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The Star Wars Trilogy

Last Tuesday I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

The disturbance I refer to, of course, is the latest in the ever persistent tinkering by Lucas on his beloved trilogy of Star Wars films, this time for the anticipated release of the trilogy DVD set, the voices being the hardcore fans, crying out for the release of these films in their original theatrical cut, without the meddlesome “enhancements” of subsequent special editions.

So, you ask, how do the DVD’s stack up?

It’s probably best to start off by saying that this release does serve a purpose, and the word “release” is suiting here. Those wishing to see the series on DVD, special edition or not, will be satisfied, so let’s all exhale collectively.

A New Hope

Yes, the majority of the changes still occur in A New Hope, and it’s true that the special edition changes are still present, although each has been altered subtly and comes across a touch better than the previous special edition release. This is not to say that the abhorrent crime of “Greedo shooting first” has been entirely redeemed, but instead the sequence was greeted with a tinge of acceptance. Han now ducks Greedo’s shot and returns fire much quicker than he did in the previous version of the scene.

No wait, this addition still causes me to cringe.

The first noticeable difference in the film is the lack of matte lines in space. These are welcomed additions, as space is now a clean slate of star-scattered black as cruisers and fighters slide cleanly across the canvas.

Immediately into the disc it occurred to me how much I wish Lucas would have realized the benefits of using miniature spacecraft in the prequels to these films. Not only does the texture outperform their CG counterparts, but also the stylistic choice alone should be retained throughout the series.

The sheer audacity of using inanimate objects to tell a story was not only a leap in style, but also a risk of outrageous scope. Throughout the opening scenes of A New Hope, we are greeted with maybe a baker’s dozen worth of characters that aren’t either wearing a mask or a shroud of some sort, hiding their human faces behind inert plastic or metal for the purpose of creating a character. Looking back at the original films, the ingenuity used to get around technological roadblocks is what made these films so endearing.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you always should and Jabba’s presence in A New Hope was one of those cases where you probably shouldn’t. Admittedly this sequence benefits from the recent improvements. Jabba’s animation is reworked, and Mr. Hutt actually looks more like the slothful gangster we grew disgusted with in Jedi.

I originally questioned why Lucas didn’t just cut away from Jabba and Han during Han’s awkward cross behind Jabba, and this idea still seems resonant here. Cut to an Ewok or a Gungan for all I care; the tail-crushing crossover is awkward no matter what.

Another touch-up worth noting was work done in the light-saber sequences. These now resemble the sabers of the sequels and prequels without losing the thrill felt when they first buzzed onto celluloid all those years ago. I still get chills.

There’s been a mixed bag of reviews regarding the sound quality on A New Hope, and I think it all comes down to the original mix. The discs include both an English Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track and a subsequent English Dolby 2.0 Surround mix, as well as varied language tracks as well. The work to establish a 5.1 mix of any kind is impressive to say the least. The 5.1 track pops in all the right ways, although it is sometimes a bit too aggressive causing big explosions to sometimes force dialogue levels to wane here and there. Jockey the remote for the neighbors’ sake as needed if you are screening it late at night.

The funniest quirk here is that close attention to the sound mix will reveal a variance in recording quality of dialogue in certain scenes. You can hear the slight fuzz from certain cuts in the Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru breakfast scene, and slightly in Luke’s first conversation with ole’ Ben Kenobi. It’s discreet, but present nonetheless.

A New Hope survives its first DVD incarnation, despite some minor edge enhancement transfer-wise and whatever personal qualms you may have with the additional scenes. Overall, I came away pleased with the release.

The Empire Strikes Back

Video and sound in The Empire Strikes Back is astounding in comparison to A New Hope. Not only are the dialogue issues from the first disc completely vanquished, but edge enhancement also seems less a factor in this transfer, for whatever reason.

The additions to the new transfer are not only simple, but logical. Of the three films, The Empire Strikes Back suffers the least drastic alterations. Most of these are the digital facelifts to space, lightsabres, and other minutiae that do not take front stage and step all over the originals.

Ian McDiarmid, the actor who played both Senator Palpatine and Darth Sidious in the prequels, now replaces the original hologram of the Emperor, bringing symmetry to the series of films. I always had issue with the change in appearance with the Emperor from Empire to Jedi, and now this issue is resolved.

The most dramatic shift to note is the alteration of a conversation between Darth Vader and the Emperor in which the Emperor straightforwardly acknowledges that Luke is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker. This was merely implied before.

Darth’s response is “How can this be?” which suggests that further explanation of this changes’ significance will come in Revenge of the Sith. Was Darth’s plan to overthrow the Emperor to include the help of a son he was aware of all along? Who knows.

Return of the Jedi

With each disc, the technical quality in both audio and video seems to jump profoundly. Return of the Jedi looks beautiful here, and you will be able to kick back and watch the Endor battle in all its splendor and glory.

The final climactic duel between Vader and Luke is amazing. The color alone will astound.

Changes? It would seem that Lucas’ hand either grew tired with this film, or perhaps it was the one film whose theatrical cut most closely resembled Lucas’ vision from the get-go. I think the choice is obvious here.

And who could not be touched by the final moments of the film, in which his mentors Obi Wan, Yoda, and Hayden Christiansen visit the matured Jedi Luke?

Yup, Hayden is in and Sebastian Shaw is out. Lucas’ surgical team even went as far as to remove the eyebrows of Shaw in the mask removal scene before, just so they match better with Christiansen.

How can this be explained? Well, it would seem obvious that Lucas wishes to bookend his new trilogy with the old, and hopefully hammer the Anakin thread home to younger viewers.

Bonus Disc

Whoa. You may have your doubts about the rest of the set, the changes to the films, and whether or not it Lucas deserves any more of your lucre, but this disc alone will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s chock full of featurettes ranging in theme from the birth and development of the lightsabre to an inside look at the process of bring Darth Vader back to life for Episode III.

All of these are fun and interesting in their own regard, but the real prize goes to Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy. This documentary was originally aired, in a smaller runtime, on A&E, but here it is in its entirety, and boy, does it deliver.

Delving into the content in the doc isn’t really going to do it justice, so I won’t waste anymore web space on it. I would like to make mention of the fact that this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill press kit style suck up material as the cast and crew discuss the making of the Trilogy candidly, specifically A New Hope.

I’m sure the most cynical and jaded of Star Wars fans will moan about the absence of deleted scenes and whatnot, but I figure we’re better off leaving abandoned story arcs buried, lest Lucas start inserting Gungans and other nonsense into the Trilogy.

In the end, these DVDs pay off. The “enhancements” made are less intrusive here and easier to stomach, and any fan would love to be able to screen these films in their homes, without regressing to the use of VHS (shudder).

Luckily, I’m not as skilled a Jedi as I like to believe. My sense of the force was wrong, and it seems the negative hype is to blame. Let’s face it, we are at the mercy of Lucas here, and he doesn’t seem to be changing his mind any time soon. After all, he has been quoted stating that he has no intent to revisit or rerelease the original cut of A New Hope, as his budget had prevented him from creating the film he desired to make all those years ago.

Mario Anima


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