Star Wars appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray 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 34 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. I’ll leave my editorial comments about the alterations to the body of the review and only remark on the actual image here.
Sharpness was strong. A few wider shots demonstrated a smidgen of softness, often connected to effects. In an odd twist, modern visual elements – mainly the added CG characters in Mos Eisley – looked the blurriest. Perhaps this reflected the nature of CG circa 1997, or perhaps Lucas and company intentionally softened the visual effects so they’d better blend with the 1977 live-action photography.
Whatever the case, the 1997 CG – which hadn’t aged well anyway – came across as a bit fuzzy. A few wide establishing shots seemed a tad soft as well, but those were very 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 34-year-old movie, this one lacked them, as it consistently came without specks, spots or other defects.
Colors fared well. 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.
Whether altered or original, the hues came across as terrific. They always presented lively and vivid tones and never depicted a hint of problems. Even the red lighting in the trash compactor appeared clear and tight. Blacks also looked deep and firm, while low-light shots brought us smooth and neatly delineated images. Only the minor instances of softness created any distractions here, as the movie almost always presented a great image.
Though it showed its age at times, the DTS-HD MA 6.1 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 Seventies.
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; 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 34 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. 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 Seventies. 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. At times the bits appeared a little “speaker specific”, but they mostly blended together nicely and got us into the action. 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 more than 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.
Bass response tried to overcompensate, as low-end tended to be somewhat too loud and boomy. Many scenes packed a nice bass punch, but some rattled my subwoofer to an exaggerated degree, such as when the jawas shot R2 and he fell; his collapse didn’t seem substantial enough to warrant such a massive eruption of the LFE.
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, and 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 Blu-ray compare to the original 2004 DVD release? The audio worked better, as the lossless mix seemed a bit smoother and clearer. In particular, I thought dialogue tended to be less rough and edgy. The Blu-ray also corrected the goof that reversed the music in the rear channels.
Visuals showed the expected bump in quality. The Blu-ray featured notably stronger clarity and definition, with improved colors as well. The DVD looked quite good, but the Blu-ray was better.
This Star Wars Blu-ray comes as part of a nine-disc package called “Star Wars: The Complete Saga”. It features one disc each for the six movies and three additional platters of extras.
Because so many of the film’s supplements show up on other discs, I won’t give Star Wars a specific grade for its bonus materials. I’ll wait until I get to a single “wrap-up” page to look at the three discs and award an overall supplements mark.
We do find some extras here, though, via 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 on the subject 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.
New to the Blu-ray, a second commentary collects material from archival sources. This one 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. As was the case with the prequel commentaries, this one mixes outtakes from the 2004 DVD’s sessions with other materials.
While I enjoyed the other archival tracks, this was easily the best of the bunch. 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.
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 34 years ago. The Blu-ray provides generally strong picture and audio along with two fascinating commentaries. Even with all the post-1977 tinkering, Star Wars remains a delight, and the Blu-ray presents it in fine fashion.
Note that Star Wars can be found in two different packages. As mentioned when I went over the supplements, my copy came from “Star Wars: The Complete Saga”, a nine-disc set with all six movies and three platters of extras. However, it also appears in a package called “The Original Trilogy”. That one only includes the three original movies: Star Wars, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi. It throws in the audio commentaries found on the movie discs but none of the other “Complete Saga” supplements show up on it. It may be the way to go if you only want to own the original films – and I’m sure that’s a popular sentiment, as many people don’t care for the prequels - but realize that you lose a lot of extras in addition to the other flicks.
To rate this film, visit the orignal review of STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE