Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Have the Star War Blu-rays.

There's been so much hyperbole and nerd angst about the Star Wars Blu-ray set that I now honestly find it difficult to understand. Sure, I do understand having a cheap laugh at some of the newly revealed changes when viewing them out of context on the Internet - it makes for solid, snarky writing - but in the last couple of days I've read so much outlandish hand-wringing and cries of boycott that I feel the need to pose some serious questions.

It was nerd "news" over the last few days that an American comics retailer had taken offence at the reboot of Superman in Action Comics #1 because Superman uttered the word "gd". The (very) Christian retailer decided that this was a direct affront to his beliefs (it turned out to be an onomatopoeic grunt) and he called for a boycott of the comic because of this one tiny part. The nerd community all sneered and agreed that this guy was an overreacting, attention-seeking idiot.

Of course, now the exact same sites who reported that unseemly incident are now screaming boycott because George Lucas adds two words to Return of the Jedi. Interesting.

And look, I understand if you just don't give a shit about Star Wars and don't want to buy the thing. That's totally cool. I understand. Personally, I don't want to buy the Blu-ray of Step Up 3D. I just don't remind you every day about it.

My new favourite image EVER.
I got the Blu-ray set today (it was the Australian release) and what I've seen is amazing. Join me after the jump for some highlights...

We'll talk briefly about the changes. I agree that the bigger additions are jarring when you see them as an isolated clip. It's all you're focusing on. But if you've been following along on youtube then you've seen them all already. In the original trilogy it's probably less than a minute of new stuff in the whole seven hours plus.

 In context, while actually watching the film on a big screen and being absorbed in the story, they barely register. I was freaked out about Wicket's CGI eyes but they're fine in the scene. Even the Vader "nooo!" is tolerable because I was more focused on how crazy hideous the Emperor's HD face was, and feeling empathy for Luke who was getting totally messed up.

The other thing is, even as a big fan, I don't know every scene as well as I may think I do. And our recollections of the original theatrical cuts are hazy at best. That's why I find it dubious when someone cries out, "No man! Han shot first! I want it that way!" And they're right - from a character perspective Han should absolutely shoot first - but they're not clearly remembering what that original scene actually looked like. It's choppy and unclear. It's not great storytelling. It kind of looks like crap. In the Blu-ray the shooting lasts half a second if that. It's so quick you don't know who's shooting first. Greedo fires off a blast that misses but he's pretty much dead by the time the blast leaves his gun. If you showed the scene to a Star Wars first timer they'd have no idea who shot first or what all the fuss was about. If you did a massive rant about it, and your big climax was to show the actual clip, then you would look like a dick. "... that's it??" Han Solo's character is still there. I promise you. It's there from the moment he opens his mouth.

I know these are the Special Editions with all the extra added tomfoolery from 1997 and if you hate all that stuff then I respect your opinion. But it's been fourteen years, dudes. Return of the Jedi has nearly existed with changes for the same time as it existed without them. And there's too much added stuff that I love to trade for all the stuff I'm not so hot on. But what was amusing watching it this time was that the 1997 CGI almost looks as goofy and rubbery as the original stop motion effects. It's actually kind of naively charming in a weird way and meshes better than it has. Yes, it's still mostly extraneous (except for in the space battles) but I think I'm finally used to it. And there are teenagers now who grew up on those versions. It is what it is.You can tolerate it or you can't.

Not one of the changes, but damn, it should have been!

I've raced through the original trilogy, watching favourite scenes, watched most of the deleted scenes, and a couple of featurettes and a documentary. Here's what I loved.

- The movie's look better than ever. The originals are as stunning as if they were released this year. It's easy to feel like a kid again watching them. It's been a few years since I saw them and it's like seeing them for the first time. It's very easy to get sucked back into all the things you loved about them.

- You see SO MUCH MORE. The tiny details are mind-blowing. You'll be shocked in New Hope how truly scratched up and dirty everything is. You can see brush strokes on Artoo. Vader looks like he's been dragged along behind a horse (a stark contrast to his shiny Empire look). The performances seem bigger because you see every sly smirk, or glint in an eye - dammit you can see Chewie's eyes clearly now and he looks like he's stoned when he's sitting in the cantina. You can see Mark Hamill's terrible skin. Carrie Fisher's freckles. Did you know there is underboob in Jabba's palace? You do now!

- Didn't see much of the prequels except for a glance through Phantom Menace. Can confirm that the goofy puppet Yoda has definitely been replaced with the CGI one. And he acts circles around Sam Jackson who looks truly bored out of his gourd.

- The deleted scenes are mostly scratched up film (sometimes black and white) and with on-set audio. There's nothing too unmissable, but the wampa attack on the Hoth base is amusing just because of how inept the creature effects are. It looks like a drunk guy wrapped in a fur rug, swinging wildly at ghosts. But the funniest has got to be the forgotten rebel pilots scenes from Return of the Jedi. The second on shown is an old lady (no shit!) who looks absolutely baffled that she's wearing a helmet and sitting in an X-wing cockpit. They keep feeding her lines to say and she keeps stumbling over them. Go Rebel Grandma! Let's start petitioning for an action figure of you!

- Oh! Actually there's a great animatic from Revenge of the Sith which shows an alternate (and longer) version of the Grievous wheel-bike chase that apparently had a lot of input from Spielberg. And you will be horrified that this isn't the version we saw because it is epic in scale and kicks a lot of ass. It involves (spoilers) barrelling through masses of fighting troops, cleaving through a passenger train, fighting on giant windmills with propellers snapping off and flying everywhere, and when Obi Wan finally goes hand-to-hand with Grievous on the landing platform, he tears open his chest with his bare hands, cuts off his arms and legs while he lies helpless on the ground, tears out his heart and tosses it aside. SHOOTS the heart on the ground, and then kicks Grievous over the ledge. It is EPIC. We were robbed.

- There's a great section called "Collections" where you can choose something like the Rancor and see a 3D turnaround of the maquette, detailed photography of his various parts, and then watch a short documentary about how they brought that character or thing to life. They also do this for props I've never seen before like an alternative version of the Millenium Falcon.

- I watched a vintage documentary about the creatures of Return of the Jedi hosted by Carrie Fisher (with giant shoulderpads) and a sexy Billy Dee Williams. It's full of craziness like Salacious Crumb talking to the camera, Admiral Ackbar singing about how ugly he is, ewoks on a commercial jet, and interviews with the Jabba the Hutt puppeteers while they are INSIDE the puppet! There's this poor, uncomfortable, squashed guy lying at the bottom and he glumly tells us, "I work Jabba's nostrils". Welcome to Hollywood, kid!

The only thing that annoys me is there's so much navigating through the extras - the deleted scenes sorely need a "play all" option because I was constantly reloading the menu every minute or two. But other than that it's all pretty great, and I've barely scratched the surface.

So yeah! I am thrilled with this set and looking forward to digging in further. And if you hate all this stuff, and are still angry at George, and need to puff up your chest about how you'll never give him another cent, then I'm sorry. Sorry you read this far! At least you still have your VHS.


  1. ok you've sold me. I'm practically on my way to the store. And that's a big deal because the only version I have of star wars right now is "The original trilogy one last time" on VHS full-screen. Seriously.

  2. Forget the changes to the films.. I will forever boycott Blu-ray! I wish I could get this digitally with all of the sweet extras. Does anyone know if that's (legally) possible?

  3. I'm actually tempted now. I still think if he released the 'original' (if there is such a thing) in a decent format - most of this would be forgiven. I mean, seriously? What's the harm?

    I'm not ashamed of my old comics that I drew when I was 9!