Revisited: THE TEN Things That The Forthcoming Star Wars Blu-ray Should Include.
Marcus sees if he got what he wanted from the recent Star Wars Blu-rays....
"We're not ready to announce exactly when it's coming out, but it won't be in the too distant future." Lucasfilm director of fan relations Steve Sansweet, Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) April 2010.
So seventeen months later and we've got it. After deleted scene teasers, May the fourth madness, cover artwork reveals and plenty of online discussion over the quality of the movies, the Star Wars Saga has arrived on our shelves! Having had the much wanted boxset a week or so now and having mixed feelings about it, highs and lows and just plain loving any excuse to watch the Star Wars Saga again, I thought I'd take this opportunity to see how what we got compared to what I wanted when I wrote my original article back in April 2010.
But Wait!! Before we jump into the list of ten, the brakes are already slammed on, because this release has some issues when it comes to the one thing we all thought would be a no brainer. Back in the original article I didn't include A/V because as a bare minimum for this release we all expected "The Best Video and Audio Possible" right? It's Star Wars after all and if Star Wars can't be the jewel in the crown of your Blu-ray collection what else can be? Well video wise it's a mixture of good and bad news really. Phantom Menace is a clear step up from the previous DVD releases but the wow factor isn't consistent enough. The image is soft, sometimes a little blurry and only comes half loaded with that HD pop. Attack of the Clones fares worse in my opinion. It's hazy softened visuals really don't give this movie the HD oomph it deserves and even though it wins it back in the final arena battle it was pretty much a let down. Revenge of the Sith final steps up the HD visuals and becomes a dizzying
display of gorgeous Star Wars-ness. Sure there are issues with the effect layers looking inconsistent (look how flat Anakin looks in the opera scene-yuck) but the last of the prequels really does come to life and offers up a lot of the quality we all expected. As for the Original Trilogy, New Hope is a mixed bag. Areas of lifeless grain makes Tatooine look unpleasantly flat, making real backgrounds look like matte paintings. The colouring is getting scarily close to old classics like Wizard of Oz in places, especially tanned skin tones and with each passing year New Hope seems to feel its age. That said, some of the details here are astonishing and when the HD presentation clicks, you really begin to notice the differences to a movie we all know so well (for me it was around the Catina scene) it's a noticeable step up in quality. Colours really have come to life in new and wonderful ways and some of the lighting, especially on the Death Star, really gives New Hope a fresh coat of paint. As for Empire and Jedi, they follow pretty much the same path, pretty consistent, noticeably better video with some elements really shining. Sadly they are still full of no white core lightsabers and prove to be essentially a sharper version of the 2004 DVD's, so we're not exactly getting what we wanted. Luckily across the board the audio presentation kicks ass with that extra HD oomph and really feel more alive and textured than any releases before. Obviously this is a brief overview so be sure to check out Chris's full in depth reviews for more details on the individual Episodes.
In the original article I said I wanted "The Complete Saga presented as one complete story" Lucasfilm delivered on that. Seeing all six episodes housed as one story is great. The Star Wars Saga is finally complete on home release and there's no more mucking about with separate boxsets. Of course the option for you prequel haters to just go Original Trilogy is still there with some individual sets of three (albeit totally lacking in features beyond commentaries) so the first of the ten 'Wants' gets full marks.
So after delivering a solid 10/10 for 'Want 1', 'Want 2' takes a downward turn with what I consider to be the worst bit of Star Wars packaging to date. When I sat down for most of the afternoon of May 4th and watched the slow burning reveal of the artwork online, I was quite liking the individual packaging designs for the two trilogies. It was fresh and arty and a whole new look for Star Wars home releases. It wasn't perfect but it was acceptable. Then came the Saga boxset. The child's Bible artwork that was only missing Jesus cuddling a goat felt like a joke at first. Sure the image covers the entire Saga with little Annie and Luke (well sort of anyway, little Annie was never at the homestead but whatever) but it just felt half assed and totally missing the 'cool' factor. As the months passed, I got used to it a little more (kinda) but then came the reveal of the inside art. Seriously, what the hell is going on here? Weird sketchy painted art is one thing but art that looks like you need to hear a 'ping' before turning the page like old read-along kids books is pushing it. Then we get Boba on a Boga??? And the droids facing off against an unknown robot and a cattle rancher on a tauntaun???! Seriously what the hell was the thinking behind this boxset design? I have to say this boxset feels wrong. It feels like a cobbled together gag that Lucasfilm are pulling on us all and for a release I wanted to display proudly, I'm now quite looking forward to keeping it with only the spine on display rather than displaying that awful cover art face on. The score here is a low one and it really only gets two marks for the individual trilogy designs.
Being a completist and in the vain hope that Lucas would give us at least the original versions along with all the tinkered with versions, I was going all out for 'Want 3'. I was after EVERY version of Stars Wars we'd seen to date. Original releases, 1997 releases and of course the 2004 versions. Well guess what folks, we didn't get the original versions, we didn't even get any of the subsequent tinkered with versions. What we get is the all new touched up "Nooooooo" edition. Now I'm not going to bitch about the changes because outside the new Jedi "Noooooo" (which will take a while to sit right but I do understand the addition - I said understand it - not like it) and the new Krayt "kooooo-eeeeeeee" (okay that one sucks) I'm fine with the changes for the most part. Sure R2's all new rock cover is impossible to get in and out of and disappears a few shots later but Jabba's door being bigger, Dug's walking around the palace, Ewoks with full on eyes, new view screens and what not all slide for me. I like the smaller improvements for the most part (even though on first sight of the Ewoks it felt like a thing of nightmares).
It's more the fixes they haven't made that annoy me. Why is Luke's lightsaber three different colours when playing with his new toy on The Falcon? Why can I still see Vader's eyes on the tie fighter? Why does Obi-wan's lightsaber still look like a stick when he confronts Vader, why do the lightsabers in Empire and Jedi still not look right all the time and why havn't they ditched that Jabba's dance scene in ROTJ yet? (okay that one's not a fix as much as a nightmare that won't go away). These things are all the bugbears that plague us Star Wars fans and add a bit more history to our ever changing Saga. They annoy, they spark discussion and they never quite sit right but until Lucas replaces Hamill with Robert Pattinson and claims it's what he originally intended, these superficial elements are fine by me, the blatant disregard of the actual "errors" are not.
So moving on to the deleted scenes. This became a pretty big deal leading up to the release. The first glimpse of the alternative early scene in Return of the Jedi with Luke putting the finishing touches to his lightsaber was proper exciting stuff so how did the final package turn out? Well lets start with the negative, there's none of the previous DVD deleted scenes here which immediately feels weak. What we get is all new deleted scenes for the Prequel & Original trilogies. The prequels are mostly animatic or cobbled together scenes from the various elements that are shot. That in itself is pretty interesting as seeing how Lucas pastes together his scenes with so many different elements deserves a featurette in itself. As for the content of these rough scenes there ain't many for the prequels that feel all that special.
Spielberg's take on the Boga chase doesn't live up to the hype that's been attached to it since we found out ol' 'Berg took a crack at Star Wars. The Qui Gonn talking to Yoda via the force at the end of ROTS is a painful tease of something that really should be put in the film properly (and by properly, I mean with Liam Neeson's voice, not scary voice over guy). The Shaak Ti murder by Anakin is short and sweet but the shot of him walking through the temple while troopers kill Jedi needs to be placed back in the final cut as its pretty awesome. Everything else is pretty fluffy. Sure the small talk about Dooku leaving the order is nice but not even a mention of the 'Lost 20', the extended Maul vs. Qui-Gon on Tatooine is over in a flash and really it was all a bit underwhelming on the prequels side of things.
