Star Wars Trilogy
Star Wars IV: A New Hope
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, and Alec Guinness. Directed by George Lucas. 123minutes. 1977 and 2004.
Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams. Directed by Irvin Kershner. 129 minutes. 1980 and 2004. .
Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams. Directed by Richard Marquand. 136 minutes. 1980 and 2004.
All: Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic). Dolby 5.1 Surround EX (English), Dolby 2.0 Surround (English, French, Spanish). THX-certified. PG. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $69.95
The question was asked for years. When will we see the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD? Just when we thought it had been answered–George Lucas would wait until the last episode of the six planned films, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, was released in summer 2005–the world shifted. The films would be released in late 2004.
And they're here. Well, sort of. Lucas modified the films slightly in their 1997 re-release. He argued that technical and budget limitations had kept the films from being completed to his full satisfaction. But when he had the chance, he acted. The changes not only brought the films closer to his vision, but made them a better technical match for the three more recent Star Wars movies. Computer graphics and new matte backdrops were added. To say that this created a major furor among fans would be putting it mildly.
Like it or not, the changes have been expanded in these DVD releases. And there are no plans to release the original versions–though there's no telling if that might change in some future situation. Laserdisc collectors rejoice. The value of your widescreen LD versions just increased!
For me, the changes in these DVD releases actually improve the films–over both the 1997 versions and the originals. The only exception is an extended scene between Han Solo and Jabba the Hut in Star Wars. And two alterations from those 1997 releases will let the newest versions sit better with fans: Han Solo does not clearly shoot first in the Star Wars cantina scene, and an infamous, out-of-character scream from Luke Skywalker, added to The Empire Strikes Back's climax, has been removed.
We'll have a lot more to say about this release in our December 2004 issue. But you want to know about the technical quality now. In brief, it's superb. I had no complaints about the video quality. The films have all been restored to pristine condition, and look like they were shot yesterday. Return of the Jedi is just a little softer-looking than the other two, but the difference is barely worth mentioning. Colors are rich, noise levels low, shadow detail fine, and edge enhancement unobtrusive.
While fans will complain about the lack of DTS tracks, the sound is otherwise fine. There have been complaints on-line about problems in Star Wars–inverted music channels in the surrounds, a brief dialog dropout in one scene, dialed-down music levels in the climax–but I was not distracted by any of them. I heard no dialog problems on my copy. The soundtrack is meatier than I recall, with enhanced bass and increased surround activity, but I don't think many fans will object to those changes. The music recording is a little coarser than in more modern films, with the soundstage tending to concentrate near the speakers rather than spreading out evenly around and between them, but it's always punchy and exciting, with particularly snarly brass.
We'll comment on the extra features and the films themselves in our print review. But there's nothing about either the extras or the films that should deter you from adding this exceptional box set to your collection.–Thomas J. Norton