The Star Wars Trilogy (DVD)

Return with us to a galaxy far, far away as ten of our judges tackle the legendary Holy Trilogy.

Judge Bill Gibron

The main attraction, 2001: A Space Odyssey, hadn’t started yet, and the audience was getting antsy. For this small theater in Indiana, a special engagement showing of Stanley Kubrick’s masterwork was an event, and a capacity crowd consisting of the curious and the converted were anxious for the magnificence to begin. Of course, a trip to the cineplex wouldn’t be complete without a few previews to tantalize and tempt. The theater went dark and a light came up on the screen. Suddenly, a strange set of images streamed by: Odd, geometrically-shaped ships tore through the endless void of space; creatures that looked like rejects from a Halloween party gathered and fought in a claustrophobic cave cantina; a man dressed in a monk’s robe battled an effigy in black, whose face was covered by a bizarre crash helmet; the weapon of choice was some manner of a laser sword; and there were infinite shots of people running, firing ray guns, and careening through futuristic sets accompanied by robots and hairy beasts. As the final title card came up, declaring that this cinematic mess was “coming to a galaxy near you this summer,” a collective chuckle rose out of the audience. Then a single, sonorous voice bellowed from out of the darkness:

“What the hell was that sh*t?”

The laughter was spontaneous and prolonged. It lasted throughout the ad for a local merchant and waned just slightly as the “Feature Presentation” animation began. By the time Master Kubrick’s colossal movie achievement was revealing its mysteries before the awe-struck crowd, almost everyone had forgotten about the little morality play about a galaxy far, far away and its so-called intergalactic battle.

Fast-forward a few months, and this new film, this Star Wars, was the biggest cultural phenomenon the ’70s had seen. Virtually rewriting the book on how to present science fiction to filmgoers around the world, it was a movie that solidified the importance of the blockbuster to Tinseltown, became a coming of age crossroads for freaks and geeks in the making, and spawned an entire merchandising industry. Now, two sequels, three prequels, and a few misguided TV efforts along the way, the universe inhabited by Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader finds its way onto DVD. And for those who have waited what seems like forever for the classic trilogy to make it onto the current home theater format champion seem prepared to debate its digital desirability. So DVD Verdict, in its never-ending effort to provide the best film criticism and tech/spec analysis around, offers up this Supreme Court review of the movies, the box set’s features, and the influence George Lucas’s almost-folly had on the rest of the social landscape.

History And Foundation—Judge Erick Harper

“I’ve made what I consider the most conventional kind of movie I can possibly make.”

Naysayers hold the above quote, popularly attributed to George Lucas in a conversation with John Milius, as the greatest possible indictment of his space saga. Here, according to them, we have proof positive in his own words that Lucas is a hack, a slave to formula, a cinematic pimp of the first magnitude. His films, they say, are a pastiche of clichés, cleaving to the tritely familiar in a blatant attempt to pander to the lowest common denominator.

It is true; in creating Star Wars, George Lucas begged, borrowed, and stole some of the oldest storytelling tropes known to humanity. However, this is hardly the crime against creativity that his detractors would suggest. Lucas drew upon the ideas of Freud and Jung, as filtered through mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, to probe the seemingly universal themes, characters, and images of world mythology that for one reason or another resonate with almost everyone. The great legends of King Arthur, Gilgamesh, Theseus, and Beowulf find their echoes in Star Wars. The perils of Oedipus and unresolved father-conflict are in full view. So too are the lesser, seemingly innocuous fairy-tale elements such as a princess in need of rescue, a wise mentor, nifty weapons, and a coming-of-age story that could be lifted from the sacred or folk traditions of nearly any culture on the face of the earth.

“All I wanted to say in a simple and straightforward way is that there is a God and there is a good and bad side.”

The reason for this seemingly universal resonance, according to Jungian thought, is the use of archetypes, primordial images that populate our collective unconscious. Now, you can buy into the extreme Jungian idea that these images and archetypes are somehow inherent or genetic in human beings, and that we have some Force-like connection that binds the imagination of our entire species together. Otherwise, you can choose the relatively more believable theory that our experiences as human beings in this world are not, in the grand scheme of things, all that different, and that we are all socialized in such a way as to be in tune with certain powerful, elemental character types and plot points. Either way, George Lucas learned early on that people are suckers for a good yarn that operates on a mythic level, regardless of whether our receptiveness comes from some mystical source or the rather more mundane operations of psychology. While most of us view myths as quaint fantasies and fictions of an earlier time in human history, the people who struggled to make sense of the world around them and created stories to explain it all regarded their myths as sources of ultimate truth. Lucas realized that stories in this mold still had power and could captivate the imagination of people of all ages, from all over the world. Myths work, and Star Wars works, because we respond to these nuggets of truth buried amidst all the fun.

“I was trying to get fairy tales, myths, and religion down to a distilled state, studying the pure form to see how and why it worked.”

If Lucas’s chief inspiration came from the “greatest hits” of ancient myth, another source came from a place much more recent, but in some ways much farther away. There is no question of the influence of Japanese film on his creation, specifically the jidai geki period films and chambara swordfighting films of Akira Kurosawa. It has become trite to observe how the Jedi, with their sense of duty and strict moral code, are based on an idealized version of the Japanese samurai. There are all sorts of Lucas-Kurosawa connections that one can make, but the most obvious elements are the ones he directly stole from the master. A good deal of the plot structure of A New Hope is a fairly direct rehash of The Hidden Fortress, one of Kurosawa’s most crowd-pleasing samurai epics. A scene in Yojimbo, with ruffians bragging about how dangerous and wanted they are, ends with a flash of the hero’s sword and an arm on the ground; it’s a safe bet that any similarities with the cantina scene in A New Hope are no coincidence. Lucas’s editing style and pacing, his use of wipes between scenes, and other elements of his style are clearly influenced by Kurosawa as well.

There were other influences as well, from closer to home. The Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials are often cited, but Lucas gained relatively little from them apart from their sci-fi trappings and episodic structure. Star Wars owes a lot more to the work of Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn than it does to the often tedious adventures of Buster Crabbe and friends. World War II films, westerns, swashbucklers, his own hot-rodding youth—the influences on Star Wars and the pop culture elements that Lucas cribbed from his own life experiences are numerous and diverse.

“I mean, there’s a reason this film is so popular. It’s not that I’m giving out propaganda nobody wants to hear.”

In one sense, Star Wars is timeless, but in another sense, there was only a very narrow window of opportunity in which it could have become the runaway success that it was. The defeatism and insecurity of the 1970s, born of the tragic debacle in Vietnam and the tragic scandal of Watergate, carried over into Hollywood as well. The films produced in that decade stand as some of the greatest in cinema history, bringing a gritty, hyper-realistic sensibility to American filmmaking. Mirroring the spirit of the times, however, even the greatest films of the period are, almost without exception, uniformly downbeat, pessimistic, and depressing. People no longer had faith that the good guys would always win; worse yet, their confidence that we were in fact the good guys had been betrayed and shaken, perhaps beyond repair. George Lucas began making films in the midst of these days of malaise. His first feature film, THX 1138, may have taken place in a futuristic setting, but it was part and parcel of the grittiness and gloom that pop culture was feeding itself in what seemed like a self-destructive, self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. Star Wars, with its clear-cut lines of good and evil and its pedigree rooted in ancient tradition rather than the shifting sands of a decaying culture, burst upon the scene and restored to people something they didn’t even know they had lost.

