Blu Ray Film Reviews – Star Wars

Star Wars – Blu ray film reviews.

A classic Star Wars promotional image

Alec Guinness said that the making of Star Wars was a bad experience for him although George Lucas said that Mr Guinness enjoyed his time on the set.

The Wolfman has been replaced in the Cantina scene with a CGI creation.

This film features the Wilhelm Scream, its a stock sound effect that was first used in the 1951 film Distant Drums. Note the Hammer film connection that links the original trilogy and the prequels, Peter Cushing was in the original Star Wars and Christopher Lee was in the prequels.

Most of the stormtroopers are left handed because the weapons were constructed that way, in a real weapon the magazine is on the left side and this means the grip has to change making it appear that they are all left handed. Studio executives were originally unhappy that Chewbacca had no clothes.

TIE fighter stands for Twin Ion Engines, modelmaker Joe Johnston, who later became a film director, came up with the acronym. Its a term not spoken by any characters until the sequels came out.

Only 40 cinema's originally agreed to show the film, distributors 20th Century Fox threatened to take away screening rights to The other Side Of Midnight if they did not show Star Wars. As it turned out, The Other Side Of Midnight only took 10% of the revenue that Star Wars earned.

On the first day of filming in Tunisia, the country experienced it's first major rainstorm in 50 years. When the film premiered in Japan, the ending was met with total silence, this was considered at the time a great honour but Fox film executives didn't realize this and thought they hated the movie.

Carrie Fisher's breasts were taped down as the costume did not permit any underwear to be worn, she later joked "As we all know, there is no underwear in space."

World War II dogfights were the inspiration behind the battle over the Death Star and former fighter pilots were employed as technical advisors.

The inspiration for R2 D2 comes from the film Silent Running, in that movie there are three droids names Huey, Dewey and Louie, Universal pictures who distributed Silent Running actually sued Twentieth Century Fox for copyright infringement, Fox counter-sued over a film called Pilot which bore a resemblance to Star Wars, after this they both settled the case out of court.

There is a scene in the film where Obi Wan ( Ben ) leaves the others to attempt to shut down the tractor beam on the Death Star, Chewbacca can be heard growling something and Han Solo replies "Boy you said it chewie," although you never find out what he says there is footage backstage that reveals he said "The old man's gone mad."

James Earl Jones originally received no billing for the voice of Darth Vader, this was at his request as he claims he didn't want to be typecast, more likely he didn't want to be associated with science fiction as he regarded himself a serious actor and sci-fi before Star Wars became a hit was considered low class in the 1970's, from 1997 onwards he is credited in Star Wars for his voice work.

George Lucas briefly considered Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune for the part of Obi Wan Kenobi, Akira Kurosawa's magnificent classic The Hidden Fortress was an inspiration for Star Wars and Mifune was the lead actor in that film.

Profits from Star Wars saved studio Twentieth Century Fox from bankruptcy. George Lucas received $175,000 and 40% of the merchandising rights, studio executives did not think the film would make money from merchandising, it went on to make a fortune. The opening famous Star Wars crawl was co-written by Brian De Palma.

The word Jedi is derived from the Japanese words Jidai Geki, the translation is period adventure drama, in Japan thats a show set during the samurai days.

The skeleton that C3 PO passes at the beginning of the film is meant to be a Krayt Dragon, the artifical skeleton was left in the desert after filming and during the making of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack Of The Clones it was discovered that the skeleton was still there. You can hear Obi-Wan make a pretty bad impersonation of a Krayt Dragon in the film to scare off the Tusken Raiders.


Film Plot

The Jedi Knights have all been eliminated and the Empire now rules the galaxy, a small group of resistance fighters known as the rebel alliance have stolen secret plans to the ultimate weapon. the Death Star, a battle station that can destroy whole planets, in attempting to escape with the plans, Princess Leia is captured by Sith Lord, Darth Vader, she sends a distress signal via droid R2-D2 who along with C-3PO is sold to the farm which young Luke Skywalker calls home, upon finding the hidden message for help, Luke seeks out Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi.

Obi-Wan, Luke and the droids find transport and unlikely allies in Han Solo and the Wookiee, Chewbacca, they are forced into a situation where they must rescue the Princess and save the universe but time is running out as the Death Star heads to the secret rebel base with the intent to crush the resistance once and for all.

