Audio Commentary by George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Irvin Kershner (ESB Only)
The Legendary Characters of Star Wars
The Birth of the Lightsaber
The Force is with Them: The Legacy of Star Wars
Teasers, trailers, TV spots, still galleries, poster galleries
Playable Xbox demo of the new Lucasarts game Star Wars Battlefront
The Making of the Episode III Videogame
Episode III Preview The Return of Darth Vader
Here’s the promotional text for the films:
“Episode IV: A New Hope – Eighteen years [after Episode III], Luke Skywalker, a young farmboy on Tatooine, is thrust into the struggle of the Rebel Alliance when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has lived for years in seclusion on the desert planet. Obi-Wan begins Luke’s Jedi training as Luke joins him on a daring mission to rescue the beautiful Rebel leader Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil Empire. Although Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader, his former apprentice, Luke proves that the Force is with him by destroying the Empire’s dreaded Death Star.
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Three years later Imperial forces continue to pursue the Rebels. After the Rebellion’s defeat on the ice planet Hoth, Luke journeys to the planet Dagobah to train with Jedi Master Yoda, who has lived in hiding since the fall of the Republic. In an attempt to convert Luke to the dark side, Darth Vader lures young Skywalker into a trap in the Cloud City of Bespin. In the midst of a fierce lightsaber duel with the Sith Lord, Luke faces the startling revelation that the evil Vader is in fact his father, Anakin Skywalker.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – In the epic conclusion of the saga, the Empire prepares to crush the Rebellion with a more powerful Death Star while the Rebel fleet mounts a massive attack on the space station. Luke Skywalker confronts his father Darth Vader in a final climactic duel before the evil Emperor. In the last second, Vader makes a momentous choice: he destroys the Emperor and saves his son. The Empire is finally defeated, the Sith are destroyed, and Anakin Skywalker is thus redeemed. At long last, freedom is restored to the galaxy.”
Each of the Star Wars films is rated PG.
To kick things off, I’d like to say that’s it’s about time that these arrived on DVD. It’s safe to say that this is one of the most anticipated DVD releases since the format began. I’m very happy that they finally got around to selling it. It’s obviously that this won’t be the last time that the Star Wars Trilogy will be on DVD, but this is nice to have until the next one comes along.
I don’t need to say anything about the movies themselves. More than likely you’ve already seen them and have your own opinions about them. Personally, they’re some of my all time favorite films. I’m also one of the believers that The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the entire series. The movies have been overhauled extensively for this DVD release. The dust and scratches have been removed. The picture is incredibly sharper. The colors are all brighter. As soon as A New Hope starts, you can see how blue R2-D2 is and how gold C-3PO is. It’s a dramatic difference and it makes the films look newer, especially with ANH.
But let’s get down to the real item of interest the latest changes. In case you weren’t aware, George Lucas has tinkered with the films yet again. There have been more changes since the Special Editions of 1997. Some of the changes are very minor. Others are pretty dramatic. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll find as far as changes go and my thoughts on them:
Greedo Still Shoots First Unfortunately, this scene still looks terrible. It was bad enough to make Greedo shoot first in an effort to make Han seem less cold blooded, but now they have made Han dodge the shot. As the blaster bolt comes towards his head, Han jerkily moves to the left. No matter how they tinker with it, it still looks bad.
A New Jabba This modification to A New Hope actually looks better than it did in the Special Edition. Jabba has been changed to look more like the original puppet and his Episode I incarnation. Everything about him is improved, though Han stepping on his tail still looks a bit awkward. Overall, though, this is a welcome change to this new edition.
Changed Text On The Death Star In A New Hope, the words on the controls were in English while in the other films it was all in Aurebesh font. That has actually been fixed in this edition when Obi-Wan turns off the tractor beam and when the Death Star gunners go to their computers. Again, another good change.
Longer Cellblock Hallways This is one of those minor changes that you might miss if you didn’t know about it. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the cellblock corridor is much longer than before. I don’t have any real opinion one way or another on this one.