“I wanted to make a kids’ film that would strengthen contemporary mythology and introduce a kind of basic morality. Nobody’s saying the very basic things; they’re dealing in the abstract. Everybody’s forgetting to tell the kids, ‘Hey, this is right and this is wrong.'”

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope—Appellate Judge David Ryan

Overheard at a Bicentennial party in the Hollywood Hills—early July, 1976…

“George! How are you! It’s been a couple of years, hasn’t it? Yeah, I’m still over at Universal. Yep, still in the front office. Same old same old, you know.

“Listen—I see you’re finally making that film you pitched to us back in ’72. What was it—’The Star Wars,’ right? Your Flash Gordon film? Yeah, yeah. I remember that one. That and Graffiti—you were pitching them both. And thank you for pitching Graffiti! Great, great film, George. Great film. Very profitable.

“But George…Really, are you sure about this space flick? I like you, George. You don’t talk much. I like that in a director. But you’re young, and you’ve got to consider your career. Yeah, American Graffiti was a big hit. Everyone loved it. But now you’ve got Alan Ladd and Fox tied up in an eight million dollar science fiction picture. Sci-fi is dead, George. Dead. Died with 2001. I don’t think I can find three pictures in the last decade that collectively made as much as 2001—and 2001 was a fluke, because the hippies loved it. Maybe Planet of the Apes. That did pretty well—about but it also had Heston. Big names sell small projects, you know.

“Eight mil is a lot, George. Do you honestly expect to make that back? Who’s going to watch this film? I’ll tell you who—if anyone, it’ll be that geek crowd. The ones who still read comic books in college. That’s it, George. Even the kids have tuned this stuff out. Are you going to make $10M back off of geeks?

“It’s a ‘space western’? Good Lord, that’s even worse. Great idea, George—combine two dead genres. Hope you’ve got Clint Eastwood in there somewhere. Or Steve McQueen.

“Didn’t you learn anything from that artsy film-school flick you made…what was it, THC something? Yeah—THX 1138. That one. I liked it—it was different; looked great. But it’s too different. Nobody got it, and nobody even wanted to get it. That’s why people didn’t exactly flock to the theaters, George. I’m sure you recall that aspect of the film. Don’t get me wrong—there’s always a niche audience somewhere for anything—but if you want to be that ‘out there,’ and appeal to some small niche, you can’t spend money like that. You almost bankrupted your friend Coppola because of that film, George. He’s got talent. You do too, but you almost brought the both of you down.

“Really—I’m just concerned about the direction you’re taking with your career. You have a big feather in your cap from Graffiti, George. Why haven’t you learned from it? People—adults—don’t want Orwell films or space operas today. They want films concretely grounded in reality. Stuff like Chinatown, The Godfather, and the like. And stuff like American Graffiti. Not a new version of Buck Rogers. Go make a sequel to Graffiti. People can relate to that story, not some space fantasy. Make some money from your triumphs. Play within the system, George.

“Okay, okay…I really shouldn’t tell you this—but I saw a script of your film. I’ve got sources, okay? We’ll leave it at that. Call me crazy, but it looks like the story isn’t even told from the perspective of Flash Gordon, or whatever your lead’s name is. Starkiller? Something like that? It’s told by a couple of robots. Robots! What is this, Lost in Space? What? Kurosawa? The Hidden Fortress? I don’t follow you. Never saw it…So he told a grandiose war story from the perspective of lowly minions. Okay—so what? This isn’t China, or Japan, or wherever he’s from, George. You’re spending real money on this. Assuming anyone wants to see your film, they’re going to want heroes and cowboys and gunfights at the OK Corral. Not a couple of robots, one of whom can’t speak English.

“And honestly, you’re compounding the problem by casting all these unknowns. I told you—big names sell small projects. At least I’ve heard of Guinness and Cushing, but they’re hardly ‘big’ names. But the rest? You’ve got that Hamill kid from General Hospital and The Texas Wheelers. Excuse me, who is he again? And you’ve got Debbie Reynolds’s daughter…Carrie, right? The one with Eddie Fisher? What, exactly, do these two bring to the table? I hear you even cast that former set carpenter; the one you gave that bit part in Graffiti to. Questionable, George. You’re putting your career in the hands of amateurs. And robots. Robots!

“Now I really shouldn’t be saying this—but like I said, I’ve always liked you, George. I’m hearing whispers out of Fox. Whispers like ‘over budget.’ And ‘never work with this guy again.’ And ‘let’s cut our losses now.’ You’re off in London at Elstree filming this stuff, and everyone’s getting ready to watch you fail. George, your ass is seriously on the line here. So is Ladd’s, for greenlighting this fiasco.

“You know whose ass isn’t on the line? Mine, George. You know why? Because I’m smart. I know what people want. It’s my job to know what they want. And like I told you four years ago, people don’t want sci-fi, they don’t want Flash Gordon, they don’t want space cowboys vs. space indians, and they don’t want some damn homage to a Japanese guy nobody’s ever heard of outside of USC Film School.

“Okay, maybe I’ve had a few drinks here, George. God Bless America and all that, and I’m sorry if I’m being a bad guy here. But I’m damn glad we passed on this “The Star Wars” deal. I was right back then, I’m right now, and I’ll be right 25 years from now. People don’t want to see this. It will fail, and fail miserably—and you’ll be the new local red-headed stepchild to beat on. If you brought it to me today, I’d pass again. I think Fox wishes they had passed already. Let someone else go down with your little space-ship.

“But I like you, George. I really hope you rebound from this. If you’re interested in doing a Graffiti sequel, give me a ring, okay?”

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back—Judge Bill Gibron

Having suffered the loss of their ultimate weapon, the planet destroying Death Star, the Empire now more than ever wants to crush the Rebellion and take over control of the galaxy. Lead by the ruthless Darth Vader (who is controlled by the equally evil Emperor), a series of lookout droids scour space. Eventually, the rebels are discovered on the ice planet of Hoth. There, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo have been helping Princess Leia gather together troops to continue the revolt against the Imperial forces. When the Empire discovers their whereabouts, a grand battle begins and the rebels take off to safety. Han travels with Leia to the cloud city of Bespin to meet up with an old friend, Lando Calrissian. Luke, on the other hand, follows a vision given to him by Obi-Wan Kenobi and heads to Dagobah to meet Yoda, the 800-year-old Jedi Master. There he will learn the ways of the Force. But with his training incomplete, Luke must come to the rescue of his friends and face Darth Vader, man to maniac. Little does he know that the vicious villain has a dark secret he’s been keeping, a truth that could tear Luke apart and turn him to the dark side.