The Original Trilogy deleted scenes offer up a bit more of the goods. The Sandstorm is good to see even in this rough form (though I'd like to know who's Y-Wing that is?) The Wampa attack on the Hoth base is goofy fun and much of the New Hope stuff really shows how savvy Lucas was with what got cut because most of it is unconvincing visuals that felt like silly seventies sci-fi. Also Han's response to "Rebel Scum" is sort of brilliant. All in all, any new Star Wars, whether it's deleted, partially filmed or unfinished is still good by me. It's a shame we didn't get the deleted scenes off of previous releases as well and it's a shame some of these shots were not finished for our entertainment but hey, with theatrical 3D re-releases on the way and Lucasfilm watching our reactions to these scenes for this release who's to say what might get re-input into the films in the next six years.
The commentaries included here are not exactly what I was after from the all new boxset. Sure the original commentaries from the DVD’s are all good stuff but as I mentioned in my original article, these tracks had to be quite coy in regards to letting out secrets before ROTS arrived, so not having an all new Lucas track seems a bit of a let down some how. As for the all new ‘commentaries’ that cobble together interviews from a number of different cast and crew members over the years and actually manage to feel quite scene specific despite that, they are all good to a point. For one, a lot of the interviews are very familiar. From past documentaries or even featured on the boxset’s extras. Sure there are nuggets of good information but somehow the tracks lose a bit of personality with their edited together nature. It’s still all good stuff but i wouldn’t say it was exactly what we were after.
So here we are. The big sell. The extra features on a boxset that’s got three extras discs to house the stuff. Skipping the deleted scenes which I’ve discussed, we’ll start with the first extra disc. The Prequel Trilogy. Opting for the play all feature as the menu set up here is guff (more on that later) We’ll start with the interviews.
Running for over an hour, this is a cobbled mish mash of stuff we’ve seen before with a few new bits from the ILMers telling us all stuff we’ve heard before. Snippets of previous documentaries are used to cover making of topics in super brief segments, old actor interviews are played over scenes they ain’t even referring to and generally these ‘interviews’ are pretty weakly put together.
‘The Collection’ and the 'Concept Art Galleries’ are fine. They’re nice to look at for a bit but somehow on a disc this never feels all that engaging. Most of this stuff works so much better in books and even with their HD spin arounds I just got bored of these selections fast.
The second disc which covers The Original Trilogy is sadly just more of the same. The interviews cover a few cool archival bits and pieces but nothing new and even though seeing how they make Star Wars will never get old, with them being this brief, it isn’t enough to stop going elsewhere being a better option.
Once again we’re given ‘The Collection’ and the 'Concept Art Galleries’ options and once again, I’m more inclined to stick to my Star Wars books than view this stuff here but that’s down to personal opinion really. If I want to look at ships and costumes, seeing it in a well presented book is way better than sitting in front of a screen and clicking a button for two hours.
Okay the last disc. The one packed with documentaries. The three original making ofs that run for about fifty minutes each are a joy. In fact the Return of the Jedi 1983 making of was one of the big draws for me (as mentioned back in my original article – thanks Mr Lucas) and actually the first thing I went to when I got the boxset. I love how Star Wars documentaries refer to King Kong and The Muppets in the same breath and I remember seeing this as a kid and being mesmerised by it. Also something in me loves seeing Star Wars like it used to look (4:3 and really bad) so nostalgia wise these three docs are fantastic.
'Anatomy of a Dewback' from the ’97 special edition release is 26 minutes we’ve all seen before and is a little irrelevant now. 'Star Warriors' is sort of the type of thing I said I wanted in my article – a documentary about fans. At 83 minutes I would have preferred more about the Hasbro/Kenner toys but this was an okay look into the life of some die hard Star Wars fans. 'Star Wars Tech' is a forty three TV documentary regarding Star Wars technology and its real life counterparts.
‘A Conversation with the Masters’ (25 minutes) is probably the best new-ish feature on the set. A great look back at Empire Strikes Back from Lucas, Kershner, Kasdan and John Williams and it’s here you start wishing there was more stuff like this on the new boxset.
