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Star Wars: Original Trilogy Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Sep 17, 2011

  • Movies review


    Star Wars: Original Trilogy Blu-ray Review


    I have a bad feeling about this ...”

    By now there can't be anybody reading this who hasn't either studied other reports about these transfers or seen them for themselves.

    Yes, they are indeed the same Lowry restoration prints made for the 2004 DVD releases and, as such, they are a total hodgepodge of inconsistencies that Blu-ray only makes more apparent. And whilst many of the issues that plagued those earlier editions have been rewardingly addressed, others haven't. But, overall, do they look good when increased to 1080p?

    Hell, yes. Though not as good as they could have looked with a proper restoration and the 4K scan that they deserved. Harrumph!

    Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them.”

    All three films come with AVC encodes and are presented 2.35:1. All three have grain, which can be smooth and even, but can also be slightly coarser and frozen at other times, but I only rarely found this to be intrusive. All three also have some minor edge enhancement that still remains, but this is absolutely inconsequential compared to how they have looked on DVD. DNR? Yep, there could still be some going on … but, as with the EE, it is slight and appears moulded to maintain a consistency of texture throughout the trilogy. Once again, I wasn't too perturbed by it.

    The garbage mattes that really dated the films haven't been altogether banished, but they have been improved. I certainly wasn't as bothered by them as I used to be, although you will surely still catch a few of them. I know people who really loathe this sort of thing and had been praying that they'd be gone for good. Alas, that is not to be.

    Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (7/10)

    I thought that this one looked the worst out of the three, despite having the most obvious improvements made to it. Appearing as though it has been culled from a variety of different sources – oh, wait, it has – the image fluctuates throughout. By far the most afflicted elements are found during the Tatooine sections of the movie. The rocks, the sand, the sky, the skin-tones all fluctuate continually. Now I was looking for it, I know, but I found this to be really distracting. A full restoration would have evened this out, I'm certain.

    We are also afflicted by softness and lens flares and the sort of boosted colours and contrast that make you squint. It's a desert, of course, so this is all probably very appropriate, but it doesn't look very nice to me. Some shots look unbelievably old and shabby, usually the exterior and more sandy scenes – Luke looking out at the binary sunset, for instance. As iconic an image as this is – and, as I write this, NASA has just confirmed the discovery of a real-life twin-star system with a revolving planet - it still looks rough to me. There is even a shot of Threepio doing his Mr. Bean walk across the sand after leaving Artoo that has a faint smudgy glow around him, almost as though the previous EE had been digitally erased by a three-year-old. Improvements are made with attention to precise detail. I would hesitate to call the image spotless, however, as the picture now yields up more of that lived-in quality that Lucas was always aiming for. But we can see lots of fabric detail, finite toolings on vehicles and weapons, patterns and colouring on droids, grime and smears on walls and the texture of plenty of surfaces that aren't Death Star related. And look at the skin texture on the old Rebel at the start, and on Ben. Selectively, this looks great. Though, generally, it is merely adequate.

    Once we move away from Tatooine, things become much, much better, in my opinion.

    Black levels are terrific despite some small elements of crushing that do detract from the dimensionality of the image. Interiors look terrific with good contrast for the most part. The cockpits of the X-Wings reveal more detail and the whole trench sequence offers up a much improved sense of depth and scale.

    Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (7.5/10)

    Overall, I was very happy with how Empire looked. There were no great revelations to be found with the increased resolution, but detail seemed sharper without the image having been egregiously manipulated, and the finished result is much more consistent. This is a softer-looking film than ANH, but I don't think this has anything to do with DNR. It was originally photographed that way, as was ROTJ, and a few sideline details are blurred with the anamorphic lenses. Colours are bright and exciting and don't suffer too much from the fluctuations that ANH does. Contrast is also excellent – the orange flight suits of the Rebel pilots. The dazzling whites and blues of Hoth blend in smoothly with only one or two glitches or warped white-outs. Oh, and the snowspeeders don't seem anywhere near as transparent as they used to, making their attack runs and flybys a lot more substantial and visually impressive. The blood in the Wampa's cave is bright and bold.