A New Emperor In the Empire Strikes Back, the old Emperor has been changed. Originally it was an old woman with chimpanzee eyes and the voice of Clive Revell. Now it is Ian McDiarmid in his full Emperor makeup. For the sake of continuity, I think this is a good change. However, there’s a much more significant modification to this scene. The dialogue has now been changed so that it appears that Darth Vader never knew of the existence of Luke Skywalker. The Emperor now reveals to Darth for the first time that Luke is his son. The implication of this is that in Episode III Revenge of the Sith, Anakin doesn’t know about the existence of Luke. In the past fans always assumed that Darth Vader knew Luke had been born or at least thought he had been hidden or was dead. This ends up being one of the biggest modifications to the story in this edition. (It also ends up killing a few Expanded Universe stories where Vader learns earlier that his son blew up the first Death Star.)
Boba’s New Voice In ESB and ROTJ, Boba Fett’s voice has been replaced by that of Temuera Morrison’s (aka Jango Fett and the Clonetroopers). It’s a minor change, but for the sake of consistency I think it’s welcome.
No Screaming Luke One of the most despised additions to The Empire Strikes Back Special Edition was Luke screaming as he fell down the pit in Cloud City. The addition of this seemed to be an effort to make Luke’s jump seem less like suicide and more like a last ditch effort to escape Darth Vader. It ended up coming across as stupid and unnecessary. Seeing it removed is a great relief.
Anakin Sans Eyebrows and New Eyes In Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader is unmasked, a couple of modifications have been made to Anakin Skywalker. His bushy eyebrows have been removed and his eye color has been changed. This is yet another change for the sake of continuity and it will make more sense after Episode III. A burn victim wouldn’t have eyebrows anyway, so it makes sense.
Naboo Celebration Added to the celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi is a brief scene showing Naboo, thus revealing that the planet wasn’t destroyed at the end of Episode III. In fact, they seem to be doing pretty well considering they gave the galaxy Palpatine. Anyway, you see Theed teeming with humans and Gungans. In fact, you can see Jar Jar (or at least a Gungan you assume to be Jar Jar) in the lower right corner on top of a building dancing and yelling “Weesa Free!” Since this wraps up what happened to Naboo, I like the addition of it. It also makes the Ewoks the least despised creatures in the film.
The Jedi Temple In the Coruscant Celebration scene, you can now see the Senate and the Jedi Temple still standing in the background. In the Expanded Universe, it was always assumed that the Temple had been destroyed. This, of course, contradicts that. Actually, I’m surprised that Palpatine didn’t have it leveled after the extermination of the Jedi. Anyway, it’s there in plain view now.
The Ghost of Hayden Probably the most notable of any of the changes in this edition is the addition of Hayden Christensen at the end of Return of the Jedi. He replaces Sebastian Shaw as the ghost of Anakin at the end of the film. While it seems like more blasphemy, Lucas explains in the commentary that when you become a ghost in the Force, you retain the form of your true self. Anakin’s last form of his true self was as a young man, not as a burned up old guy, hence the modification. This may make more sense after Episode III, but it’s definitely a controversial change. It will take me a while to buy it.
Other Changes There are other minor changes here and there in the films. In ESB, Han’s jacket which magically appeared in the carbon freezing scene has been removed. In ROTJ, the Rancor matte lines have been cleaned up. In ANH, the Dianoga (trash compactor monster) has had its eye tweaked a little. I’m sure there are other changes that will be found along the way.
Despite these changes, not all the bloopers have been removed. Oola still falls out of her costume and Boba Fett’s antenna still switches sides in ROTJ, so there’s still room for tweaking in the future. I think for the most part the changes are good and I welcome them. But I have to wonder where does it stop? At what point will Lucas step back and be completely done messing with them? I’d be willing to bet he has a few more iterations in him before he’s finished.
All in all I’m very happy to get the Original Trilogy on DVD. I have been able to sit down with my young kids and let them watch it for the first time. It’s also refreshing to go back to these movies and get excited about Star Wars again. The prequels almost seem like a completely different series after seeing this again. In any case, it’s a required addition to anyone’s DVD collection.
That being said, though, what they do offer in this set is excellent. The featurettes are brilliant and contain all sorts of stuff that even I, as a die hard fan, have never seen before. It’s enough to satisfy me until the next edition comes along, and you can count on that happening.
