It's only the most anticipated Blu-ray box set ever. Find out if the Force is strong with this one...
George Lucas' space opera is arguably the defining event in modern cinema - one that reshaped Hollywood the films it produces. As such, it's pretty much unthinkable that anybody visiting this website isn't already incredibly familiar with the films (albeit, maybe not the fan-baiting, re-tweaked versions Lucas has prepared for this release). As such, it seems like there's very little point in going over them in any great depth. So let's quickly breeze through this bit, before getting stuck into the really juicy stuff about this Blu-ray boxset...
When you look back across all six films today, viewing them in the order they are meant to be seen in, the Star Wars Saga proves to be a wildly uneven affair. Things get off to a truly diabolical start with the the downright awful The Phantom Menace (**), before continuing through the poor Attack of the Clones (**) and the middling Revenge of the Sith (***). Thankfully, it all changes up a gear with the seminal A New Hope (*****), the surprisingly mature and engrossing The Empire Strikes Back (*****) and the bombastic Return of the Jedi (****). And it's those final three films that make the franchise what it is today - the absolute pinnacle of Hollywood blockbuster sci-fi and therefore the definitive home cinema franchise.
Picture: As expected, this Blu-ray boxset's six AVC 2.40:1 1080p encodes are the best the Lucas' sci-fi films have ever looked - although there are still a few flaws across the sets for the nitpickers out there to latch onto.
Oddly enough, from a purely visual standpoint it's The Phantom Menace that proves to be the least satisfying of the bunch. Colour reproduction is absolutely resplendent and it's finally free from the heavy edge enhancement that plagued the DVD release (which was thicker than the sparkly glow around a Jedi's ghost). However, while film grain and fine detailing are both present, the film also seems to have been subjected to some noise reduction resulting in a slighter softer look that the rest of the saga. As The Phantom Menace is the franchise's transitional movie (it was the last shot on film, but still makes extensive use of CG locations and characters), this may have been done in post-production to balance the different elements, and therefore could be an issue with the source itself, rather than the Blu-ray encode.
Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith have no such problems. Shot entirely digitally, they both boast and astonishing clarity, vibrancy and detailing (just check out the colour reproduction and detail in the grassy field during Anakin and Padmé's picnic in Chapter of 21 AotC or the fine textures in the Wookiee fur in Chapter 17 of RotS to see what I mean).
A New Hope is slightly more problematic - thanks to a slightly digital look to the grain and some obvious colour-boosting (albeit not to the same degree as the original DVD release). But these are ultimately small complaints compared to the overall jump in clarity and detailing that this hi-def release brings with it. This latter point can also be applied to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, both of which receive beautifully film-like 1080p transfers with well-maintained grain structure, excellent detailing and breathtaking clarity that really allows you to appreciate the films' intricate model work and creature designs.
Again, neither is completely perfect: colour-boosting rears it's head in ESB's Carbon Freezing Chamber (Ch 42) with obvious blue tints to areas of shadow, while the last few shots onboard the Shuttle Tydirium in RotJ (Ch 19) are noticeably softer than the rest of the film (although, once again, this is possibly a fault with the source material rather than the encode itself).
All of which may sound pretty negative. But in the grand scheme of things, they're all pretty minor faults. None of which can really take the shine off the beautiful restorations of this seminal series of sci-fi flicks. Quite simply, you'll never have seen the Star Wars Saga looking this good in your home ever before.
Picture rating: 5/5
Sound: As good as the picture quality is across these six films, the new DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 soundtracks step things up another level. Audio has always played a significant part in the Star Wars Saga (be it the sound of a lightsaber or John William's epic score) and these new mixes build upon that heritage to deliver truly epic audio for your home cinema.
Unsurprisingly, the prequels are awash with sonic thrills, be it TPM's Pod race (Ch 20-22), the asteroid chase and Jango Fett's seismic bombs in AotC (Ch 28) or RotS's opening battle over Coruscant (Ch 3). Each offers a staggering amount of audio information (every engine, thruster, laser blast and explosion in unique to each vehicle/weapon) all moved around the soundfield with incredible precision.
While the original trilogy lacks the sonic nuance of the prequels, it more than makes up for it with raw power. The tracks are loud and proud, booming out explosive bass and dynamic surround effects that will leave a massive grin on the face of any audiophile (although your neighbours probably won't be quite so happy). To misquote Han Solo, they're strong enough to blow the ears off a Gundark.
Admittedly, some of the elements in ANH's mix (particularly some of the laser blasts) still sound a little brittle, but this is simply down to the quality of the source material. The production team has also gone back and corrected the audio faults (such as mixed rears during the Death Star attack) that cropped up on the film's original DVD release. ESB and RotJ feature no such problems, with every effect sounding beautifully robust and well-rounded.
On the whole, all three extremely atmospheric and energising re-mixes, that completely update the original soundtracks while still managing to feel sympathetic to the original sound design - it's a truly remarkable feat. And against all of that, across all six films, you have the added benefit of crystal-clear dialogue and the best treatment I've ever heard of John Williams' brilliant scores.
Audio rating: 5/5
Extras: This nine-disc set comes loaded with bonus features (heck, it devotes three whole discs to them), but it's still hard not to feel somewhat short-changed by what's on offer. The only extra features accompanying the films themselves are audio commentaries - two per movie. These take the form of the original DVD scene-specific commentaries for each film, plus a new commentary track for each comprised of archival interview clips with a more extensive collection of the cast and crew.
The seventh and eighth discs in the set house the Archives - one for each trilogy. Each of the films is split up into its major locations (e.g. Tatooine, Aboard the Death Star and Battle of Yavin for A New Hope), which in turn offer up four further areas to explore - Interviews, Deleted/Extended Scenes, The Collection and Concept Art Gallery related to that specific location. While the rest are pretty self-explanatory, The Collection serves up costumes, maquettes, models and matte paintings that can be viewed in detail, rotated through 360 degrees (matte paintings offer film comparisons instead, as it would be pointless rotating them) and all come with short production videos talking about the work that went into creating the elements.
The final disc is devoted to Documentaries & Spoofs. The former is taken care of by three archival production documentaries, 1977's The Making of Star Wars (49mins), 1980's The Empire Strikes Back: SPFX (48mins) and 1983's Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (48mins); a look at the creation of one of the new CGI effects for the Episode IV: A New Hope - Special Edition in Anatomy of a Dewback (26mins); Star Warriors - a look at the people who dress up as Star Wars characters and the work they do for charity (84mins), a look at the science behind the films in Star Wars Tech (46mins) and A Conversation with the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later (25mins), featuring George Lucas, director Irvin Kershner, co-writer Lawrence Kasdan and composer John Williams. Meanwhile, the Spoofs part is taken care of by a 97min reel of clips from Star Wars parodies and references that have appeared in films (e.g. Hot Shots! Part Deux, Spaceballs) TV shows (e.g. Family, Guy, Robot Chicken, That '70s Show, Saturday Night Live), commercials (e,g, Vauxhall, Spike TV) and fan projects (e.g. Troops, AT-AT Day Afternoon).
There's a lot to enjoy here - the commentaries are fascinating, the archival production featurettes make an extremely welcome return from the vaults and the deleted scenes from the original trilogy are the answer to the prayers of many old-school fans (although, to be fair, it's easy to see why they were cut - most are simply diabolical). But there's also far too much crap. Who really wants to see a 97min reel of parody clips (especially one that includes a clips from How I Met Your Mother, but neglects to include Rachel's Slave Leia moment from Friends - surely the most viewed Star Wars homage of the past two decades) and a tiresome 84min documentary about nerds dressing up as Stormtroopers?
The most damaging decision taken during the production of the boxset was one to exclude anything (bar audio commentaries) that had appeared on the previous DVD release. This means that all of the excellent behind-the-scenes documentaries from the earlier discs are nowhere to be found. Even the prequel trilogy deleted scenes from the DVDs are absent here, replaced by 'new' ones. It's a ridiculous situation, one that forces fans to own both the DVDs and Blu-rays in order to have all of the extras.
Extras rating: 3/5
We say: Despite lacklustre extras, the Force is definitely strong in this stunning Blu-ray boxset
20th Century Fox, All-region Blu-ray, £90 approx, On sale now
HCC VERDICT: 4/5
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