In the genre-jumping Saturday matinee serial world of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back is George Lucas’s war picture. If A New Hope is a toned down western and The Return of the Jedi is an all-out action extravaganza (not to mention Phantom Menace‘s boy’s adventure and Clones‘s misguided romance), then Empire manages to expand the universe only hinted at in Episode IV while widening the technical divide between itself and its prehistoric predecessor. Everything about The Empire Strikes Back is new and improved—the storytelling, the directing, the acting, the effects. Indeed, Empire succeeds on so many levels that its minor misfires are instantly forgiven. Now, almost 20+ years since its first release, and newly polished with a brand new print and set of pixel parameters, this oft-cited best film in the series is even more magnificent…and maddening. It’s safe to say that no reconfiguration of this film, no CGI sentinels or digitally composed cityscapes, could recreate the impact this movie had when it first came out. Aside from the bombshell revelation that had fans scratching their heads and doubting their ears for the three years until Jedi affirmed a certain father/son lineage, Empire proved that Lucas’s world was virtually limitless. From an effects standpoint, as well as an imagination basis, it seemed like genial George and his Industrial Light and Magic wizards could do no wrong.

Though it is undoubtedly the most serious film of the original trilogy (and of the five films so far in the Star Wars saga), The Empire Strikes Back still stumbles a couple of times. Dagobah is a desolate place, a swampy bayou that suffers from one of the Star Wars films’ foundational flaws: the uninhabitable habitat concept. From the multi-mile high skyscrapers that would require their own pressurized atmospheres just to be able to house human life, to the murky mires that seem too cold or overgrown to sustain existence, Yoda’s residence in exile is a far too nature-loving locale that begs the question of how this once revered individual ended up there (hope Episode III has some answers). Also, there is far too much villainy incompetence in the film. The Empire must be comprised of members of the intergalactic gang who couldn’t shoot straight, since they miss most of our cast, even when the heroes are dawdling in point blank range. Massive, mobile Imperial walkers can shake the landscape with their behemoth destructive power, but apparently, their computers can’t calculate fast enough to devise a means of breaking out of a tangle of wires. A lot of the issues with Empire, as minor as they are, deal with style over substance. The Wampa ice Creature looks great (and has a few added scenes of grue to make it more menacing) and yet he becomes an easily defeated enemy. And if the Taun-tauns are so gosh-darned important to navigating Hoth’s frozen tundra, why haven’t the rebels devised a way of keeping them from freezing to death? It’s questions like these that can keep an aging fan up at night.

Thankfully, Empire holds up much better than Jedi‘s kid vid stuffed animal brigade (and even some of A New Hope‘s hokey heroism) and this is due in direct part to the participation of director Irvin Kershner. Balancing character with action, with a precise knowledge of where comedy and tragedy need to be inserted, this unlikeliest of fantasy film creators (before entering into the realm of Star Wars, he was known for helming such offbeat films as Up the Sandbox and Eyes of Laura Mars) keeps the pace lively and the movie grounded in people, not parsecs. His battle scenes are stellar (the Hoth offensive may be the best land-based Star Wars sequence ever) and he even manages to draw out the suspense in Luke and Vader’s lightsaber showdown. It also helps that Lucas could now afford the technological leaps necessary to broaden and brighten Empire‘s epic scope (a worldwide blockbuster will do that for you). That is why the vistas look so vast and the ships so detailed. It helps make this space opera that much more dynamic.

Empire is also the sole chapter of the Star Wars saga that more or less benefited from the imposition of Lucas’s revisionist rewriting of history via the 1997/2004 special edition alterations. The CGI inserted into The Empire Strikes Back makes the cloud city of Bespin that much more amazing (though we still get no real idea of the floating community’s infrastructure) and strengthens the all-important conflict effects during the skirmishes. But there are other additions that are a tad bothersome. The new Emperor footage—actor Ian McDiarmid replacing the original, vague bug-eyed visage—seems strangely out of sync with Vader’s line readings, and adding Temuera Morrison’s voice for Boba Fett is disconcerting, even if he is Jango’s clone. Besides, he has quadruple the lines Boba had in any versions of the film. While not lethal to one’s enjoyment of the movie, and not changing the love triangle (between Luke, Leia, and Han) or the Light/Dark side of the Force facets (the Skywalker family fracas), longtime fans may still balk at such apparently pointless reconfigurations.

There is a silly streak of disingenuousness that runs throughout Lucas’s desire to redefine his films, something that comes across rather strongly in the commentary track. Once you get past Carrie Fisher’s drug-flashback banter and effects guys Dennis Muren and Ben Burtt (visual and sound, respectively) blow-by-blow descriptions, you are left with a battle of revisionist wills between Lucas and Kershner, and the dichotomy is very clear. Kershner is lively and energetic, explaining why certain elements needed to be added and how difficult it was to envision some of the overall action. He is making his movie for all time, not just a particular demographic. Lucas, on the other hand, is apologetic and direct, worrying that this new vision is still too intense and dark “for kids.” Those last two words appear a great many times in George’s narrative, covering everything from why the movies received the special edition treatment, to situations that still bother him. While it’s great to hear him finally comment on the sagas that solidified his own cinematic empire, it’s disheartening to hear his constant concern for the juveniles. The fallacy here is that, while children do make up a nice component of the Star Wars fan-base, it was teenage and adult filmgoers that drove the box office. Where were the tykes lining up for Episode I six months before it opened? Lucas fails to recognize that Star Wars is more than just a children’s matinee, and this has been the rationale behind many of his most misguided decisions.

Still, we have The Empire Strikes Back, the moodiest, grimmest—dare it be said, most adult oriented—film in the initial trilogy; a magnificent movie that ages gracefully because of its desire to play fair, not fairytale, with its audience. Using an “anyone can die” sense of dread combined with a near diabetic desire to keep us filled with amazing eye candy, it is a film that emphasizes the bond between the characters as it sets them off on their own individual narratives. It expands the threat to the rebellion while it exposes the Empire’s arrogant weaknesses. It gives us the pop icon Yoda and his fuzzy green greatness. It positions Darth Vader, not Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, as the center of the entire story arc and crafts one of the best certified jaw-dropping plot twists in the history of the genre (too bad its impact has been dampened by decades of debate—as well as Episodes I and II). While A New Hope will always be the movie that started it all, and Jedi produces enough Ewok based palpitations to send sci-fi fans into a snit, The Empire Strikes Back is the benchmark by which all other elements of the Star Wars universe can be based. It’s as entertaining as it is enigmatic and marks the one and only time when a more mature mentality guided the sagas.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi — Chief Justice Mike Jackson

Han Solo is in carbonite. Luke Skywalker is a Jedi padawan with neither a master to train him nor a lightsaber to defend himself. The Rebellion is on the run, struggling to free the galaxy from the tyranny of Emperor Palpatine. And the Emperor himself is overseeing the construction of a new Death Star.

