Star Wars… nothing but Star Wars…

Back in the 70’s I had a cassette tape with “The Story of Star Wars” narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne. The tape differed from the film Star Wars (1977) in including dialogue on Tatooine with Luke, Biggs Darklighter and friends at Tosche Station. The sequence was so vivid in my mind that for years I thought I had seen it. (My friend Sye recalls that he had seen the footage in an early showing of Star Wars, that also differed in showing the Leia R2 recording to Kenobi before his speech to Luke about the force). Well, the footage is available for viewing at last on the new Star Wars Saga Blue ray collection. But be prepared for some changes.

I’ve watched no less than 11 versions (alterations) of Star Wars (1977). There was the original 70mm theatrical release I saw in the summer of 1977 at River Oaks theater, and subsequent showings at smaller hometown theaters; the theatrical re-release in 1981; a VHS release; a CX-encoded Laserdisc (LD) in 1985; a wide-screen LD in 1989; a special edition theatrical release in 1997 and LD box set the same year (this is the version where Lucas added CGI crap); at least 3 DVD pressings; and now this Blue ray THX-certified saga collection. To be honest, I can’t keep track of the changes, nor do I want to -they are listed here if you’re interested:

I’ve seen Star Wars so many times that it’s difficult for me to recognize what scenes and audio loops were in the original film. I think there have been more changes to the audio tracks than video. One of these days I’m going to pop in the 1985 LD which is probably pretty close to the original. The new Blue ray re-masters are caricatures of the original three films, and include Lucas dabblings that will drive purests crazy. I’m providing a review of Episodes IV, V and VI, which I watched, but haven’t gotten to the much inferior prequels.

The packaging is superb, with 6 movie discs, plus 3 supplemental material discs that slide into stiff cardboard sleeves. I like the water-color artwork. There’s also a guide to the bonus discs. These discs are chock full of documentaries, extras and deleted sequences that any Star Wars fan will drool over. On my crappy Sony player the menus took forever to load.  I watched and listened to the films on a modest 42-inch Sony Bravia. Star Wars looks sharper than ever. I noticed subtle pastel color tones in the Tatooine skies. Numerous scenes showing stars in the desert planet’s horizon are now visible. However, I thought sequences in the Jawa sandcrawler were a bit dark. Previously you could see a cable pulling a security droid near Luke’s feet, but now the sequence is so dark you can’t resolve the goof. Maybe Lucas had the error removed. The lightsabers are sharper -finer and more menacing. Obi-Wan’s Krayt Dragon call was changed (again), for the worse. Why George why? He also added some CG rocks in front a R2 (hiding from the Sandpeople). Some of the score was altered in Kenobi’s hut. There might be a new scene with Biggs on Yavin -I can’t remember if this was in the CG remaster. It seems different on the Blue ray. One thing I noticed was the fine resolution of the BR reveals how crappy the CGI inserts truly are. I hate the altered scenes at Mos Eisley Spaceport. There’s also a bit of irony in seeing some of the earliest examples of computer animation in a movie (the Death Star attack simulations), juxtaposed with modern CG effects of simulated X and Y-wing fighters.  The most noticeable improvements on the Blue ray appear to be the scenes shot in Tunisia.

Empire looks flashier too. It’s brighter. The explosions pop. I noticed a lot more detail in the ship interiors. The Hoth scenes really stand out. I think the Han in carbonite sequence was altered too. I don’t remember it being so flashy (sparks flying).

Jedi of course contains the worse anathema -adding a poorly-dubbed Vader “Noooo… Nooooooooo” during the Emperor’s zapping of Luke. WTF. One blogger called this more Lucas “ass-#uckery” or was it “#uck-assery”? Lucas annoys me. And what’s up with Bib Fortuna’s eyes?

For all my belly-aching, Star Wars have never looked better for home theater viewing and the bonus material is SWEET.  I’ve never seen the Tosche Station footage before, as I am positive I would’ve remembered Luke wearing a floppy Gilligan hat. I picked up the BR Saga and a cool Vader T for $79 at Best Buy. Next up- Star Wars in 3D.

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