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Review - Star Wars Trilogy (DVD-2004)
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The Star Wars Trilogy (DVD-2004)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

At long last, the Star Wars trilogy has finally been released on DVD. Available exclusively in a boxed set containing all three films, the set has been rapturously received by critics and fans.

The fuss is understandable—these are, after all, the original Star Wars films—all cleaned up in shining new film transfers, state-of-the-art sound and a generous supply of documentaries and extras.

One note of discord has been sounded by some Star Wars fans who have taken exception to the fact that Star Wars creator, George Lucas, has continued to tinker with these films, even beyond the additions which were inserted into that 1997 Special Edition theatrical re-release of the trilogy.

To be sure, there are some differences in this set of the films: The actor who plays Emperor Palpatine in The Empire Strikes Back has been replaced with Ian McDairmid, who plays Palpatine in all of the other films anyway, and new dialogue has been written for the scene in which he appears. The end of The Return of the Jedi has also undergone further alteration, and the scene with Jabba the Hut and Han Solo that was added to the Star Wars Special Edition has been re-done as well. And of course, the argument of who shot first in the Cantina Bar, Han Solo or Greedo, has been definitely decided in this edition.

The controversy over the re-tweaking of films is not new, nor is the practice without precedent. There have been, for example, several editions of Gone with the Wind over the years--one with more saturated color, one in 70mm widescreen, two in stereo, etc.. Some of these were even authorized by the film’s producer, David O. Selznick. There have also been several versions of Disney’s Fantasia, and even one with a different soundtrack. There is a censored and uncensored version of the original King Kong. And even Stanley Kubrick was considering updating the celebrated ‘Stargate’ sequence in his 2001: A Space Odyssey before his untimely death.

What is notable about the Star Wars changes is that they have been made by the film’s creator and are in line with the vision he had for the series. None of the alterations changes the story but actually informs the overall story arc. And, truth be told, the new digital upgrading of the Jabba scene with Han Solo is an improvement over the Special Edition’s computer-generated imagery.

Controversy also surrounds the vibrant colors now found in the original Star Wars and the new sound mix. But bear in mind that when Lucas filmed the original Star Wars, he shot the film in muted colors—not because he wanted to, but because film stock at the time was subject to rapid fading, and he expected the stock to fade before long. In other words, he was thinking ahead. Now, of course, advanced technology allows him to restore the vivid colors he always wanted. And while his new sound mix may not please all tastes, there is no denying the added impact of music and sound effects in this new version of the film.

And one thing cannot go unnoticed: The original Star Wars looks phenomenal on this DVD—better than it did back in 1977, better than it did in 70mm releases, better even than the 1997 Special Edition. Star Wars is sharper and more beautiful than one would have thought possible. It is like a revelation and the viewer is likely to notice new details for the first time.

The extras for the set include interesting film commentaries, an elaborate two-and-a-half hour documentary on the making of the trilogy with lots of tantalizing behind the scenes stuff, (which is also, incidentally, an hour longer than the program that recently aired on A &E) and historical trailers and television spots.

George Lucas is a master showman and a master of marketing and publicity. He has, for example, issued CDs of the film’s soundtrack music and related material a number of times, and there have been, obviously, several versions of the Star Wars films in addition to the prequels and the close-to-finished Episode III. Will this be his last word on the Star Wars story? Probably not. But what a glorious epic the final product will be. Star Wars is so much a part of our culture, at this point, that this new DVD set is like visiting a special friend you haven’t seen quite in a while. Technically and thematically, the Star Wars trilogy DVD set is, after all these years, still a thrilling, compelling and rewarding experience.

2005 Dennis Kwiatkowski/ Celluloid Dreams

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