Before diving into the bonus features, I have to mention the menus. They are a lot of fun. On each of the movie discs, there are three different menu themes that randomly pop up as you start the film. For example, on the ESB DVD there’s a Hoth theme, a Dagobah theme, and a Cloud City theme. On ROTJ there’s Jabba’s Palace, the Death Star, and Endor. On ANH there’s Tatooine, the Death Star, and Yavin. They are fully animated and incorporate real footage from the film along with new CG enhancements. The camera flies around and the pictures are composited together in new angles unseen in the film. It is an impressive presentation and is very much in the feel of the films.
Now on to the highlights of the bonus features:
“Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy” This 2 ½ hour documentary by Kevin Burns covers the making of the complete Star Wars Trilogy. It starts with Lucas making THX-1138 and ends with discussion of the 1997 Special Editions and Episode I. It discusses all the trials and tribulations of getting the films made, the critical reaction to the movies, the toys, and more. You even get to see clips of the screentests for the actors. A rare treat (till now only available on bootlegs) is footage of Kurt Russell, William Katt, and Cindy Williams trying out for the lead roles in Star Wars. Lead singer from Berlin Terry Nunn is even shown trying out for the role of Princess Leia with Harrison Ford. Along the way there’s a lot of behind the scenes footage shown. One of the recurring highlights is footage of alternate versions of some scenes. You’ll see dialogue delivered differently, bloopers, and more. You see Harrison Ford say “Schmuck” after one scene. You see Mark Hamill get bit by one of the snakes on Dagobah. It’s all here and for die hard fans like myself, it’s a cool treat. I hadn’t seen a lot of this stuff before. There are also interviews with 40 of the cast and crew including Lucas, Ford, Hamill, Fisher, ESB director Irvin Kershner, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, John Williams, James Earl Jones, and more. Producer Gary Kurtz is even included despite his well known falling out with Lucas, and I’m very glad he was included. Stunt coordinator Peter Diamond is also here. It’s a special treat since he died three weeks after the footage was filmed. Lucasfilm has touted this documentary as a “warts and all” account of the making of the films, and to an extent it is. They talk about Lucas’ trip to the hospital, the problems with the Director’s Guild, Alan Ladd leaving Fox, and other low points for the creators. However, a lot of the gossipy parts of the making of the film were left out. A lot of the fights, power struggles, and such were glossed over, and it’s probably for the best. But don’t expect an unflinching look at the making of the movie. As a Star Wars nut, I was already intimately familiar with most aspects of the making of the movie, so there wasn’t a lot of new information for me. But the new footage and interviews made it all worthwhile. 2 ½ hours may seem like a lot of time for a documentary, but they need every minute of it to adequately cover the making of the films, and even then there’s a lot missing. (There’s no Holiday Special discussion!) They could easily do 2 hours for each film. Overall, though, I loved it. This documentary is worth the price of the DVD set by itself.
Audio Commentary by George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Irvin Kershner (ESB Only) On the commentaries for these films, each of the contributors were recorded separately. As their comments come on, their names appear at the top of the screen. I suppose the best comments from each commentary were pulled out and placed over the film. Unfortunately, the comments don’t always go with what’s on the screen. I also found that they usually didn’t discuss topics that I wanted covered. Lucas rarely talks about the changes he made in the Special Edition or this edition. But there’s still interesting bits of trivia here and there. He talks about Episode III on occasion and even addresses how the ghosts appear at the end of ROTJ. Carrie Fisher occasionally adds humor to the commentary. When Irvin Kershner comes on in the ESB commentary, he has quite a bit to say. He even has a few anecdotes about filming that I hadn’t heard before. What they need to do on future commentaries is have everyone record in a room together in order to capture the spontaneity. They also desperately need Mark Hamill and some of the other contributors to the film. The commentaries are still worth checking out as is, though.
The Legendary Characters of Star Wars This featurette goes into great detail about the development of the core Star Wars characters. They talk about how Han Solo was originally a green, gilled alien. There are details about the evolution of Luke Skywalker from female to male. They talk about how Darth Vader got his trademark look. If you’re a hard core Star Wars fan, then it’s not much that you haven’t heard before. But again, the interviews, art, and behind the scenes footage that flashes by makes it all worth it. And like in the other documentaries, there were a few pieces of art that I didn’t recall seeing before. Be sure to watch the credits for some really funny outtakes.
