Monday, November 7, 2011

Movie Review – Star Wars on Blu-Ray Part 1

Note: I wrote this back in September and if I don’t put it up now I’ll never do it. It isn’t complete and might not ever be, but here’s what I’ve got. I think it might be helpful. I don’t know how long it’ll be before we get to the prequels.
This is just going to be a random mess that’s coming out weeks later than what anybody else wrote. But I need to do it because I’ve got a lot to say about the brand-new Star Wars Saga on Blu-Ray and not all of it is bad. Or good.

I’ve been wanting to re-watch the Saga for a while now; almost a year as a matter of fact. For a couple of months I just didn’t really have time and then there was a pretty substantial rumor that the Blu-Rays were coming out and then there was the announcement back in February. So I preordered the set on Amazon and decided to wait until they came to watch.
I worked days last weekend (5 AM to 5 PM) so there wasn’t really time to watch anything until Sunday night. But as soon as I finished dinner me and Lil’ Troublemaker went downstairs and fired up the projector to watch The Phantom Menace. He’s seen the Original Trilogy a couple of times now but had yet to watch any of the prequels. I won’t let him watch Revenge of the Sith until he’s older but I figured Episodes I & II would be okay. I mean, Ep. I is basically a children’s movie.
So we sat down to watch The Phantom Menace and the first thing I noticed was that the CGI is really noticeable in HD. Like, bad. It looked like an old episode of Hercules. Well, maybe not that bad, but it wasn’t good. Especially Jar-Jar.
About Jar-Jar – Lil’ Troublemaker’s only exposure to the Gungan up to that point was through toys and the Clone Wars cartoon. As far as the toys go Jar-Jar is just this cartoony looking creature. And on the cartoon he’s goofy but not nearly as abrasive as in the movies. So Lil’ Troublemaker kind of liked “the alien with the long ears”. He won’t call him Jar-Jar because he thinks that’s a stupid name.
I was expecting some kind of positive reaction when Jar-Jar showed up on screen. All I got was, “His voice sounds weird.” And then he just got up and left. He was done with The Phantom Menace. And he even recognized the scenes from playing LEGO Star Wars. He just didn’t care. So I turned it off and we went upstairs and watched cartoons. My plan had been to watch the rest of Episode I and maybe Episode II after the family went to bed, but that didn’t happen. I was a little concerned that maybe my son was over the magic of Star Wars for the time being.
But then the next day when I got up I immediately put A New Hope in and we sat there and watched 8 hours worth of Original Trilogy stuff and played with his Galactic Heroes. Maybe not the healthiest way for a three-year-old to spend a Monday, but it’s not like we do that all the time. The point is that he couldn’t care less about the prequels and was held rapt by every little thing we watched from the Original Trilogy. Like, he was getting excited about matte paintings of Dagobah, man.
So what that means is I’m going to start off discussing Episodes IV – VI and close with the prequels.
First of all, the packaging for this thing is absolute shit. In every way. The art is all offensively ugly and the cover doesn’t even make sense. Little boy Anakin with a ghost Luke walking away? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? The interior art is no better, with ugly renderings of inconsequential things throughout. But none of that matters too much. I’m not going to be gazing at the packaging for hours on end. How’s the functionality of the package? Shit. As pissed as I was about the Toy Story box set, this is so much worse. The box is shaped like a book and each page of the book holds one of nine discs – one for each movie and three discs of bonus content. My problem is that the pages are sleeves that the discs slide into, requiring you to slide the media side of the disc over sharp paper edges every time you pull a disc out or put it in. Worse, it is very difficult to remove the discs without touching the media side. Speaking of difficult, it is also very tricky to get the book itself out of the slipcase it comes in.
Onto the movies themselves.
We didn’t even get halfway through Phantom Menace, so I’ll get to it in detail later. For now just know that the CGI is super noticeable.
The Original Trilogy looks good. Not great, good. This wasn’t one of those revelatory moments where you go, “Holy shit! I can’t believe how crisp and amazing this looks!” I can’t imagine putting the Special Edition DVDs in and feeling all that put out. Of course, the original versions are a different story since that shithead won’t update them…
I’m sure the sound is good, but honestly I have no ability to differentiate sound quality. I know the slightly more expensive sound system in the Man Room sounds better than what we have upstairs. Or at least is louder. I think.
With all of that out of the way, naturally I have to discuss the changes Lucas has made.
I think George Lucas should be able to do whatever he wants with his movies. They’re his movies. He made them. He owns them. Just because we’ve been buying Darth Vader toys and Ponda Baba shirts and Ugnaught tampons for the past thirty-four years doesn’t mean we should have any say in how Lucas treats his franchise. If he wants to digitally insert a pink tutu on Chewbacca and replace Harrison Ford with Ashton Koosher then it’s George Lucas’ right to do so.
