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Brian's Toys

Star Wars Trilogy DVD Review


September 21st is a day that most Star Wars fans have been dreaming of since the invention of the DVD format. Yes, the Star Wars Trilogy is finally arriving on DVD! I was lucky enough to grab a copy a few days early, and take a sneak peek at what's new, what's different, and what's up with this new box set. So sit back, grab your popcorn, and join me as I talk about – and show you – some of these big, and not so big, changes.

A quick word of warning first – I will be including some screen shots from the new Trilogy Box set, as well as some screen shots from the older versions for comparison. I will be describing and showing some new box set screen shots that may contain spoiler information in regards to what is new and changed in these versions of the films, so if you don't want to know until you watch it for yourself, stop reading now.

I'll be comparing these new Extra Special Editions (which is what I've come to call them since Special Editions is already taken) to the Original Editions and the 1995 Special Editions. To make this easier (and less to type) I'm going to be using the following abbreviations: ESE (these new Extra Special Editions), SE (1997 Special Editions), and OT (Original unadulterated versions). All of the screenshots used in this article are taken from the ESE (obviously) and the SE Laserdiscs, that have been converted to DVD.

The screenshots that I took, however, don't really do these DVD's justice, in all honesty. The shots themselves are a little blurry, as my computer is not that new, and had some trouble stopping the action sequences without distorting the images. All of the screenshots are clickable, so that they will open up into a larger version of the same image. I've only taken comparison shots for A New Hope, and even then it's only the first few that have SE and ESE shots. All of the screens shown for ESB and ROTJ are from the ESE.

THE PACKAGING & SPECIAL FEATURES: First off, I wanted to discuss the packaging and overall presentation of the box set. Upon first glance, the box is a beautiful, glossy silver (or gold, if you opt for the full screen version) with the face of Darth Vader on one side and the familiar picture of Han, Luke, Leia, and the Driods on the other. So glossy, in fact, that it was very tough for me to take a picture of it without getting my own reflection in the shot! So I decided not to include any pictures of the box itself, since it's been shown on many websites (including our own) already. I just used some "stock" photos that I found online.

Inside the box you will find four separate DVD snap cases, one for each film and the fourth for the bonus materials disc. This brings up my first disappointment. Why make a beautiful outside box, only to stick these four regular, everyday DVD snap cases inside of it? There have been some really amazing DVD digipack style cases released in recent months (anybody see the Alien Quadrilogy box set?) for everything under the sun from major motion pictures to television shows. And the Star Wars Trilogy doesn't get the same treatment? I am seriously disappointed with the decision to forgo the digipack style for regular DVD cases.

As for the individual cases… where did they get this artwork from? I guess they are trying to make it fit in with the prequel styling, but is that really necessary? I personally am going to be keeping these individual cases inside the box itself, as I'm sure 99.9% of you will be doing. And you pretty much don't see the spines of the cases while they are in the box. I guess you can arrange it so that they show, but I still don't see why they had to make up this “new” artwork for the front of the cases. I would have much rather had original poster art, or even the poster art from the SE. The artwork on the discs themselves is nicer, using art from the original posters. Why not use that for the case covers as well?

Each of these discs has a commentary track by George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Denis Muren, and Carrie Fisher, and The Empire Strikes Back also adds director Irvin Kerschner to the mix. While I would have preferred to get two separate commentary tracks – one from all the major players (Harrsion Ford, Mark Hamill, etc.) and a second one from the production crew (George Lucas, Ben Burtt, etc.), the commentary on these discs is actually pretty good. Although I don't quite understand why Carrie Fisher is the only cast member on here… perhaps she needed the money the most?

EPISODE IV: STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE: I read an article that said they went back to the original 70mm negatives of the trilogy and meticulously cleaned them up, frame by frame, removing hundreds of dirt and dust particles, scratches, and blemishes. And in this film, it shows. Details that I've personally never seen before are so clean and clear, it's almost like watching this film for the first time, all over again. Well, not really, since I can recite the dialog line for line, and know the film scene by scene… I guess it's more like seeing the film re-done by someone else, using the same cast and script, with some new special effects and improved sets. In the screenshots below, taken from the opening scenes of the film and Vader's entrance onto the Tantive IV, you can see the amazing details that appear on the walls behind the Rebel Troopers, that just seem to blend into the background in both the OT and the SE. You can also see the details and the scuffing and dirt on R2-D2's dome and the Stormtrooper armor, again minor details that seem to get lost in the older versions of the films. I could capture and compare every frame of this film, and you would see the same difference, but I tried to limit it to a few that showed the best amount of contrast from one to the other.

