But there’s a problem. A wave of negative reaction to some of the changes made by Lucas for this box set became clear a few weeks prior to the release as rumours of some important scenes ruined by needless additions and more handy work by the CG Replacement Bureau. Then video clips were uploaded to confirm the changes and boycotts were threatened and those unhappy with the Special Editions and 2004 DVD ‘improvements’ found new voice and dusted off their VHS copies and chided those who had their pre-orders booked.
So, who’s right? Are the changes too much for those who loved the originals, or is the HD transfer and wealth of extras enough to make the purchase worthwhile? As with many things, both are right, from a certain point of view.
We’ve already looked back over the films this past week in our Video Vault series, so if you’re looking to find out more about Episodes I to VI then click here to read them; there is an assumption that you’re not going in totally blind here. If you’ve never seen the films at all and can spare the cash then this box set is an instant recommendation – just make sure you watch them in the order they were made, don’t be tempted to start your journey to the dark side and out again with The Phantom Menace.
The more pertinent question is perhaps asked of those who already own the DVD set (and probably the VHS copies as well): Do I need to buy this set too?
The HD transfer is most obvious in Episodes IV to VI, and what I found strange were the additions for the 1997 Special Editions and how they showed their age. The advancement of computer technology is so rapid and is noticeable when some of the visual effects which impressed in the late nineties now look very out of place. The additions to Mos Eisley are not as polished as the 1977 footage, with some very messy compositing of the newer elements over the old and some problems with the focus in certain shots. It surprised me as the original footage looks incredibly sharp for the most part, occasionally there is a very muddy shot in between the crystal clear original footage which itself isn’t completely free from problems.
Looking on the positive side there are moments when I saw things I had never seen before, and I’ve watched these films a lot. In truth I’ve never seen the sparks that fly off the colliding lightsabers in the duel between Vader and Kenobi. At first it looks a little like CGI sweat and it may have always been in there but this was new to me. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s new scream to scare off the Sandpeople is a strange addition to those of us who have known the original but isn’t a huge offence overall. It was a genuine thrill to see the detail and the dirt of the first film in particular, not least in contrast to the clinical green-screenery of the prequels; the forests on the moon of Endor look lush and verdant and the ice planet of Hoth is so sharp you could shave a Wookie with it. The occasional transfer quirks aside this is the most beautiful version of the films we’ve seen and when I first saw the discs at the Big Screen event I was sold.
The additions will irk some, and infuriate others. I’m sure a lot of people may not even notice the newly CGI Yoda in The Phantom Menace or question Vader’s new, and controversial, cry of ‘Noooooooo.’ just before he saves Luke from the Emperor’s final attack, but you’ll know which applies to you. In all honesty the films remain some of the most exciting science fiction films we have and they have never looked better. I’d question the need to buy this new set if you already have the DVDs and aren’t too fussed about the HD, but as we’ll see there is a reason to keep your old copies around even if you do.
The menu system on the main discs are simple and won’t blow your mind but they are a vast improvement over those found on the three discs of extras which invite you to select a film, then a location (Tattooine, Hoth, Bespin etc) and then to select a category (interviews, deleted scenes etc) and then a further click to play them. It’s not fun to navigate this menu every time you want to see a particular special feature. The interviews to introduce each film’s extras are short and drawn from cast and crew and are a nice addition. The deleted scenes are a lot of fun, with the early scenes of Luke and Biggs on Tattooine being the most substantial. The scene with Han and a female companion in the Cantina is here, as is an extended scene in the land speeder with Luke and C3PO searching for R2D2 and while most of these have been seen before on various multimedia releases it’s good to have them all in one place.
What I alluded to earlier about keeping the DVDs handy is one of the more puzzling elements of this collection as the deleted scenes for the Prequel Trilogy do not include those found on the DVD releases. This is a strange omission and a real shame, nice though it is to see a brief cameo by Dominic West as a Naboo guard pushing over a defeated Battle Droid there were some substantial scenes excised from the original cut that would have fitted alongside the new scenes perfectly. Maybe there’s a definitive box set coming our way – maybe when the 3D version are put out…
When I was a kid the only way you could have Star Wars in your own home was as part of the documentaries made and televised at the time of release of the Original Trilogy films. These are included on the final disc of extras and proved a highlight for me as I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. Also included, and perhaps the most intriguing extra, on the disc was The Masters – a discussion of the making of The Empire Strikes Back with the late Irvin Kershner proving a wonderful guide through the difficult second movie.
So in the end I was won over by the new transfer and the decent, if limited, set of extras. If you have the DVDs and are annoyed at the constant tinkering by Lucas then be warned – this won’t light your saber. If you’re a fan and want to see Star Wars in the best way possible then the choice is clear. The galaxy far, far away has never looked better.