Shiny Shelf

Star Wars Trilogy DVD

By Lance Parkin on 24 September 2004

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Star WarsTrailers for movies and blurbs on the back of the DVDs often throw around superlatives. The ‘Star Wars’ boxset is almost self-effacing. They are ‘three classic movies’ … we know that. That they are ‘the films that forever changed the face of cinema’ is objective fact. Calling them ‘unforgettable’ seems to damn with faint praise. Then again, when the words ‘Star Wars Trilogy’ appear, why bother saying anything else at all?

The debate about the Special Editions has moved on. Since 1997 we’ve seen the culturally illiterate, crass suggestion – one that ignores the whole histories of both film and publishing – that only the ‘original’ version should be released. Then there were the bizarre assertions that the fans somehow ‘own’ a movie they like and ‘their childhood’ is a living breathing entity at risk from creator/director/writer/producers in raincoats.

Now, there’s a more subtle and sensible suggestion that the previous versions be available in some form. ‘Star Wars’, as the lengthy documentary included in this boxset quite rightly says, is an important part of cinema history, and very much of its time. If there was a straight choice between pepping up the movies so millions could enjoy them in the multiplexes and widescreen tellys of 2004, or leaving them as they were so a couple of hundred film buffs could nod sagely at BFI screenings, then George Lucas has indisputably made the right call when he’s revamped the movies. But that isn’t the choice.

DVD is an ideal format for ‘branching versions’ of movies (The ‘Terminator 2′ one has four versions on there, somewhere). You’ve never, ever, ‘owned the original’ on video or taped it off the telly. Ever since 1978, there has been a continuous process of revamping, remastering and using new technology to do things that weren’t possible the last time.

So which version to release? Well … the technology exists to abdicate that decision, for a pick and choose version of ‘Star Wars’, one with a choice of one of four Jabbas or no Jabbas at all, where we can see Luke’s dull friends and hear the original Aunt Beru’s voice. We’ll be able to pick whether Luke says ‘Dammit Biggs, where are you?’ or ‘Dammit Wedge, where are you?’. I suspect this will happen over Lucas’s dead body … with a period of mourning so shamefully minuscule that it makes the gap between Kubrick’s death and the re-release of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ look positively Victorian.

That boxset will have extras that make this lavish presentation look bare bones … there are plenty of deleted scenes not here (many of them were on the ‘The Behind the Magic’ CD-ROM), there were contemporary ‘Making Of’ documentaries that could be seen again. The development of the saga deserves more in-depth coverage – if nothing else, the various early drafts demonstrate just how long ago Lucas really did dream up the prequels, and just how compromised the 14 May 1977 version of ‘Star Wars’ really was. There should be a Ralph McQuarrie gallery, and a serious analysis of John Williams’ scores. So this isn’t the ‘definitive’ release.

For the moment, we just have the best versions ever released of three of the best movies ever made. Yes, three, dammit. That ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ are your top two movies is a given – the only serious debate is about which order they go in. Search your feelings, you know it to be true. But ‘Return of the Jedi’ is also a fantastic movie. It may have Ewoks, but -unlike, ‘The Return of the King’ – at least it doesn’t make them the protagonists. Give me ‘Return of the Jedi’ over any other third film in a trilogy. Now, with the prequels giving more weight to Vader’s choice and the Emperor’s grasp on power, Luke’s triumph is all the more impressive and resonant.

The prints are gorgeous – on a 4x zoom, the picture looks like it’s broadcast standard. The sound quality is truly incredible, and – to my inexpert ears, it sounds like a lot of work has gone in to lovingly remastering the soundtrack. The movies have all been tweaked again. Brilliantly, hilariously (and so discreetly the fanboys who’s veins haven’t stopped pulsing since Greedo shot first haven’t even noticed yet) the last line of the entire ‘Star Wars’ saga now goes to Jar Jar Binks. There are a fair few visible changes, but so many of them are indisputably improvements. Do people really decry space being black for the first time, not very dark brown? Are people going to send Lucas death threats for erasing the matt lines around the Rancor and immeasurably improving that scene? The best films ever made has never been better.

You have these DVDs already, or you have a good excuse. There’s no need to recommend them. But this boxset is an intelligent, beautiful release of great movies. Yes, the ‘Star Wars’ movies made a lot of money; yes they are hyped; yes the saga is so deeply imprinted in the psyche of a generation that it’s practically the operating system for their brains. None of that matters. The ‘Star Wars’ movies are the best examples of a sort of epic storytelling only possible in cinema, and they’re still the state-of-the-art.

Watching this boxset only reaffirms that a quarter of a century after they were released, the ‘Star Wars’ series doesn’t have rivals, only imitators.

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By Lance Parkin

Lance Parkin writes lots of things, including a biography of Alan Moore that's due out late next year. Find out more at his website.

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