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

As you've most likely read online already, George Lucas has decided to re-do a few scenes, “improving” them from the OT, and even from the SE for this DVD release. Many shots have been altered in the slightest of ways, which only diehard fans will notice without having them pointed out. These include a revised opening shot as Luke's landspeeder enters Mos Eisley Spaceport, an improved version of the Han/Greedo fight (Greedo still shoots first, but the blasts are much closer together), Jabba the Hutt's appearance in Docking Bay 94 has been improved slightly - it's basically the Episode 1 CGI model - and lightsaber blades have been re-rotoscoped throughout the film, making the blade color more pronounced. The new rotoscoping is not perfect, however, as Luke's lightsaber seems to shift colors from one scene to the next, changing from a greenish, aqua blue to a deeper blue later on. Obi-Wan's and Darth Vader's lightsaber re-rotoscoping seem to have come out much better, and are indeed much improved.

   

   

Sound quality on this disc is, in a word, amazing. The Dolby Digital EX 5.1 audio mix is amazing for the most part. I found a few small hiccups on the sound quality during unusually quiet scenes, like when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are discussing Luke's father and his future at the moisture farm. There is a noticeable bit of noise in the background when Beru was speaking her dialog, but it disappeared when Owen spoke, only to re-appear when Beru spoke again. Going by the age of the film itself, it is – at least in my book – a minor problem, and one that I can live with, as it really doesn't detract from the film.

Like the prequel DVD's, there are three different menu schemes available to you, randomly selected when you pop the disc into your player. You will get the Death Star, Tattoine, or Yavin on this A New Hope disc. There is also a hidden “Easter Egg” that should allow you to select which menu scheme you'd like to use. To access it, d uring the Attention warning screen, try entering the following codes with your remote:

Code 1 - "Audio"
Code 2 - "2"
Code 3 - "10+", "2" (or "12" depending on your player), then "2" again.

Overall ratings:
Film Rating: A
Disc Rating (Video/Audio): A/B+

EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Once again, looking at this film and comparing it to the SE there is an amazing amount of difference that the screenshots will ultimately fail to capture. This film looks – if it's at all possible – even better than A New Hope. Once again, the transfer from the original negatives is spotless. The amount of clean up done here is phenomenal. Personally, I've never seen a film that looks better. The snow on Hoth is so white, it looks almost blue. The horizons in the background are so vibrant and colorful, they look startlingly realistic. Dagobah looks murky and dank. And the audio quality is also on par with A New Hope, with another amazing Dolby Digital EX 5.1 soundtrack.

   

They were also able to get rid of the matte lines (for the most part) that showed up around the outside of some of the stop motion special effects, most notably (to me at least) when we are looking out at the AT-AT walkers from inside the cockpit of Luke's snowspeeder. One of the main issues I've had with the other versions of this film was that you can see right through the supports on the canopy in the snowspeeder, and you can see the AT-AT walker standing there clear as day. Well, one of my wishes has been answered, as they were able to clean that up so it is no longer an issue.

The lightsabers have once again been re-rotoscoped, and this time the colors remain fairly consistent throughout.

As with A New Hope, changes were made from the SE release of Empire and added to this version of the film. There are fewer changes made, although they are more noticeable. Temuera Morrison has overdubbed the voice of Boba Fett, since we learned in Episode 2 that Boba is actually a cloned child of Jango Fett. While I didn't feel that this was completely necessary (my voice doesn't sound exactly the same as my father's… does yours?), I can kind of understand why it was done. The second, although maybe not as noticeable, change is the elimination of Luke's scream when he jumps down the ventilation shaft to escape Vader on Cloud City. And finally, one of the biggest changes to the trilogy (only to be outdone by the travesty committed during Return of the Jedi – but I'll get to that later) is Ian McDiarmid stepping in to play his role as the Emperor, replacing the old woman and voice actor Clive Revill who played the role in the OT version.

There is also a slight change in the dialogue during the scene where the Emperor contacts Vader while in the asteroid field. The Emperor now tells Vader that he has no doubt "the young rebel who destroyed the Death Star" is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker, to which Vader replies "How is that possible?" – making it sound like he is unaware of the existence of Luke Skywalker as his own son. Earlier in the film, when an Imperial Officer makes Vader aware of the possibility that the Rebels may be in the Hoth system, he makes the statement "That's it. The Rebels are there. And I'm sure Skywalker is with them." I'm not sure if Skywalker is a surname like “Jones” or “Smith” in the Star Wars galaxy, but I'd have to doubt that is the case. So why didn't he realize that Luke was his son earlier in the film?

Like the ANH disc, there are three different menu schemes available to you, randomly selected when you pop the disc into your player. You will get the Hoth, Dagobah, or Bespin on this Empire Strikes Back disc. There is also a hidden “Easter Egg” that should allow you to select which menu scheme you'd like to use. To access it, d uring the Attention warning screen, try entering the following codes with your remote:

Code 1 - "Audio"
Code 2 - "2"
Code 3 - "10+", "2" (or "12" depending on your player), then "2" again.

Overall ratings:
Film Rating: A+
Disc Rating (Video/Audio): A+/A

EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI: As nice as A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back look in this new version, Return of the Jedi just doesn't seem to get the same treatment, audio or video wise. I'm not sure if the people involved just lost their interest in this project, or if the fact that Jedi is seen as the least loved of the original films that this happened, but the transfer of Jedi is just… blah. It doesn't stand out like ANH and ESB do, it's not as bright with the color transfer, and it just looks flat.