Last up we get ‘Star Wars Spoofs’ (96 mins). This is just 96 solid minutes of collected spoofs. From TV, Youtube and whatever else. It's great to have this all housed in one place (other than Youtube at any time). Fans who have not seem these will get a blast from all of them but I’d imagine most Star Wars fans will have seen these one way or any other. I would have liked a little bit from Lucas on his feelings on the spoofs but as it is, this is a fun extra, if only for Weird Al Yankovic's 'The Saga Begins' which is just plain genius.
Anyone noticing a pattern yet? The collection is only full of ‘archive stuff’ as opposed to anything new. And sadly it ends here. No beautifully constructed Saga retrospective. No joygasms over seeing Mark Hamill and Hayden Christensen telling stories together or getting Harrison Ford’s take on Jar Jar Binks. Nothing really to celebrate the Saga coming together for the first time or really taking the time to big up the entire finished story. Honestly I’m pretty disappointed with this. Sure I love everything here. It’s all great stuff but it’s essentially a collection of second tier extras that deserved to sit along the main course of NEW extras. Also the Prequel Trilogy is woefully under celebrated. We’ve never had a full on look at Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith and this was the place to do it in my mind. Honestly the more I think about this collection of extras the more it feels like a bit weak, lazy even and this set really starts to feel like a it wasn’t all that thought about when it was put together.
Back in the original article I mentioned a fact track would be a good idea for another way to watch The Wars. There’s nothing here so...
Again – not a sausage. Luckily we have pretty much all the trailers on previous releases but it would have been nice for them to turn up here as well.
I guess to a point “Star Warriors” offers up a look at Star Wars fandom but something specifically about the Hasbro/Kenner toys would have been nice.
Well as you’ve seen so far, this release has had a pretty lazy approach to extras. Pulling stuff off of the Lucasfilm archive shelves as opposed to taking some time to put something really special together (y'know to sit along side the Alien Quadrilogy or the Blade Runner sets maybe?). So the ‘Something New Want’ really only applies to the menus and man are they frustratingly over complicated. Split into planets with subsections for extras that apply to each planet makes the ‘play all’ option on the main menu the only way to go really. On top of that the art design of the menus is pretty dull and even if the great use of the score makes everything acceptable, I can’t help feeling a little underwhelmed.
So wrapping up my feelings on this new Star Wars Saga Blu-ray release, I have to say I’m torn. On one hand all the movies provide a clear upgrade to the existing DVD releases (some much more than others) on the other hand, the HD presentations seems to be lacking that 'something special' we’ve all come to expect from the Galaxy Far Far Away. The audio presentations here are startlingly strong, the Empire Strike Back special is fantastic and the three original making ofs for the original trilogy are a fanboys delight but everything else is just nice to have. There’s nothing all that exciting about the extras here beyond the nostalgic buzz. Sure the deleted scenes are great to see, especially the Original Trilogy ones but the minimum amount of effort has been put into their presentation it seems. Everything else feels like this release isn’t trying all that hard to set a standard and given the history of Star Wars that’s the disappointment here. Star Wars should be the “reference quality” title (a term none of us really know what it really means but knows what it is when we see it), a collection you want to show off to friends or just plain sit in awe of while you watch it. This Blu-ray release just doesn’t have enough of that feeling for me, even though there are a fair few moments dotted about such as Maul's Duel of Fates reveal looking amazing, CG Yoda, all of Revenge of the Sith, the HD glow of lightsabers (when they look right), the HD sound of lightsabers. Y'know, all that glorious Star Wars stuff.
It's great to finally have Star Wars on Blu-ray and my collection feels all the better for it but because of a slightly too laid back approach to this release, it does end up feeling a little too much like a filler release for an inevitable double dip that will no doubt fall in line with the 3D releases that start up next year. Let's just hope they give our Saga a little more love next time.
Editorial by Marcus Doidge
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