Rob's Star Wars Blu-Ray FAQ

By Rob Bricken in DVDs
Monday, September 19, 2011 at 2:00 pm
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If you managed to hold off on buying the Star Wars Blu-ray Collection this weekend, congratulations. I spent the last four days watching all six movies and three ridiculously packed extras discs in order to give you readers the definitive answer as whether these Blu-rays -- either the trilogy collections or the 9-disc entire saga megaset -- are worth your time and money. The answer?

MAYBE.

I know you guys have questions -- questions you would be asking frequently, had you the chance -- questions such as "what the fuck kind of review is 'maybe'?" The answer to that, and all your other unasked questions, can be found after the jump.


What the fuck kind of answer is "maybe"?
The fact is there's a lot of good stuff about the Blu-rays but there's a lot of bad stuff, too. There's a pretty solid argument for both buying and not buying 'em.

This is the shittiest review ever.
Listen -- the Blu-rays look better than the DVDs, but actually cause some problems. The extras are great, but horribly presented and missing some key stuff. And then, of course, there's the new "edits." Basically, for every improvement there's a problem, and it's up to you which is more important.

What do you mean, the Blu-rays cause problems?
Well, first off, the Blu-rays generally do look great. The picture is sharper, the colors more vivid, all that shit people buy Blu-rays for. I don't think they look so amazing that you could never watch the DVDs again without feeling hate and contempt, like DVD did to VHS, but they do look better.

So what's the problem?
The problem is that the higher resolution actually makes all the CG look... well, more like CG. The Phantom Menace has it worst, since its CG is oldest; it does get better by Revenge of the Sith, naturally. But I feel like the ever-so-slightly lower resolution of DVDs allowed the actors and CG backgrounds and characters to blend together a bit more naturally, the Blu-ray just makes everything stick out a little. Obviously, this is not a problem when the actors are on real sets, meaning it's not a problem very occasionally in the prequels and 99% of the time in the original trilogy.

That's hardly the only problem the prequels have that the original trilogy doesn't.
Sick burn, dude.

Shut up. So what about the extras?
Well, there's a lot. First of all, each movie's disc is bare bones except for subtitles and commentary tracks. However, there are an absurd amount of languages including, Dutch, Portuguese and Finnish. What's cool is that the commentary tracks also have subtitles, and in just as many languages. It's not something most of us will use, but it's nice.

So what about the real extras?
Remember, the prequels have an extras disc, the original trilogy has an extras disc, and if you buy the $80 set with all six movies, there's a third extras disc you can't get in the individual sets. I'll start with the trilogy-specific discs.

Please do.
Each bonus disc has three sections, one for each movie. Inside each "movie" it's divided up into that movie's major settings. For instance, A New Hope is Tatooine, the Death Star and The Battle of Yavin, Attack of the Clones is Coruscant, Naboo, Tatooine and Geonosis, and etc. Each "planet" contains concept art, pieces from "The Collection", deleted scenes and then an overview of that section of the movie, and then some interviews.

Deleted scenes? There can't be a deleted scene for every planet, can there?
There can. There are 45 deleted scenes between the two trilogy-based bonus discs.

Holy shit.
I know. These range from the awesome -- that shot of Luke building his green lightsaber on Tatooine at the beginning of RotJ -- to the well-known -- Luke meeting Biggs and his crappy friends at the beginning of New Hope -- to the banal -- Beru filling a glass with blue milk.

Do the prequels have that many deleted scenes?
Yeah, but since everything is CG, instead of being filming you often get these hilarious, low-res CG mock-ups of the scene where PS1-era graphics of Obi-Wan runs across landscapes -- without moving his legs, obviously -- attacked by still images of giant lizards. It's like Star Wars as made by the Birdemic guy. It's hilariously awful.

Any memorable deleted scenes on there?
Indeed. Remember that weird argument between Han and Leia that appeared a few days ago? It's on there. More disturbing is a scene from ESB, after Luke is just out of the bacta tank, and Leia comes to see him, and there's a weird sexual tension and Leia keeps caressing Luke's face and then Leia leans in to give Luke a kiss, not like that quick peck she did to piss off Han, but a full on snog and then suddenly C-3PO interrupts them, thank god.

