Star Wars on Blu-ray

Today Lucasfilm officially announced the Blu-rays of Star Wars, and had a trailer to show how awesome it looked.

Or not.  Its the same transfer as the DVD, every flaw right out in the open here on the trailer.

They’ve had 6 years to fix this kind of stuff back (this one is a brightness adjustment!), but it looks like they haven’t touched it.  Lazy Lucas, was Lazy.

AUGUST 2011 UPDATE: Looks like this has been fixed for the final release, along with several other things. There are still many glaring mistakes however.

From Star Wars 2011 Changes

Save Star Wars 2: IN 3D!

Read part 1!

Last night Lucasfilm announced officially that they will be releasing all 6 Star Wars movies in theaters again, but this time IN 3D! (you have to shout it) Starting in 2012 when Episode I is released, with one a year coming after that supposedly.

I’m not excited as one would expect. In fact while I am a Star Wars fan, this only give me bad feelings. Let me break them down for you.

Continue reading “Save Star Wars 2: IN 3D!”

Save Star Wars

This past weekend, George Lucas announced at Star Wars Celebration V the eagerly anticipated Blu-rays of the Star Wars Saga. What a lot of fans want from this set is every possible version of Star Wars in the format, much like how Blade Runner has 5 versions from the 1982 test screening workprint to the 2007 “Final Cut”. However, in interviews, Lucas has said regarding the original theatrical versions of Star Wars:

“You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it, and you have to do that digitally,” he added. “It’s a very, very expensive process to do it. So when we did the transfer to digital, we only transferred really the upgraded version.” (NY Times Art Beat)

What does this mean, you ask? Let me break it down for you.

Continue reading “Save Star Wars”

REVIEW: Empire Strikes Back Revisited: Rogue Workprint

Revisiting My Favorite Movies

A couple of years ago I was introduced to a fan-edit project called “Star Wars Revisited”.  This guy called Adywan was about to release an edit of the original Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope).  He attempted to fix most of the continuity errors, enhance the existing special effects, and remove a lot of the ill-advised CG additions Lucas made to the movie in 1997.  This involved color balancing the entire movie to fix something that had gone wrong on the DVD, re-rotoscoping every lightsaber and blaster bolt, and basically going over the movie with a fine-toothed comb to fix mistakes most people wouldn’t even realize were there.  While he was in there, he decided to further enhance the movie with new effects and almost a completely new sound mix, creating what most fans believe the Special Edition should have been.

Shortly after he released his version of A New Hope, he moved on to The Empire Strikes Back.  This made a lot of people worried.  Empire is widely regarded as a “perfect” movie by fans, so some have feared that Adywan’s enhancements will detract from the perfection, especially after Adywan started talking about how he was going to build physical models and create all new shots with them and even found a group of costumers in California to film some new shots of Rebel Troopers fleeing the Imperial Walkers to replace some bad mattes.

After several delays, pushing his release date from May 2010 (the 30th anniversary of Empire) to December 2010 to sometime in 2011, Adywan decided to encourage the costuming group (a.k.a. Rogue Squadron) by sending them a rough draft workprint of the work he had completed through June 2010.  He also sent one to me to get my opinion on what I thought of it so far.

Continue reading “REVIEW: Empire Strikes Back Revisited: Rogue Workprint”

Star Wars Saga Viewing Order

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a few people ask me what order to watch the Star Wars movies in.  I’ve thought about the different options for a while now, and I think I’ve come to a decision.  There are two main options, plus one that may seem pretty radical.

SPOILERS FOR THE STAR WARS MOVIES (not like you wouldn’t know them anyway)

Option 1: Numerical (Episode) Order

This would seem to be the way Lucas wants you to see them: starting at the beginning.  However in my opinion, there are several flaws with this idea.  One being that it seems like the prequels weren’t written with this in mind at all.  There is no introduction to the galaxy or the Force in Episode I (which there is in Episode IV), it just goes by the assumption that everyone knows all this.  Also, there are several jokes/references to the Original Trilogy that one simply wouldn’t get watching them in order.  The big deal, at least for me, is that the Prequels spoil all of the surprises one might have watching the Original Trilogy (who is Yoda, is Vader really Luke’s dad, siblings?).  Watching them in numerical order ruins some of the best parts of the Saga.

Also, starting a new viewer off with Episode I probably isn’t the best idea quality-wise.  One really should start with the universally acknowledged “good” movies before getting into the, at the very least debatable, “new” movies.  Which leads us to:

Option 2: Release Order

As I just said, its probably better starting off with the good ones before going back to the Prequels.  Doing this also eliminates the effects jump you get going from a movie made in 2005 to one made in 1977.  This is the most logical order to watch them.  But I found a radically new order:

Option 3: 4-5-1-2-3-6

That’s right.  Probably the best order for a brand-new watcher of Star Wars is the following:

Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

A user named “cap” on the Star Wars board I’m on proposed this. At first, I scoffed.  But then I realized how good of an idea this is.