But that doesn’t mean I think he should do any of that or that I think all of the changes he’s made so far make any fucking sense at all. Obviously Greedo shooting first is some pussy liberal bullshit. And replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen is beyond retarded. As Mrs. Troublemaker said, “We just saw him. He was an old man.” I’m sure the argument is that Anakin died when he became Vader, but that’s completely wrong, because if Anakin ceased to exist to the point where his fucking ghost appears as a young man then how the fuck did Luke redeem him? His ghost appearing as he did when Obi-Wan ruined his day suggests that that was, indeed the end of Anakin and that goes against the entire story of the Star Wars Saga. And then who the heck is the puffy old man that tells Luke he wants to see him with his own eyes?
Then there’s the more cosmetic changes that don’t actually tear the story apart. Like the Cloud City embellishments – I think those are absolutely wonderful. Same with the additions of X-Wings, Y-Wings, TIEs, Stormtroopers and whatever else where Lucas used CG to bulk up various fight scenes. That stuff all makes sense because it would have been unreasonable to expect ILM to make a hundred of those X-Wing models in 1976. Other things are more debatable. The replacement of “Lapti Nek” with “Jedi Rocks” is horrible. And I prefer the Ewok song to the new thing at the end of Jedi, though I do like the celebration scenes throughout the galaxy (even if they don’t, technically, make sense).
But that’s all stuff Lucas changed for the Special Editions. What about the new Blu-Ray changes?
Well, Han and Greedo shoot at almost the same time now. It’s not really any better, but it’s something. And that rock R2-D2 hides behind isn’t as big a deal as some folks are making it out to be. Obi-Wan’s Krayt Dragon call is the funniest fucking thing ever, though. Whoever approved that – and one would have to assume it was Lucas – is a fucking idiot. But it almost makes sense when you consider that annoying fucking lizard Obi-Wan rides around on in Episode III.
In short, if I want to watch A New Hope I’m going to watch the shitty non-anamorphic original version on DVD. Greedo shooting first and that stupid Krayt Dragon thing are too much for me to take.
As far as Empire goes, very few changes have been made. The Special Edition improvements are just that. The extra Wampa stuff is cool and Cloud City just looks so much better than before. The improved hologram of Emperor Palpatine makes a big difference, too. So for The Empire Strikes Back this new Blu-Ray really is the best viewing option.
And as much as I like the blinking Ewoks in this new release of Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader’s entirely uncalled-for and unacceptable “NOOO!” at the end and the ghost of Hayden Christensen make this one no good. The music number in Jabba’s palace isn’t quite as big a deal, but does add to the reasons to just stick with the crappy original release DVD. Really, the new “NOOO!” in Jedi isn’t nearly as bad as the one in Revenge of the Sith, but it’s still pretty fucking terrible. Why did Lucas do that? I mean, we get that he’s objecting to something. He picks the Emperor up over his head and throws him down a bottomless pit. I know it’s subtle, but it’s there if you look for it.
And then there are the special features, which are what make this set worth owning.
SO MANY DELETED SCENES! Seriously. And they are all interesting to some extent. The wampa attack on Hoth, the sandstorm in Jedi, Luke and Biggs on Tattooine. I don’t know if they’re neat unto themselves or that it’s just fascinating seeing footage of these beloved movies from that era that I’ve never seen before.
Also of note are all of the 3D representations of props, costumes, vehicles, and creatures. They have full 360° rotation and are just awesome to look at. Not only that, many are accompanied by commentary videos from the crew of the movie. I found Ben Burtt’s contributions to this set to be among the most fascinating. I’ve never given a whole lot of thought to sound design but he makes it interesting and was clearly a pioneer in the field. Of course, that’s no surprise as most of the main crew from the OT are legends in the industry now.
Honestly the special features are just overwhelming. There are documentaries, commentaries, and even fan contributions. Everybody has raved about a doc on the 501st that I haven’t watched yet. It just doesn’t sound all that interesting to me, but I’m sure I’ll check it out at some point. But this is the good stuff. The three bonus discs alone made the set worth my money.
But you know what? I’d be willing to bet the Star Wars Blu set is going to be on sale everywhere over the holidays. Amazon will undoubtedly feature it in their Gold Box or hourly sales at least once (if you don’t watch Amazon closely basically from now through the end of the year you are out of your mind). So I say buy it. There will be a better set someday and I can’t imagine fan demand won’t lead Lucas to release upgrades of the theatrical versions of the OT some day. If there’s money to be made, Lucas will be there.
3 out of 5 Power Converters (for now – maybe I’ll finish this someday)
Until next time, stay creepy


  1. Just found your blog (Mer-Man google), love it!

    So what you're saying is:
    Fuck it
    Fuck it
    Fuck it
    (Limited Edition)DVD Disc 2
    (Limited Edition)DVD Disc 2
    All bonus content

    ...I've already bought these movies three times, what's one more?

  2. That's exactly what I'm saying. I just used a ton of superfluous words. And thanks for reading! Always glad to have somebody new on board.

  3. Hey, man...anybody who posts reviews of all the things I love gets an OK stamp in my book.

    Quick FYI, Blu-Ray discs were designed so that a steel scrubber sponge couldn't scratch them at less than ~50 psi; paper sure won't do it. You're free to treat 'em like crap.

  4. I did not know that about Blu-Ray discs - thanks!