So it's finally here. Awaited with fervent passion by those desperate to own the Holy Trilogy on shiny disc format - and those ready to sigh, tut and point out exactly why the Special Editions are a blight on the face of cinema.
But let's accentuate the positive. A New Hope is frankly beautiful on DVD: every frame has been run through a digital scrubbing brush until it gleams, with THX sound to match. As the Rebel blockade runner and Star Destroyer come rumbling ahead, you can't help but get that same old tingle of excitement. And despite the occasionally annoying tweaks, Star Wars holds up as pure pulp entertainment, shoving heroic mythology into airtight tin-cans and blasting it off into the darkest depths of space.
What Lucas lacks as an actor's director (and he lacks plenty, trying to draw decent performances from a mixed bag of newcomers, established talents and stalwart British thesps), he more than makes up for in spectacle. As Luke makes his first, faltering steps from dusty home planet Tatooine into galactic civil war, you're rooting for him all the way. Search your feelings... Hell, you know the rest.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
When those Special Editions came around, The Empire Strikes Back needed the least work. That's because, despite a troubled, over-budget shoot, it arrived in cinemas perfectly formed. Lucas' post-Star Wars exhaustion meant he handed the scripting and helming chores to others. The results make us wish he'd done the same for the prequels as well.
With noir writer Leigh Brackett contributing a first draft and a then-unknown Lawrence Kasdan doing the rest, the story that would shape the future of the franchise slowly took shape. The man charged with directing this vital turning point was also a shock: Irvin Kershner, Lucas' old filmmaking tutor.
The choices worked and they brought fresh eyes to Empire. We're presented with richer, more `human' characters and confident, mature treatment of the rebel-endangering plotlines. Ignoring filmmaking wisdom that movies must leave their audiences on a high, Empire blends the Flash Gordon serial inspiration buzzing around Lucas' head with the bleak moods more often found in '70s cinema. Vader may be Luke's father, but Empire's still the daddy.
RETURN OF THE JEDI
It had to end somewhere, but it's still a shame that, despite its Death Star-destroying finale, Jedi rounds out the trilogy with more of a whimper than a bang. Sure, we're treated to some pulse-quickening scenes: Luke's final confrontation with the Emperor and Vader and the huge space scrap around the unfinished battle station. But when the high points feel like reheated servings of the first movie's memorable moments and the rest is a bunch of Muppets, this is a serious climbdown from the earlier heights.
Endor's forest allowed for plenty of opportunities, but when the planned Wookie home was cut in favour of the fan-loathed Ewoks, it was another sign that Lucas was thinking more with his marketing mind than his creative brain.
This new DVD release comes with yet another change - - Hayden Christensen's head added to the ghostly apparition of Anakin Skywalker. We're assured there are other minor changes, but at time of going to press, we were kept from seeing them by Fox's PR Stormtroopers...
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