Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray review

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Review Glen Chapman 12 Sep 2011 - 07:07

Glen gets to grips with the release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray. Is it worth your time and money? Here's his review...

Being asked if you want to review Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray isn’t a difficult question to answer. The catch being that it involved an incredibly tight deadline, and not much sleep for a few days.

Sure, the films have been tweaked some more by George Lucas, moving them yet further away from the versions that everyone grew up with. And, of course, the original theatrical versions aren’t included. But, countering that, how could you not want to see Star Wars on Blu-ray?

The controversies surrounding the new changes have been covered extensively here and on other sites over the past few weeks, so I’m going to avoid going into that in any great detail, and instead focus on the quality of the sound and picture, as well as the extras included. Say “Noooooooooooooo!” all you like, I won’t be drawn into it here!

Going into this I had to decide what was important, and the obvious area for focus was the new content and the transfers of the films themselves. A lot of the supplementary material and commentaries have been available elsewhere previously, so fans of the series would have no doubt seen or heard these at some point if these extras interested them.

I’m also going to avoid reviewing the films themselves, as I think it's fair to say that, by this point, most of us have a view on them. It’s certainly not going to be a deciding factor for anyone looking to buy this set. There are over 200 articles on this very site carrying the Star Wars tag, so you can find plenty of coverage here with very little effort.

I will, however, provide my star rating for each of the films, just so you know where I stand on the saga:

The Phantom Menace 2 stars
Attack Of The Clones 2 stars

Revenge Of The Sith
3 stars
A New Hope
5 stars
The Empire Strikes Back  5 stars
Return Of The Jedi 
3 stars

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at the Blu-ray release for The Complete Saga.

Picture and Sound

First of all, the main selling point for this release is the quality of
the picture and sound, and if it would prove to be a significant improvement over the DVD releases to justify the purchase. I’m pleased to say that the picture and sound quality throughout the set is fantastic. I had high expectations going in, but I wasn’t prepared for just how good it ended up being.

First impressions are important, so I started with the set where I started with the Star Wars franchise: by watching A New Hope. It’s a film that I have seen countless times before on various formats, including a number of different VHS and DVD copies, so I had a feeling of what to expect.

The opening scene is incredibly impressive in terms of picture and sound quality. There’s a clarity to the image that is startling at first, but really complements the films once the initial surprise has passed. It does remove quite a lot of the rough-around-the-edges feel that the film carried, particularly when looking back at the original trilogy many years after its original release, but giving the film this level of polish will enable those new to the franchise to have that same feeling that cinemagoers had back in 1977 (assuming they were watching in a decent cinema).

Of course, the number of imitators released since means that young film fans will certainly have seen better effects, but A New Hope's groundbreaking work has never looked this good.

The original trilogy really is as good as it’s likely to get, from a technical standpoint, and had these been the original theatrical cuts but with a HD transfer and the 6.1 DTS HD audio mix, this set would be pretty much ideal (and a lot less divisive).

The picture quality of this set shares many similarities with the Alien set released last year, in that the films relied on practical effects. In that case, Alien and Aliens fared incredibly well (though you may have had to do a bit of tinkering on your TV to get the most out of the darkness of the latter), and didn’t seem to have dated at all. Such is the case with the original Star Wars trilogy. However, the latter films, which relied heavily on CGI - Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection - didn't come out as well. And again, in the case of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the same holds true.

There are times when the overt use of green screen is so noticeable that it becomes quite jarring. Sure, there are moments where it’s visually stunning, and Lucas and his team were able to create worlds and set pieces that would have been impossible had it not been for advances in technology. But there was a tangibility to the original trilogy that’s sadly lacking in the prequels. The worlds seem real and lived in, and the characters related to one another in a natural and believable way for the most part.

But sadly, that’s not always the case with the prequels and that’s its biggest downfall certainly when it comes to these transfers, where the disparity between the human actors and the CGI characters is all the more noticeable.

That’s not to say that there aren’t stunning moments in the prequels, as there clearly are. The Phantom Menace features two such moments, which rival anything in the whole set in terms of picture quality, with the Pod race scene and the Duel of Fates. Both of these scenes, in fairness, were great in previous releases, but here, they’re improved to the point where the Pod race in particular is a completely immersive experience, especially when you’re also enjoying the full benefits of the audio mix.

Speed Racer was the go-to disc to show off your home entertainment system, with some insane - and sometimes headache inducing - racing action. The Phantom Menace isn’t too far behind it now.

The transfers for both the original trilogy and the prequels are very impressive in many ways, but the original trilogy fares considerably better for me. There have been some superb transfers of older films on Blu-ray, with features like North By Northwest being made to look as though they were brand new.

The original trilogy certainly gives the best transfers of catalogue titles a run for their money. The prequels fare less well, but still have breathtaking moments that more than justify the upgrade.

Prequel Trilogy 3 stars
Original Trilogy 5 stars

Extras

There’s an incredible amount of extras here, and while some have been included on previous releases, there’s plenty of new stuff here as well.

The discs for the individual films don’t carry a great deal of extras on them, as the majority of the extra content is on the three bonus discs. Each film disc does contain two commentary tracks, with one for each film previously available. But there's also a new commentary track for each film, comprising archival interviews with the cast and crew.

I didn’t have time to go through all of these in their entirety, but managed to take in about half an hour for each film, and what I heard was decent enough. I can’t imagine anyone other than the hardcore sitting through all these in their entirety, though - something that can be said for commentary tracks in general, really.

The first bonus disc (disc seven of the set) is the archive material for Episodes I-III, and the second bonus disc (disc eight of the set) features archive material for Episodes IV-VI.

Both discs are fantastic, and contain a hell of a lot of material on each respective film. They are both laid out in identical ways, with the bonus features split into each film in the series. Each film then has a number of subcategories named after locations in the respective films. Each subcategory has identical feature sets, which makes navigation throughout the discs incredibly easy.

The features included are: interviews, deleted and extended scenes, concept art galleries, and The Collection, which looks at character and model designs, including a 360 degree turnaround and video commentaries. The menus for each are easy to navigate, and having the extras laid out in this manner is a nice change from the regular making-of documentaries. It enables you to pick and choose the features that are of most interest to you with ease.

The downside to this is that the vast majority of the features here are quite short, so you’ll have to keep reaching for the remote. Much of it is presented in 1080p, but as some of the material is taken from what is essentially work in progress footage, particularly the deleted scenes, it inevitably looks a little rough around the edges at times.

Bonus disc three (disc nine of the set), features a number of documentaries, some of which have been available elsewhere before, and are presented in 480p. What you get here are The Making Of Star Wars (1977, 50 mins), The Empire Strikes Back (1980, 50 mins), Classic Creatures: Return Of The Jedi (1983, 50 mins) and Anatomy Of A Dewback (1997, 26 mins).

I’ll go through each of the documentaries that are exclusive to the set one by one now.

Star Warriors (480p, 84 mins)

This feature looks at fans from around the world, who dress up as their favourite characters in their spare time. It’s an entertaining and affectionate look at the pastime, focusing on a number of individuals as they prepare to take part in the Rose Bowl parade, and wait in anticipation to see if their auditions were successful. It also takes a look at the charity work that these fans carry out, and the positive effect they have on people. Fascinating and touching at times, this is one of the discs' highlights.

Star Wars Tech
(1080p, 45 mins)

If Star Warriors was one of my highlights of the disc, this feature is my favourite feature in the entire set. It looks at the technology of the films and how close it is to technology currently available or in development, and how the films not only took inspiration from technology but have inspired it.

One of my favourite points was where Darth Vader’s diet was being discussed, and it was decided that his liquid diet would cause gastro intestinal complications. You never really consider such things causing problems for one of the most iconic villains in the history of cinema. This is one of the many interesting areas covered in the documentary.

A Conversation With the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later (1080i, 25 mins)

This being my favourite film of the series, this was the new supplement that I was incredibly interested in. George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan and John Williams all discuss the making of the film, and a lot of information is packed in to the relatively short running time.

An interesting point raised is Lucas’ acknowledgement of how he doesn’t regard his ability as a writer highly, and how the film benefited from other people being involved. If this was the case, it begs the logical question as to why didn’t he take a similar approach for the prequels.

Star Wars Spoof (1080i, 96 mins)

This is the feature that interested me the least after watching it, but sounded quite interesting from its description. I think that Star Wars spoofs are far away from being the height of comedy, but clearly have their place. And here we see the likes of Weird Al, Family Guy, The Simpsons, That 70’s Show, How I Met Your Mother, various Saturday Night Live sketches and many more, all spoofing the series in a variety of ways.

Some kind of order to this would have been nice - for example, having shows/themes of sketches grouped together - but it’s all a bit slapdash. There’s no order to anything here, it’s just spoof after spoof with no context or commentary. Very poor. 

In addition to the extras listed above, there’s a booklet included that features concept art for the films, but mostly serves as a list of contents for the extra features contained.

Even if some of the extras aren’t that great, there’s plenty here that’s of interest. The packaging of the Complete Saga is fine, but it’s far from the sturdiest collection I’ve seen and I can’t imagine it’ll be long before it starts to show signs of wear and tear.
Extras and Packaging 
4 stars

Despite there being a number of quite obvious flaws with the release, on balance this is still an excellent set that I’m delighted to have in my collection. I’m sure those who choose not to boycott the release will get a lot of pleasure from, it and as such, this is a release that comes highly recommended.

Star Wars: The Complete Saga arrives on Blu-ray in the UK today. You can rent or buy it at Blockbuster.co.uk.
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