Hopefully Luke's green saber on the Falcon is fixed, too.)
SW.com: The Best on Blu-ray: Restoring the Star Wars Saga for the HD Generation
The older films of Episode IV, V and VI required special care and attention. Already, for the 2004 release, the movies underwent significant digital restoration to have them align with George Lucas' vision of the six Star Wars movies being a single, seamless presentation. However, that is not to say that that work done for the 2004 release was simply ported over to Blu-ray.
"It went through three phases of QC (quality control) processes," describes Diane Caliva, Production Manager for Media Operations at ILM. "In addition to Lucasfilm reviewing, there were outside companies hired as well. The first was Blu-focus/THX QCing our masters. Then it went through Deluxe and their QC process. And at last was the emulation phase, by the Deluxe team . We would get 'kickback notes', and then Dorne and our team we would assess the shots, and go in and clean up the files."
The copious QC notes would identify subtle defects in the picture and sound. Most of the work done on Episodes IV, V and VI are subtle restorative touches -- the correction of blemishes and warping on the image, dirt removal from old transfers and such. Side-effects of the optical compositing process -- like the gray "garbage matte" boxes that occasionally surround the TIE fighters of Episode IV, for example, were reviewed on a case-by-case basis. And, like Episode I, there would be a few surprises that had remained hidden in the movies for decades.
A longstanding picture error that occurs during the TIE fighter attack on the Millennium Falcon was finally fixed. Right before Han nails the last TIE fighter dogging his ship, his laser blasts zap into the empty spaces between the TIE's wings. But as the TIE flies toward camera, nearly a third of the frame has been left black and empty. "It has always been missing," says Huebler. "Looking at it, what I think we were seeing was an image that had been flopped way back at the time, and you were seeing off into the soundtrack area [of the frame]. Because it was star-fields on black, it was subtle enough that it didn't catch people's eye. That one was kind of fun to do: we tracked in a star-field to match, and extended the laser-fire so it didn't get chopped off."
There are a handful of such technical shot corrections in addition to the cleanups throughout the films. For The Empire Strikes Back, there was less work required, but one nitpicky error has been addressed. The very edge of frame makes it evident that the wampa arm that attacks Luke is mounted on a puppeteer's arm. This has been corrected.
"Some of the issues come from these movies being finished for film and projected for film, and that's how people saw them. A lot of things that look a little different on HD or DVD are really the nature of how video treats color space," explains Huebler. A dramatic example of this came up in the 2004 DVD release, with the dimming of the lightsaber cores throughout the trilogy, even to the point where Luke's lightsaber aboard the Millennium Falcon shifted from blue to green in Episode IV.
"We're trying to get back to the intention of the original film experience," says Huebler. "That's really what's going on with the lightsabers. You want that hot white core, and it was just right for film, but on video, that was dampened."
Issues such as these have been corrected, most notably in Return of the Jedi, when Luke and Vader's lightsabers cross in front of the Emperor's face. With the blades dimmed, the hand-animated nature of the lightsabers became too apparent, and the sabers failed to register properly at their intersection point.
Revisiting the lightsabers in Return of the Jedi gave ILM the opportunity to fix a longstanding visual defect from the 1983 release. During the filming of Jedi, there was something unsatisfactory about the final close-ups of the Emperor -- something objectionable about the way Ian McDiarmid's makeup looked or the light played on the side of his hood. So, George Lucas opted to "fix it in post," a risky move in the pre-digital days. A hand-animated shadow was drawn during all of the Emperor's close-up, an odd black blob that danced on the edge of his cowl.
In the theatrical release, the light of the darkened theater experience did not make these blobs look too apparent, but the eventual home video release of Episode VI made them very obvious. Home televisions couldn't be calibrated as finely to hide these animated shadows, and many viewers who watched and rewatched Return of the Jedi on VHS or DVD couldn't help but notice what came to be nicknamed in the fan community "the Emperor's slugs." These visual defects have been eliminated with a digital shadow that better matches the surrounding frame.
"When you're reviewing shots as they were meant to be in a theater in real-time, you don't see these things," says Caliva. "But now that people have Blu-ray and they can go frame-by-frame, you see more issues."
"There is a lot of what ends up being 'invisible' fixes," agrees Huebler. "That's the goal: when it's invisible that you don't notice that something glitched or there was a mistake. That could be very challenging to get to, as each one has its own creative decisions."