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Star Wars: The Complete Saga(1977-2005)
All six films of the popular Star Wars saga (Episodes I-VI), each presented on one Blu-ray Disc to ensure maximum picture and audio quality, plus three additional discs of extras, with more than 30 hours of in-depth bonus supplements and extensive special features, including never-before-seen deleted and alternate scenes, an exploration of the exclusive Star Wars archives, and much, much more, united in one complete nine-disc set.
For more about Star Wars: The Complete Saga and the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray release, see Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on September 12, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, Peter Mayhew, Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill
Directors: George Lucas, Richard Marquand, Irvin Kershner
This Blu-ray release includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray Review
Is the Force strong with this one?
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 12, 2011
It's Star Wars. On Blu-ray. Take a deep breath. One more. And again. Slowly. That's good. Nice and easy, no need to hyperventilate. Now, go grab a snack, fix yourself a drink—a stiff one if you need it—and come back when you're ready. We're about to dive into what's arguably the most anticipated home video release of the past twenty years, and maybe ever. For the most part, this isn't going to be a conventional review. I'm not going to give a pithy plot synopsis for each film or argue the merits of Episode III. I won't get into details of characterization, and I'm not going to talk about the actors or discuss the technological feats that George Lucas and Co. accomplished in the process of bringing these six films to the screen. There's no need. You've probably already come to your own conclusions about Star Wars, and I'm not out to change them. And on the off chance that you haven't seen the Star Wars films yet—and there are a few of you oddballs out there—here's my quick capsule opinion: The original trilogy is all kinds of awesome and the prequels are mostly disappointing, but all of the films are worth watching, if only so you can finally understand what your nerd friends are rabidly arguing about. If you're reading this, the odds are you're a longtime Star Wars fan who simply wants to know how this release of The Complete Saga stacks up against previous editions. And that's what we'll try to cover here. I'll spend a few paragraphs on the changes made to the films for their Blu-ray debut, and then we'll get down to the nitty-gritty of the video transfers, the audio presentation, and the bonus features.
A long time ago—1973—in a galaxy far, far away—Los Angeles—a young filmmaker named George Lucas started working on a script treatment for a story called The Star Wars. Drawing inspiration from the Flash Gordon space adventure serials he loved as a boy, and sketching out a plot loosely borrowed from Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, Lucas penned a short 14-page synopsis that, over the next few years and several drafts, became its own entity and took on an epic, legendary scope. It was a sci-fi story, yes, but also a sweeping fantasy that incorporated an ancient dualistic religion devoted to an all-pervasive Force, light-sword toting warrior monks known as the Jedi, and a young protagonist— initially named Luke Starkiller—who would leave his outer-rim planet as an orphan and embark on a quest to fulfill his destiny. Using anthropologist Joseph Campbell's seminal work of comparative mythology Hero with a Thousand Faces as a narrative guide, Lucas essentially created a modern universal myth, one that has since spanned six main feature films, not to mention assorted TV spin-offs, animated movies, and an extensive, world- expanding series of books. There's no way George Lucas could've ever envisioned the impact his story would have on pop culture, genre filmmaking, and yes, the lives of the millions of fans who would come to embrace Star Wars as a rite of passage and formative part of their childhoods. To these people, Lucas is a kind of god—literally, a universe creator. That said, while he's certainly all-powerful when it comes to all things Star Wars—he can do, and frequently does, whatever he wants with the franchise—this has led to a backlash among many fans, who have come to view Lucas as an increasingly out-of-touch and non-benevolent deity who tinkers recklessly with his creation, giving little thought to those for whom it means so much.
