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Star Wars Trilogy
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   George Lucas (emperor)
Genre:   Sci-Fi
Released:   September 24, 2004
Review Date:   October 05, 2004
Audience Rating:   Rated PG
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

"A lot of acting started out as puppets, and puppeteers, in the old days. You know, a few thousand years ago. Before the Screen Actor's Guild." — George Lucas on the SAG refusing to consider Frank Oz's performance as Yoda as "acting," from the Empire Strikes Back commentary.

With the first appearance of the Star Wars original trilogy on DVD, George Lucas really has his work cut out for him. Not only does everything Star Wars-related that gets released these days have to live up to the stratospherically high expectations of Star Wars geeks, he also has to contend with all the ill-will that's been built up ever since the release of the Star Wars Special Edition back in 1997. A lot of people are going to be rather disappointed with this DVD boxed set, the first DVD release of the original trilogy. And you know what? They really shouldn't be.

There's merit in both sides of the argument as to whether Lucas has the right to fiddle with the original trilogy or not. Yes, they're his movies, and he can legally do damn well whatever he pleases to those films. On the other hand, the original A New Hope was a remarkable cinematic and technical achievement, and Lucas should at the very least make that version available alongside his revamp. But to be honest, with just a few rather annoying exceptions, the changes Lucas has made to his movies are really for the better — especially the changes done specifically for this DVD release.

For instance, in the infamous "Greedo Shoots First" scene, the version in this DVD set actually has Greedo and Han shooting pretty much simultaneously. It's still not as good in terms of timing and character development as the way it was in the original, but if Lucas insists in changing that scene, this version is acceptable.

The other changes work even better, such as the redubbing of Boba Fett with Temuera Morrison's voice, or putting Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor (with some revamped dialogue) in The Empire Strikes Back. These changes smooth out the transition between this original trilogy and the prequels now being released, making everything flow more coherently when looking at all the movies as a holistic whole. Purists may still whine, but in storytelling terms these changes are perfect.

But whether you think these changes are acceptable, even an improvement, as I do, or whether you think they're yet another sign of Lucas' brutal assault on your childhood memories, the Star Wars DVD set is still worth picking up for the extras alone.

The glittering jewel is the three-hour documentary Empire of Dreams, which traces the development of the original trilogy from George Lucas' first concept to the release of Return of the Jedi. Refreshingly it's not a puff piece, but instead gives the true, unpolished story behind Star Wars, with all the screwups in production, the complaints about Lucas as a director, and the mocking reaction even the actors had during filming. Plus, it has some seriously amusing footage of the screen tests Lucas gave to prospective actors up for the roles of Han, Luke, and Leia. Just picture Star Wars with Kurt Russell and William Katt as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and maybe you'll forgive Lucas for making Han walk over Jabba's tail.

The other documentaries on the bonus DVD are a bit less impressive. There's a nice piece on the return of Darth Vader, telling how Hayden Christiansen got into the role both mentally and physically for Episode III, and including some nice behind-the-scenes footage. There's a mini-documentary on the impact and influence of Star Wars that's definitely a puff piece, but it's still interesting to see directors like Peter Jackson and Ridley Scott talk about the film. And there's an incredibly fascinating mini-documentary that's all about the light sabers, from concept to film tests (which frankly, looked really BAD) to finished product. Gearheads like me will eat that stuff up.

The other main extras on here are full commentary tracks for all three movies. On all of them, George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, and sound editor/designer Ben Burtt provide their thoughts and recollections, with a few guests appearing for the individual movies (such as special effects guy Dennis Muren).

By the far the most interesting track is the one for Empire Strikes Back, which features commentary from director Irvin Kershner. While George Lucas' comments mainly focus on the big picture storytelling issues in the trilogy, and the cast and crew's commentary is a little limited by the limited perspective they had on the films, Kershner's commentary is brilliant stuff. He delights in pointing out the old-time cinema cliches he used, and in the set and blocking and cinematography and acting issues that he had to deal with during filming. Why Lucas didn't grab this guy to do the prequels will remain a mystery for the ages, I guess.

While the Star Wars movies on these DVDs may not be the exact same movies you remember, but they're still fantastic movies. The DVD treatment makes them look and sound great, and the massively cool extras are just the sort of thing to appeal to Star Wars geeks like me. No one's telling you to ditch your old VHS copies of the original versions — but if you're any kind of Star Wars fan, you really should pick up this boxed set. Even I will admit that it's not perfect, but what we've been given is more than good enough to make any but the most obsessive fan happy.

If Anime and Comics Editor Kevin Pezzano will not be turned, then he will be destroyed.

 
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