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Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Blu-ray Review)

28 Sep, 2011 By: John Latchem

$139.99 nine-disc Blu-ray set, $69.99 each three-disc trilogy Blu-ray set
Episodes I, II, IV, V, VI rated ‘PG.’ Episode II rated ‘PG-13.’
Stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Temuera Morrison, Jimmy Smits. Voices of James Earl Jones, Frank Oz.

There’s a moment at the end of “The Making of Star Wars,” a prescient featurette included with this new Blu-ray collection of the saga, that shows us a more innocent time in 1977 when Star Wars was a huge hit but no one knew what was to come.

“How will it end?” Wonders C-3PO, pondering the future of the franchise. “Maybe it will never end.”

If only he knew.

After 34 years, numerous sequels, cartoon series, TV movies, an infamous holiday special and a merchandising empire, “Star Wars” is the most dominant pop culture franchise ever created. The films have been re-released so many times on VHS, DVD and laserdisc it’s easy to lose count.

And now we get a new Blu-ray edition that is frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time. That makes it somewhat symbolic of the love-hate relationship fans have come to develop with their favorite franchise, in that it will enthrall most but that a lot of hardcore fans will probably find disappointing for the same reason.

The movies themselves look and sound great, and the extras are good, but the boxed set is as notable for what’s not included.

Take, for example, the 97-minute reel of assorted “Star Wars” spoofs and references made by other shows and movies over the years. A lot of these are hilarious, while others just seem to be included as loving tributes, and most are from programs also distributed on DVD by Fox. A few are even edited, and I’m sure every “Star Wars” fan will have their own list of items that weren’t included here.

For starters, almost none of the bonus material from previous home video versions is included here, so fans will have to keep all their old discs (and even some VHS tapes) if they want that bonus material. But at least they aren’t re-buying them with this set.

Instead, the set offers three excellent vintage documentaries covering each film of the original trilogy (including the aforementioned “The Making of Star Wars”), as well as a 30th anniversary Empire Strikes Back retrospective with George Lucas, director Irvin Kershner, writer Lawrence Kasdan and composer John Williams (whose music for the movie, I believe, is the greatest film score ever written). There’s also a 1997 featurette about recording new scenes for the Special Edition and a 2007 History Channel show about the technology of “Star Wars.” But the most fascinating might be the documentary Star Warriors, an often touching tribute to fandom that goes behind the scenes of the 2007 Rose Parade, when 200 members of the 501st Legion — a worldwide fan group known for their meticulous “Star Wars” costumes — were chosen to march alongside grand marshal George Lucas.

The bonus discs also include deleted scenes for each film, and the deleted scenes for the original trilogy amount to a treasure trove of material that is the Saga set’s biggest selling point (the bonus discs aren’t included with the individual trilogy sets). A lot of these scenes have been referenced throughout the years, so it’s nice to finally be able to see the bulk of them (a few made it onto laserdisc in the 1990s).

There are deleted scenes for the prequels, though none that had been included with the previous DVDs, and those are sorely missing here. The new footage is very raw (unlike the DVD scenes, which were completed), and it’s amusing funny looking it is watching actors swinging sticks in front of big blue backdrops and minimal sets.

While most previous extras are absent, the most notable exception is that the DVD commentary tracks have been ported over. Each of the six films also includes a new commentary track pieced together from interviews from cast and crew members, and these are quite informative.

I happen to enjoy the prequels for what the escapism that they are, and because of that I probably appreciate them more than a lot of fans who tend to quibble over a few issues while overlooking a lot of the finer points of the grand artistry on display. I think the broad strokes of the prequels are quite good, and you have to realize that Lucas is dealing in very basic archetypes, to the point where finer story and character details are secondary concerns, and I found that listening to him explain himself in the commentaries helps me better appreciate what he was trying to do.

Between Lucas and a lot of his collaborators, a lot of people in the commentaries make more than one comparison of the saga to Shakespeare. I will not debate here the merits of whether such comparisons are earned.

The films themselves are still breathtaking spectacles. Episodes II and III are the cleanest for obvious reasons, being the most recent and filmed digitally to begin with. But I don’t remember ever seeing Episode IV in such detail. You can really see all the dirt and grime and dents on the droids and helmets and costumes. I knew things were supposed to look worn out, but I didn’t know they were THAT beat up. Such clarity makes it easier to accept where some of the special edition material has been inserted.

I don’t really want to get into the issue about how the theatrical cuts of the original trilogy aren’t included here, which has become a sore spot for a lot of vocal fans, except to say that I don’t mind having these versions if that’s what’s being offered, though a lot of the changes are just plain silly.

It’s kind of a shame that DVD and Blu-ray didn’t exist yet when Lucas made the special editions, since then he could have finished the Jabba scene for Episode IV and stuck it on the disc as a deleted scene curio rather than a needless piece of exposition that repeats everything we learned in the Greedo scene and makes Jabba less mysterious when we finally get to his palace in Return of the Jedi.

Now, I’ve seen the movies so many times they hardly seem like films to me anymore, but a collection of moments and memories that taken together comprise a larger whole of the “Star Wars” pop culture phenomenon.

But from a fan’s perspective, the only thing that might be more frustrating than seeing changes to things that didn’t need fixing is that, while Lucas and his crew are on that kick, they don’t bother to clean up a few glitches or continuity errors that really could be fixed (some of which are especially glaring in HD). Just do a Google search for “Star Wars Revisited” to see what I mean.

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