A lot of people had a bad feeling about this, about George Lucas' six Star Wars movies making their Blu-ray debuts together. Now almost everybody can relax. The results are stunningly good.
In a Canadian exclusive, I just had the chance to pour through the contents of the nine-disc box set, Star Wars: The Complete Saga, which hits video stores and on-line services Friday. It does its job with panache and technical virtuosity.
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The wow factor is impressive for what appears to be modest from the outside. Free of gimmick packaging, The Complete Saga is housed in a compact and sturdy cardboard box adorned with a slightly surreal painting of Anakin and Luke Skywalker (young and older) in front of the igloo house on Tatooine. Inside are more panel paintings. Do not confuse this box with the two Blu-ray sets that offer each of the trilogies separately, with none of the bonus materials found in The Complete Saga set, except the commentaries.
For Blu-ray, the movies of the original trilogy -- Episodes IV, V and VI -- have been meticulously restored to the peak of their possibilities as aging artifacts. The movies of the second, prequel trilogy -- Episodes I, II and II -- were filmed in digital high definition and thus were already geared for a Blu-ray presentation. They will look as good in your home as they did in cinemas ... just smaller.
Add in the three discs of recycled and fresh bonus materials in The Complete Saga -- some dating back to 1977, some new and a lot of stuff in between -- and the package deal really is complete. The commentaries are worth noting. Lucas leads a group effort for each title. The second commentary on each is an editing effort, with fragments of archival cast & crew interviews spliced in when appropriate.
Separately from the commentaries, I counted 980 minutes (almost 16 hours) of documentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, interviews and motion presentations of artwork that helped inspire all six episodes. This is the motherlode. The material deals with everything from the origins of the franchise, to a tribute for the 501st Legion (a fan group), to reflections on how difficult it was to get the early movies in front of the camera, even after the phenomenal success of the first Star Wars.
Most illuminating is Lucas' insight about The Empire Strikes Back. "In the end, it turned out very well. I was very proud of it. That is the film that ultimately made Lucasfilm stand on its own as a film company and be totally independent. It was a difficult experience but well worth the effort."
Disc 7 has five hours and two minutes of archival material devoted to Episodes I, II and III. Disc 8 has four hours and 33 minutes of archival material devoted to Episodes IV, V and VI.
Of special interest is the 91-minute compilation of Star Wars satires on disc nine. The material is hilarious, sometimes vicious and demonstrates that Lucas has a richer sense of humour about himself than most people suspect. Having met the man several times, I have seen only glimmers before. Embracing the satires clinches the deal: Lucas is a fun guy.
There is one caveat to my joyous response. That is why I say that "almost everybody" will relax. Creator, writer, director, producer and innovator Lucas still will not give us the original theatrical cuts of the original movies. Lucas famously tweaked and refined his original trilogy in 1997. He used digital technology unavailable in 1977, 1980 and 1983 when Episodes IV through VI were first released.
Some purists remain outraged. They are hung up on small factoids. Such as changing the canteen scene so that Greedo shot first before Harrison Ford's Han Solo blew him away. But the franchise belongs to Lucas. He is the creator. He has the artistic licence to make the changes, some of which were subtle flourishes to make fantasy characters such as Yoda more realistic and believable.
With that same licence now, Lucas treats his entire franchise with reverence. Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a triumph.