The Birth of the Lightsaber In this feature Lucas, Hamill, and others get into the origin of the lightsaber. They talk about how the idea came about, how they achieved the effect on set, how ILM added the glow, and how Ben Burtt created the sound effect for them. There’s some cool behind the scenes footage here, too, the highlight of which is a look at the final lightsaber battle in ROTJ. It’s shown without the effects and Hamill is shown beating Darth Vader and then his own lightsaber breaks and flies off onto the set. And like the other feature, there are some hilarious outtakes during the credits.
The Force is with Them: The Legacy of Star Wars This feature discusses how Star Wars and George Lucas affected various filmmakers in the industry. There are interviews with James Cameron, Ridley Scott, John Lasseter, Roland Emmerich, Peter Jackson, Dean Devlin, John Singleton, and others. They talk about how the storytelling, tone, look, and pacing of the film affected their own styles. They also talk about how ILM freed them to do amazing effects. While it’s undeniable that Star Wars had a dramatic impact on these filmmakers, the video occasionally makes it seem like Lucas is taking credit for some of the films’ successes. There’s a ton of footage from Lord of the Rings here and it comes across as if they wouldn’t have happened without Lucas. It was the same with Toy Story. The film points out that Lucas owned Pixar, but it fails to mention that it only really became successful after he sold it. Despite this, it’s a fun video and it’s interesting to hear some of my favorite directors talk about how Star Wars impacted them.
Teasers, trailers, TV spots, still galleries, poster galleries Many of the old promotional trailers, teasers, and TV spots are included here. There’s even the “Revenge of the Jedi” teaser. It’s interesting to see how the styles of these promotional items changes over the years. The ones from the 70’s come across as particularly cheesy. The still galleries also had a number of pictures that I had never seen before. They also include amusing captions. You’ll see shots of Kermit and Miss Piggy on Dagobah, Lucas clowning on the set of ROTJ, Carrie Fisher on the set in Norway, images from deleted scenes, and more. Also look for a movie poster gallery. As a movie poster collector, I found this to be quite a treat.
Playable Xbox demo of the new Lucasarts game Star Wars Battlefront I don’t have an Xbox, but I was able to play this game at the rollout of this DVD. The game looks like a lot of fun and it allows you to play in major battles from the prequels and the classic trilogy. You can play a variety of characters including clonetroopers and stormtroopers. I don’t normally play games, but this one makes me want to try it again.
The Making of the Episode III Videogame This short video shows the making of the videogame. In it, you see Hayden Christensen and stunt coordinator Nick Gillard instructing the video game programmers on how to do the lightsaber moves and motions. They seem to do everything just short of being wired up in motion capture suits. You get to see some production art and then a final animation where Anakin Skywalker fights a group of battledroids in the dark. It’s quite impressive.
Episode III Preview The Return of Darth Vader This was actually the first bonus feature that I checked out. It discusses the appearance of Darth Vader in Episode III. You see the helmet and costume being fabricated, Ewan and Hayden practicing their final battle, and finally Hayden donning the costume. If you look carefully, you’ll see Vader is manacled to a board (ala Frankenstein) with Darth Sidious standing nearby. It’s a great teaser for the final prequel.
DVD-ROM Weblink If you throw this DVD in your computer it will take you to exclusive content on Starwars.com. Apparently there will be exclusive Episode III stuff there, too.
If you’re looking for the Easter Egg, it’s on the Bonus Materials disc under the Video Game and Still Galleries menu. To access it, you must hit “1138” or some variation of it. It’s different on every player. On a Sony, you hit “11”, then “3”, then “8”. On a Panasonic, you hit “>10”, “11”, “>10”, “38”. It may be different on other players, but if the box by R2 lights up, you’re on the right track. This will lead you to a blooper and outtake reel that’s 4.5 minutes long. You’ll see Boba Fett hunt Wicket on the Death Star, Chewie catch on fire, Fisher delivering funny lines to Jabba, and more.
The Bottom Line: