Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Star Wars: The Complete Saga – Blu-ray Review

(Before we get started… a disclaimer.  Let’s not kid ourselves… we’ve ALL seen the movies. We all have our opinions, there’s no need for in-depth reviews.  I will be reviewing the actual quality of the discs: sound, video quality, special features, etc.)
 Disc 1 – Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The Movie: The much maligned Episode I lives up to its reputation. 13 years later and it’s still not good… which Sportsguy515 and I discussed back in February on an episode of Forced Perspective while reviewing the 3D release. However, it’s not actually my least favorite. Attack of the Clones is clearly the worst movie in the series. Don’t get me wrong, Menace is right behind it, but at least it doesn’t overly rely on CG like Attack of the Clones does. There are real props, sets and location shots… unlike Clones. But at the very least it has one of the best lightsaber battles of the entire series and the introduction of one of the cooler characters: Darth Maul. Of course, Maul dies in the end (it’s not a spoiler, you’ve seen it)… but that won’t stop fanboys from worshipping him to Boba Fett-like levels for years to come. And then there’s Jar Jar… the movie comes to a screeching halt everytime he appears on screen.

The HD Picture: A sharp, nice picture, but I feel like it doesn’t fully utilize the HD medium. It looks better than DVD, but not by a lot. One very noticeable drawback is that the CGI characters end up looking faker than they already do. That’s not good.

The Sound: Currently, my entertainment center isn’t set-up for surround sound, etc, to fully optimize the sound capabilities of blu-ray. That said, the sound is incredible. The sound mixing, specifically in the pod racing sequence, is just a thing of beauty.

What Did They Change: They replaced the puppet Yoda from the original release to a CGI version. Not a big fan of that move, as I always prefer practical effects to CG ones.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, John Knoll, Dennis Muren and Scott Squires.
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew
Lucas’ commentary often comes off as justifying all his decisions… almost like he’s saying “I know you hate this, but you’re wrong and here’s why.”

Overall: They do their best to make a crappy film look good. It cleans up ok visually, and it sounds amazing, but in the end you are still left with a lackluster Star Wars movie.

Disc 2 – Attack of the Clones

The Movie: My LEAST favorite. I actively dislike this film. From the overlong and way too contrived opening chase sequence, to the AWFUL love story and the wooden acting. With the exception of the scenes on Naboo, the entire movie looks fake and synthetic. The Clone Troopers are all CGI. Adding Christopher Lee to the cast is a plus and the drastic reduction of Jar Jar are both plusses, but honestly, I didn’t need to see a tiny little Yoda jumping around doing flips. It looked ridiculous. Half of Yoda’s aura was that you always wondered how this little frog creature was able to be the most powerful Jedi master… actually SHOWING US breaks the aura and it just looks silly. This movie just plain sucks.

The HD Picture: Somehow there doesn’t seem to be ANY improvement on the picture. Maybe I’m just blind, but it doesn’t look that much better than DVD.

The Sound: Again, amazing. At least Skywalker Sound is on top of things.

What Did They Change: Nothing too noticeable. I think they added some extra screams of Annakin’s mom while he was dreaming of her.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Ben Burtt, Rob Coleman, Pablo Helman, John Knoll and Ben Snow
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew
Again, it’s amazing how much work goes into a crappy movie. More justifying from Lucas on the commentary tracks.

Overall: With the exception of the sound quality, not much “improved” on this one.

Disc 3: Revenge of the Sith

The Movie: The best of prequels, though admittedly, that’s not saying much. Thankfully only one quick shot of Jar Jar (which is enough to make it the best by default.) The story is still way too contrived, especially the action sequences. The opening “one-take” shot is really cool, but I guess it’s easy to look cool when you’re filming everything in CG. Much like Episode II, this thing uses 99.9% digital sets. Most of the movie is pretty awful, truth be told, but the last hour of the film starting at the point where Anakin finally turns to the dark side… that’s nearly perfect. All of the following are awesome well-executed moments: Anakin leading the Clone Troopers to the Jedi Temple, the execution of Order 66, Anakin killing the children, the epic Anakin VS Obi-Wan battle and Anakin’s physical transformation into Vader. Of course, all that is balanced with the crappy Emperor vs Yoda fight, Natalie Portman’s “You’re breaking my heart” line, Amidala dying of a broken heart (seriously WTF?), and awkwardly shoving Chewbacca into the movie. And of course, who could forget “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” The last shot of the movie, admittedly, is super cool.

The HD Picture: Absolutely gorgeous Hi Def picture. The opening space battle looks so crisp and sharp. It is one of the best looking films in the set from a picture quality point of view. This is what Blu-ray was made for.

