The Force will be with you, always. Mostly because it’s now been re-jigged, re-packaged and re-released more times than Yoda’s blown out birthday candles.
This time out, Star Wars’ Blu-ray bow isn’t the only USP; it’s the first time both trilogies have been sold in one box. Together at last, imperishable joy and bitter disappointment!
When George Lucas returned in 1999 to start what he had finished, he spun his saga into a web of symmetries.
So in Episodes I and IV, an ageing mentor suffers death by Darth and a kid from the sticks nukes a space station. Episodes II and V offer up asteroids, amputation and amour across the stars. And in Episodes III and VI we get more amputation, clashing armadas and Ian McDiarmid cackling his black heart out.
Stylistically too, the prequels clone the originals: opening crawls, groupportrait end-shots, transitional wipes (a Kurosawa steal), John Williams in full orchestral pomp… Everything’s the same – and everything’s different. Eps IV-VI feel like a series of chases; Eps I-III feel like a series of meetings.
Where once there was peril, there’s now pixels. Lots of pixels. More pixels than they use at Pixar. True, no one would expect a technophile like Lucas to stick with such old-school tricks as stop-motion. And no question, the prequels are screensaver heaven (endless waterfalls, Lang-ian cityscapes, bursting lava-scapes).
But there’s a carbon-freeze on the tactile, tangible quality intrinsic to the originals.
Those films flaunt a lived-in look (real locations, real props, often caked in real dirt) that binds Lucas’ calculated borrowings (King Arthur, Joseph Campbell, Flash Gordon, John Ford) into something unique, organic and immersive.
Plus the fact that they’re written, directed and acted with more energy and economy than the later ones, which mostly huff along like Jabba the hutt after a blow-out at Nando’s.
At least until the faster, more intense Revenge Of The Sith, which proves (à la X-Men: First Class) that you only really need one instalment to show how friends became foes.
Lucky for those who’d rather remember Chewie and forget Jar Jar, each trilogy is available separately. Unlucky for them, you have to buy the complete Saga box set to get your paws on the bonus discs. (Incidentally, the sleeve art inadvertently says it all: Episode I Anakin and Episode IV Luke, heading in opposing directions.)
At press time we had only been granted a sneak peek inside the Jedi temple. in terms of transfer quality, the clips reel we saw exposed previously unseen wrinkles on Yoda’s CG noggin, while the originals looked at first glance fractionally (if not eye-poppingly) sharper than the 2004 DVDs.
Extras-wise, the holy Grail here is a flock of Eps IV-VI deleted scenes; chopped odds ‘n’ sods that the hardcore will pounce upon having been teased for decades by glimpses garnered from comic-book adaptations, novelisations and the 1998 CD-Rom Star Wars: Behind The Magic.
Expect wampas ripping up the rebel base; Prince Andrew’s old squeeze Koo Stark; and young Skywalker breaking in his new ’saber at the start of Return Of The Jedi (wisely excised, since it ruins the later reveal).
Principal commentaries are DVD hold-overs, supplanted by cut ‘n’ shut jobs based on archival interviews (fingers crossed for less of the dry techy stuff and more anecdotes akin to Carrie Fisher’s tales of rocking up merry to the cloud city set after a night out with the rolling Stones).
Two of the three bonus platters are taken up by the Star wars Archives, the most interactive supp of the set, allowing users 360-degree revolving scrutiny of Rancor maquettes, Millennium Falcon prototypes and a warehouse-load of other props.
Attack of the clowns
The ninth and final disc is a featurette hotchpotch: vintage Making Ofs (which long-term fans may recall from a VHS galaxy far, far away), Star Wars Spoofs (a feature-length TV-clip compilation that seems mildly redundant in the age of YouTube), plus docs exploring topics like Cosplay, whether they’ll ever invent a real working lightsaber, and a look at how pixels replaced puppets in the 1997 Special editions.
More promisingly, there’s the last on-camera interview with Irvin Kershner, late director of The Empire Strikes Back – the jewel in the crown; the one that shows the prequels that darker needn’t mean dour.
Missing in action are quality docs from DVDs past, like Episode I’s fly-on-the-wall The Beginning, or original-trilogy overview Empire Of Dreams.
But what the complete Saga really calls out for is an examination of, well, the complete saga. How the originals revolutionised Hollywood, scandalised cinephiles and sparked unprecedented collectormania.
How mega-success inspired an initial wave of rip-offs (Moonraker, Saturn 3, the original Battlestar Galactica) before the learners became the masters with work that gave old followers new hope (Firefly/Serenity, the rebooted Battlestar Galactica). And how lucas conceived, shaped and revised (often after the fact…) his grand design.
The whole history, 1977-2005? Maybe on the next format. There again, whichever way you slice it, it’s a saga of two halves. And high-definition or not, we’ll always be able to see the seams.
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