Darth Vader will once again face his old master, Obi-Wan, and Luke Skywalker will give the rebel alliance new hope.


Positives

Han Solo and Chewbacca in a scene from Star WarsI think the skill of the people who made the models in this film will live on forever, there is something far more engaging about the effects work on these older films than the prequel trilogy, now i enjoy the prequels but i think CGI is sometimes too fluid and our eyes and brains pick up on the illusion far more than when a great model is built and used, where digital can help is with the removal of matte lines and taking out wires and the simple things like that.  I do think the landspeeder scenes benefit from the digital makeover.

The plot of Star Wars is simple enough but the characters are engaging and come across as human, i don't necessary think the dialogue is great, indeed at times its stilted but the actors pull it off, i think the fact they have real sets around them helps, the actors in the prequels must have had a far more difficult time of it due to acting against nothing but green screens and only partially built sets, i think having such a well known and great actor like Alec Guinness in the cast could only have helped aid the performances of the actors around him.

I had forgotten just how good the music score is in this film, while those films using club music as a soundtrack will age, it is films like Star Wars which use classically composed music that will remain timeless, i have always preferred an orchestral soundtrack to one which uses bass heavy club music, i can appreciate the work that John Williams put into this film and the wonderful work of the orchestra in creating this piece of music.

I actually think the new Death Star explosion is great, it works, the original was poor, that doesn't mean i don't think the original should be released, it should be, but i can appreciate some of the digital additions and that is one which works very well as does some of the new digital scenes in the Death Star battle.

The confrontation between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader takes on a new significance when you have viewed the prequels and especially Revenge Of The Sith, Obi-Wan is now older and less agile, Vader is more machine but its a great scene and one of the highlights of Star Wars, i always look forward to this scene when i watch the film.


Negatives

With regards to the Han/Greedo scene, Han should be the only one who shoots, at least its getting closer and closer to how it should be with each new release, this revisionism of a key moment in the film has been talked about for almost fifteen years now and no doubt will continue to be talked about for another fifteen years, the problem for me is that Han Solo is a mercenary, a man who puts money and proft before others, he would shoot you in the back without thinking twice, this slight change now makes him more of a good guy too early in the film, it affects the end scenes in a dramatic way, thats how i feel about that change.

R2-D2 can fly in the prequels, now he can't, hardly a fault of the original films that George Lucas chose to give him booster rockets and the ability to fly in Attack Of The Clones but still it bugs me and i think Mr Lucas did not think this through, perhaps his rocket boosters no longer work, i suppose i can use my imagination and believe that is the case whenever i watch the original trilogy. Obi-Wan's Krayt dragon call sounds like a demented old man with diarrhea, not a good change, maybe they should just go back to the original sound.

Some of the digital additions are unnecessary, R2-D2 hiding behind digitally added rocks, the creature walking by the camera as Obi-Wan and Lukes landspeeder is stopped by stormtroopers, such tweaks are not really needed and detract from the film rather than help it.


Image Quality

Star Wars was shot on 35mm film, the filmstock was not the best and it was a deliberately softer lensed film, George Lucas wanted it shot that way, many years later George regretted shooting the film so soft, he wanted a sharper image, Lowry digital were given the job of improving the look of Star Wars, they degrained the entire film and then added some fine film grain back in, they also sharpened up selected scenes at the request of Mr Lucas, they claimed they could sharpen film images without adding edge enhancement, for a guide on edge enhancement click here.  They were wrong.

Edge enhancement halo's are visible in parts of the film, check out Darth Vaders first appearance in the film and the black outline of his suit, check out some of the rock backgrounds on Tatooine, it is not noticeable during the darker moments of the film such as scenes in the cantina at Mos Eisley space port and during the final space battle against the Death Star, I consider this a minor problem but it is there, usually its very mild but some moments stick out to me.

There is a shot where Obi-Wan is in his home talking to Luke, i felt that scene had a lot of good detail, the attack on the Death Star also looked good with plenty of fine detail, with regards the lightsaber controversy i would say what bothers me is that Luke has been given Anakin's old lightsaber, it should have white cores and a blue haze around it as it does in Revenge Of The Sith, it does not look the same when he is using it on the Millenium Falcon, thats an inconsistency with earlier scenes and the whole saga and they really should have fixed this.

