether it was the Laserdisc, VHS, DVD, Special Edition theater release, or now the complete series on Blu-ray in high definition, George can’t keep from tinkering with it all.

At an interview at Comic-Con this year, when asked if he knew the series was coming back to theaters in 2012 for a 3D release, Mark Hamill said that George Lucas is like a kid with a train set.  “These [the Star Wars movies] are George’s toy trains to do with as he wants,” he said.  “Like Walt Disney ‘Disneyland will never be truly finished’…that’s what it’s like with his little toys.  He doesn’t need us [the actors] to make it into 3D…he doesn’t need us when he makes it into Smell-o-vision…we’re on a need-to-know basis…we’ll know for sure when we see it playing in Westwood.”

My question is, when it comes out on Blu-ray next week on September 16 (some ads say the 14th but Amazon says the 16th is the real date), what am I supposed to do with my last versions of the movies?  Let’s see…there’s the single release set on CBS Video…the box set original trilogy on VHS…then there was the Laserdisc version…then there was the Special Edition VHS release…then the DVD release singly of all six episodes. What it demonstrates is Lucas’s genius and one day he’ll be recognized not just for Star Wars, Indiana Jones and American Graffiti, but as one of the greatest salesmen of all time, surpassing P.T. Barnum.  Who else has their name stamped on everyone else’s movies?  Whether for special effects or sound quality, Lucasfilm is synoymous with cutting edge.  And for the sake of our devotion to Star Wars, we the audience will keep forgiving him for every new prequel effort or tweak to the original masterpieces.

Star Wars: The Complete Saga, a nine-disc Blu-ray high definition set promising to be the definitive Star Wars set is available for pre-order now, before it jumps up in price on the release day.  The best price we could find is $89.99 at at this link:  Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) [Blu-ray]

Lucasfilm previewed the deleted scenes at Comic-Con this year, and they even had C-3PO and R2-D2 on hand:

This time around Lucas is releasing a nine disc set on Blu-ray.  And yes, each film has been re-mastered again.  And he has changed things, even with what should be the sacrosanct original versions of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.  But I won’t knock it until I see it.  So far Lucas’s changes have not been detrimental.  But a few changes have been jarring for viewers who, like me, saw the original movie in the theater ten times.  Most notably fans cringe at the Han Solo vs. Greedo battle, where originally Han drew first, that was revised for Greedo to shoot first and miss, in the theatrical Special Edition.  Lucas has revised that scene yet again for the Blu-ray, this time quickening up the scene, but still having Greedo shoot first.

Return of the Jedi had its own groaner change with the end of the film.  In the original version, an old Anakin Skywalker is shown as a ghostly spirit with elder Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda.  Inexplicably the Special Edition included a young Anakin played by Hayden Christensen, even though clearly Anakin dies and moves on to become “one with the Force” as an older man.  He also changed the Jabba’s palace song and added dancers and changed the theme at the end of the movie on Endor. It’s debatable as to whether either version is an improvement over the other.  In the new Blu-ray edition, Darth Vader will be screaming “Noooooo!” when he throws the Emperor to his death.  What does that really add?  Some kind of regret or remorse?

The Empire Strikes Back was, as Mary Poppins would say, “practically perfect in every way.”  Which explains why it will be getting the least of the updates.  The only fix mentioned so far is a part of the Hoth Wampa’s human arm was showing in the original wide screen version.  That has now been corrected.

Some revised scenes have played great in the updated version.  In A New Hope when Han and Chewie run through a hallway chased by Stormtroopers, we now clearly hear “close the blast doors” and as our duo slips through and the doors close we hear “open the blast doors!”  In the Special Edition it drew a roar in the theater.  Yet we still see that Stormtrooper crack his head into the corridor entrance in A New Hope.  That’s a scene I hope they never correct.

One more big addition on the extra three Blu-rays in this new release:  Lucas promises the remaining deleted scenes footage.  Touted as never before seen, a lot of it was released originally on a little known CD-ROM set that is actually a great Star Wars boxed set from 1998 LucasArts called Star Wars Behind the Magic: The Insider’s Guide to Star Wars.  This is an awesome archive of old footage, that, until now, has only been viewed by those fans that tracked down the CD-ROM set.  It’s still available, too.

Here’s the breakdown of what you’ll find on the bonus discs for the new Blu-ray release:

Disc Seven – Star Wars Archives: Episodes I-III

  • Including: deleted, extended and alternate scenes; prop, maquette and
    costume turnarounds; concept art; supplementary interviews with cast and crew; a
    flythrough of the Lucasfilm Archives and more

Disc Eight – Star Wars Archives: Episodes IV-VI

  • Including: deleted, extended and alternate scenes; prop, maquette and
    costume turnarounds; matte paintings and concept art; supplementary interviews
    with cast and crew; and more

Disc Nine – The Star Wars Documentaries

  • Star Warriors (2007, Color, Apx. 84 Minutes) – Some Star
    fans want to collect action figures…these fans want to be action
    figures! A tribute to the 501st Legion, a global organization of Star
    costume enthusiasts, this insightful documentary shows how the
    super-fan club promotes interest in the films through charity and volunteer work
    at fundraisers and high-profile special events around the world.
  • A Conversation with the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years
    (2010, Color, Apx. 25 Minutes) – George Lucas, Irvin Kershner,
    Lawrence Kasdan and John Williams look back on the making of The Empire
    Strikes Back
    in this in-depth retrospective from Lucasfilm created to help
    commemorate the 30th anniversary of the movie. The masters discuss and reminisce
    about one of the most beloved films of all time.
  • Star Wars Spoofs (2011, Color, Apx. 91 Minutes) – The farce is
    strong with this one! Enjoy a hilarious collection of Star Wars spoofs
    and parodies that have been created over the years, including outrageous clips
    from Family Guy, The Simpsons, How I Met Your Mother
    and more — and don’t miss “Weird Al” Yankovic’s one-of-a-kind music video
    tribute to The Phantom Menace!
  • The Making of Star Wars (1977, Color, Apx. 49 Minutes) – Learn the
    incredible behind-the-scenes story of how the original Star Wars movie
    was brought to the big screen in this fascinating documentary hosted by C-3PO
    and R2-D2. Includes interviews with George Lucas and appearances by Mark Hamill,
    Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: SPFX (1980, Color, Apx. 48 Minutes) –
    Learn the secrets of making movies in a galaxy far, far away. Hosted by Mark
    Hamill, this revealing documentary offers behind-the-scenes glimpses into the
    amazing special effects that transformed George Lucas’ vision for Star
    and The Empire Strikes Backinto reality!
  • Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (1983, Color, Apx. 48
    Minutes) – Go behind the scenes — and into the costumes — as production footage
    from Return of the Jedi is interspersed with vintage monster movie
    clips in this in-depth exploration of the painstaking techniques utilized by
    George Lucas to create the classic creatures and characters seen in the film.
    Hosted and narrated by Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams.
  • Anatomy of a Dewback (1997, Color, Apx. 26 Minutes) – See how some
    of the special effects in Star Wars became even more special two
    decades later! George Lucas explains and demonstrates how his team transformed
    the original dewback creatures from immovable rubber puppets (in the original
    1977 release) to seemingly living, breathing creatures for the Star
    1997 Special Edition update.
  • Star Wars Tech (2007, Color, Apx. 46 Minutes) – Exploring the
    technical aspects of Star Wars vehicles, weapons and gadgetry, Star
    Wars Tech
    consults leading scientists in the fields of physics,
    prosthetics, lasers, engineering and astronomy to examine the plausibility of
    Star Wars technology based on science as we know it today.

(Mark Hamill at Comic-con)

Ultimately Lucasfilm has shared that, for the original trilogy, the effort has focused on cleaning up old sound and picture quality–small technical errors that the eye could not see before big screen high definition pictures would be seen otherwise.  For these types of fixes it’s hard to criticize the extra effort, and this will be why we “need” to buy one more version of the Star Wars films.  That is, until the 3D version comes out on disc.  Or, as Mark Hamill says, Lucas releases the Smell-o-vision version, where we’ll finally get to experience the smell of a wet Wookiee.  Hamill says it smells like wet dog.  Who knew?

C.J. Bunce


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