    Details in the asteroids and across the surface of the Star Destroyers are more pronounced, although there are still plenty of occasions when such things also appear softer and much less defined. Facial texture is all right. Nothing more, although Luke's wounds from the Wampa look a little more clinically precise. Yoda yields up lots of detail, from the weave of his little robe to the spidery hair on his head.

    Once again, the black levels were amazing, even given the element of crush that follows on from ANH. Superb shadow depth and delineation aids the star-fields, the shadow thrown out by the Executor as it sweeps over the rest of the fleet, the eeriness of Dagobah and the events in the Tree, the moody down-time in the Falcon as they reside unwittingly in the slug's gut, and the atmospheric sequences in Bespin's hidden chambers. And, once more, it is Darth Vader who scoops the best-dressed-in-black award for a truly resplendent aspect of shiny Stygian. I've seen comments that he becomes little more than a bur at times. Sorry, but I don't see that as being the case. His chest console, the plates of his armour, the swish of his cape, the occasional moments when we can see through his mask – nothing looks blurred to me. In ANH there were times when his actual bodily profile was swept up in the darkness of his cape, but it never struck me as looking either lost or blurred.

    Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi (7/10)

    Although, once again, the Tatooine sections of the film look rough and quite grubby in spite of the greater clarity and detail, Jedi benefits from the vibrant boost that Endor grants it. After a very shaky introduction to the forest moon, in which the image is much softer and less well defined (right up to the speeder-bike chase, in fact), the transfer suddenly remembers what it is supposed to be delivering. This lapse in quality is actually apparent on the DVDs too, so I can only assume it is inherent to the master. I did notice it here more starkly though. But having said this, once things are sorted out, we have lush green foliage and pleasing shadow delineation, lots of visual depth and closely defined clarity on the leaves and trees. Colours are frequently sublime, with the various hues and patterns of the Ewoks' fur and the Denison-style shading of the Rebels' camouflage smocks scrubbing up nicely. Admiral (It's a trap!) Ackbar has plenty of crustacean colouring that looks fine, and the various ne'er-do-wells in Jabba's entourage, including the awesome Gamorrean Guards and the likes of Salacious Crumb and the Max Rebo Band reveal lots of new hues and shades. Do we still see a flashed boob in Jabba's Palace? I'll let you look for it.

    Detail in all three films is rarely astonishing, but things like Chewie's straggly hair, the clarity of eyes shining through masks, the blinking lights and energy pulses from starship thrusters, and the ever-present blaster-bolts have a keener degree of separation and definition to them that make the picture immediately more satisfying. Integration of the visual FX shots and, more pertinently, the CG additions that came in with the Special Editions, is much better than ever before. They are never going to compare to more modern techniques, obviously, but things like Luke running behind the Rancor, the Cloud City dew-drop vehicles doing flybys and the extra activities in Mos Eisely all look better composited into the frame, their edges far less glaring and intrusive. Even Jabba's infamous scene in the hangar when he confronts Han in ANH looks better than it did last time around. Contrary to many other people, I actually like this scene quite a bit. The prints are clean and there are no spots, specks or debris on show. Artefacts aren't troubling, and there's no smearing or banding with any of the transfers for the Original Trilogy. Fast action is blissfully free of aliasing. I think some people will find the blacks perhaps too overpowering at times, although I love them, but it is hard to think that anyone other than AV enthusiasts and die-hards are going to complain.

    Search your feelings, you know it to be true.”

    With Lucas busy preparing full 3D versions of the saga, you must realise that we are going to get the films foisted upon us all over again in a few years time. And since his crew are going back to do proper restorative work on them for this new unveiling, that means that the pristine 2D versions will also be available as a direct consequence. And you can bet that he will release the Original Trilogy in gorgeously restored hi-definition from at least the 4K scans they should have received this time around, only in a boxset with their 3D companions, thereby Forcing fans to pick them up all over again.

    Overall Picture Score for Original Trilogy 7/10

    Star Wars: Original Trilogy Picture


    I don't know where you get your delusions, laser-brain.”

    Laugh it up, fuzzball.”

    I see all three films have constructed a new lossless sound-mix. Impressive. Equipped now with DTS-HD MA 6.1 tracks, the Original Trilogy rocks the house with often astonishing bass levels and some wonderfully steered, all-channel, totally immersive wraparound FX that you can't help but delight in. Since the audio design for these films was so innovative, inspired and influential, we had every right to expect nothing but the best. But whilst this is, without doubt, a mind-blowing sensory experience, there are still some niggles. Though just how much of these can be attributed to the source, messed with on previous occasions and now remixed again, is up for question.

    The very first thing you want to check out is obviously the fly-over of the Rebel Blockade Runner and the Imperial Star Destroyer. Well, I will say that it doesn't sound exactly like it has in the past – it seems to pack more of a frontal punch than I expected – but, man, it sounds good. And this sets the tone for over six hours of the very reason why we all love surround sound. The width and spatiality afforded by the mix is sumptuous. Movement is seamless and transparent. Numerous impacts happen in front of you, but their echo is scintillatingly borne past and behind you. Even the sound of a Jawa-blasted Artoo hitting the deck carries that same jokey weight that it always did, but with an added background reverb.

    The ignition and subsequent thrumming of lightsabers is very nice indeed, and that's before they even clash together. There is a terrific moment before the walls start to close in on our heroes in the trash compactor when we can hear the machinery clunking and clonging into action. This stuff echoes and reverberates brilliantly from way out to the side and around us with a definite sense of being located somewhere just beyond the viewing environment.

    The fantastic and iconic sounds for the hand-held blasters and the ship-board canons are also crisp, clean and incredibly vibrant. They cut across the soundscape in every direction, expertly steered around us. The bleeping and blurting and whistling from Artoo has never sounded this clear and shrill and detailed, and it really showcases the transfers' ability to handle subtlety, range and high ends with absolutely strategic and pin-sharp results. This sort of thing is highly consistent across all three films. Also of note is the totally natural and detailed rendering of the rain that falls all around Yoda's hut in Empire. I'm a sucker for good rainfall effects, and this is mint. And the high-pitched shriek of the Mynock rips past us, side to side with alarming speed and clarity.

    Of the three I would say that ANH suffers the worst from the overall mix, or rather, I should say doesn't gain as much. Whilst bass and surround and FX are brilliantly handled, dialogue and score can sometimes, only sometimes, but still noticeably, be dialled lower in the mix. Is this a fault of Lucas' and Burtt's original sound-design? For sure it is. But I reckon this could have and should have been smoothed and evened-out by now. I've not heard anyone else complain too much about this, so maybe this could be something that just ticks me off, but the FX are very certainly given precedence over the other ingredients. Scenes in Ben's hut, the Falcon and when Tarkin issues his threat to Leia regarding the location of the rebel base, and in the trash compactor, for a few examples, lack the finesse of the dialogue heard elsewhere. I didn't notice anything like this happening with the other two transfers.

    But, across the board, the good stuff is very, very good.

    All the big things – the Star Destroyer fly-overs, the explosions of Aldaraan, the Death Star, parts of the Rebel defence on Hoth, Jabba's Sail-barge, the Imperial bunker and the new Death Star, the trundling of the Sandcrawler, the crackling saber duels, the whip-around engines of fighters roaring all over the place – pack an enormous punch that makes you grin from ear to ear. The .LFE makes the floor rumble and tightens your gut. The power feels directed and realistic, genuinely pushed out from a source. Even if the images of these transfers are less than cinematic, the audio very definitely is.