   

Don't get me wrong, it looks remarkably better than the OT and/or the SE versions did, but when compared to ANH and ESB, it just doesn't measure up to their standards.

Return of the Jedi also seems to fall a little short in the sound department as well, even though it boasts the same Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround sound upgrade. It just doesn't jump out the way ANH and ESB did.

Return of the Jedi also contains some big changes from the OT and SE versions, all of which appear at the end of the film. The first occurs when Luke removes Vader's mask to reveal Anakin's face. His eyebrows have been digitally removed, since he is supposed to be badly burned during the Obi-Wan Lava pit duel in Episode 3. There have also been a few changes to the various celebrations around the galaxy after the second Death Star is destroyed. Naboo has been added, and there are two slight changes to the scenes in Coruscant - the Jedi High Council Chambers and the Galactic Senate Building can now be seen in the background.

   

Finally (and this is the big one – the biggest and most disappointing in the entire ESE), when Luke sees the Jedi Spirits of Ben, Yoda and Anakin during the celebration on Endor, Sebastian Shaw has been replaced with Hayden Christensen. Or should I say his head has been replaced. It looks (at least to me) like they just took some footage of Hayden's face and transposed it over Shaw's face. This scene looks absolutely horrible. The timing is completely off. Anakin turns away from Obi-Wan before Obi-Wan even looks at him.

I have heard that this has occurred because when Anakin turned to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader, he “died” in the force, so his Jedi Spirit would look like he will in Episode 3. That seems like a plausible explanation, except for the fact that at the end of the film, when Vader destroys the Emperor, wouldn't that make him good again, and therefore die in the force when he is an old man, making it more plausible to leave Sebastian Shaw in the film?

   

As for the re-rotoscoping on the lightsabers in Jedi, the blades look better than the OT and SE versions, but that's not really saying much. Except for the scenes where Vader's saber looks pink. What's up with that? How can you be a scary Sith Lord be when you carry a pink lightsaber?

   

And even though they did a great job with the matte lines in ESB around the walkers and stuff on Hoth, they failed to get the same job done here in Jedi. Matte lines around the Falcon and the Speeder Bikes look horrible. And the lines around the lightsabers are disgraceful. Just seems to go along with the fact that they didn't do as good a job overall with Jedi.

Like the ANH and ESB discs, there are three different menu schemes available to you, randomly selected when you pop the disc into your player. You will get the Tatooine, Endor, or the Death Star on this Return of the Jedi disc. There is also a hidden “Easter Egg” that should allow you to select which menu scheme you'd like to use. To access it, d uring the Attention warning screen, try entering the following codes with your remote:

Code 1 - "Audio"
Code 2 - "2"
Code 3 - "10+", "2" (or "12" depending on your player), then "2" again.

Overall ratings:
Film Rating: B-
Disc Rating (Video/Audio): B/B


BONUS MATERIAL: The fourth disc included with this set, the Bonus Materials disc, contains some really great footage. The main feature it contains is the Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy documentary (151 mins). It also contains a few shorter documentary style clips - The Characters of Star Wars (19 mins), The Birth of the Lightsaber (16 mins), The Force is with Them: The Legacy of Star Wars (13 mins).

Rounding out the disc are 10 theatrical trailers & 11 TV spots, a poster art gallery, The Return of Darth Vader (an Episode III preview featurette - 9 mins), Episode III: Making the Game featurette (6 mins), Battlefront videogame trailer, playable Star Wars Battlefront Xbox game demo, and a DVD-ROM weblink. There is also a really nice production photo gallery, which contains quite a few behind the scenes photos that have never been seen before.

Just wanted to make a quick mention of the Episode III: Making the Game featurette – it contains some really nice behind the scenes footage of the final duel, since the game makers went to the Episode III set to see what locations looked like, to see what the actors looked and moved like, and to check out some of the footage with George himself. They were treated to Nick Gillard – stunt coordinator on both this film and the previous prequels – teaching them the finer points of lightsaber battle technique - interesting little feature.

As for the Empire of Dreams documentary – I feel like this almost makes this box set worth buying. It's that good. It has so much back story, interviews, anecdotes, and behind the scenes information that you'll want to watch it over and over again. I know I have.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Am I impressed? Sure. Am I 100% satisfied with this box set? No way. I would have loved to see some of the cut scenes – Anchorhead, the Sandstorm – restored and put back into these films. If you are going to make an Extra Special Edition, then why not go all the way? What's going to happen… will we have to wait till 2007 for the 30 th Anniversary of the start of the Trilogy to get another box set, with all of these issues cleaned up further? Will we get the Original, unadulterated versions of these classic films that I grew up watching and loving? Somehow, I doubt that very much. Or is this pretty much it? Is this the best job that can be done restoring these much beloved films from my youth? If this is it, then I guess I'll just have to forget some of these concerns and sit back, turn off the lights, grab some popcorn and drinks, and be transported to a galaxy far, far away… in crystal clear digital picture and 5.1 surround sound.

Dave Castle

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