Star Wars appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. Alterations like extra scenes and new effects weren’t the only changes made for the new edition of Star Wars, as Lucas et al. tampered with many visual and auditory elements of the movie.
These made the film a different experience than the one originally presented in 1977, but whether or not that harms that experience will remain up to the individual.
For the most part, my comments on picture and audio will concentrate on my reactions to what I saw and heard, not on my reactions to what went missing or what was altered. A few notable exceptions will arise, particularly in the auditory section, but the folks behind these discs never claimed they would accurately represent the original presentation of the movie. On the contrary, they’ve gone out of their way to let us know not to anticipate the same Star Wars seen 43 years ago.
Because of that, it seems pointless to criticize the quality of the product because it’s different. Do I dislike a lot of the changes and prefer the original flick?
Definitely, but it’s my role to evaluate the current disc’s visuals and sound as objectively as possible. In that realm, criticizing it for changes becomes pointless, so I’ll only remark on the actual image here.
Sharpness was strong. A few wider shots demonstrated a smidgen of softness, often connected to effects. A few wide establishing shots seemed a tad soft as well, but those were minor complaints, as the radical majority of the flick demonstrated nice accuracy and definition.
I noticed no jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement failed to cause any distractions. Even though one might expect source flaws from a 43-year-old movie, this one lacked them, as it consistently came without specks, spots or other defects.
Although I suspect the transfer used some digital noise reduction, no one went overboard. I’d like to see a bit more grain but the image felt stable and lacked the overt artifacts that one would anticipate from problematic DNR.
Colors fared well, though this was one visual area that represented the most obvious non-effects-related changes from the original movie. The disc depicted a notably altered color scheme at times, such as the look of the sunset when a solo R2 wandered through the jawas’ barren domain.
The image betrayed a mild teal push, but nothing extreme. This left a small alteration but the film didn’t suddenly look like a Michael Bay project.
Whether altered or original, the hues came across as solid. They always presented lively and vivid tones and never depicted a hint of problems, as even the red lighting in the trash compactor appeared clear and tight.
I suspect some feared the 4K UHD’s HDR would prompt the powers that be to make Star Wars look gaudy and garish. Happily, those involved applied HDR with a subdued touch, so the colors appeared well-developed without overdone elements. The HDR brought a bit more breadth to the tones but it remained tasteful.
Blacks also looked deep, though a few shots betrayed slightly crushed tones. Low-light shots brought us smooth and neatly delineated images. Overall, this became an appealing presentation.
Downconverted to Dolby TrueHD 7.1, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack of Star Wars remained very good for a movie from 1977. Actually, one can quibble with my decision to grade it compared to other flicks from its era, since it received a substantial overhaul for modern editions of the film. Nonetheless, more than enough of the original audio remained for me to look at it in the context of the 70s.
Audio quality was a bit up and down, but a lot of that stemmed from the source. Speech varied quite a bit, mainly because I noticed a big difference between looped lines and those recorded on the set.
The latter tended to sound flat but still had a more natural feel than the re-recorded material. That’s partly because a lot of the looped audio involved different actors, as Lucas often used Americans to dub over the original British performers such as Shelagh Fraser. Many other lines from primary cast also needed to be redone due to noise on the set.
This meant a notable discrepancy between the two sources throughout the film. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen the movie so many times, but the variations didn’t bother me. Objectively, I noticed the erratic nature of the dialogue, but after 43 years, these issues didn’t cause much concern to me.
Music consistently sounded quite good. Quality varied somewhat, mostly due to the prominence of the score in the movie.
When it got placed in the forefront, it seemed bold and dynamic, while sections with lowered volume levels lacked the same punch. Nonetheless, I didn’t encounter any notable problems connected to the quality of the music.
For the effects, the situation reversed itself, as the movie used these in a vivid way through its soundfield. While one shouldn’t expect the effects to zoom and dazzle as they would from a modern movie, the soundscape definitely utilized them much more interactively than usual for a film from the 70s. Since most flicks from that era remained monaural, this wasn’t much of a challenge, but the soundfield still managed to create a distinctive environment.
Not surprisingly, scenes with vehicles fared the best, as ships flew convincingly around the room. General atmospheric elements also helped turn the setting into a vibrant and involving place. The surrounds supported the elements well and added a lot of verve to the proceedings, with occasional stereo imaging in the rears to add some punch.