Wow.
That's the most disturbing one. There are actually some funny ones, like in RotJ, when a bunch of Rebel pilots are filmed just saying various lines in their cockpits, and the lines get goofier and goofier. I won't spoil them for you.

Any good prequel deleted scenes?
One -- the Ob-Wan/Grievous fight as directed by Steven Spielberg.

Holy shit.
I KNOW. Now, it's in that terrible Birdemic/CG style, because it's just a mock-up, but the whole scene is so badass you'll actually weep it wasn't used in the movie. General Grievous drives through a goddamn train. Length-wise.

Why wasn't this used in the movie?
The explanation at the beginning of the scene is that Spielberg was just fucking around to learn more about CG mock-up, but that's doesn't seem that likely to me. I imagine either Lucas asked him to give it a shot, or Spielberg volunteered to give the scene a try, and Lucas eventually shot it down. Possibly because it was too long. Possibly because it was too good.

Well, based on the deleted scenes alone, the extras sound awesome.
They're excellent, and the concept art and "Collection" sections are also great.

What's the "Collection"?
The props and models and outfits and things from the Lucas Archives. They're presented here, again by planet, with a 360-degree view, plenty of detail shots, and, often a video commentary from the folks who made 'em and/or thought 'em up. There's a lot of interesting stuff in the video commentaries for these things.

That sounds fantastic.
They are. And the "Overviews" are nice too, but...

But?
They're really short. They have some interested behind-the-scenes footage and memories from folks who worked on each "planet" of each film, but they're less than 10 minutes each -- less than 30 minutes on each film. If you want any kind of "overview" of the entire film, too bad. They don't exist.

Well, what about the interviews?
They're also short, but the bigger problem is that they don't at all fit into the discs' "planets" scheme. Sure, the Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels interviews probably belong on the "Tatooine" section of ANH. But why is the Harrison Ford interview on "Endor" on RotJ? Why is the Ewan McGregor interview on Coruscant on AotC? Why does Dagobah have a recording of George Lucas taking about the Force... from a 2010 Clone Wars meeting? I mean, it's hardly the end of the world, but unless you have the little booklet that lists all the extras, finding these things is pretty random. It'd be nice if there were some sort of "Interviews" link at the beginning of each Extras disc, but there's not. You just have to go hunting for them. Or not lose the little book.

So what about the bonus disc you get for buying the full set?
First of all, it is jam-packed -- there are literally over 7 hours of extras on it alone.

Goddamn.
You're telling me. There's a documentary on each of the original trilogy, made when they came out. They're awesome, and about 45 minutes each.

Don't those fill the role of "overview of the entire film"?
Not really, because although there's a bunch of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, they were made as some weird marketing/educational things -- and the ESB one is more specifically about the special effects, while the RotJ one is about the creatures. They're great as time capsules, and they include a lot of great info, but by no means are they definitive looks at the film.

What else is there?
A 30-minute retrospective on ESB with George Lucas, Irvin Kerschner, Lawrence Kasdan and John Williams. Good, but it probably would have been better if they'd been in the same room. Then there's "Anatomy of a Dewback," a 30-minute doc about adding the CG Dewbacks to the ANH special edition from 1997. It's actually fascinating, because in terms of CG 1997 might as well be 100 years ago. It's amazing to see how far we've come in 15 years.

Huh.
And then there's a 45-minute doc on "Star Wars Tech," interviewing real scientists on how plausible Star Wars tech might be (answer: not very), and a 90-minute doc on the 501st Legion. I love the 501st, I think their charity work is great, and it's a nerd dream of mine to somehow be an honorary member, but that's a lot of 501st Legion.

Anything else?
Yes, the "Star Wars Spoofs." It's 90+ minutes of SW parodies and things, ranging from Weird Al Yankovic's "The Saga Begins" song, Saturday Night Live skits, Robot Chicken, various sitcoms, and more. It even includes things like an Eddie Izzard routine (the Death Star cantina one), part of the first episode of Chad Vader, part of the first episode of Troops, and various internet videos like Vader being a jerk, AT-AT Afternoon, the VW commercial, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's Star Wars scene, and more.

Cool.
And it would be even cooler if it weren't just one 90-minute block. Like if you could get to a specific section or show. Or they were listed in any kind of order or anything. Again, it's hardly a crime, but it's a goddamn Blu-ray -- it couldn't have taken that much more time to allow people to see and select which part of the Spoofs they want to see.