Naturally, a tight-knit group like this must rescue one of their own, so Luke orchestrates releasing Han from his metal prison in Jabba the Hutt’s palace—a rescue that uses Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C-3P0, R2-D2, and Lando Calrissian as pawns. After the rescue, Luke visits Master Yoda to learn the secrets of his destiny. Then, everyone reassembles to coordinate their roles in the final, last-ditch effort to destroy the Empire: destroying the new Death Star before its completion. Han leads our heroes to the forest moon of Endor to bring down the Death Star’s defenses, planned to coincide with the Rebels bringing their ships out of hyperspace just in time to attack. But, naturally, nothing goes as planned—such as Darth Vader himself being in charge of the operations.

There’s a scene in Return of the Jedi that gives me chills every time I see it. It’s really small, a throwaway almost. I don’t even think about it except when I see it (or when I’m writing a review, but that’s another matter). It’s during the forest battle when the Bantha poodoo really hits the fan. Two furry little Ewoks are desperately running away from the AT-ST walkers. A cannon blast knocks them to the ground. One gets up and shakes his companion, trying to revive him. It’s pointless. He’s dead, and his companion softly cries over his fallen comrade.

That small moment demonstrates all that is right with Return of the Jedi. Sure, it’s easy to knock it for starting Lucas’s trend toward kiddie-fying the Star Wars films, but there’s an undercurrent of love that you don’t find in just any sci-fi film. The love of friends. Romantic love. Familial love. Love of freedom. There’s also notes of melancholy as that love is lost—the little Ewok who dies next to his friend, the redemption of Anakin Skywalker (and reunion with his son) just moments before his death. But that’s life, even in a galaxy far, far away. You live, you love, you lose. It gives Return of the Jedi some depth and meaning that I never really noticed until now, nearing thirty years old, watching the film for the millionth time, yet for the first time since it was in the theaters for the 1997 special edition release.

It’s not all seriousness, though. Return of the Jedi is probably the most lighthearted of the original trilogy, especially when compared to its predecessor. Some of that breeziness is due to the aforementioned kiddie-fying, namely the overuse of “muppets” and little people in cuddly wittle teddy bear suits. It’s made even worse in the SE with the wretched new “Jedi Rocks” musical number in Jabba’s palace, which not even my two-year-old likes, and he’s been known to watch Teletubbies from time to time. But lighthearted also means fun, and Return of the Jedi is certainly fun. From the rollicking battle on Jabba’s sail barge, to the speeder bike chase through the Endor forest, to watching the Snuggle fabric softener spokesman beat the crap out of an entire legion of the Emperor’s best troops, Return of the Jedi is full of the enjoyment that A New Hope possessed and the prequels, so far, have sadly lacked.

And isn’t the sense of fun the reason why we loved these films as kids? I’m 29. Few other things in my childhood were as important to me as Star Wars. I still remember being the first one in my group of church friends to have seen Return of the Jedi, and them getting mad at me as I sat on the stairs after the service and regaled them with every plot point…including that, yes, Darth Vader was Luke’s father, and Leia his sister. I still remember my joy buying the Ewok glider toy with my allowance and ripping it out of the box before we even left the parking lot. I still remember that the only thing I wanted for my 11th birthday was for my parents to rent the freshly-released Return of the Jedi on VHS, yet they were at the bottom of the long waiting list for local video store’s only copy; I still don’t know how they managed to come through for me. I watch it through a different set of eyes now, but sitting on my couch I still feel that kid within me grinning gleefully.

Judge Lineberger will tell you how wonderful this film looks and sounds, but the extras don’t quite make this padawan happy. Return of the Jedi gets short shrift in Empire of Dreams, and its trailers aren’t quite the time capsules as A New Hope‘s. The commentary features George Lucas, sound designer Ben Burtt, effects guy Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher. Lucas gets the most airtime, and he does share some interesting points (make sure you listen for his justifications for inserting Hayden Christensen as Anakin in the ghost lineup at the end—I almost buy it), but he spends most of his time carping about how he wasn’t happy with the special effects technology back then. Burtt gets to talk quite a bit, and he’s the most interesting participant. Muren’s comments are nearly nonexistent, and Fisher has nothing particularly interesting to share.

The other “extra,” you could say, is that the film has been modified again. Thankfully, my sole complaint with the SEs has been fixed: The Rancor’s matte lines have disappeared, and it now looks like Luke is actually in the room with a monster. Sebastian Shaw, fortunately, is still present as the elderly Anakin, though now he’s eyebrowless. Christensen has replaced Shaw only in the ghost Jedi lineup, which almost makes sense. The celebration scenes have been altered. The Coruscant scene doesn’t have the stormtrooper being ripped apart; now you get a higher view of the city, with the Senate building and the Jedi Temple in the background. Also, Naboo has been added, with throngs of Gungans dancing. Okay, whatever.

But what you really bought this set for is the movies you enjoyed as a kid, and Return of the Jedi is just as fun as ever. It’s a trap!

The Star Wars Trilogy Box Set Tech Review—Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger

There is one area in which George Lucas and company unquestionably excel: cinematic technical expertise. This director and crew changed the landscape of movie sight and sound for decades worth of film; it seems somewhat perfunctory to address the technical specs of Star Wars. Nonetheless, Lucasfilm has released some less-than-stellar DVDs in the past, most notably the The Phantom Menace edge enhancement debacle. In addition, Star Wars fans have cybernetically melded with the aural and visual cues inherent in these films. It is worth taking a look.

Critiquing the audio and video of the Star Wars trilogy DVDs is a paranoid, memory-taxing affair. Without the (substantial) fan-created list of alterations by your side, it is difficult to precisely remember whether this color or that sound was actually present in the original film. My fellow judges have adequately covered the storied alteration angle. As much as I’d love to jump in and gripe about Greedo or dewbacks or what have you, this analysis will critique the audio and visual in terms of what they are.

The brief version is this: The trilogy, particularly the last two entries, looks and sounds fantastic. The transfers are rock stable and intricately detailed. Edge enhancement is rarely noticeable. Black levels, which have been an Achilles heel of sorts for Lucas, are finally deep and rich. These transfers sparkle.

Digging deeper, the colors in Star Wars have been enriched, perhaps enriched a bit too much. On several occasions I watched C3PO or some other character standing in front of banks of red and blue lights, and the lights asserted themselves to the exclusion of all else. I thought to myself, “Those lights sure are bright!” and was too distracted to pay attention. When the escape pod lands on Tatooine, the shadow of the pod is a brilliant violet blue. The hue exists in the original print, but it looks oversaturated now. The color balance seems to have been punched up to match the video game brightness of the new trilogy, and I’m not convinced that the muted hues of Star Wars support that level of saturation. The two pictures below, one from the laserdisc version and one from the DVD, reveal this increased saturation, as well as the mosquito noise that follows Artoo in this scene. To be fair, this is arguably the low point of the entire trilogy in visual terms.

Increased color density and the quest for true black is also responsible for slight over-contrast. Contrast is good, and conventional wisdom is that you can’t have too much of it, but the trilogy in general seems to have too much.

Ironically, the gaudy lightsabers are my biggest beef with Star Wars. Luke’s saber goes from distinctly blue to distinctly green, with a period of desaturated white in the mix. His saber has always leaned towards bluish-white, but I don’t recall seeing the Neapolitan flavor of his saber before now.