The Sound: Not as good as the other prequels, surprisingly. I didn’t notice much of an upgrade from DVD sound.

What Did They Change: Nothing that I could notice.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Rob Coleman, John Knoll and Roger Guyett
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew
More of the same.

Overall: The best disc of the prequels. Watch the opening space battle in the most gorgeous hi-def you’ll ever see, then fast forward to the end of the movie.

Disc 4: A New Hope

The Movie: Honestly, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, then I have nothing to say to you. I remember in 1997 when the Special Editions came out, I was so excited to see the movie on the big screen, and it didn’t disappoint. I was so happy to see Star Wars in the theaters that I was able to look past the Special Edition changes. Unfortunately I can no longer do that. Still, This is the second best movie in the saga… but if you think it’s the best, I can’t argue that.

The HD Picture: Holy crap. I didn’t know a movie this old could look THIS beautiful. Amazing transfer.  The attack on the Death Star? You haven’t seen it until you see it on Blu-ray.

The Sound: The movie sounds amazing. The ships, the blasters, the lightsabers… all of it. And John Williams’ score sounds even better somehow.

What Did They Change: This is the ’97 Special Edition. So you get all that garbage. Greedo still shoots first. (Sigh.) And the terrible Jabba scene doesn’t look better in HD. I think they may have replaced an alien or two in the Cantina sequence… but more eagle-eyed viewers would be better equipped to tell me that.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew
The commentaries, especially the ones with archival interviews, are really informative and fascinating.

Overall: The first great disc on the set. Nearly flawless.

Disc 5: The Empire Strikes Back

The Movie: The BEST movie in the series. This movie is absolutely perfect, start to finish. It’s such an incredibly dark and dismal film, that adds depth and weight to series. Han Solo’s sacrifice and Leia’s profession of love is one of the greatest scenes in movie history, but then it gets beaten 20 minutes later… Darth Vader’s revelation to this day still sends chills down my spine.

The HD Picture: God, it looks beautiful. Everything from Hoth to Degobah to the Cloud City looks crystal clear.

The Sound: Not much to say here, other than awesome. You haven’t heard “The Imperial March” until you hear it on this blu-ray.

What Did They Change: Again, this is the ’97 Special Edition, so expect that.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew
Both commentary tracks are worth listening to if you are into this sort of thing.

Overall: The Best disc in the set. Hands down.

Disc 6: Return of the Jedi

The Movie: Before the prequels, this was the “worst” movie according to a lot of SW fans. I never understood this line of thinking. Yes, the teddy bears beat the Empire… that IS silly. But I get what he was going for: Even the simplest creatures can stand up to oppression. But it also has Jabba the Hut who is such an awesome memorable character (and looks much better as a puppet), a BAD ASS Luke Skywalker and an attack on the Death Star that’s almost as good as the original from Episode IV. (Almost) But most of all it has the emotional climax of Luke VS Vader. Luke has Obi Wan in one ear telling him to kill Vader and The Emperor in the other ear telling him to kill Vader, and in the end, he says “F You” to both of them and refuses to kill his father. This of course leads to the Darth Vader’s redemption, which if you don’t like… I don’t understand how you still like Star Wars.

The HD Picture: Once again, amazing transfer. The original trilogy looks so beautiful on blu-ray.

The Sound: Once again, good stuff. One thing I’ve failed to mention thus far is the sound Vader’s raspy breath. Sounds excellent.

What Did They Change: Again, Special Edition version. Of all the SE releases, this is the one they screwed with the most. They added a ridiculously over the top song in Jabba’s palace that STILL looks stupid. They completley change the ending! I mean, all the same stuff happens, but they change the original Ewok song to something less than stellar, plus add a whole bunch of scenes from around the Star Wars galaxy where the oppressed citizens are now celebrating The Emperor’s downfall. And of course they erase the original Anakin Skywalker actor in the blue ghost scene at the end and replace him with Hayden Christiansen. Fuck that change, seriously. As far as Blu-ray changes, only thing I noticed was the Ewoks now blink. I noticed immediately, but honestly, it’s not the bad. You forget they do it after a while. They also add a “No… Nooooo!” right before Vader saves Luke from the Emperor. I initially heard about this change and thought it was going to be the awful “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” from Episode III, but it’s not that bad. It’s not terribly offensive, but I liked the original better.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt and Dennis Muren
Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew
Great commentary tracks.
Overall: Once you get past the BS Special Edition changes, this is also a high quality blu-ray.