    People are commenting on lip-synch issues. Well, I've been able to see and hear both the US (this review set) and the UK discs for the Original Trilogy and I can say that there may be some very slight issues for a moment or two as Vader confronts Leia in the Blockade Runner and then converses with one of his officers after she is led away, but it was brief and not something to get worked up about. In fact, I'm pretty sure this was apparent on previous editions too. And, finally, I didn't notice any audio drop-outs at all.

    The Star Wars Original Trilogy sounds fantastic, folks. A couple of issues here and there, but the sheer joy of hearing so much well-steered and completely engrossing activity, coupled with such purely theatrical .LFE means that I am definitely awarding it a full 10.

    Star Wars: Original Trilogy Sound


    Aren't you a little short of extras for a Star Wars boxset?”

    Indeed. From a certain point of view.

    As you will already know, you can have your Star Wars cake and eat it too with the big full Saga set, which contains not only all of the six movies, but a Bantha-load of supplemental material. Sadly, if you opt for the individual trilogies, you get just the commentary tracks and none of the other stuff that adheres the particular three films you have gone for. Which does seem a little measly, to be honest. What was wrong with supplying the relevant extras for each set?

    Anyway … now I'm a big fan of commentary tracks, but I enjoy piecemeal edited-together efforts like these much less than the more considered and specially produced and recorded tracks that give the participants space to breathe and to bounce ideas off of one another. The first track, with Lucas and cast and crew, is familiar from the last DVDs, and is certainly decent enough. The second track, which seems to have a lot more participants involved is culled from archive interviews and has been edited into a reasonably scene-specific account. However, I haven't sat through it all yet. The choppy nature of such an wide-ranging ensemble sort of left me cold.

    Get the Saga set. It's got loads of stuff on it.

    Star Wars: Original Trilogy Extras


    These are not the Blu-rays you are looking for.”

    Sorry, couldn't resist that. And the fact is that even if we are seeing outdated transfers that should have had much more care taken with them, the Original Trilogy still looks tremendous and sounds even better again, and certainly warrants picking up if you are a fan. Niggly George has done the usual thing and tinkered-about in a half-assed way, making a mockery of the benchmark that Lucasfilm once held so dear with regards to superlative quality. But we just have to expect it from him now, I suppose. Some of the changes are decent and some fixes are certainly welcome, but the slapdash way in which they have been applied leaves you with the distinct impression that we are going to have to go through this all over again in a few years time.

    For now, I am more than happy to have the movies on the format. They do provide that old magic once more, and they do represent a sort of stepping-stone improvement. I just hope I outlive Lucas so that I can keep up with the last batch that he puts out … 'coz I'm just the sort of sap that has made him a billionaire.

    Although my copy turned up later than everyone else it seems (as usual), the past week has been spent in pure a Star Wars mania-mode of build-up. As I write this, with Empire's complete score playing in the background, my son, Luke (yep, that's right) is watching The Phantom Menace, my daughter Leia (kidding, it's Lucy) is secretly wrecking his Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon that he foolishly left unattended, and I've just switched off my Master Replica Luke's Lightsaber from ESB (the real one's downstairs by the Rancor pit). I don't feel all that cheated by how these have turned out. Sure, it's disappointing and Lucas hasn't delivered the sort of product that we know he can … but I love Star Wars and, old transfers and all, the films look substantially improved for me to give a thumbs-up. They'll be out again in a few years time, and they'll look better. If you can wait that long, then do so. But you'll be missing out in the meantime.

    As a set of astonishing and immortal movies, this is, without a doubt, a great release. But is anyone actually going to buy just one Trilogy over the full Saga? I doubt it. Even if you cannot stand the Prequels, you're going to get the extras that you don't get with the separate sets, including some fun deleted scenes. And even if you think you won't watch the newer films ... you will!

    So, overall, my advice is to just skip this and go for the full set. You'll be buying them all again someday anyway so you may as well go the whole hog.

    Or you would rather kiss a Wookiee? Because I know a guy who can arrange that.

    The Rundown



    Picture Quality


    Sound Quality






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