All that being said, the restoration is impressive…most impressive. Nicks, scratches, and other beasties have been sought and destroyed with prejudice. Star Wars looks as good as or better than films shot yesterday. I have my suspicions as to how this was achieved, and subtle clues from the transfer bear it out: There was a significant amount of digital restoration involved. To say that the effort was conscientious is vast understatement. Every edge, reflection, nook, and cranny has been obsessively cleaned of artifact (except for the matte around one forgotten TIE Fighter). The usual side effects of such work are digital noise reduction and edge enhancement. Well, we don’t get that. It is more like a subtle tonal uniformity that lets you know work was done. The painstaking work makes this thing shine.

When assessing the audio quality of the 5.1 tracks, it is again Star Wars that suffers the most, though it doesn’t suffer much. (This should not be surprising: Star Wars is older than the rest, lower budget, and shot under harsher conditions.) In a remarkable analogy with the video, overemphasis is again the culprit. The dialogue seems to be de-emphasized, while the music and effects seem to dominate…unless you’re discussing the final battle, where the score has become subsumed by the effects. In particular, the bass channel is overpowering. When R2-D2 fell over, my entire house shook from the bass impact, as though a 200-mile wide asteroid had crashed into central North Carolina. Artoo is a heavy little bugger, but does he outweigh Imperial Star Destroyers? I spent most of the film tuning my bass dial up and down to find the sweet spot, but never found it. At reference levels, the bass is simply dominating. Additionally, there are a few places in which the dialogue has volume dropouts or slight synch issues. For an example, when Leia is speaking to Grand Moff Tarkin, her voice doesn’t precisely fit with her lips, while his voice fluctuates.

Like the color saturation, these are not large enough problems to dwarf the overall stunning aural experience. The mix is detailed and clear, with an enormous diagonal soundstage. On a whim (to humor allegations made my one of our fellow DVD criticism sites), I listened to the entire film with my surrounds switched, and it sounded good that way as well. Williams’s score is as uplifting as ever.

Thus far, we’ve only covered the first film, and the reason is simple: The other two are noticeably better in audio and video, which basically means that any complaints are negligible. Empire looks outstanding, with high detail, deep but reasonably saturated color, strong blacks, and few visual distractions. The bass levels are better tuned, resulting in a dramatic but believable thud when the Imperial Walker falls. Surround detail is crystal, which the rainstorm and ambient effects on Dagobah highlight. Jedi had the best source print of the three films, and seems to have undergone less restoration. This results in a couple of awkward shifts in detail level, and areas of weaker contrast, but it still looks great. Hayden Christiansen’s luxuriously lanky locks are perfectly clear in the “ghostly mentor” scene. Jedi is a pure and powerful aural experience. You can clearly hear the joy in the voices of the Gungans when theysa saved.

This trilogy is a beast, technically speaking. Colors, contrast, and detail are breathtaking. The soundtrack envelops you with its drama and its quiet moments, creating a real sonic world. You fell in love with Star Wars for its aural and visual flair, and these restorations/enhancements should reacquaint you with that magic.

Star Wars Bonus Disc

Star Wars has always been accompanied by strong marketing, and this release is no exception. In addition to three full-length commentaries, we get a host of featurettes and other goodies to nurture our Star Wars obsessions.

The anchor of the bonus disc is the two and a half hour long documentary Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy by Kevin Burns, the Emmy Award-winning producer of A&E’s Biography series. Some complain that this documentary is in heavy rotation on A&E and thus doesn’t count as extra content. Have these same people ever bought a television series boxed set?

The internet has proven that it is nearly impossible to calmly discuss Star Wars. (Raise your hand if you’ve seen any bickering amongst Star Wars fans lately!) This documentary achieves the impossible: It gives us a relatively fresh, absorbing, three-hour look at Star Wars. Personally, I’ve grown so tired of discussing these films that I want to crawl into bed and stay there until this whole thing blows over. And yet, I was hooked by Burns’s take on it. We see a balanced version of factual events: what Lucas did well; what he screwed up; the social, political, and personal factors that influenced the production and release of the films; and much more. The high point of the documentary comes at around the hour and fifteen-minute mark, which is when Star Wars is actually released. As a feature-length extra, this documentary is suitably engaging, informative, and balanced.

With that blockbuster extra out of the way, let’s see what else there is:

• The Characters of Star Wars featurette
This routine featurette gives a little bit of background on the main characters. It overlapped quite a bit with the documentary and didn’t provide much new information.

• The Birth of the Lightsaber featurette
If you want to see how the lightsabers used to look, how they look now, how they look before editing and after editing, or really anything else lightsaber related, it is probably here. The coolest part of this featurette is hearing Lucas discuss the transition in fighting styles between each film.

• The Force is with Them: The Legacy of Star Wars featurette
This is my favorite extra in the set. Big time directors discuss the ways that Star Wars inspired and influenced them. It is an honest, powerful tribute that does more than anything else to affirm the magic of Star Wars.

• Ten theatrical trailers
I’m not a huge trailer fan, but this is possibly the most impressive presentation yet for a bunch of marketing material. I’m sure that every Star Wars-related trailer ever made isn’t on here, but it seems like it.

• Eleven TV spots
The Star Wars TV spots are in “letterboxed letterbox” mode and the rest are in 16:9 aspect ratio. This always gives me pause, because these things never appeared in widescreen on TV. These spots have humor value, such as the discussion of Luke and Leia’s forbidden love. They also demonstrate just how good the digital restoration was on the DVDs.

• Production Photos
I’m also not a huge photo gallery fan, but this one is outstanding. The galleries are broken up by their respective films and include somewhat witty captions. The photos are extensive in scope, ranging from dramatic to technical, sexy to funny. Chances are that at least one of these photos will charm you.

• One Sheet Posters
This is a typical collection of posters from around the globe.

• Episode III: Making the Game
If you’ve seen the video game “Making of” featurette from The Matrix Reloaded, you pretty much know what to expect here. Videogame producers rave about their behind the scenes involvement and discuss how detailed and lifelike the game will be. It is superior to the Matrix featurette in that the self-promotional angle is toned down.

• Star Wars Battlefront X-Box Game Demo and Trailer
I don’t have an X-Box, but word on the street is that modded X-Boxes will have their interface permanently set to this Star Wars demo. The trailer does a reasonable job of making you want to play the game, mostly because you get the opportunity to slaughter Ewoks. Isn’t this the opportunity we’ve been waiting for for decades?

• Blooper Reel (Easter Egg)
Considering the massive amount of shooting footage available, this Blooper Reel isn’t particularly impressive. Hey, it’s a freebie, as long as you can enter “1138” properly on the keypad.

Episode III Preview: The Return of Darth Vader
This is the third best extra, but at nine minutes it doesn’t really deserve its own subheading. The featurette does a good job of capturing the excitement of Hayden’s turn as the Dark Lord of the Sith. It is most captivating in the final minute or so.

