Reel to Real: The ‘Star Wars’ trilogy on DVD

On Sept. 21, 2004, the long-awaited DVD set of George Lucas'”Star Wars” trilogy arrived in video stores everywhere.The four-disc set includes episodes IV, “A New Hope,” V,”The Empire Strikes Back,” and VI, “Return of theJedi.” It also includes a bonus disc crammed with specialfeatures, game demos, never-before-seen footage and the mostcomprehensive feature-length documentary ever produced on the StarWars saga. There’s even a first look at next summer’s “Revengeof the Sith.”

Thanks to a digital transfer, the films have never lookedbetter. The colors are deeply saturated, the lines are crisp,there’s a Caravaggio-esque play of light and dark. You’ve neverseen redder blood or more vivid light sabers, and you might need toput on sunglasses to watch C-3PO’s scenes. The gorgeous visuals areframed in Dolby 5.1 EX sound.

Sounds like heaven. What’s not to like?

Plenty, if you listen to the cries of outrage from “StarWars” purists. You see, director George Lucas didn’t just takehis films and transfer them to DVD. He changed them. Characterswere added to or removed from specific scenes, dialogue waschanged, and computer imaging was used to add and subtract monstersand peripheral details within the film.

None of that is particularly new – many similar changes weremade when Lucas released the 1997 special editions of episodes Iand II. But for viewers loyal to the original works, Lucas’stinkering runs somewhere between a severe case of over-inflated egoand blasphemy.

Lucas’s critics accuse him of tinkering with the film, sayingthat he had no right to change it. What if Da Vinci changed theMona Lisa, they ask. What if Faulkner tore out the last chapter ofThe Sound and the Fury and insisted that the book be republishedwithout it?

But Lucas is an artist and these films are his work, over whichhe has maintained legal control and full artistic license. In aSept. 24 interview in Entertainment Weekly, Lucas said, “When’Star Wars’ came out, it didn’t turn out the way I wanted. [It was]25 percent of what I wanted it to be.”

Lucas explained that, in preparing the films for the DVD set, hewas finally able to take the time and money to complete the filmsin terms of his original vision. “Film is so expensive, andit’s run by corporations. It’s frozen in time at the point whereit’s [yanked] out of your hands. I’ve been lucky enough to be ableto go back and say, ‘I’m going to finish this the way it was meantto be finished.'”

Another argument suggests that to change the original disregardsfilm history. According to that point of view, the original moviesdocumented the processes and technologies of the 1970s and 1980s.By changing the films, many film historians fear that this”film archaeology” will be lost forever.

Critics have asked Lucas why he didn’t provide bothversions of each film – the original and the “finished” -in the DVD set. That’s what Steven Spielberg did with”ET,” when his sanitized revisions angered those whowanted the unaltered original. But Lucas has no intentions torelease the classic versions of the original “Star Wars”films on DVD. “My feeling is artists have a right to havetheir work shown as they intended it.”

The marketing advantages of repackaging “Star Wars”also can’t be overlooked. In a letter to Entertainment Weekly, areader commented, “Lucas has managed to sell me his trilogyfour times now. That’s clearly genius.”

For purists who want to watch the original versions of episodesIV, V and VI, the classic versions are still available on VHS andlaserdisc. For everyone else, the updated look, sound and literalbeauty of the new versions make the set a special addition toanyone’s DVD library.

As Darth Vader might have said, the force is strong with thisone.


Special bonus feature: Eastereggs for the “Star Wars” DVD set!
To access a blooper reel, insert the “bonus materials”disc. From the main menu, access the “video game” and”still galleries” option. Once there, hit a variation of1138 on your remote control in whatever way your setup allows. Ifall is working correctly, the box next to R2-D2 will light up.Select it by pressing ENTER and find a 4 and a half minute longbloopers / outtakes reel from all three films (Note:”1138″ references Lucas’ latest film, “THX1138”).
Another way to access the blooper reel: watch the bonus disc onyour computer, go to any feature and skip to chapter 38.

Hidden “Revenge of the Jedi” trailer: insert the”bonus materials” disc and access the”trailers” option. Once there, highlight Return of theJedi and press UP. Where it once said, “trailer,” it willnow read, “revenge trailer.” Select it to reveal theunused teaser trailer for “Revenge of the Jedi,”eventually renamed “Return of the Jedi.”