Of course, you know exactly what I'm talking about—the numerous changes Lucas has made to Star Wars starting with the 1997 "Special Editions," where he added or altered several sequences in the original trilogy in order to bring them closer to his vision for how the films should be. And later, to give additional continuity between the original movies and the generally panned prequel trilogy, even more modifications were made for the 2004 DVD re-release, newly angering a wide swath of fans. Many of the changes were restorative and cosmetic—like fixing certain special effects that never really worked in the first place—but others blatantly shifted the tone and tenor of the films. The most infamous example is probably the whole "Han Shot First" debacle, where Lucas went in and re-edited a scene in the Mos Eisley cantina to make it look like Han Solo shot the bounty hunter Greedo defensively, and not pre-emptively. I get it, Lucas was trying to make Han more sympathetic, and less of a roguish badass, but we like Han precisely because he wouldn't hesitate to shoot first in A New Hope. Inevitably, this change diminishes the arc Han makes as a character between the first film and Return of the Jedi.
The worst amendments, though, are those that seem designed to make the original trilogy more consciously "kid-friendly." Specifically, I'm thinking of the frankly ear-grating funk song that was added to Return of the Jedi, featuring a lippy CGI soul singer and a chorus of alien freaks. This scene serves no purpose whatsoever—besides being a tech demo for now woefully outdated tech—and worse, it's cringe-inducingly awful. I have no idea how anyone could've ever thought this was a good idea. And then there are the multitudinous examples of Lucas just throwing in new CGI creatures and spacecraft into the frame in an attempt to give the scenes more life and activity, when in reality they end up becoming digital distractions that stand out awkwardly from the surrounding practical effects.
I have a theory about George Lucas, and it has to do with third-world cult-of personality dictators. Hear me out. Why is it that dictators always wear the most ridiculous outfits? In his green jumpsuit, Kim Jong-il looks like an elevator repairman. General Idi Amin Dada wore a kilt and pretended he was Scottish. Colonel Gaddafi is a veritable anti-fashion show of sartorial blunders. Why? Because there's no one to tell them, "No. You look like an idiot. Put some real clothes on." I never thought I'd quote a Kanye West lyric in a review, but "No one man should have all that power." And I think that's what's happened with George Lucas. He has too much power. He can toy around with his creation as much as he'd like, and there's no one to tell him, "No, George, stop. You're only making it worse." You've probably already heard that all six films are now in the process of being retooled for 3D theatrical re-releases. Sigh. What's ironic and self-condemning is that, in 1988, Lucas once issued a statement to the assembled U.S. Congress, asserting that, "People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians." I'll let that one speak for itself.
If you were holding out hope that the original trilogy in all its untouched glory would be included here on Blu-ray via seamless branching technology, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. Almighty George has seen fit to base the new Blu-rays exclusively on the 1997 "Special Editions," including most of the additional changes from the 2004 re-release. But this isn't a straight port of the DVDs. Several new adjustments have been made, some of them seemingly arbitrary and many inconspicuous unless you know Star Wars like the back of your hand. In Return of the Jedi, Wicket now blinks and has more expressive CGI eyes. (I can't tell which is creepier, the dead doll eyes from before, or the humanoid ones put in their place.) Obi-Wan's siren to scare off the Sand People in A New Hope has been switched to a more piercing, immersive "Krayt Dragon Call." (I might be in the minority, but I kind of like this new effect.) More noticeably, the puppet Yoda from The Phantom Menace has been replaced with the more convincing CGI model that's included in the following prequels. By and large, these switcheroos are unobtrusive, but—and no surprise here—there is one addendum that's already caused a flurry of online controversy. If you've been following the news of this release, you already know what I'm referring to; in Return of the Jedi, when Darth Vader grabs the Emperor to throw him over the railing, he now lets out a goofy cry of "NOOOOO," a mirroring of the scene in Revenge of the Sith when he's first reborn as a dark Sith lord. It's silly and over-obvious and completely unnecessary. I'm sure hardcore fans will be cataloging the differences between the DVDs and Blu-rays for weeks to come, but these are the big ones.
