‘Star Wars’ finally arrives on DVD

Go Force Yourself!

The final battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in ‘Star Wars VI – Return of the Jedi’

Not so long ago, at a Best Buy not so far away, the boxed set of the “first” trilogy of Star Wars movies finally arrived on DVD. Helping it surpass the first day total sales of Lord of the Rings by almost double, (87 million units vs. 50 million) fans of the George Lucas saga proved their loyalty once again by dressing up as their favorite action figures and waiting in line to be the “first” in the galaxy to own the films that are, by count, now in their 5th manifestation (theatrical release-video-laser disc-special edition-DVD).

Over 27 years ago, when Star Wars first appeared in theatres, no one expected the tidal wave of response that would help it eclipse the ticket sales of any film that had come before it. 20th Century Fox spent almost no money on advertising, so the movie relied strongly on word of mouth from the now-devoted fans who returned to see it over and over.

At that time, it was a stand-alone story, without sequels or prequels, which is why it’s the only one of the series that does not depend on others to fill in story gaps. Back then Jabba the Hutt was a mysterious, un-seen menace, Leia was not Luke’s sister, Han Solo shot first, and there was no New Hope. Since then it’s spawned a following of religious proportions, and Lucas has not let his acolytes down. And he’s had to go back and reinvent his films and his intentions with almost Orwellian double-speak skill, convincing the devotees that “this is what I meant to do all along.”

Most noticeable about this current incarnation of the first three films (episodes 4, 5, & 6) is the crystal clear sound and picture thanks to the talented folks at THX. These are the kinds of changes that Uncle George is welcom to make. The special effects are also cleaned up so matte lines are no longer visible, and some additional characters/creatures/ships have been judiciously added to fill out scenes and add dimension to certain shots.

They’ve also gone in and changed original footage to fit more congruently with actors, characters, and plot points that have come along since. Most noticeable are the additions of Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor’s hologram in Empire, and the change of Boba Fett’s voice to that of Jango Fett (the father of all clones). As in the Special Editions, the musical numbers in Jedi are different from the original 1983 release, and now the band that plays in Jabba’s palace is a combination of puppetry and computer effects — another welcome change for the better.

These and many more “tweaks” will keep the fans glued to their screens trying to spot what’s different this time. Jedi shows the most changes (unfortunately, Ewoks remain). Hayden Christenson makes a startling cameo, and try to spot Jar Jar Binks at the end gleefully exclaiming “We’sa free!” when the Empire crumbles.

Even though the remastered sound and picture, along with the esoteric changes make the set worth owning, the main reason to scoop it up is for the Special Features disk. Fourth in the set, it contains the documentary “Empire of Dreams” and is indeed a fan’s dream. With archival footage and interviews of everyone from cast and crew, the featurette dutifully chronicles the sometimes rocky road the films took from conception to release.

Most enjoyable is the grainy, black and white audition footage of other actors considered for the three main roles — sort of a Twilight Zone-like “what if”. Submitted for your approval, Kurt Russell as Han Solo, or Cindy Williams (Shirley of Laverne & Shirley) as Princess Leia.

Also included on the disk are a set of smaller documentaries — Birth of the Lightsabre”, “The Characters of Star Wars” and “The Legacy of Star Wars”. Fans and non-fans alike will enjoy back-stories on how the characters evolved, as well as how Errol Flynn inspired Lucas to create the Jedi’s weapon of choice. And for those die-hards who can’t wait for their next installment fix, there’s a behind the scenes preview of upcoming Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. A collection of theatrical trailers and TV commercials for all three films round out the disk.

George Lucas is the Disney of this generation. And the Star Wars films are his magic kingdom. And just as Uncle Walt said of Disneyland — that it would always be changing, never finished — so it would seem is Star Wars. Every few years we get new versions. Anytime there is a format change, it becomes a new opportunity for Uncle George to retrofit the tried-and-true to fit a modern vision and a modern consumer base.

This box set is well worth having for the technical advances and the bonus features. But by-George, they weren’t broke — so don’t fix ‘em anymore. And while the addition of lush settings and enhanced special effects is attractive, hopefully for the next release, Lucas will stop short of inserting new characters into older movies.

Oh, that’s right… too late.

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