You know, all this still sounds pretty good.
And it is -- it's "pretty good." But the "Empire of Dreams" doc on the Star Wars DVD set had more concrete info and analysis in its 2.5 hours than all three Blu-ray bonus discs combined. And while you can argue that's it's better to have new extras than just redo the DVD bonus disc again, where the hell are the trailers and TV spots? Or the movie posters?! Or the blooper reels?

I--
I'll tell you where they are, back on the DVD bonus disc. Basically, if you want a complete Star Wars collection, you're required to keep the DVD set. You can't replace it.

That's a very nerdy thing to be irked about.
I'm a very nerdy guy.

Is that really the only problem?
No, the real problem is the new edits: Obi-Wan's new scream, R2-D2's new rock, and Darth Vader's new climatic "NOOOOOOOO."

You're about to start a nerd rant, aren't you?
Very much so. The problem is that these three changes all make the film worse.

No they don't, they just make the film different from how it used to be. You're just complaining because it's not how you remember it.
Not true. I actually like some of the changes, the ones that make the film better. CG Dewbacks on Tatooine instead of a stationary statue? That's awesome. Definitely a good edit. More scenes of the wampa on ESB? Awesome edit. The scene makes more sense and becomes more exciting. Adding a beak to the Sarlacc? Fine with me. If those had been the only changes, then Lucas could never release the original original trilogy again and I wouldn't give a shit.

It's the changes that make the movies worse that make me pray for the unaltered original trilogy. The first awful change was of course Greedo shooting first -- it made what was a fine scene into a mess because it suddenly made no sense. It's easy to believe in a galaxy of aliens and lightsabers and a mystic force that binds the universe together, but it is just fucking impossible to believe that Greedo would miss a stationary target from three goddamned feet away. It does not by distract and confuse the viewer.

But the bigger problem is that it fucks with Han Solo's storyarc. The character is supposed to be an amoral guy who becomes moral by the end of the trilogy. To make that journey, he has to start out as kind of an asshole. Making Han shoot second diminishes his character and diminishes his journey throughout the movies. It makes the movie worse.

Incidentally, in the Blu-rays Han and Greedo shoot pretty much simultaneously. It still doesn't explain why Greedo missed, and it's still not good, but it's not as bad as it was before.

Okay, no one likes Han not shooting first. But who cares about Artoo's rock or Obi-Wan's dragon call?
These changes don't affect the movie as greatly, but they're still distracting and thus, arguably, worse. Again, it's a matter of breaking the "reality" of the films -- sure, there are aliens and things, but no human being could possibly make a noise like Obi-Wan does now (yes, maybe it could be a Force power of something, but there's nothing in the movies to support that). Actually, I think the bigger problem for Obi-Wan's new dragon call is mainly that it's new. If he had made that noise in the original film in '77, I'm guessing no one would have a problem. But we've been listening to Obi-Wan's original cry for 34 years. Changing it now is just... a distraction. Why would you do that? How is the new noise in any way better than the old? It's just a change for changes sake. Anyways, I have a bigger problem with Artoo's rock.

Why?
BECAUSE THERE'S NO WAY ARTOO CAN FIT IN THAT CREVICE NOW. Yes, this is a universe with aliens and lightsabers, but the basic physical properties of rocks remain the same, and Artoo should not be able to pass through them. Instead of watching the movie, now all I can think of how Artoo could have possibly wedged himself in there, and there's no explanation. Again, this change is nothing but distracting, and thus makes the movie worse.

Hey, Artoo used to fit in those Naboo ships, which made his legs disappear or something. No one cared about that.
I did! No previous Star Wars starships appeared to alter droids physical shapes before, and Artoo never once displayed an ability to transform himself -- no droid did. So the fact that Artoo's legs seemed to suddenly disappear when he popped in the Naboo cruiser ship. That said, I can kind of half convince myself that the Naboo ship had some sort of elaborate system inside for removing an astromech's legs. Maybe. BUT I'M PRETTY SURE THE ROCK DOESN'T. HE SHOULDN'T BE IN THERE.