Here's the thing; ever since the The Complete Saga was announced, I was aware of the controversies, I had a hunch the original trilogy wouldn't be included in its untouched state, and I knew any new changes were going to be debated far and wide. This left me rather indifferent to the whole idea of revisiting Star Wars. But when I actually got the set in my hands, something changed. At pains of sounding like a sap, I started to feel that inner childhood giddiness bubbling up. And then, when I popped A New Hope into my Blu-ray player and heard John William's iconic fanfare over that familiar yellow text crawl, it hit me—I wasn't going to let any residual bitterness over George Lucas' endless alterations bother me. I was going to have a blast watching these films. And I did. Sure, there were moments when I winced the wince of a man getting a cavity filled without anesthetic, and yes, I still think the prequels—for the most part—are a monumental disappointment, but given the choice between a Star Wars that isn't exactly to my liking and no Star Wars at all, I've decided to be happy with the former and bide my time. Like Anakin Skywalker finding redemption in his dying breaths, I'm convinced George Lucas will one day realize the cultural and historic value in preserving the original films in their original form. Until then, I'm going to enjoy this epic Blu-ray box set and try my best to ignore the bits that bother me. I like this approach; I feel like, in my own mind at least, I've brought a certain balance to the Force.
Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray, Video Quality
It goes without saying that just because this is Star Wars, it doesn't mean that this set is going to be the best looking Blu-ray release of all time. So, temper your expectations. That said, we do expect a lot from George Lucas and THX when it comes to cutting edge home video technology. I'm happy, then, to report that, for the most part, these films look wonderful. Not all of them might be described as "reference quality," whatever that means—although Episode III probably qualifies—but the transfers/restorations the films have been given represent an exponential leap in picture refinement, integrity, and clarity from previous DVD releases. While watching The Complete Saga this weekend there were several instances where I felt compelled to rewind and just bask in how beautiful certain scenes look in high definition.
Let's get the bad out of the way first. Namely, The Phantom Menace. Somehow it seems appropriate that the worst film in the series would have the worst picture quality of the set, but it's still disappointing. The main culprit here is digital noise reduction. Unlike the other two prequels, Episode I was shot on 35mm, but here it's been fairly strongly filtered so that grain is scrubbed out, giving a more video-ish appearance. I'm assuming this was probably done to give a sense of visual continuity to the prequels, but it frequently results in softened textures and smeared over detail. The application of DNR isn't nearly as egregious as it was in the notorious Predator re-release, but the image does look a bit off at times, with faces taking on that distinctly smooth, waxy quality that always accompanies excessive filtering. It's not all bad however; the predominately CGI scenes—like the battle on Naboo—look excellent, if a bit outdated and cartoonish, and there are no issues with color or contrast. Edge enhancement isn't a concern either—which is kind of surprising given that DNR is usually accompanied by oversharpening to compensate for the inherent softening—and there are no blatant compression problems. The main improvement here, aside from the obvious increase in clarity from standard definition, is that there's actually more of the image onscreen now. Let me explain. When the DVD was being prepared, the producers slightly magnified the picture—essentially cropping on all sides—in order to avoid frame edges and artifacts like hairs stuck in the film gate from appearing. This missing screen real estate has now been restored, for a more faithful representation of the original compositions.
Attack of the Clones fares better all around, but noise reduction still dampens the level of clarity. Episode II was the first film in the series to be shot, processed, and edited with an entirely digital workflow, but it was felt at the time that some of the digital footage was too sharp, so it was softened in post. (Not specifically for this Blu-ray release.) The CGI-heavy sequences aren't as affected, but most of the live-action footage has that characteristic filtered look, and sometimes the actors almost seem to have a kind of hazy glow around their bodies, especially when they're clearly standing in front of a digital backdrop. That's not to say there isn't any fine detail on display here—there certainly is, especially in the intricacies of the computer generated imagery—just not as much as there is in Revenge of the Sith, where Lucas and Co. fully embraced digital filmmaking.
Episode III is on a whole different picture quality plane of existence. This is the outright stunner of the prequels, with a degree of clarity and color that approaches Avatar and other high-profile eye-candy releases. You can see instantly how much crisper and more detailed everything is here, CGI and live-action material alike. The filtering has been abandoned in favor of an exceptionally resolved picture. See the fabric of General Grievous' cape. The clean lines of the nascent Darth Vader's shiny new helmet. The wrinkles on Yoda's weathered face. Count Dooku's eyebrow hairs, individually visible. This is impressive stuff. Just as striking is the brilliance of the film's color. The first two prequels are far from washed out, but Episode III takes the vibrancy up a notch, with tighter contrast, darker blacks—though not too dark—and some gorgeously vivid hues, like hot magenta spacecraft exhaust ports and, of course, searing neon lightsabers. All of the film's environments—from Kashyyyk to the climactic lava world—look fantastic. I'm not big on scores—they're too arbitrary—but if The Phantom Menace is a 3/5 and The Clone Wars is a 3.5/5, Revenge of the Sith gets full marks.
