After salvaging all nine discs in a product that seems to have an ever-expanding waistline (requiring me to hibernate from 'real life' for the past two days!), I may find it particularly difficult to make valued judgements without the fear of "true fans" protesting bias through pure anarchy. And thats all the fuss has ever been. Anarchy against the principle of making changes to successful films.
None the less, this review is concerned with the product in question and to help potential customers make a choice; I'm not overly concerned with the validity of George Lucas' decision making. I also aim to compare these Blu-rays with the 1997 and 2004 'Special Edition' releases of Star Wars.
Presented in an beautiful thick card box, we have a product that immediately feels special. The cover is matte, with a simple painting of Anakin and Luke choosing their fates in a vast open land. Some have criticised this imagery since it doesn't reflect the original promotions of each film, but I actually believe it to be a bold and sincere move that accurately reflects one of the primary themes of the film; realising ones destiny. It almost demonstrates maturity in comparison to the previous efforts.
The films are housed on separate Blu-ray discs in a chunky 'amaray' case that slides out. Inside, you'll find a 'Guide To The Galaxy' booklet (paintings and a map of the extras), and if you pre-ordered, a special Senitype 35mm cel from Revenge of The Sith. All cels have the same image, and they are limited to a specific amount.
Loading the Blu-rays is quick and, thankfully, there are NO adverts before you reach the menus. Terrific! Loading times vary between different players, although I've noted that as has been the case with many Blu-rays, a Playstation 3 almost by-passes any 'loading' screen.
The Big Picture:
Whilst I still prefer the Original Trilogy as individual films, their is no denying that Episodes 2 and 3 stand out the most on Blu-ray. They are for the most part 'immensely' beautiful, making it quite obvious how digital filmmaking offers so much more freedom to explore emotional response, and this is exemplified by the colours of the environments that appear to have endured so much control, precision. So far I haven't been convinced of Digital presentation in theatres, but at home, presentations like this are jaw-dropping. Even Episode 1, which was shot on traditional film, has been enhanced to look akin to Episodes 2 and 3 and thus provide better continuity. The only downside to this continuity however is that, in order to preserve a 'digital' look, it has suffered from digital noise reduction which has removed almost all of the natural film grain and given the movie a smoother, slightly waxier look. On a larger-than-average TV this will stand out more, but I can't say it ruined my enjoyment of the film - its just a pity that Lucasfilm chose not to preserve the films natural state.
Its also good to see that the problems with the original Episode 1 DVD have been completely ironed out, and as such the presentation exceeds how I remember it even theatrically (although sometimes prone to 'Edge Enhancement'). Episodes 1 to 3 won't look any better than this. At least until a new format comes out...
For the Original Trilogy however, things are quite different. Focusing on improvements, these Blu-rays are a 'major' step-up from the 2004 DVD's, with crushed blacks no longer present (and no lost detail in dark scenes or areas of the frame), no irregular enhancements, and of course, re-worked lightsaber effects. Although the work that ILM did is only for select shots, the important thing is that consistency is now present.
Studio shots and outdoor shots work together with more consistency in lighting. The fact that they are so much brighter reveals details i've never seen before and breathed new life into darker scenes such as 'The Battle of Yavin', in which the cockpit control panels pop with primary colours, and the star fields in space are more detailed. Vader's costumes also springs amazing detail, from hurried workmanship on his helmet in Episode 4, to immaculate reflections in Episode 6. Primary colours are sometimes over-saturated in the reds (particularly with any 'fire'/explosions), so I'm guessing this is one of Lucas's current "creative decisions".
And sure, because of digital editing these films are now lesser products of the era to which they were made, but this should be seen from a positive point of view and not lethargically wagged away. The studio shots are the most impressive improvement since they appear so atmospheric, leaving the original lighting effects looking somewhat poor and dated in comparison. The films could never have looked this good originally, so credit to Lucasfilm for embracing this technology in a descent manner. It should be taken as a compliment that the films gain so much attention and that enhancements have been worthy enough in the first place.