Our training in the extras is complete. There are some powerful annoyances, however. Chief among them is the wretched InterActual Player, a digital splinter that intrudes on every viewing of every disc in this set if you happen to use a computer to watch DVDs. It is the first thing to pop up (yes, just like those pop-up ads on the Internet) and remains until you “Cancel Installation” (note that “Install” is the default option). If you’ve mistakenly installed this oh-so-helpful program, I highly recommend SpyBot Search and Destroy to clean it. The packaging for the set is flimsy, with a heavy paper sleeve to hold the DVDs instead of a cardboard or plastic one. Hey, at least we get four keep cases.

Considering the monumental nature of this release, I’m sure that many fans will want more. But in reality, this release is simply a set of three movies. As such, the depth, breadth, detail, and honesty in the extras is quite enough to satisfy this fan. There are four discs in the Star Wars trilogy boxed set, and Disc Four holds its own among them.

Star Wars and Its Impact on Science Fiction—Judge Adam Arseneau

On the subject of science fiction: Star Wars ain’t it. In the strictest of senses, this is completely true. Seriously.

Modern science fiction owes its existence to old pulp comics and short stories from the 1930s to the 1960s, magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Magazine where science fiction was first developed into a respected genre by writers like Issac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. Throwing convention to the wind, they helped usher the genre into the mainstream of popular culture, establishing it as a legitimate form of literature. Star Wars may inhabit the world of science fiction in a galaxy far, far away, but believe it or not, beneath the surface lurks a completely different kind of film.

It would be more accurate to say Star Wars is a fantasy film that happens to be set in a science fiction setting. The difference between the two genres is a hotly contested affair, since neither genre has any steadfast or rigid definition of its own to make comparisons against. The biggest difference between the two involves the distinction between the internal and external struggle. Traditionally, science fiction (in all of its forms) is a discussion of the external; the problems that plague a future society are mirrored reflections of the problems our own modern-day society faces—no better example than Star Trek to illustrate this point. In fantasy (and in Star Wars), the struggles are mostly internal; the Empire may bear a passing resemblance to old empires of man, but this is largely window-dressing. We learn nothing about our own society; instead, we relate to the timelessness of the Star Wars fairy tale, to the personal struggles, the relationships between the characters, the pauper’s rise to royalty, the mystical nature of the Force, coming to terms with a father figure, fulfilling one’s destiny, et cetera. George Lucas abandoned the notion of science fiction as social commentary for Star Wars, choosing instead to adopt the mythology of fantasy as the backbone of the films, creating in essence, an entirely new genre—”science fantasy.” The definition of this term is even weirder—don’t ask, because you won’t get a straight answer. Science fantasy, amusingly enough, is often itself defined as two words—Star Wars. ‘Nuff said.

But like the Force itself, the influence of Star Wars flows in all directions; despite not technically being a science fiction film, the influence Star Wars had on the science fiction genre as a whole is practically incalculable. In cinema alone, the groundbreaking visuals and awesome scope was simply unparalleled in the world of film; nothing came close to the size and spectacle of these films and the universe Lucas created therein—not to mention the onslaught of action figures, comic books, novels, and other intertextual works within the Star Wars universe. While not “science fiction” in the truest sense, the effect of the films sent Godzilla-sized shockwaves throughout the entire genre, waves that are still being felt today. Everyone loved Star Wars, and for the next ten years, everyone wanted to make Star Wars.

Especially during the period immediately following Star Wars hitting the theatres, the films created an immense interest in science fiction and in all things fantastic and scientific, lasting for years to come…although admittedly, the effect has been growing more negligible these last years given the disappointing reception of the new Star Wars films. For almost twenty years, Star Wars drove sales in science fiction through the roof in comic book, novel and movie form; and in cinema and television alone, the early 1980s brought a host of science fiction-related films to the forefront of the public’s consciousness with, well, varying degrees of success (to put it politely). Everything from Battlestar Galactica to The Last Starfighter and the thousands of movies and television properties in-between owe a large majority of their continued cultural existence to the success of a farm boy battling an evil empire with a glowing wand. Unquestionably, had it not been for Star Wars laying the box-office foundation, the market for such films would not exist in our popular culture to the extent that it exists now. Think about it—out of the top 25 most profitable movies ever made (both in the US and internationally), at least ten of them could be classified as either straight science fiction films, or having strong science fiction themes—movies like the Star Wars series, E.T., The Matrix films, Jurassic Park and its sequels, and so on.

Star Wars even helped change the look of science fiction films. In past cinematic science fiction films, the future was utopic in architecture and design (even when bad, oppressive things happened). Everything was ultra-modern, clean, dirt-free, and uniform in its beauty. In Star Wars, the future is a mess. From the rough-and-tumble welded and plated spaceships to the brushed concrete buildings full of dingy flickering lights, to dusty deserts and seedy cantinas, the universe envisioned in Star Wars had a gritty, industrial look, a jaded cynicism that had rarely been expressed in cinema before (although Lang’s Metropolis had the bottom-half right). Movies like 2001 and Logan’s Run envisioned a cleaner and neater future, even when plagued by the occasional killer spaceship and runaway citizen. Heck, even the world of Star Trek was clean, tidy, and racially harmonious, a difficult trick when you are decked out in absurd pastels and ridiculous bellbottoms. But after Star Wars, visions of the future quickly became less clean and less idyllic in a trend that continued throughout most of the 1980s. The future became dystopic, like a steel plant swallowing a city into gaudy neon lights, grime, dirt, and decay, articulated through films like The Terminator, Blade Runner, Alien, Aliens, Brazil, and on and on.

It is a complicated issue, calling Star Wars science fiction, since it has so much more in common thematically with fantasy and fairy tales of yore. Certainly, its influence on the sci-fi genre cannot be denied, but it is also important to realize how the genre influenced Star Wars first. George Lucas created a universe that was the product of decades of science fiction and fantasy writing, a genre created from writers haphazardly publishing stories in the backs of magazines and in small publications run out of run-down offices. Though total fantasy at its core, the Star Wars universe is the world of science-fiction pioneers like E.E. “Doc” Smith come to life on the big screen. Many have pointed out the similarities between Lucas’s trilogy and Smith’s “Lensmen” series of space opera novels written from the 1930s to the 1950s, from their galaxy-spanning scope to their magic-wielding protagonists (the “Force” versus the “cosmic all,” et cetera).

There is nothing original about fantasy. Fairy tales are old, old stories. These old, old literary and thematic tropes have been well established across many centuries and across many cultures. Perhaps this is why Star Wars continues to have such fantastic resonance and cultural relevance today—we can identify with the “rags to riches” story of Skywalker, the magic that imbues his spirit, the usurping of the throne from the evil ruler, the smiting of the father figure, the rescuing of the princess, and so on. They are timeless. Love or hate the movies, but Star Wars in its “science fantasy” approach created a bizarre melding of a futuristic science fiction-influenced world combined with the mythological, unknowable, and inexplicable of fantasy-driven mythology in a way that had never been done before, at least, not on such an amazingly successful scale. The Star Wars films inspired filmmakers for decades to reach into the stars, to attempt projects of staggering scope and create fantastic and unbelievable worlds, to transmogrify the old stories into a new form. And even the most cynical hater can agree that, as far as cinema goes, the 1980s would have been awfully dull and boring without Star Wars showing up.

