There is so much material crammed onto the Star Wars Complete Saga Blu-ray set that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Instead of leaving an elephant in the room throughout the whole review, we’ll address the few changes to the films first. There are some changes made to the films and you’ve read all about them. As I’ve watched through the films in what little time I’ve had, I haven’t noticed anything major outside what’s been discussed. There are no evil surprises lurking in some unknown corner of the films for you. The changes that had attention brought to them were clearly the biggest, most notable changes that people took umbrage with. There were a number of great changes made, though. In the prequels, most of them involved polishing up effects that had instances of clipping in them, other effects were cleaned up. One of my favorite changes so far has been an update to Han being unfrozen in carbonite. If you’re not a giant Star Wars nerd you won’t even notice anything’s been done.
But there are two things I want to say about the changes:
Firstly, whether there are changes on this particular version you disagree with or not, you knew going into this set that there were going to be changes from the original theatrical releases that you didn’t like. One or two more shouldn’t enter into your decision whether or not you buy this set.
Secondly, for the most part, the vast majority of the changes are invisible. They are the upgrades to sound and picture quality people have been asking for all these long years. There are massive stretches of film where there isn’t a single, perceptible change in the films. People talk about the Special Editions as though George Lucas took a giant digital crayon to every frame of the film and it simply isn’t the case. I understand that for some people, some of the changes take you out of the film. I understand and respect that, but you knew that going in when you pre-ordered your Blu-ray set, a few more isn’t any reason to cancel your pre-order, especially since the original three films make up barely a third of the reason you’d buy the set.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about everything else. I’ve tried to divide things up in some logical manner so you can skip ahead to what you’re interested in reading about. It’s a big set and this is going to be a big review. I’ll go over Picture and Sound Quality, Deleted Scenes, Documentaries, and Other Bonus Features. Hopefully, that will give you an idea of what I think of the set overall.
Picture and Sound Quality
One of my fondest memories was the first time I popped in my VHS tape of the brand new widescreen THX release of the Star Wars films in 1995 and thinking to myself, “Wow. These films have never looked better and I don’t see how they could with anything less than a movie theatre.” I was an incredibly naive 15 year old boy back then and the picture quality has improved so much with each subsequent release it’s ridiculous. Lucasfilm has consistently been able to maximize the most of every format they’ve released the films in and this Blu-ray is no exception. The picture and the colors and the sound is absolutely stunning.
The films are all crisp and clear, adding a definition and subtlety of color to them that I’m not even sure I realized watching the films on 35mm in 1997. Nothing about it, though, looks unnatural. There’s still that worn in grain and lived in feeling to the films. It’s not super-sharp in that live televised football sort of way. It’s much more painterly than that. Watching the films in the past you got that “lived in” look, but never has it been more apparent how “used” the Star Wars universe is. The painstaking attention to detail across all six films comes out when you can see the textures of cloth and furniture and set pieces and sets and props. It’s astounding.
The colors are brilliant and have never looked better. Ever. On the big screen or otherwise. As I write this, I’m rewatching The Empire Strikes Back and watching the Milennium Falcon make its escape from Cloud City and I can’t imagine the lighting looking any more beautiful. Maybe it’s because I’ve come to appreciate good lighting more and more over the years, but the films (aside from the minor changes) look flawless. It really has to be seen to be believed. All of the films look fantastic, but I have to say, Revenge of the Sith and The Empire Strikes Back are the standouts in picture quality. I’m not sure if it’s because more care and love were put into them or if they were just shot better, but they looked…more flawless than the rest.
And the sound… The sound mix (aside from one infamous addition) is utterly breathtaking and it taxes my sound system to the limit. In fact, this set might be the reason I upgrade (and get a bigger TV). I tested the films in a system with much better sound than mine and I felt like I was in a THX certified movie theatre. It was all mapped perfectly, the music was sweet and golden, and everything came together beautifully. Like I said, they’ve once again outdone themselves with the medium at hand.