'But' downfalls do exist, although I am referring mainly to those who care deeply about picture quality here. Since the original films have not had a fresh scan since the work done for the 2004 DVDs, the restoration work looks positively dated at times, and this is certainly not nit-picking. The only way to analyse such is to view the Blu-ray's on two different sized TV's - an average living room one at 32", and a more up market model at 50" or over. Having had the opportunity to compare both, it becomes blatantly obvious that the restoration was done at a low resolution, since digital artefacts are constantly present on a larger TV. Detail becomes smudged and 'swirly'. Grain levels are inconsistent. Those over-saturated colours become blocky and flat. Conversely, these flaws aren't as obvious on a smaller TV, so the question is just how will you be watching these films? My guess is that most families won't take notice of the topic, but for others who are more aware of the Blu-ray world, the quality of these Star Wars transfers do not justify value for money in my honest opinion. The upgrade to 1080p however does, as do the products other features...
... such as this. To call John Williams a genius is somewhat an understatement; the man is a legend. Part of the success of Star Wars stylistically is the classic marriage between sight and sound (Leitmotif in particular), and these Blu-rays offer a massive jump in definition over the DVD's and VHS. It was said before the release that the original individual soundtrack tapes were used to remaster the entirety of the Original Trilogies, and if thats the case then it clearly shows. Cues that were lost in the 2004 DVD are restored, the final mix is absolutely spot on (listen out for the 'fanfare' as the X-Wings Fighters swoop down during The Battle for Yavin) and the clarity is stunning - even better than my re-re-re-remastered 'Soundtracks' on CD.
I'm simply overwhelmed by the definition. The Prequels obviously benefit from digital recordings, and the final output is expectedly a leap over the DVDs, but its the Original Trilogy that benefits from this release. This is a topic that I fear will be, and already has been, gravely overlooked. Just outstanding.
The Final Edit:
These films are neither the '1997' versions, nor are they the '2004'. Instead, the product combines edits that were made from both, as well as new edits for 2011. Interestingly, the Original Trilogy have two 20th Century Fox fanfares before each film; one from 2011, and then one restored from 1997. A bit daft, as if they were going to include a 'modern' version anyway, why not just use the films original titles?
I managed to spot little under a dozen small alterations (both in editing and 'additions'), though I shall refrain from getting bogged down with these and encouraging new arguments. In short however, the edits this year are very basic in nature and certainly don't detract from the final enjoyment of the film. Vader now shouting "Noooo" in Return of The Jedi? Blinking Ewoks? R2-D2 hiding behind new rocks? These are about as big as they get this time round, and I honestly can't understand the fuss. I have no problem with fans enjoying any particular version of Star Wars, but the behaviour that some demonstrate to make their 'arguments' apparent can be downright childish. The only change between 1997 and 2011 that the family and myself have cringed at is the replacement of Sebastian Shaw's head (when he's ghost at the end of Episode 6) with that of 'Young Anakin' actor Hayden Christensen. If Luke is able to see these ghosts based on his own memories, then how would he have known what Anakin looked like as a teenager? Yeesh.
The Special Features:
In a word, 'Wow'. Discs 7 and 8 - the interactive bonus content - are for Episodes 1 to 3 and 4 to 6 respectively, and the menus are ordered in a Film > Area/Scene > Category of Extra > Feature fashion. This is very intuitive and make navigating the material interesting. I simply can't list everything thats on offer, but highlights include the spectacular 360-degree models (in which you can see just how R2-D2 was built in a rather scrappy manner), matte paintings and very intriguing Deleted Scenes. They range from short scenes - such as a woman telling Luke to slow down on his Landspeeder - to very long scenes - such as Luke meeting Biggs and the rest of his friends on his home planet. And the schematic artwork of the ships.... Mind boggling, to say the least.
The only problem I have found on Discs 7 and 8 are that before you play a Deleted Scene, the caption outlining what is going to happen leaves far to quick to read fully. Read more ›