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<I>Star Wars Trilogy</I> DVD Details Unveiled

8 Sep, 2004 By: Jessica Wolf

Lucasfilm Ltd. and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment last week lifted the veil off the hotly anticipated Star Wars Trilogy, which streets Sept. 21 at $69.98, screening samples of the restored films and revealing glimpses of the special features.

George Lucas provides audio commentary for all three films, along with Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt (sound design) and Dennis Muren (visual effects). On The Empire Strikes Back disc, that film's director Irvin Kershner joins the audio commentary, too.

As for the extras on the set, which Lucasfilm has kept close to the vest since the announcement of the anticipated title, a fourth disc provides a new two-and-a-half-hour documentary titled “Empire of Dreams,” from filmmaker Kevin Burns, which features brand-new interviews with 40 people involved in the making of the films — from Lucas, to model makers, to stunt coordinators, to every member of the cast, including Harrison Ford and James Earl Jones. The doc even includes footage of fresh-faced actors like Kurt Russell, William Katt and Cindy Williams auditioning for the leads, as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes archival footage.

Burns said everyone he approached for the documentary signed on to participate, although some did worry they'd already said everything they'd could about the ubiquitous films over the past three decades.

“The standard that we had was to go out and provide fresh information on ‘Star Wars' to fans who had been consuming ‘Star Wars' for 28 years,” said Jim Ward, VP of marketing and distribution for Lucasfilm Ltd.

Each film includes a completely restored digital transfer and remastered sound with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.

Cleaning up the films was a painstaking process, said John Lowry, the film restoration expert whose company worked on digitally restoring the trilogy for the DVD set.

“These were the dirtiest, grimiest films I've ever had the pleasure of working on,” Lowry said. His team had to remove hundreds of particles from each frame, compared to a usual handful.

But the result is the crispest, brightest presentation “Star Wars” fans have ever seen, said Rick Dean, technical director for THX.

“This is the first time these movies have been seen from the original negative. The detail has never been seen this way,” Dean said.

Other DVD extras include three featurettes — “The Birth of the Lightsaber,” “The Characters of Star Wars” and “The Force Is With Them: The Legacy of Star Wars,” which features directors like Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Roland Emmerich and Lawrence Kasdan talking about the impact the original trilogy had on them and their careers as filmmakers.

Also on the DVD set is a preview of the Star Wars Battleground game that streets for PlayStation 2 and Xbox the same day as the trilogy set. Gamers also can pop the Star Wars special features disc into their Xbox and access an entire level of play for the new game.

Also included are extensive photo galleries of original promotional materials and posters and a complete collection of TV spots and trailers for the original trilogy.

“We went back into our archives and have for the very first time assembled the complete distillation of all the TV components of the promotion of the first three movies,” Ward said. “Normally, that kind of stuff is throw-ons on a DVD. Here, our fans get really excited about it. We knew expectations were high for this release. We knew people thought they'd seen everything there was to see about ‘Star Wars,' but no, they haven't.”

There are no deleted scenes on the discs because that feature did not fit into the vision that George Lucas and Lucasfilm had for the DVD set, Ward said. But there is an Easter egg hidden on one of the four discs that accesses a gag reel from the films.

There are changes to the films included on the DVD above and beyond those that were incorporated into the 1997 special editions, though execs on hand did not go into specifics.

Select reviewers who have viewed check discs revealed a few tidbits. For instance, in the final shot of Return of the Jedi, Hayden Christensen appears next to the fire at the celebration on Endor alongside Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, instead of the actor who originally portrayed Anakin Skywalker.

Ian McDiarmid, who plays Senator/Emperor Palpatine in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Return of the Jedi, has been inserted as that character in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Also, subtle dialogue changes bring the original trilogy more in line with events from the new films, according to reviewers. The Greedo/Han Solo bar shootout has been changed yet again — this time, the two characters shoot at each other pretty much simultaneously. Many fans had groused when Greedo, instead of Han Solo, shot first in the initial revision.

“[George Lucas] very strongly believes in an artist's right to have his work presented in the way he wants it presented,” Ward said. “The 1997 versions, he feels, are closest to his original vision, the one he couldn't accomplish in 1977.”

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