I was curious as to why the deleted scenes from the previous releases of the prequels weren’t included on this set. Not that I’d get rid of my old sets anyway, it’s just slightly annoying that my bonus features are spread over twenty some odd discs. But in some ways, that’s a good thing. We weren’t given the same material regurgitated over and over again. All of the behind the scenes material and deleted scenes featured are all new to this set. And there’s nothing more awe-inspiring than seeing new material from the Star Wars films we all know and love.
This is one of the biggest reasons to get the set. These are the historical documents of filmmaking attrition that we can learn from.
I’ll break the deleted scenes down by film:
Episode I and Episode II – There’s a reason these are deleted scenes. There’s not much to see here, just bits of scenes and animatics. nothing mind-blowingly impressive.
Episode III – By far, the best deleted scene for the prequels included in this set is the animatic directed by Steven Spielberg of the Obi-wan/Grievous chase. Spielberg wanted a first hand primer in how to work an animatic and supervised the making of this one. It’s VERY impressive and has a lot of flourishes that would have been nice to see in the final film (though some did find their way inside). The only problem with this sequence is that it went on for far too long.
The other major deleted scene from Episode III is the an animatic of Order 66 as it was originally to occur, combining the Wookiee attack and Order 66 simultaneously. Obviously it’s different and not as emotionally disturbing as the final version, but they did show what was to be the end of Quinlan Vos. It was brutal and amazing and would have been great to see in the final film.
A piece of a scene had clones guarding the Jedi Temple after Order 66 dressed as Jedi. Tem Morrison in disguise as Jedi guarding the temple was great, though I understand the scene had too much humour too it and the mood of the film needed to be dour at that moment.
And though I’d've loved to see the scene of Yoda communing with Qui-Gon, I can see where it would have dragged the film back a little.
Episode IV – As I watched the scenes with Biggs and Luke, I was reminded of Curt and Steve from American Graffiti. These scenes are amazing to watch, but it’s a very good thing they didn’t make it into the final film.
I’m wondering why they included the crazy woman on Tatooine and the blue milk scenes on the disc. They’re fun, but have zero re-watchability.
One of the most fascinating things was the original rough cut of the Cantina scene. It was assembled out of the original shoot and seemed to utilize every scrap of footage they shot. It’s a good thing they did the reshoots they did, though, especially when it concerned Greedo’s closeups. Watching a side-by-side of the original Greedo and the one that made it into the movie is almost cringeworthy.
Episode V - The extended scenes on Hoth might be my favorites in this entire set. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t terribly well-acted and have all the charm of a daytime soap, there’s something oddly…. alluring about them. They brought a smile to my face. They would have fleshed out Leia a little more, but would have changed the dynamic of the love triangle completely. In fact, you can see with this the careful balancing act they had to perform in the editing room to keep the love story completely balanced and appropriate. They had to strike a middle tone and these scenes showed how precarious a position they were in.
Which leads us to the alternate Han-Leia kiss… I can see this being the prefered version for fangirls everywhere. And the line, “Okay, Hotshot” will find its way into the Star Wars lexicon of quotes.
Lobots capture is almost heartbreaking and somehow adorable and later, it’s weird hearing Leia and Luke say “Boba Fett” in an extended scene.
Episode VI – The building of Luke’s saber is incredible and would have added a different layer to the film. The fabled sandstorm is amazing to see, though it’s easy to see why they cut it. They did explain what Luke does with the ladder on his X-wing, though. He simply discards it. The supply of X-wing ladders must be inexhaustible.
In the new bunker scene, the piles of Stormtrooper bodies is actually comical, but not more comical (and cringeworthy) than watching Crix Madine try to fill in for Admiral Ackbar.
And that leads me to the one deleted scene that I think would have improved the saga if it had been included. “Jerjerrod’s Conflict” documents the scenes where Palpatine orders the commander of the Death Star to blow up Endor if, somehow, the rebels manage to destroy the shield generator. It would have added so much more to Luke’s conflict and tension to the battle over all. There are as many reasons for not showing at putting in, so I can’t complain. And the bits of footage they had on the disc could hardly be put in the film and communicate the story seamlessly.
