Shiny Shelf

Star Wars Trilogy DVD

By Jim Smith on 22 September 2004

Star WarsYou have, of course, seen these films already. You may love them. You may despise them. If it’s the latter you’re unlikely to be reading this review and even less likely to change your mind based upon a recommendation from the likes of me. (That recommendation, by the way, is given without reservation; just so as you know.)

This boxset – nice and shiny with four amaray cases with uniformly bad covers inside it – contains two five star movies and one four-and-a-half star movie which, between them, constitute half of cinema’s premiere own-generated property. In addition it has a big fat disc of extras which are, while not exhaustive, pretty darn extensive.

The films are presented in a form which can only be described as ‘Special Edition 1.1′ with better CGI for the Jabba the Hutt sequence in Episode IV and the odd fiddle to the backgrounds on Bespin in Episode V, etcetera. The rights and wrongs of the alterations is a topic too boring to address at length. Suffice to say that none of them alters any of the films to an appreciable extent (a normal person, say your Mum, wouldn’t even notice them) and the moral and legal right of the artist and copyright holder (in this case the same man) to make alterations to re-issues of his work is as valid now as it was when, say, Dickens changed the last sentence of ‘Great Expectations’. (A change which, look it up, causes more shift in meaning than anything anyone’s done to any film you’ve ever seen; including ‘ET’.)

All three movies look and sound great, having been mastered to visual quality which is quite difficult to describe. The colours are so rich and distinct, the lighting so clearly defined and vibrant, the frames so clean and clear of dust, damage and distraction that it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than that there have never been any better looking DVDs before. Straight up. Skip to a scene on Hoth in Episode V or Jabba’s palace in Episode VI and just…well, marvel. The 5.1 sound mixes are sternum-rattling in their thick-noised plenitude and fascinating in their level of aural detail.

The fourth disc contains ‘Empire of Dreams’ which is a vast documentary; one which is as long as ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ (and therefore one minute longer than ‘Apocalypse Now’). It is, somewhat surprisingly, if not exactly warts-and-all, then remarkably clear eyed. The difficulties of getting the original ‘Star Wars’ made for a measly budget and with a rebellious crew are detailed at some length and Harrison Ford’s problems with ‘Return of the Jedi’ are given an airing. Some myths are exploded (particularly the ones about merchandising and those surrounding Episode IV’s original release) but responsibility is taken unreservedly. Lucas’s own opinion is the party line, yes, but alternatives are trotted out. It’s a welcome relief from the current fad for including DVD featurettes in which the cast and crew explain the profound experience they had making whichever bit of CG-intensive nonsense is also on the disc.

Lucas, Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Warwick ‘Wicket’ Gray, Irvin Kershner (co-director of Episode V), former Fox exec Alan Ladd, Jr and Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer of Episode V and VI) are on hand (amongst many others to numerous to note) while Spielberg, Scorsese, Murch and Coppola turn up to, it seems, offer moral support. Kershner, as has oft-been reported, is more or less exactly like Yoda. Which is strange.

Also visible is Walter Cronkite. No, I don’t know why either.

Episode V co-writer Leigh Brackett and Episode VI co-director Richard Marquand are sadly deceased and there are times when you wish for a little of Brackett’s fabled insight or Marquand’s take on the troubled shooting of ‘Jedi’ but these things can’t be helped. Marquand, at least, is able to contribute through archive footage.

‘Empire of Dreams’ features such goodies as; an alternative scene from ‘Empire’ (re-shot by Lucas ‘cos he didn’t like it); the definitive explanation of the change of title for Episode VI; Peter Mayhew rhapsodising about Chewbacca’s body language; John Williams being a genius; lots of contemporary footage of queues, crowds and kids-in-costume and the revelation of what Dave Prowse thought he was saying in *that* scene in Episode V.

Particularly interesting, if you’re me, are shots of Lucas’s handwritten first drafts of some scenes of the movies and his comments about the ever-shifting structure of his multi-film plan for his storyline. Read between the lines here and you’ll know exactly what was decided and when. The answers will surprise you.

In addition to ‘Empire of Dreams’ there are three more mini-documentaries, one featuring filmmakers who have been influenced by ‘Star Wars’; one about lightsabres and one about the characters. All three are essentially little essays on a particular tight topic and were probably clipped from an earlier draft of the main documentary feature proper. The first features Peter Jackson metaphorically grovelling at Lucas’s feet at some length, while Ridley Scott and James Cameron manage more dignified, albeit less coherent, tributes. Spielberg turns up and does the jokes.

Alongside vast-photo galleries and a huge glut of trailers for all three movies (including all the ones cynics and conspiracy-theorists insisted would never be seen) there’s also ‘The Return of Darth Vader’ a gawp-inducing five minutes of discussion, clips and production footage from Episode III. Arch-spoiler-phobes beware. The rest of you, enjoy.

This is a big product and it’s quite strikingly reasonably priced when compared to anything else of its ilk. You’d have to try quite hard to pay £30 for it, which is probably a big part of the reason why it’s already the biggest selling DVD of all time.

Well, that and the fact that the movies are immeasurably better than anything else of their kind, of course.

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