Well, we might as well talk about the big one -- Vader's new "NOOOOOOO!" at the end of RotJ.
This is one of those changes that make the film unequivocally, objectively worse. Mostly because it takes what was a tense, inner emotional struggle where the audience had no idea what Darth Vader was going to do, stay loyal to the emperor or save his son, and make it obvious and overt, sucking the tension and drama out of the scene. Now, I know Lucas meant it as a call back to the prequels, to help tie things together, but the problem is he's calling back to what is considered one of the prequels' dumbest moments. So not only is it killing the scene's drama, it also reminding audiences of Vader's first, original, ridiculous "NOOOO!" from RotS, and making them laugh. At what should be the original trilogy's -- hell, all six films' -- most powerful moment.

Okay, we got it. Are there any other edits you noticed? Maybe ones you don't want to go on a rant about?
There's a full list on Wikipedia here; everything else is pretty minor. Replacing shitty puppet Yoda in Episode 1 with CG Yoda is a damned good edit. Even the Ewoks' blinking aren't that big a deal. It's weird, because again, we've been watching them not blink for 28 years and now they're suddenly blinking, but it's not like it is a betrayal of anybody's character or common sense.

Anything else you want to bitch about before you wrap this up?
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Yep. The menus are really boring. It's the same thing for every disc, just some generic computer monitor-y thing, the only difference being which movie scenes floating in the background. Maybe I'm spoiled from the awesome DVD menus, but there's a real sense of not-giving-a-shit.

Anything else?
The packaging art is terrible. TERRIBLE. I mean, ignore the fact that the cover is of Little Orphan Ani, with transparent Luke walking behind him as if George Lucas needed to remind us which trilogy he prefers. But I had though it was a photo until I got the set, and saw...
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It's a terrible painting. And all the art inside is like that, too. You ever get one of those crazy religious pamphlets with the paintings of Jesus holding hands with a variety of ethnic children, but the text is all about how you're going to burn in hell for all eternity? It's llike the same guy. There's a stunning lack of detail, and everything is slightly out of proportion. Why Lucas didn't use any of the millions of production still -- or the art he's commissioned over the last 34 years -- is baffling.

That is weird.
What's even more weird is that the interior art includes a painting of Baba Fett riding a dragon, which is straight out of the animated sequence of the Holiday Special, and then another painting from a scene of Droids. The Holiday Special cartoon is tucked away under "First Look" under "Boba Fett Prototype Armor" in "The Collection" section of "Pursued by the Enemy Fleet" on ESB -- not exactly high profile -- and Droids never gets mentioned once in the extras. Why? Why do this?

Weird. Anything else you want to add?
Three things: 1) The creepiest thing in the whole Collection is Luke's severed head from ESB, the one that appears in Vader's mask on Dagobah. Looking at it in the movie, I swear it's Hamill's actual face, or a well-painted cast of it or something. But when you see it in Collection, it looks terrifyingly awful. It's like a bad papier-mache pinata of Mark Hamill's head.

2) Lucas has said the reason he hasn't released the unaltered original trilogy in anamorphic widescreen is because he threw away the originals. Well, there's no way you could watch all the extras -- all the behind-the-scenes footage from all six movies, all the film of meetings and production and brainstorming, all the deleted scenes, all the Collection -- and believe that's true. And if you watch "Anatomy of a Dewback," it actually shows Lucas' warehouse of film, which is enormous. Also, Lucas actually says on camera "I saved everything." Mostly because he never knows when or if he wants to tinker with something. So he's got them. He's obviously got them. He just doesn't want us to have them.

3) This is the final piece of art in the Blu-ray book:
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Not only is it terrible art, but please count how many prequel characters show up compared to original trilogy characters. It's a terrifying look into George Lucas' head. For god's sake, Luke, Han, Leia and Lando take up 1/32nd of the picture. The goddamn dude from Utapau from Revenge of the Sith is shown bigger than each of them. THE DUDE FROM UTAPAU. That's so fucked up I can barely believe it.

I... wow.
I know, right?

So... should I get it?
Man, I don't know. Yes, the movies look better, but the edits are really, really terrible. The extras are good, but the best extras only come with the $80 complete set, and even those aren't perfect. Basically, you can't replace your Star Wars DVD set with these -- so if don't care about the changes, or you're dying to see 98% of the original movies looking awesome, or you're a die-hard SW completionist, yeah, get 'em.

Hey, aren't these FAQs of yours supposed to be funny?
Shut up.

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