This is the second biggest reason to get the complete saga set.
One of the things that set me down my career path was behind the scenes documentaries and I’ve sought out everyone I could ever get my hands on in the Star Wars universe and they managed to put the most elusive one I’d ever hoped to see on the ninth disc in this collection. SP FX The Empire Strikes Back is a documentary I’ve been trying to track down for the better part of two decades and I always turned up empty. I’d have paid full price for just that one documentary at this point, making this set worth more than it’s suggested price 9 times over. Getting to watch that specific documentary for the first time was as exciting to me as seeing a new Star Wars movie for the first time and I’m happy for the chance to finally see it.
But the documentaries don’t stop there. There are scores of other documentaries. The Creatures of Return of the Jedi is an interesting look at the creature shops for the sixth Star Wars film (even though I’d seen about an 1/8th of it in From Star Wars to Jedi). My favorite documentary, aside from the SPFX special was probably the retrospective of The Empire Strikes Back that featured interviews with Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan, and George Lucas and their parts in creating Empire and crafting its story. It was inspiring and made me want to quit what I was doing and get back to writing in my notebook.
This is, by no means, an exhaustive collection of Star Wars documentaries, but an excellent cross-section that gives you a pretty good taste of what there is. Again, though, there aren’t any documentaries that appeared on previous DVD releases, so be sure to hang on to your older versions.
There is also scores of new material in the archives. Each film has sections divided up by local and you can choose to watch smaller mini-documentaries that are prop (or character or costume or location) specific. They run 3 to 6 minutes or so and are all incredibly enlightening. I’ve been a lifelong student of Star Wars and there are plenty of stories I hit upon that I’ve never heard and pieces of the archives I’d never even known that existed. They’ve pulled out all the stops on this one. All told there’s close to three hours of documentaries and interviews of that nature, enough to keep you busy for a long, long time.
Other Bonus Features
The other two most notable bonus features are the commentaries (from the previous release and scene-specific commentaries edited masterfully together from a dozen or more other interviews) and they are, as ever, worth your time. I’ll be honest, of all the special features I’ve explored, these are the ones I’ve had the least time with. I’ve skipped around here and there on them enough to know that I’ll be visiting them as soon as I can.
And then there’s the spoofs. They cut a 2-plus hour montage of Star Wars references in the popular culture over the last 30-plus years. There’s a smattering of everything and footage from things I didn’t know existed. Sure, there’s the pre-requisite clips from Simpsons, Family Guy, and Robot Chicken, but they pulled in Weird Al, Clerks, LOTS of Saturday Night Live (sketches I didn’t even know existed), The Daily Show, That 70s Show, and dozens of others. The most surprising inclusion to me, though, were some of the fan films (Chad Vader, TROOPS, etc.) and Eddie Izzard’s canteen routine. And then halfway into his canteen routine, they actually cut into the lego version of it. I was giggling like an idiot.
For fans who complain that Lucas just packages the same old thing over and over and over again, there is hours and hours and hours of material I’ve never seen released before that is worth the price of admission alone. Add to that the films that look and sound better than they ever have in history, with commentaries new and old to inform you on the making of the saga, and you have a collection that is well worth every penny a few times over.
I’ll admit, I was a little exhausted when the “controversy” was happening. I was filled with anxiety about some of the changes. And yeah, there’s still some changes I don’t like. But after a day and a half of watching vintage documentaries, brand new retrospectives, and watching people involved with Star Wars talk about it on the discs with the same level of passion and enthusiasm I have for the movies, all of my Star Wars fandom was renewed and refreshed and I couldn’t be more glad for this set.
Do I wish they release more bonus features and bonus discs of the original versions on Blu-ray, too? Sure. I’ll buy that set, too. In the meantime, I’ve got more than enough on this set to keep me more than happy.