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Monday, September 1, 2014

STAR WARS TRILOGY (2004) -- DVD review by porfle


 


(NOTE: As a sort of "memory lane" type of deal here's a reprint of my thoughts on the first Star Wars Trilogy DVD set released back in 2004. which I didn't get around to writing about until 2007. This was originally posted at the now-defunct Bumscorner.com.)

Well, I bought the STAR WARS TRILOGY DVD set when it came out back in 2004 and have finally gotten around to recording my fascinating impressions of it for posterity. The main thing I have to say, of course, is that watching these movies again, even in their altered states, and exploring all the bonus material, commentaries, etc. is lots and lots of fun.

The set consists of the original three films (A NEW HOPE, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and RETURN OF THE JEDI) packaged in separate cases similar to those used for the prequels, plus a bonus disc of special features. The image and sound quality are top notch, of course. These movies no doubt look and sound better here than they ever have before.


As for the changes made by George Lucas: they're jarring, but most of them I have managed to get used to. A few tweaks here and there aren't really all that bad--I especially like the shots of the different planets celebrating at the end of RETURN, along with the new music which replaces that awful Ewok chant, and it's nice to finally get to meet Luke's old pal Biggs Darklighter right before the big attack on the Death Star in A NEW HOPE.

I'm even beginning to accept the addition of Hayden Christensen as Annikin alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda at the end of RETURN. And I don't mind the original bug-eyed Emperor in EMPIRE being replaced by Ian McDiarmid, because he didn't match the character in RETURN anyway. (One thing I still can't figure out--why does there seem to be a crudely-drawn black spot next to the Emperor's right eye during his final scenes in RETURN? It looks as though it's masking something, but what?)

Some of the additions are unnecessary--I really didn't need to actually see a hand-puppetty-looking worm coming out of that hole that Boba Fett falls into on Tattoine during the scene on Jabba's barge (especially since it resembles a giant Audrey, Jr. from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS--I almost expect it to start growling "FEED ME!!!").


Nor does seeing a herd of Banthas, or stormtroopers riding around on digital beasts, add anything to my enjoyment of the movies. Most of it is just George Lucas' irritating tendency to forever tinker around with his creations. However, some of the changes that particularly irritated me are:

1. Too much background crap going on in Mos Eisley. It's as though the village were used as a kitchen sink for Lucas to throw a bunch of new effects into, and it makes the celebrated "cantina scene", with its heretofore-unseen mixture of weird aliens, an anti-climax.

2. Greedo still shoots first, although they made the time between his shot and Han's shot shorter--but who cares? I liked Han better when he just pre-emptively shot first. That totally fits his character at the time.



3. The scene where Jabba confronts Han before the Millenium Falcon takes off is all wrong. Jabba always struck me as a creature who is naturally too huge and bloated to be very mobile--as in RETURN, where he lounges authoritatively in one spot while everything and everyone comes to him--and it just looks dumb to see him bopping around like this. The part where Han walks around behind him and steps over his tail is just plain crummy-looking. Besides, the scene itself is just as unnecessary now as it was back then.

4. The rebel fighters heading toward the Death Star in A NEW HOPE are digital now. I liked the old ones. George--I like seeing how the FX guys conquered challenges using the resources available at the time and managed to produce great effects that still look good.

5. The dancers performing for Jabba the Hut in RETURN do a silly digital song-and-dance number now. It's pretty bad--like something out of a Pixar movie. A REALLY BAD Pixar movie.

I'm sure I'll think of some others later, but you get the idea. The changes are there, and we're stuck with them, so we might as well get used to them. Although this is why I wish the set came with both the "special" editions and the original versions.


The commentaries are pretty interesting for the most part. Lucas, Dennis Muren, sound designer Ben Burtt, and Carrie Fisher appear on all three, with the addition of director Irvin Kershner on EMPIRE. There aren't many dead spots, but that's mainly because Burtt goes on and on about how he obtained various sounds from dumpster lids, movie projector motors, and whatnot. It's interesting in small doses, but he yaks about it too much during scenes where I would like to hear commentary from Lucas or Muren.

Kershner is a genial old guy who seems genuinely enthusiastic about his part in the STAR WARS saga and it's fun to listen to him, even though a lot of his commentary is simply him excitedly telling us what's going on as it happens. Fisher pops in now and then with a few anecdotes.

Lucas' commentary contributions, of course, are the most substantive, yet he frequently made me want to throw things at the screen with his constant griping about how unsatisfied he was with various shots and how this or that could've been done better digitally. Before it was over I was thoroughly sick and tired of the word "digital."



I feel that, like myself, most of the people watching these movies, who have loved them for decades, are entirely content with the way they look and how the FX artists of the time were able to solve certain problems and present incredible special effects that, as I said before, still look good even after the advent of CGI and other advanced techniques.

I wanted to hear how these movies were made, not how much better they could have been made today. Lucas, however, seems totally oblivious to this and often speaks in a regretful tone during the commentary, which is a real turn-off. He just doesn't seem to get the fact that these movies are so popular because of what they are, not because of what they could have been.

As for the additional disc of special features, there's a wonderful documentary about the STAR WARS saga called "Empire of Dreams: The Story of the 'Star Wars' Trilogy", which lasts around two-and-a-half hours. It's a detailed account of Lucas' conception and realization of all three films and a treasure trove of interesting information and trivia. There are also three featurettes of interest, especially the one which features the likes of Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and Peter Jackson talking about the effect STAR WARS has had on them.


In addition to the usual trailers, TV spots, etc., there's a preview of REVENGE OF THE SITH which shows Hayden Christensen and Ewen MacGregor practising what would prove to be a major lightsaber dual between their characters, and the construction of the new Darth Vader costume. The video game preview is interesting too, and contains more of Christensen going through his moves for the benefit of the game designers.

An Easter egg which can be found on the "Video Games And Still Galleries" menu features some outtakes along with the DVD credits. It's not very long and one wishes more of this material could have been included. (You can access it by punching in "11", which activates a light next to R2-D2, then "3", and then "8".)


The still galleries contain photos from the discarded sequence in which Luke hangs out with his friend Biggs at Tosche Station in Anchorhead (surprisingly, the once-notorious Koo Stark was in this scene too) which makes one wonder why Lucas couldn't have included these scenes on the special features disc as well.


The most likely reason is the fact that a special, SPECIAL set of all three films, or all six films, or a series of sets with minor changes or additions each time, or whatever, is already being planned and they're saving stuff like that for it. Which means, I guess, that I'm going to miss out on this additional material because there's no way in hell I'm buying these movies AGAIN.

Well, that's my belated and somewhat disjointed review of the STAR WARS TRILOGY DVD set. All in all, despite its flaws, it's definitely well worth having and is a huge amount of fun for the Star Wars fan.

Buy it at Amazon.com

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