Disc 7: The Prequels Special Features

Interviews:  The interviews aren’t complete interviews, but rather clips of interviews on different episodes. For example there’s a brief interview of Liam Neeson’s take on the Qui-Gon character, another interview with George Lucas on preparing to write Episode I, and another one with Ewan MacGregor’s connection to Star Wars (his uncle played Wedge in the original Trilogy.)

Deleted/Extended Scenes: Honestly, all of this stuff is skippable. It’s a little interesting, but nothing cool. It doesn’t make the movies any more watchable or make more sense.

The Collection:  This is actually really cool. They’ll show preproduction and production models of things like costumes, sets, ships, creatures, props, etc. and then have the production talk about how they came to be, how they were designed, how they were used in the movie. It’s the best feature of the special features and really goes to show that even though the movies sucked… from a PRODUCTION aspect, a lot of people worked their asses off. It’s not their fault the writing and directing were so poor.

Concept Art Galleries: Interesting if you like this sort of thing.

Disc 8: The Original Trilogy Special Features

Interviews: Tons of great archival interview clips with Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, George Lucas, Irvin Kershner and Harrison Ford. Really good stuff.

Deleted/Extra Scenes: There are a lot of sweet scenes that have never been seen before. There’s a scene at Tosche Station, an extension of Han & Leia kissing on the Falcon and a shot of Jedi Knight Skywalker building his lightsaber. Tons of geek material here.

The Collection: Same as The Collection from the prequel disc, but this time with original trilogy stuff (obviously). It’s really impressive to learn from the model makers, SFX artists and production designers how the movies we loved as a kid all came together in the planning stages.

Concept Art Gallery: Tons of Ralph MacQuarrie stuff, which if you’re into (like I am) is beautiful to look at.

Overall, this special features disc is better than the Prequels one. Big shocker.

Disc 9: The Star Wars Documentaries

The Making of Star Wars (1977): This is an ULTRA cheesy TV special from the 70s. It’s honestly hard to sit through and doesn’t give you much information you don’t already know. Hosted by C3PO

The Empire Strikes Back: SPFX (1980): Another TV special, this time released around the time Empire hit theaters. Interesting as a time capsule. Hosted by Mark Hamill

Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (1983): A TV Special from 1983 that looks at some of the production going into Jedi. Hosted by Carrie Fischer and Billy Dee Williams.

Anatomy of a Dewback (1997): A documentary on how they added Dewbacks to the Special Edition of A New Hope. That’s it…

Star Warriors (2007): A documentary on fans that dress up as Stormtroopers. It’s OK, and pretty skippable.

Star Wars Tech (2007): TV Special looking at Star Wars technology and if it would actually work by consulting scientists, engineers, etc. This one is a lot of fun.

A Conversation with the Masters: THe Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later (2010): All the archival interviews from the Empire commentary track is included here in a 25 minute documentary. IF you listened to the commentary track you can skip this and vice versa.

Star Wars Spoofs (2011): This makes the whole disc. From Weird Al’s “The Saga Begins” to the Family Guy Star Wars specials… it’s 90 minutes of editing together practically every Star Wars reference from Film and Television. Spaceballs, That 70’s Show, How I Met Your Mother, Clerks, Robot Chicken… it’s all in here. This one is awesome.

What’s Missing from the 9-Disc Set:

As you could probably guess, Lucas neglected to include a lot of stuff from previous DVD releases. Such as:

“The Beginning: Making Episode I” – The hour-long documentary on the original DVD of Phantom Menace that was much more engaging than the film itself.

The Duel of the Fates Music Video – Remember how awesome this was when it first debuted?

The Empire of Dreams – The AWESOME documentary included on a Bonus Disc when the originally trilogy was released on DVD.

The Original Theatrical Cuts – All the original trilogy movies are the Special Editions. The Theatrical Cuts are not included.

Trailers – Not a single damn one.

Final Verdict

The team at LucasFilm overall did an amazing job transferring the saga onto Blu-ray.  The Hi-Def quality, ESPECIALLY on the original trilogy, is beautiful and the sound is extraordinary across the board.  The commentary tracks are informative, and some of the special features are a lot of fun, especially the ones dealing with Eps. 4-6.  If you’re someone that wants to have all 6 movies, then I’d recommend the set.  If you only care about the original Trilogy, they do sell both trilogies as individual sets for a cheaper price.  However, they don’t include all the special features.  Or, you could just wait another few years until he re-releases them… AGAIN.  Me?  I have the blu-rays… but I also smartly held on to my DVD versions of the original theatrical cuts.