Back in May, I took a speculative look at the contents of the now released Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray. For the most part, the speculations and educated guesses eventuated. Now the Blu-ray set is here, I thought I would discuss the package as a whole and over the coming weeks I will discuss each entry in depth. First up, let's discuss my thoughts on the new video transfers.
The Phantom Menace has received a new master and for the most part it looks very good. There has been some digital noise reduction applied to make it a little more glossy and shiny to better suit the all-digital presentations of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but its inclusion is unwarranted. The CG model Yoda produced for Attack of the Clones has replaced the original silicon puppet in all scenes, but retains Frank Oz's signature voice. This is a vast improvement and not only does it bring a new sense of continuity to the prequels, but makes Yoda a far more believable character. Additionally, two minor scenes at the start of the film - the Neimodians viewing the battle and the Jedi power run have both had some small CG revisions.
Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith have both received little alteration. The only change I noted to either was the addition of some speech by Anakin's mother during his nightmare sequence in Clones. Both films scrub up very well with direct-digital transfers from the original camera files. The detail in Clones is particularly revealing and quite unkind to some of the aging CG effects and sub-par compositing.
Of course, fans are going to be far more critical of the treatment afforded to the original trilogy films. Not everyone is going to be pleased and whilst some of the nitpicks are just that, there are some real concerns.
First up, it is clear that the video transfers are based off the 1080p masters produced by Lowry Digital in 2004, which whilst reasonable enough for Blu-ray presentation, are inherently flawed. A new digital scan from the camera negative would retain more fine detail and would provide a long term digital negative for archival purposes and would mean that the same restoration work being performed here won't have to be repeated in the future, but can be added onto.
Although I am not terribly surprised by this, I am very disappointed that this opportunity wasn't taken and I think it's incredibly short sighted decision making. The whole Lucasfilm empire is built upon these three films, so moves to permanently rescue these films, especially when time, money and technology are not in short supply is a head scratcher.
That said, the three original trilogy films have never looked better. There are flaws, it could have been better, but these transfers present the original trilogy in the highest quality thus far. For that reason alone, it is worth replacing the DVD's (but not your original laserdiscs of the unaltered trilogy!).
Fans will want to keep the extras discs for all six releases on DVD, because none of the extra material (save audio commentaries) have been ported over, in a likely attempt to prevent the second hand market being flooded and cheapening the brand.
Each film features a new audio commentary cobbled together from offcuts from previous interviews as well as retaining the 2004 DVD audio commentaries. Whilst clearly edited together from various sources eschews spontaneity, they ensure there aren't many dead spots.
For many long time fans who might be somewhat exasperated by the latest release, the clincher is over an hour of deleted scenes from the trilogy, most of which have not only not been released on video, but have never been seen. The man-in-suit Wampa monster scenes from The Empire Strikes Back are absolutely terrible, but utterly fascinating 30 year old scenes which were almost lost to the sands of time. Speaking of sand, the sandstorm sequence cut from Return of the Jedi is also included here in full, another example of Star Wars legend that we now get to see.
Included on the 9th extra disc are some archival documentaries that whilst won't be new to most fans, are good to see in an official capacity. The only newly feature 'Conversations with the masters' (or 'Conversations with the masters' as the title card rather unprofessionally states) which celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back and feature Director Irvin Kershner's last on-camera interview.
The packaging for the Australian version is fairly professional and includes a multi-page colour booklet which lists the entirety of the collections extra features. Some fans have decried the pastel cover artwork, but I quite like it.
In the coming weeks, I will take an in-depth look at each film and the extra features that are relevant to each. But for any fans on the fence about picking up the release, I can confidently give the sage advice that this release is very worthwhile.