Revisionist Filmmaking—Judge Joel Pearce

This review of the new Star Wars DVDs is a perfect place to talk about the recent trend of directorial revisions to older films. George Lucas has always been eager to take advantage of new technological developments, returning to make changes in his older films to utilize these new techniques. Fans that love the original films have been less impressed by these changes. This discussion/argument/flame war began with the Special Editions that came out in 1997, and have increased as Lucas has confirmed time and time again that we will never again see another release of the original theatrical editions.

Rather than sounding like an angry fanboy, I want to try to come at this issue from as impartial a perspective as possible. The revision of the Star Wars trilogy raises some important questions about how we approach the film industry in general. If, as he would certainly claim, George Lucas owns these films that he has created, he has a right to alter them in any way he would like for future releases. It is his name on the top of the credits, not ours. His claim has always been that the Special Edition versions of the film are what he intended in the first place, when he was limited by technology, time, and budget. On the other side of things, though, Lucas owes his fans a great deal for turning Star Wars from an innovative serial adventure film into one of the biggest pop culture phenomena in the history of the world. We grew up with these films, bought them on video and laserdisc, watched them in marathons with our nerdy friends, and pumped enough money into the franchise to allow Lucas to build his Lucasfilm Empire. These fans value the integrity of the viewing experience that they remember fondly. The memories that the trilogy invokes are a major part of the experience for us.

The values of these two groups of people are a good way of evaluating the changes that have been made to the Star Wars trilogy. Some of the changes that have been made satisfy the aims of director and audience. The improved depth of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back does not interfere with the tone or story in any way, but it creates a larger backdrop for the action to unfold. It eliminates the claustrophobic feel of the original version. The added footage of the Wampa makes the scene more frightening and looks seamless. The removal of the obvious blue-screen lines in each of the films was much needed. I also think that the CGI improvements made to the space battles are largely effective. These changes do little to damage our memories of the original films, and help to mask the low budget and tight filming schedule of the original films. Lucas can be satisfied that he has successfully incorporated the new technology, and we can be pleased that he has not had any real impact on the nature of these scenes.

There are some changes that do not live up to either Lucas’s intentions or the audience’s desires, however. Most of these, ironically, occur in Return of the Jedi, which was already generally considered the weakest film of the trilogy. The musical number at Jabba’s Palace feels childish, and the CGI characters don’t blend with the original costumes and puppets. This is even worse in the Sarlaac scene, with the dreadfully fake Super Mario-inspired pod destroying the impact of the sandy pit. Perhaps the worse moment is still the added scene with Jabba in A New Hope, which should have stayed on the cutting room floor where it belongs. Not only does the (now enhanced again) CGI Jabba look like a plastic toy slug, but it’s impossible to believe that he could develop from this mobile, shiny creature to a bloated mass of clay in a few short years. The removal of the Ewok song at the end is also troubling, because it takes out a cool song and shifts the focus away from the characters that we have come to care about and instead focuses on the freed planets where we have no emotional connection. Not only do these scenes spoil our memories of the originals, but Lucas has also failed in his goals by making these changes stick out and look at least as fake as things did in the first place.

The changes that have been added for this DVD package are minor compared to those in the Special Editions. There have been a few cosmetic changes, which most viewers will not even notice. The most significant change is the replacement of the Anakin ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi with Hayden Christensen. This is a fairly minor change, and I suppose that we can be thankful that at least Alec Guinness hasn’t been replaced by Ewen MacGregor. Should the original theatrical editions of the films have been released on DVD? Perhaps. Lucas would be well reminded that his fans are the ultimate recipients of the films, and the Star Wars trilogy has been satisfying audiences for decades now without complaints about the technological limitations of the time. At the same time, fans should take note that few of the changes interfere in any way with what remains a thoroughly entertaining and exciting piece of escapist filmmaking.

Han Solo Is No Man’s Fool—Judge Neil Dorsett

Like most of the other judges, I am, or at least was, long enthralled with Star Wars. Though my enthusiasm for the series has waned due both to the Special Editions and prequel trilogy, I retain affection for the “big three.” Like many others, I have been disappointed in the decision to completely disavow the original (or rather, pre-1997 standard) trilogy. My complaints are the same as most: “Jedi Rocks,” the rather Nintendo-esque closing theme to Jedi, and now the replacement of Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen. I also have a particular gripe: The flight to Yavin following the band’s escape from the Death Star is, put simply, one of my favorite sequences ever put on film, and to see it replaced tears my heart. I have an overall fondness for Lucas’s early, geometry- and sound-oriented mode, and have long found it disappointing that he left that mode behind—with the removal of the flat-plane geometry elements of Star Wars merely frosting on that bitter cake. A documentary on the Trio channel, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, carried an implicit suggestion that Star Wars was conceived as a sort of revenge for the poor reception given THX 1138 in its initial release—an intentionally dumb movie served up to an audience which, its having rejected the “pearl” of THX, Lucas now saw as swine. If this is the case, it explains a lot, and it’s both tragic and miraculous—miraculous in what Star Wars gave to us, the miracles of special effects and the delight of old-fashioned broad canvas storytelling, as well as a lot of pure energy. Tragic in what it took from us—idea-oriented science fiction in the movies, which has seen but a handful of entries since Star Wars debuted in 1977.

Nowadays the Star Wars material that interests me most is the pre-Empire offshoot material, before everything got “canonized.” The craziness (and graphic violence) of the early spinoff novels and even the original New Hope novelization—ah, different times. And has anyone noticed that laser guns don’t smoke anymore in movies? That was an actual plot point, at least in the novelization—Luke and Han, during the battle in the detention block, use their weapons to create a mask of smoke (that’s right, an actual reason for those poor retconned Stormtroppers to miss everything).

But really I’m here to talk about Greedo. (I know, you’re shaking your head and saying “yeah, yeah.” But this, hopefully, is a new take.)

Much has been made of the alteration to the cantina scene, in which, as you all no doubt are aware, Greedo is allowed a free shot by the Han Solo character. Lucas maintains that this makes Solo more heroic, where critics have argued that his heroism is diluted by the simplification of his character arc—maintaining that Solo becomes more heroic in his transition from “scoundrel” to that of hero in the numerous instances one could name. But this is barking up the wrong tree, because it assumes that where Solo would shoot Greedo (before Greedo is able to fire his point-blank shot), he would not take the first shot on Greedo (given similar circumstances) following his mellowing throughout Empire and Jedi

But while one might argue that Solo makes a transition from scoundrel to hero throughout the three films, it’s harder to make the case that he’d become an idiot. Lucas simplifies matters—now, in the Special Editions, Solo is always an idiot. Because to surrender the initiative in a life-and-death situation is neither the act of a hero nor that of a coward: It is simply the act of a fool. If Solo would not unhesitatingly act against Greedo in the beginning, where he has only his ship and his professional relationship with Chewbacca to lose, then certainly he would do so at the end of Jedi, having found many good reasons to continue his travails rather than be slain in some sort of pseudo-honorable duel in which one allows the enemy a free point-blank shot.