The effects lost some points for audio quality, however. I felt a little too much distortion crept into the action, as a few bits displayed mildly harsh and rough tones.
General clarity was quite good, however. Sometimes the elements came across as mildly flat and thin, but the effects mainly were well-defined.
Ultimately, despite some minor issues, I liked the audio of Star Wars. This was a track far better than expected for a movie from 1977, and even with the inconsistencies, it held its own among more modern films.
One final auditory footnote: when fans discuss what’s “correct” and not for Star Wars, one must remember that even during its initial release, it boasted a few different sound mixes. Ben Burtt discusses this in the disc’s commentary, but the fact remains that there never was one “true” soundtrack to Star Wars.
Matters didn’t get any less complicated with all the touch-ups applied over the years. This isn’t as simple an area as the alterations made to the image, which can more easily be compared to the original product from 1977.
How did the 4K UHD compare to the Blu-ray release from 2011? The audio worked better, as the Atmos track seemed a bit broader and more engaging.
Visuals showed the expected bump. A true 4K transfer, the UHD appeared better defined and smoother, with stronger hues as well. This turned into the most satisfying rendition of the film to date – well, if you ignore the fact we don’t get the film as originally presented, that is.
Extras from prior releases repeat, and we find two audio commentaries. The first comes from writer/director George Lucas, sound designer Ben Burtt, visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, and actor Carrie Fisher. All four were taped separately for this edited track.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Lucas dominates the discussion, as he provides a great deal of information about the Star Wars universe and this film in particular. He gets into the roots of the project, its growth and influences, the mythology, and many elements connected to its specific creation.
As always, one must take his comments with a grain of salt; he’s changed his story about Star Wars so many times that I don’t think he even knows the truth about some of its issues. Nonetheless, I think he mostly gets to the heart of things and gives us a nice look at the movie.
The other three help flesh out the piece well. As one might expect, Burtt and Muren focus almost exclusively on sound design and special effects, respectively. They prove to offer useful insight into their work as they relate various facets of what they did for the movie.
We hear too little of the entertaining Fisher. She lets us know a little about her casting and initial interest in the movie as well as her approach to the role and the general mood on the set.
Fisher adds some intriguing notes, though she pops up infrequently. In any case, this one remains nicely informative and enjoyable; even though I already knew a lot about Star Wars, I learned a fair amount here.
A second commentary collects material from archival sources and features George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, Carrie Fisher, editors Paul Hirsch and Richard Chew, stunt coordinator Peter Diamond, special photographic effects supervisor John Dykstra, makeup supervisor Stuart Freeborn, producer Gary Kurtz, art director Norman Reynolds, production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, stop motion animator Phil Tippett, production supervisor Robert Watts, and actors Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness, Peter Mayhew, Harrison Ford, Kenny Baker, and Anthony Daniels. This one mixes outtakes from the 2004 DVD’s sessions with other materials.
Given how much Star Wars has been discussed over the years, you’d think the participants would run out of steam, but the material continues to be fresh and fascinating. The actors’ comments are especially interesting, as they add good perspective to the package, and the others throw in a lot of strong information as well. The commentary flies by as it delivers a fun, lively take on the film.
On a second Blu-ray, we get additional components, most of which appeared on the 2011 “Star Wars Saga” Bonus Disc. Anatomy of a Dewback lasts 26 minutes, 16 seconds and features George Lucas, concept artist Terryl Whitlach, visual effects editor David Tanaka, visual effects producer Tom Kennedy, computer graphics artist Howard Gersh, film editor TM Christopher, Lucasfilm film archivist Tim Fox, film restoration consultants Leon Briggs and Pete Comandini, visual effects supervisor Alex Seiden, Fox Studios post-production executive Ted Gagliano, animatics artist David Dozoretz, and Lucasfilm creature and model archivist Nelson Hall.
“Anatomy” looks at the work done to update the 1997 Star Wars Special Edition to include extra dewbacks. Although it can be a bit dry, it delivers a good take on the work that went into the 1997 version.
Under Interviews, we get clips that add up to 19 minutes, 51 seconds. We hear from production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, 2nd cameraman Dennis Muren, special effects and sound designer Ben Burtt, and actors Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, and Carrie Fisher.
The clips focus on visual and sound design, locations and sets, characters and performances, effects, and some general anecdotes. As usual, the interviews focus on the technical elements; the actors provide alternate views, but most of the footage stays with Muren and Burtt.
They’re interesting but they don’t deliver a lot of information we didn’t get through the commentaries. Heck, some of Hamill’s remarks are the exact same ones found in the movie’s second commentary! These pieces are enjoyable, but they do tend to feel a bit redundant.
Eight Deleted/Extended Scenes appear. These fill a total of 15 minutes, 58 seconds and include “Tosche Station” (5:18), “Old Woman on Tatooine” (0:21), “Aunt Beru’s Blue Milk” (0:29), “The Search for R2-D2” (0:40), “Cantina Rough Cut” (7:09), “Stormtrooper Search” (0:46), “Darth Vader Widens the Search” (0:26), and “Alternate Biggs and Luke Reunion” (0:27).
The scenes are a mixed bag. “Woman” and “Milk” are utterly forgettable, and “Stormtrooper” and “Vader” don’t add a lot more. They’re interesting as curiosities and that’s about it.
“Reunion” is close to a scene found in the Special Edition version of Star Wars, but with one notable addition: a Rebel pilot’s reference to meeting Anakin Skywalker when he was younger.
“Cantina” is fun, though it doesn’t provide a lot of new footage, as much of it appears in the final cut. However, we see Han before his “real” introduction – and in the company of a babe! – plus other exotic creatures.
It’s also amusing to hear the original actors’ voices for some of the small roles like the bartender, as these were later dubbed with other performers. Greedo’s a lot less interesting when we hear some dude with a proper British accent read the lines in English.
Without question, “Tosche” is the most famous and interesting of the cut sequences. It shows Luke as he watched the space battle that opens the movie; it then follows him to town where he hangs out with friends and chats with Biggs. I understand why Lucas cut the scene, but it’s still fascinating to see what would’ve been Luke’s introduction in the film.
Within The Collection, we get a 45-minute, 17-second compilation of elements. These allow us to look more closely at “Landspeeder Prototype Model”, “Millennium Falcon Prototype Model”, “R2-D2”, “Tatooine from Orbit Matte Painting”, “Jawa Costume”, “Tusken Raider Mask”, “Ketwol Mask”, “Death Star Prototype Model”, “Holo-chess Set”, “Bridge Power Trench Matte Painting”, “Luke’s Stormtrooper Torso”, “X-Wing Fighter Model (Prototype)”, “X-Wing Fighter Model (Final)”, “Y-Wing Fighter Model (Prototype)”, “Y-Wing Fighter Model (Final)”, “TIE Fighter Model (Prototype)”, “TIE Fighter Model (Final)”, “Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter Model”, “X-Wing Pilot Costume with Helmet”, “Death Star Laser Tower Model”, and “Yavin 4 Matte Painting”.
Across these, we hear from George Lucas, Ben Burtt, model makers Lorne Peterson, Paul Huston and Steve Gawley, droid unit supervisor Don Bies, concept artist Terryl Whitlach, stop motion animator Phil Tippett, and actor Ewan McGregor.
The “Collection” may be onto a different trilogy now, but the execution remains the same. We see many great shots of art, vehicles, creatures and costumes as the participants throw in plenty of good notes. The interface is still a bit annoying, but I’m happy with all the material.
We also find an Archive Fly-Through. This runs three minutes, 42 seconds as it zooms around Skywalker Ranch and into that location’s treasure trove of models, costumes and other Star Wars memorabilia. This covers the first six movies, and it’s a fun take on a place most people will never be able to visit.
Creating a Universe runs eight minutes, 25 seconds. Here we find a chat between art director Joe Johnston and set dresser Roger Christian. They offer a genial discussion of their memories in this likable and moderately informative reel.
In addition to a Launch Trailer, the bonus disc concludes with Discoveries from Inside, a three-minute, 14-second segment. We hear from Christian, film historian JW Rinzler and LucasFilm Senior Manager Laela French as they examine some props and discuss their details. It becomes a short but fun piece.
I adored Star Wars as a kid and I’ve yet to find any reason to change that opinion. The “Special Edition” of the film presents more than a few alterations to the original movie, but it still provides the same excitement and freshness that made it a winner 43 years ago. The 4K UHD provides generally strong picture and audio along with a pretty engaging collection of bonus materials. Even with all the post-1977 tinkering, Star Wars remains a delight, and the 4K UHD presents it in fine fashion.
To rate this film, visit the orignal review of STAR WARS