But, if you're like me, you're probably more interested in how faithfully the original trilogy has been ported to Blu-ray. We've already covered content, of course, so I'm talking cosmetically. Unlike the prequels, which look quite different from one to the next—especially in the jump from the second to the third—the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfers of the three "classic" Star Wars films are fairly consistent with one another and, in a word, amazing. If you need a number, I'm comfortable giving 4.5's across the board for the integrity and simple gorgeousness of these three transfers. If you grew up watching these films on VHS you're going to be blown away. I don't say that lightly. When I popped in A New Hope and saw that first great close-up of R2 in all his worn-in glory—the scuff marks finely resolved in high definition—I knew I was in good hands. And I kept having moments like this. Seeing the weft of the fabric of Obi-Wan's cloak as he tells the stormtroopers "these are not the droids you're looking for." The level of detail inside the Millennium Falcon. The mottled facial texture of the Yoda puppet in Empire. The almost palpable ripples of Jabba's skin in Jedi. You'll notice background details you've never noticed before. Imperfections in the model work. Aspects of the costumes that previously escaped your attention.
There are certain scenes that look soft—I'm specifically thinking of the first few shots when our heroes land on Endor's forest moon—but any softness seems inherent in the cinematography, not introduced later due to DNR. Any filtering of the original trilogy is minimal; there are no clay-like, Vaseline- smeared faces to worry about here. You can tell occasionally that the image has been lightly cleaned up, but grain is visible and better yet, the prints are absolutely pristine. I don't think I spotted a single white speck or bit of debris. The fluctuations that appeared on the DVDs are also a thing of the past; color is more stable now and better balanced. Remember how the lightsabers' hues sometimes shifted? Not so here. Color reproduction in general is astute; rich and vibrant without looking boosted or oversaturated. There are times when black levels seem like they could be either a hair darker or lighter, but contrast seems carefully considered for the most part, with an emphasis on preserving detail in the shadows. And aside from some light noise, I didn't see any real signs of depreciatory compression. I can't imagine these three films looking much better than they do here. I suppose it's possible, but I'll leave that for Lucas to figure out.
Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Yes, yes, and yes again. I don't even need to write up separate audio reviews for each of the films. You know why? Because these lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 surround tracks are perfect. Not perfect like, "Yeah, they seem generally true-to-source and, no, there's no muffling or anything," but perfect like, "Yes. Hell yes. This is what sci-fi should sound like." Perfect as in completely exemplary in all the ways you'd hope they'd be. Superlative. Grade-A. Certified Gold.
Okay, let me calm down for a second before I fly off in a tornado of hyperbole. Really, though; these tracks are that good. If you've yet to experience John Williams' Star Wars theme in glorious 6.1 channel lossless audio, you've got quite a treat coming. Williams' cues are some of the most recognizable and hummable in the known universe, and they sound spectacular here, from the lilting and quiet heartswelling of Leia's theme to the balls-out, brash militancy of Vader's unstoppable death march, which feels like the brass section of the orchestra is clubbing you in the face with their instruments. In the best way imaginable. All of the music is grand, filling every channel, with distinct placement of the instruments in the soundspace. Rich, dynamic, full—you name it, that's what these scores are.
And that's before we even get into the good stuff—the sound effects. Sound design has been a part of the movies since the late 1920s, but the Star Wars series emphasized it in a way that few films had previously done. The audio really is integral to the storytelling. Think "Star Wars sounds." What do you hear? The electric hum of swinging lightsabers. The crisp pew-pew of laser blasters. The low ambient, oscillating rumble inside the Death Star. The high-pitched language of the Jawas. Darth Vader's heavy, respirator-assisted breathing. You could go on and on. How many films can claim to have made noises iconic?