Character arc? Absolutely. But not to the point of grotesque foolishness. Solo would have kakked that Rodian the way we saw it in the original cut of A New Hope, at any point in the trilogy. Lucas’s silly alteration has led to a debate with a silly foundation as its response. Because the man might not be a master strategist, and he might get a little emotional from time to time, but Han Solo is no man’s fool.

Long Live VHS!—Judge Brett Cullum

Star Wars has changed many times over the years. It seems to get tweaked again and again like Michael Jackson’s nose. It wasn’t even subtitled “A New Hope” until 1981 when it was released with a scene trimmed that had Luke and Biggs discussing his father (something that did not jibe with the revelation in The Empire Strikes Back). Lucas has been changing his work to fit the sequels. But where is the logic in making alterations to original films to match the latest installments? Each film represented quantum leaps in special effects when they came out. Those artists sweated and slaved to make the original trilogy state of the art for each year they were released, and that’s why the CGI additions make me miffed. They don’t add anything to the plot, and they belittle the achievements of the people who worked on the films decades ago. Would we be happy if The Wizard of Oz aired on television this year with CGI flying monkeys, and Charlize Theron digitally inserted in as Glenda? What if Orson Welles decided Citizen Kane was only a rough cut, and he wanted to add on an explanation for “rosebud”? Plenty of movies could have the effects updated, and I’m sure many directors would love to redo or recut their films. Spielberg took out the guns in E.T., and did that help anything? Thankfully he gave us both versions to look at in his DVD set of his biggest blockbuster.

Yeah, I bought the new release. I love the commentaries and the features, but don’t expect me to jump up and down and say the movies have been improved by “the changes.” These films don’t need new technology; they were pretty perfect when they were released. I understand wanting to go back and change your past efforts and improve them. But is this progress? The CGI does not match the styles of the films, and it sticks out worse on DVD than it did in theatres. The plot points changed are minor, and they never needed changing. Entire performances are lost, and new actors have done voice-overs or been digitally inserted into films. Wasn’t one of George Lucas’s first films (released only a couple of weeks before this) about technology taking over the world? It certainly seems to have overtaken his corner of reality.

I did something few people found themselves doing on Tuesday—I watched my VHS copy of Star Wars. It had Han Solo shooting Greedo under the table, far fewer drawbacks, and visual mistakes such as Kenny Baker’s face apparent in the Jawa’s stronghold for stolen robots (watch closely and you will see it). I loved the original trilogy as much as any self-respecting Generation “X”er did. I slept on sheets with Darth Vader’s face and collected plastic toys. The DVDs that came out aren’t the same to me as those dusty VHS copies. Despite the cruddy picture and Dolby 2.0 stereo, the VHS gave me a sense of nostalgia the DVDs didn’t. I am glad the latest incarnation is on the shelf. But when I want to feel like a kid again which copy do you think I’m going to reach for? This is one case where videotape is still my best friend. Lucas may have artistic control of the movies, but he doesn’t own the rights to tweak my memories. And in them, Han Solo is still a bad-ass, and Sebastian Shaw shows up right before the teddy bears start singing.

Why Darth Vader Is the Hands-Down Most Fearsome Movie Villain of All Time…Ever—Judge David Johnson

There is no question. No debate. No alternative. Darth Vader is unequivocally the silver screen’s greatest bad-ass mofo. Forget for a moment that the supreme vision of galactic evil used to be a whiny little puke with a bowl cut. Just watch the dude traipse through the Holy Trilogy as the unholiest of bastards, leaving death, destruction, and one heck of a dysfunctional family in his wake and tell me this guy isn’t untouchable in the world of movie villains.

Look at the evidence. How bad-ass is he? Darth Vader is so bad-ass…

1. He will walk straight into the sites of ferocious battles, just minutes after they’ve been settled. Be it Hoth or Princess Leia’s ship, the guy is not afraid to get his hands dirty and bat clean-up.

2. He’ll kill more Imperial officers in one morning than Luke did with his exhaust port torpedo bullseye.

3. He can wear a cape and still inspire fear and dread.

4. He can alter a deal multiple times on Billy Dee Williams.

5. His personal starship is the size of Nebraska.

6. Besides that crusty governor who evaporated in a ball of fire, he takes orders only from The Emperor, who, by the way, can shoot lightning out of his fingertips.

7. He’ll slice off his son’s right arm, throw appliances at him, then watch him plummet down a giant hole, all while undiplomatically breaking some big family news.

8. The guy will leap into a TIE fighter himself and enter the heat of interstellar battle, flanked by only a couple of pilots, who, as the records show, have an excellent chance of flying into each other.

9. He’ll lay the attitude on Boba Fett, knowing the guy has a rope he can shoot from his wrist at any moment.

10. Blaster bolts are impervious to his palms.

11. His son won’t talk back to him, even after the hundredth time he’s been lectured about “destiny” and “Obi-Wan’s failure, which is complete by the way.”

12. He sounds like James Earl Jones.

13. He’ll listen to his master yak on and on about his son taking his place, and how his son should kill him, and how he’s a punk-ass bitch for not eviscerating him with a lightsaber, and still wait until Luke is almost deep-fried before realizing that the evil thing is not all it’s cracked up to be.

14. He’s unopposed to forcefully probing a 19-year-old girl.

15. He lives in what appears to be a snow globe or an oversized Easter egg.

16. He’s losing his hair, and he’s okay with that, thank you.

17. He is responsible for the wholesale slaughter of the Jedi order, which we know for a fact included small children.

18. He opts for murder by “slow, horrible, mystical asphyxiation” versus a quick thrust of the lightsaber or laser blast to the forehead.

19. Did I mention he has a cape? Well, he does.

20. His chest-mounted life support computer also doubles as an electronic day planner.

When Star Wars mania was red hot, George Lucas announced that he envisioned nine films in the overall story arc—three separate trilogies covering different aspects of his characters. Since we already know the focus of Episodes I through VI, it is interesting to speculate on the possibilities of VII through IX. What would they concentrate on? Leia and Solo’s marriage and children? Luke’s replacement of Yoda as Jedi master, and his efforts to return the galactic peacekeepers to prominence? Some tangential element left over from the saga—perhaps the story of an ancillary character that we never imagined was actually destined to control the fate of the universe? We’ll never know, however, because Lucas recently revealed that there would be no finale, no closing trilogy. Jedi’s confrontation and victory over the Empire will be the last cinematic hurrah for his space opera. And for the most part, this decision is understandable. Revised and reimagined, with its legacy slightly tattered by the bumbling prequels, the Star Wars trilogy is still an ageless classic in the history of cinema, a set of films creating their own unique mythology that will resonate with audiences for years to come. Though we may never see the films the way they were first presented in theaters, or witness the continuation of its narrative, the spirit of those initial magical offerings still lives on.


The Star Wars trilogy is found NOT GUILTY and is free to go. 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm are to be commended for giving fans such a wonderful DVD package and are acquitted on all charges. Case dismissed.


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