Last week, A.D.D. got a preview of the forthcoming Star Wars nine-disc Blu-ray set, which includes all six movies plus three discs of extras. Here are our initial thoughts from what we gleaned from the 15-minute presentation we received.
The Box. Stars Wars: The Complete Saga (not to mention the two individual trilogy boxes that will also be released simultaneously) comes housed in a handsome package assembled in book form, with every two pages devoted to a painted panel on the left side and a movie or extras disc housed on the right. There is also a nicely painted exterior cover. All the painted works were inspired by iconic Star Wars images from the appropriate movie being represented. The box looks sturdier than a lot of sets where the discs are tightly fitted into awkward sleeves or other bad design configurations. (Remember the annoying Planet Of The Apes Blu-ray box from 2008? Once you removed the discs from the little rubber knobs that held them, you never got them back in because they did not fit right.) We saw no booklet here, but I have been told that a small one will be included. But honestly, when you have more than 40 hours of bonus material, that’s not an important issue.
The Films. While the newer Star Wars films were ready made for high definition, the older films will obviously suffer a little from the all scrutinizing eye of HD. (The only pre-digital, color sci-fi film that holds up spectacularly well to date is 2001: A Space Odyssey; and to quote Malcolm McDowell out of context, you’re talking about Stanley fucking Kubrick. No offense, Mr. Lucas.) We only managed to get small glimpses of scenes from a couple of the movies, as well as a montage of scenes from throughout the series, and the older effects hold up well and the colors look great. Makeup is obviously noticeable in some spots, but from what we saw it should not be a glaring distraction as with many other vintage sci-fi movies. (And to be LCD for a moment, fanboys who love seeing Princess Leia in her slave girl outfit from Return Of The Jedi will certainly find her even more alluring in HD.) Lucasfilm publicist Chris Argyropoulos mentioned that during the Sarlacc sandpit scene in Return Of The Jedi, he noticed a wall mural of Jabba the Hutt in Jabba’s sail barge that he had not noticed until this HD incarnation. It makes us wonder what other details we might discover later. Keep in mind that all of these comments come from previewing material on a 62-inch HD screen. Many fans will certainly complain that the original trilogy release (before they were digitized in the late Nineties) does not surface here, and those three unaltered films do deserve some HD love. But at least the revamped original trilogy looks more modern and fits in with the effects and technology used to make the prequel trilogy. I won’t get into the predictable debate comparing the new and old versions here.
The Extras. In terms of bonus material beyond some previously released material (including DVD audio commentary tracks), the Blu-ray set will feature over 40 deleted, extended and alternate scenes; new cast and crew interviews, including some unused vintage material; new documentaries including A Conversation with the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later (featuring Empire director Irvin Kershner’s last on camera appearance) and Star Warriors, about the costume enthusiasts in the 501st Legion fan club; a flythrough of the Lucasfilm Archives; prop, maquette and costume turnarounds; and a 91-minute collection of Star Wars Spoofs. (For a comparison of the DVD and BD features, check out this Amazon page.) The few bits we saw, particularly about early designs for characters and props, were pretty interesting. We wish we could have seen clips from the spoofs or some deleted scenes, but those probably will not be revealed until release date.
The Summation. On top of getting high quality HD transfers — and we know that George Lucas will be quite adamant about QC — there will be a good amount of bonus material included to satiate hardcore fans. We can’t really say too much about it as we only caught glimpses, but it looks like there will be at least 8 to 10 new hours to go through. To be honest, my Star Wars DVDs look pretty damn good upconverted on my BD player and shown on a 40-inch screen, but there are many fans undoubtedly craving everything in HD, and they will get their wish on September 16th. I’m looking forward to checking out the spoofs, the 360 views of maquettes and various props like the original Millennium Falcon (which unintentionally looked like a Space: 1999 Eagle ship), plus the Empire anniversary doc (my fave film of the bunch). What would make Star Wars: The Complete Saga truly complete would be the original trilogy as it was originally released. At least those have surfaced on DVD, but without proper restoration. Regardless of that gripe, the Star Wars Blu-ray sets should please a multitude of fans and make a great gift for younger viewers who have yet to delve into them. And while I will always prefer the original trilogy, Episode III still kicks ass.