But that's only the start of it. What makes these new 6.1 tracks so wonderful is how precisely and expressively they're mixed. Sound design and score achieve an ideal balance, each forceful and clean without drowning the other out. And the action sequences. Oh, the action sequences. Lasers criss- crossing the soundfield. Spaceships swooshing in every direction, their pulsing engines roaring past with a kind of down-shifting Doppler Effect. Massive explosions that send concentric arcs of debris spreading out from front to back. The thunderous LFE roar of an Imperial Star Destroyer drifting overhead. Even in the quieter moments there's ambience in the rears; the bleat of a tauntaun on Hoth, pouring rain before the Obi- Wan/Jango Fett fight in Clone Wars, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Obviously, the effects in the prequels are a bit more sophisticated, but you'll be surprised by how epic the original trilogy sounds. Throughout it all, dialogue is always easy to understand, and I didn't hear any disconcerting crackles, hisses, or dropouts. Fans couldn't have asked for more.
Each film includes English Dolby Digital 5.1 descriptive audio, Spanish, French, French-Quebec, and Portuguese dubs, and optional subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
To start, a quick note on the packaging. The Complete Saga is housed in case that's nearly identical, structurally, to last year's Alien Anthology release—the same height, width, depth, and material. (Only less glossy this time around.) The cardboard pages are thick and have embedded semi-circle slots for the discs, which are easy to slide out, but not so easy that you'd ever worry about them falling out on their own. Each page features painted artwork, and in the back you'll find a "Guide to the Galaxy" booklet that provides a break-down of what special features are included. I'm not incredibly fond of the cover art, but this is definitely a handsome Blu-ray set, one that will look great sitting next to the Alien Anthology on your shelf.
See all packaging photos in the Star Wars Blu-ray screenshots section
Now, on to the good stuff. I'll give a detailed listing below of everything that's included, but it will probably be beneficial to first give a breakdown of the types of special features that are spread out across these nine discs.
Bonus Disc 1: Prequel Features
Episode I - Naboo
Episode IV - Tatooine
Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
No, the "untouched" original trilogy is not included. Yes, there are some goofy new additions, like Darth Vader yelling "NOOOOO" as he throws Emperor Palpatine over the railing. I don't think anyone expected this release of The Complete Saga to be free of controversy. But come on. It's Star Wars. On Blu-ray. This is a once-in-a-technological-generation event, and if your hatred of George Lucas' revisionist tinkerings keeps you from enjoying some of your favorite films in high definition, you're missing out. Believe me, I share your pain. Whenever I hear that stupid funk song inside Jabba's palace, I cringe like a man being forced to bite down on tin foil or chew sand. It's almost physically painful. But I'm done being bitter. I'm playing the long game. One of these days, Lucas will wise up and realize that the original trilogy—in its original form—is a culturally and historically important piece of pop art that belongs to its fans. But until that day, I'm going to enjoy this Blu-ray box set. The films have never looked or sounded better— Episodes III-VI are particularly impressive—and they come with a fantastic collection of special features. Highly Recommended!
Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Lucasfilm Confirms Audio Change for Return of the Jedi Blu-ray - August 31, 2011
Lucasfilm has put an end to rumors circulating about the audio change on the upcoming Blu-ray edition of Return of the Jedi. According to the NY Times, a press representative from Lucasfilm confirmed that Darth Vader will in fact scream "No!" as he saves Luke from ...
• New Trailer for Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray - August 12, 2011
Twentieth Century Fox and Lucasfilm have released the second trailer for the debut of Star Wars on Blu-ray. The trailer teases more of the special features included on the 9-disc set, which will hit stores next month on September 16th.
• First Look at Deleted Scenes from Star Wars Blu-ray - July 22, 2011
Attendees at Comic Con 2011 were treated to a sneak peek of deleted scenes that will be featured on the upcoming Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set. The promotional clip released by Fox features snippets of deleted scenes from the original trilogy.
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