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MOVIE INFO

Director:
George Lucas
Cast:
Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Phil Brown, Shelagh Fraser
Writing Credits:
George Lucas

Tagline:
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ...

Synopsis:
Episode IV: A New Hope: Eighteen years later, Luke Skywalker, a young farmboy on Tatooine, is thrust into the struggle of the Rebel Alliance when he meets Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has lived for years in seclusion on the desert planet. Obi-Wan begins Luke’s Jedi training as Luke joins him on a daring mission to rescue the beautiful Rebel leader Princess Leia from the clutches of the evil Empire. Although Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in a lightsabre duel with Darth Vader, his former apprentice, Luke proves that the Force is with him by destroying the Empire’s dreaded Death Star.

Box Office:
Budget
$11 million.
Opening Weekend
$1.554 million on 43 screens.
Domestic Gross
$460.935 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 6.1
English Dolby Descriptive Audio 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Dutch
Portuguese
Finnish
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Dutch
Portuguese
Finnish
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $139.99
Release Date: 9/16/2011

Available as Part of “Star Wars: The Complete Saga”

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director George Lucas, Sound Designer Ben Burtt, Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muren, and Actor Carrie Fisher
• Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with Cast and Crew


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (Star Wars Saga) [Blu-Ray] (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 29, 2011)

Sometimes it feels pointless for me to provide my thoughts and descriptions for a movie, and never has this enterprise seemed quite so useless as in regard to Star Wars. One of the most popular and best-known films ever made, it’s been dissected, discussed and analyzed relentlessly over the last 34 years, and it seems that there’s little left to say.

But it’s my job to offer thoughts about flicks, so I won’t stop now! Famously set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”, we quickly learn that this realm exists in a state of turmoil. The Galactic Empire rules the roost with a fascist hand, but a small Rebel Alliance attempts to battle them despite overwhelming odds. They get a boost when they steal the plans to the Empire’s massive “Death Star” space station. It’s essentially just an enormous world-crushing weapon, and with the pilfered blueprints, the Rebels hope to find and exploit a weakness.

Matters go awry when an Imperial Star Destroyer captures the Rebels’ smaller craft and imprisons Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), one of the Alliance’s leaders. Imperial enforcer Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) attempts to sweat the information out of her, but she resists. She inserted the plans into cylindrical droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), who escaped along with his prissy protocol droid companion C-3PO (Anthony Daniels).

They land on a planet called Tatooine, where R2 needs to deliver the plans to an elderly former Jedi named Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). However, before he can complete his mission, scavengers called jawas nab the two druids and sell them to a moisture farmer named Owen Lars (Phil Brown). He gives them to his orphaned nephew Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to clean, and when the youngster does so, he discovers the implanted message from Leia to Obi-Wan that conveys the urgency of their mission.

R2 claims to be Obi-Wan’s property, and he maintains a single-minded devotion to his mission. He escapes during the night and heads toward Obi-Wan’s domain. Worried about getting in trouble with his uncle, Luke and 3PO chase after the little droid. After a scrape with the violent Tusken Raiders, Obi-Wan saves Luke and they get to know each other. The old Jedi tells Luke what happened to the boy’s father and informs him about the Jedi order and way of doing things. He wants to take Luke from Tatooine and educate him in these ways, but even though the lad clearly seeks escape from the barren planet, he hesitates and uses his duty to his uncle as an excuse.

This issue becomes moot when they return to the homestead and see that Imperial stormtroopers slaughtered Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) in an attempt to recover the information from the droids. With nothing left at home, Luke agrees to accompany Obi-Wan on his mission, and in the Mos Eisley spaceport, they hire an allegedly speedy escort ship called the Millennium Falcon. Run by arrogant smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his loyal and furry Wookiee first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), the gang narrowly escapes from the stormtroopers.

They head toward a Rebel base on Alderaan, but when they arrive, they find the entire planet destroyed. The Death Star captures them and sucks in the Falcon. From there, the rest of the movie follows their attempts to rescue Leia, get R2’s information to the Rebels, and destroy the Death Star.

Can anyone of my generation approach Star Wars in a remotely objective manner? I doubt it, and I won’t pretend to see it without a serious level of subjectivity. Star Wars has been a significant element of my life for so long that I can barely remember an existence without it. In fact, when I dated a woman born in 1978 - I emerged in 1967 - I reacted negatively to our age difference when I realized that she never knew a world without Darth Vader.

I do remember a time without that character, and I still recall what a huge impact Star Wars had on us kids in 1977. At this point, I have no clue how many times I’ve seen the flick. I know I took it in six or seven times theatrically in 1977-1978; in those days before home video, the film stayed on the big screen for more than a year! I later saw Star Wars again during theatrical reissues as well as on VHS and laserdisc. I’d guess I’ve seen the flick at least 25 times over the last 34 years.

Theoretically, this means I should be able to judge the film’s facets well since I enjoy a high level of familiarity with it. However, in the case of Star Wars, I think my extreme affection for the movie makes it more difficult to see its issues. To be sure, I don’t regard it as a flawless flick, but it’s still so fresh and fun that whatever problems it possesses become inconsequential.

Taken away from the hype and mythology that surround the movie, that sense of spirit and adventure remain the reason Star Wars stays a classic. When Lucas reissued the flick as a "Special Edition" in 1997, it didn’t earn more than $100 million due solely to the presence of aging geeks like me. Star Wars attracted a new generation of youngsters, many of whom were the kids of folks who saw the movie during its initial run. Not a lot of films can remain quite that timeless, and the SE’s success validates its continued appeal.

Sure, Star Wars can veer toward almost campiness at times, and George Lucas’s lack of talent for dialogue remains apparent. Harrison Ford once commented something along the lines of “you can write this stuff but you can’t say it”, and some aspects of the movie come across as stilted and awkward. These seem especially true during its first act, which sets up matters well but can become somewhat slow at times.

However, once Han and Chewie enter the picture, Star Wars begins to kick into high gear, and it rarely lets go after that. The second and third acts fill the film come chock full of great action pieces, with one excellent sequence after another. This culminates in the dramatic and exciting attack on the Death Star, a segment that remains possibly the most thrilling part of the entire original trilogy. No matter how many times I watch it, the scene still involves me.

The actors all fill their roles exceedingly well. Hamill occasionally gets knocked for his whininess as Luke, and I suppose he could have made our hero less annoying. However, Hamill brings sufficient spark to the role and demonstrates Luke’s development well. Could the film have featured someone better? Maybe, but I have no complaints about his work.

The other actors fare better, with Ford as the strongest element. It’s not a surprise he enjoyed by far the most success as a performer after Star Wars, as he’s the only actor other than Guinness whose name doesn’t automatically bring the trilogy to mind. Despite his complaints about the dialogue, he brings spark and wit to Han and makes a stock character sly, rascally and endearing. Fisher also adds zip and zing to Leia, while Guinness contributes depth to the movie with his Obi-Wan.

Since I initially indicated that Star Wars needs no comment, I’ve probably rambled for too long. Suffice it to say that the movie played an important role in my life and continues to entertain and delight me. This is one flick that clearly deserves its status as a classic.

Note that this Blu-ray of Star Wars presents an updated version of the flick. Many of the changes came with the 1997 “Special Edition” but Lucas continues to tinker with the movie, so some additional alterations appear here.

If you want a detailed examination of the changes, throw a stick anywhere on the Internet and you’ll find 100. I won’t get into that, as instead I’d prefer to provide my general impressions of the changes. Of the three flicks, the alterations here bother me the most. Perhaps that’s because Star Wars includes the most significant variations, with one long, entirely-new segment between Han and Jabba and many other notable differences.

Some of the changes found in the other two flicks work, but many of the alterations in Star Wars fall into the "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" category. The most annoying switch comes from the infamous scene in which Greedo shoots first at Han. Lucas has always explained that he wanted to change this since the original sequence makes Han look cold-blooded.

To whom? Over the 20 years between the initial release of Star Wars and the "Greedo shoots first" special edition, Han Solo became one of cinema’s most beloved heroes. Did anyone ever criticize the character as "cold-blooded" because he iced a malicious alien who clearly intended to do harm to him? Not as far as I can tell, so Lucas’s concern always appeared radically unwarranted. I think the change robs the scene of its flow and simply seems pointless.

Actually, most of the bothersome changes come from the scenes on Tatooine. The new version adds lots of not-too-convincing CG characters to the Mos Eisley bit, and these give the sequence an awkward cartoony feel. The Jabba scene should have stayed on the cutting room floor. It’s fun to see, or it would be as a supplement. Unfortunately, it’s not a great clip, and the awkward integration of real Harrison Ford and CG Jabba makes it tough to watch.

Outside of Tatooine, the movie’s changes mostly revolve around altered visual effects. We get more fighters during the attack on the Death Star, and a mix of other variations occurs. I don’t think these add anything, but they don’t really detract either. The short scene in which old pals Biggs and Luke reunite prior to the Death Star assault is inoffensive but may be confusing for the average fan. Die-hards know about Biggs - whose scenes from the film’s first act were cut - and Luke does refer to him during the final battle, but the restored sequence doesn’t do much to explain his significance in Luke’s life. If you don’t already know who he is, this segment won’t help you much.

The changes above appeared on the 2004 DVD. “Not Done Making These Flicks Yet!” George Lucas delivered additional tweaks for the Blu-rays. The two most notable occur on Tatooine. The most obvious comes when Obi-Wan scares away the Sandpeople from Luke, as the movie now presents a different howl. The new scream doesn’t work; it sounds downright silly, in fact. I have no idea why this was changed.

In the same scene, when R2 hides from the Sandpeople, he now does so in a spot slightly obscured by rocks. Why make this alteration? I have no idea. For one, it now raises the question of how did R2 get behind those rocks in the first place – there’s no obvious opening for him – and the scene also goes goofy when he leaves and the rocks aren’t there any more. It’s not as bad a change as the howl, but it’s a weird and unnecessary one.

As I mentioned already, I don’t care for a lot of the alterations made for the updated edition of Star Wars, and I’d especially love to lose the alterations made on Mos Eisley. However, these don’t even remotely start to “ruin” the movie for me. Would I rather see the original flick? Definitely. Will I cry and pout while I watch this one? Nope. Star Wars remains a thoroughly winning adventure.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus NA

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

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main