Star Wars (original trilogy)
Rated: PG :: Released: 25 May 1977 (IV), 21 May 1980 (V), 25 May 1983 (VI)
Directors: George Lucas (IV), Irvin Kershner (V) and Richard Marquand (VI) :: Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness and James Earl Jones
By Doran Murphy
When George Lucas released Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, he had no idea what it was going to become. Looking back 25 years, it's amazing to see how a billion dollar industry has been birthed since that film. The Star Wars films have become iconic. Of course, you know that, otherwise they wouldn't be iconic. The Star Wars franchise has been expanded beyond the original trilogy and extended to anything that can be marketed, including three prequels. That's why it's very surprising that George Lucas held off on bringing the original trilogy to DVD.
Of course, he had previously re-released the movies in 1997 (twenty years after the fact) with all sorts of sound remasterings — including the addition of new scenes and revamped explosions. So, why did it take him an additional seven years to release the same movies on DVD? Well, two reasons. The obvious first is to make people want the movies more. I mean, the longer the wait, the more you sell — provided you have a product that is almost universally adored. The other, more sinister reason is to make changes to the films.
Upon first viewing the films, for the most part, I can appreciate the reasons behind the changes. I mean, he sharpened some things, made some explosions better, and added some worthwhile but subtle transition scenes. That's not interfering with anything and really only serves to add atmosphere to the film, which is good. The vast majority of the changes are subtle enough to escape the notice of the casual viewer. In fact, the casual viewer might only catch one change (Han and Jabba now have a conversation in A New Hope) until they watch Return of the Jedi, which is now replete with an annoying as hell extended song version in Jabba's palace (what the fuck were they thinking?) and an extended cheering scene after the Death Star is destroyed — on several planets. I think the big kick in the balls here was the omission of the original films from the DVD, as Lucas thinks that a film is "never truly finished" or some stupid shit like that. Adding aesthetic changes is one thing, and one I can appreciate when the special effects are nearly three decades out of date, but adding new scenes is bullshit.
I mean, you have enough people claiming to be "Jedi" on the census that being a Jedi is now officially a religion in the United States. I realize that as a director, it's your obligation and right to be able to surprise fans, because you're an artist, and in Lucas' case, created something very, very good. But at the same time, you have to cater to your fans, or you risk isolating and losing them. (Although, in fairness, any fans Lucas lost left after the abysmal shit prequels.) To be blunt, Star Wars would not exist without its fans and Lucas has to realize that one day.
However, I must digress. I guess I'll review the films, then. Well, we start off Star Wars: A New Hope which introduces us to most of the characters we will be dealing with for the next two movies. Luke Skywalker, the everyman; Han Solo, the pirate; Princess Leia, the stuck up broad with a soft heart; Darth Vader, the scary villain; C3PO and R2D2, the comic relief; and a variety of other characters. When it was released in 1977, it brought a new world that no one had ever really thought of before. It was about aliens, but not scary bad ones.
The story behind the film is somewhat typical. You have the big, evil Galactic Empire and the small, nice Rebellion. The Emprie has gone and created a weapon that can destroy planets at a time, which they think will quell the Rebellion once and for all. What they didn't plan for was a single ship being able to penetrate all of their defenses and shoot missiles in a special hole that creates a chain reaction and destroys a weapons station the size of a moon. However inconceivable the story may be, it sets the stage for much bigger and better things. A solid science fiction/action film, it gets an 8.5 out of 10.
Easily the best film of the trilogy and possibly the best science fiction film ever, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back brings back all the same characters and makes us care about them in a way few films have. The ending is quite sad, with the deck very much stacked against our little rag tag band of heroes. Of course, along the way, there are all sorts of characterizations and a major love story blossoming.
And I would be remiss to omit that this is the first clash of Luke Skywalker, last hope of the Jedi, and Darth Vader, the remaining Sith Lord. This is where the infamous line of "No Luke, I am your father" is said, which adds even more of a twist to the entire series. Now, instead of good vs. evil, and a predictable conclusion for the trilogy, you're left wondering if Luke is going to have to kill his own father. You're also wondering if he possibly can kill his father, because his father is one bad ass guy. I mean, he can choke people (and he does so frequently) by thinking about it. The good guys have a whole lot to do in the next movie if they're going to survive. Again, as the best movie of the trilogy, it gets a 9.5 out of 10.
Finally, we come to Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. As you can imagine, in this film Luke Skywalker becomes a Jedi. It's where everything gets would down, and comes to a conclusion. We meet the head villain, the Emperor, and get reacquainted with our old pal, the Death Star. Of course, this time the Emperor has a plan that absolutely, under no circumstances can fail. Unfortunately, he did not plan for the army of teddy bears with sticks and rocks being able to destroy Imperial walker robots that shoot lasers.
Joking aside, we have the final showdown between Luke and Darth Vader in this film, which is the climax of the trilogy, really. We also have a fun little ground battle scene featuring Storm Troopers and Ewoks, and one huge space fighting scene. It all comes together in this film, and Lucas shows the art of filmmaking that he completely forgot about in the first two prequels. It's not as good as the previous two films, but still a good, classic film. It gets a 7 out of 10.
In addition to the films, the box set includes a DVD full of bonus materials. Unfortunately, there's not much worthwhile on there. There are three featurettes, a "sneak peek" at Episode III (basically 10 minutes of how they made Darth Vader's helmet and fighting in front of green screens), a documentary on the films, all of the television spots for all three releases, and some stuff on the upcoming video games. Really, as far as bonus content goes, this is a huge disappointment. For three films that have spawned an industry, it's really amazing that the Marvel DVDs (which tend to be about one film) have more bonus content than all three Star Wars films.
These films really have so much to them, that more bonus material is a must. I mean, detail how you made the changes you did. Tell us how an industry was built on these movies. Tell us about everything in the films that you can think of. They could jam pack this DVD full of stuff, and still make three or four more bonus materials DVDs. I got through all of the bonus content in a couple hours, and went "Is that it?" It really only served to whet my appetite, and thus, was more of a disappointment than anything.
The films, taken by themselves, in their entirety are timeless. Why Lucas would make the really overt and obnoxious changes he made to them, I'll never know. Why he didn't also release the original versions of the films, I'll never know. How he managed to disappoint me on bonus materials is a mind-boggling travesty. However, the films are still wonderful. The acting is solid, the story is tragic and triumphant, and the special effects are superb. It's set a new curve for movies set in space, really. Overall, I give the original Star Wars DVD trilogy an 8.5 out of 10.