When Han and Luke are on the Death Star i felt their faces looked a little red, perhaps too much saturation going on, i'm not sure, maybe it was just the lighting that gave it that look, i felt that the black levels, contrast and brightness all looked good and i didn't feel there were any important details being lost due to these levels being wrong but its been a while since i saw the film and some reports suggest black crush going on so bear that in mind, i actually felt the colours were very good, the best i have seen them look on a home presentation of this film.

There are occasional moments in the film where frozen static grain is visible, one shot showing C-3PO walking through the desert of Tatooine was bad, some other shots affected by this include the white walls of the spaceship in the opening battle scenes and a shot shortly after Obi-Wan and Luke enter Mos Eisley space port, i didn't notice it in any other scenes but i could have missed it, this problem is a result of Lowry digital totally degraining the film and then adding back some fake grain to aid the film look.


Sound Quality

Darth Vader confronts Princess Leia in the original Star WarsThey have done a lot of work on the sound mix for this release, it sounds massively improved over the old DVD edition, they have also fixed the reversed rear channel issue that affected the aforementioned release.

The orchestral music score now sounds better than ever, i could hear separate instruments across the front soundstage, take a listen to the fanfare which greets our heroes before they get their medals, you can hear the trumpets on the right channel at the beginning of the scene, now listen to the end music as the titles play, i have never heard the music sound so good as it does on this release.

Speech used to sound harsh to me, it now sounds much better, dialogue is much improved and easier to make out, there was only a couple of instances early on in the film where i detected a slight harshness to speech but even then i think those moments were an ugrade on what we have heard in the past, i am so pleased with the improvements made to the sound for this blu ray edition of the film.

As the Millenium Falcon escapes from Mos Eisley you hear deep bass as it takes off, same again as they go into lightspeed, many of the Falcon scenes have deep quality bass, after the escape from the Death Star there is a brief battle with T.I.E. Fighters and it sounded really great.

The final space battle over the Death Star has some nice discrete individual surround effects, indeed the front to back soundstage during that battle sounded excellent and it also had good quality bass, i felt the sound mix for this scene was much improved over any other home edition i have heard, music, effects and dialogue were mixed together better and all blended seamlessly to make an exciting and involving soundtrack.

There is a nice bit of surround sound as the blaster is fired by Han Solo in the garbage disposal unit on the Death Star.


Final Thoughts

This is far from a perfect release, ideally they would have gone back to the original separation masters and then added back in the digital effects that George Lucas now wants in this movie, with todays film scanners this would have been a massive improvement and the image would look far more film like, i feel that for such a prestige release they should have put the effort in to make brand new film scans, relying on 8 year old masters with some baked in issues is never wise and its going to be at least  2017 before we get to see a better release of these films.

They should not have used the Jabba The Hut scene in this film, its unnecessary because of the Greedo scene, the CGI also looks poor with Han Solo "walking" over Jabba's tail coming across as awkward, it would be better if they had included this scene as a deleted extra, its just redundant to have a scene which basically repeats information already told in the story.

I would like to see the original Star Wars trilogy released without alterations, in fact lets use the technology and give us all the different versions, give us the 1977 version of Star Wars, give us the 1997 editions, the 2005 editions and now the 2011 editions, please everyone by going the extra mile and make sure all the different sound mixes relating to each year is included, this would make it the ultimate set, they could use seamless branching for the 1997, 2005 and 2011 editions but due to colour timing issues would probably need separate discs for the originals, it could be done though, who knows, as i mention above in the last paragraph it might be that in 2017 for the 40th anniversary we get all these options.

I knew this set was using old masters and decided to buy anyways because i think the DVD editions have their own issues and this is at least going to be the best these films have looked in the home, if all the films had looked like The Phantom Menace then i would have not bought the set, that one is especially bad, this release has issues but its nowhere near as bad as The Phantom Menace looks, we will likely see new 4K film scans for 2017, at which point they may offer 4K blu ray editions of the original trilogy, i would certainly buy into that.