Think about it.  You start off with the two best movies, the one that introduces the galaxy and the one that has all of the surprises.  Then, when you’re wondering if Vader is telling the truth about his fatherhood, you go back and watch what happened to Anakin Skywalker.  This also brings the “Redemption of Anakin” arc closer together instead of having a two movie gap where Anakin is barely mentioned (IV and V).  The same with “Palpatine’s Rise to Power”.  The order also spaces apart the Death Star attacks, “bookending” the series, as cap put it.  You feel for the celebration more, as you’re more invested in the galaxy after watching all of the movies before VI than after just watching IV and V.  Perhaps the best part is watching them 4-5-1-2-3-6 is that RotJ’s drastic drop in quality from ESB is lessened by having the entire Prequel Trilogy separating them.  It also makes ESB’s cliffhanger ending a cliffhanger again, as you haven’t seen any of the Original characters for 3 movies!

It seems weird, but the more I think about it, the more I like it.  Read the post I already linked to for some more in-depth analysis of this idea.

Let me know what you think!

REVIEW: Star Wars In Concert (12-12-2009)

Star Wars... IN CONCERT!

Summary: Imagine a clip show of the best parts of the Star Wars Saga, like a condensed music video version of all 6 movies.  Now imagine that the music was being created right in front of you by a full symphony orchestra introduced by Mr. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)!  That’s basically what “Star Wars In Concert” is.

Thoughts: I wanted to see this for two reasons.  The first was the opportunity to see John William’s score performed live.  The second was to see Anthony Daniels in person, a dream of mine since childhood for some reason.  The show preformed well on both accounts.

Starting with the THX Deep Note (sadly not played by the orchestra) and ending with an encore of The Imperial March, the whole show was the memorable themes John Williams wrote for characters or events played against clips along with some dialog from the movies relating to the musical theme.  Some clips had laser lights, and a few had PYROTECHNICS that we could feel on the other side of the arena!  The opening theme played against clips from the saga in release order (4,5,6,1,2,3), but once Anthony Daniels came out he started the (heavily condensed and choppy) story from the beginning.  Anakin’s Theme, Duel of the Fates, Across The Stars, Battle of the Heroes, all of the great themes Williams wrote for the prequels were there, proving that while Lucas may have lost his way for the prequels, Williams certainly didn’t, making what I’d argue to be some of the best musical pieces of the modern era.  I especially liked the clip show for “Across The Stars” (Anakin and Padme’s love theme), as I liked the idea of using parts of Episode I as flashbacks (complete with sepia tone and echo).  One of the other clips was memorable (at least to me) as it had Episode I clips of Yoda, but not the horrible-and-brown-for-some-reason Muppet they made for the film originally, the decent CGI model they use now when they show clips from Episode I in videos since 2005, presumably waiting for the rumored 2010 Special Edition Blu-ray release of the films (Special Editions of the Prequels are fine by me, in case you were wondering).  The first act ended after Anakin’s even-more-abrupt-than-Episode-III fall to the Dark Side with the Imperial March played against some of the Empire’s glory from the Original Trilogy.

After a 20 minute intermission (and dismissal of the choir since Williams wasn’t in his choral phase in the 70s and 80s), the Original Trilogy started.  Luke’s Theme, Leia’s Theme, Luke and Leia’s Theme, The Hoth Battle, The Forest Battle, Mos Eisley, several of the classic arrangements were played.  The clips started to lose focus at this point, as except for the personal themes, all of the clips had shots from the prequels thrown in.  For instance, while Obi-Wan is explaining to Luke that this is his father’s light saber, they show a clip of Anakin with the random lightsaber he got tossed on Geonosis after his was damaged (which you can tell is green, even in the sepia tone).  Also, apparently there wasn’t enough of the Forest Battle to fill the whole time, so they used clips from the Battle of the Naboo Plains from Episode I, somehow creating a video containing both Ewoks and Jar Jar!  The best part musically was when they actually played the Cantina Band song in the middle of the Mos Eisley section.  Incredible talent there.

You may notice how I really only talked about the clips they were playing.  This was mostly because the music was so note-perfect that we all found ourselves becoming so engrossed in the clips that we would forget that all of the music was being performed live.  There were times when the main screen would show the orchestra playing and it was some of the best parts, honestly.  There’s something about hearing and seeing this music that I grew up with performed live and uncompressed by any means analog or digital.  The fact that C-3PO himself was introducing the clips only enhanced the unrealness/awesomeness of it all.

Sadly, this was the second-to-last American show, so if you live in the States, you missed it already.  If you’re one of my European friends and this is coming near your home, by all means, go see it!  It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)

Summary: In between Star Wars Episode II and Episode III, three years of war between the Clone Army of the Republic and the Droid Army of the Separatists were skipped over in the movies. The first attempt to document these battles was the traditionally animated “Clone Wars” micro-series of 25 mini episodes. I thought these were good, but sometimes a bit over the top. The first two mini-seasons had little plot, and the third mini-season’s plot was weird until it lead directly into the opening battle of Episode III.

The Clone Wars (note the “the”) takes place between seasons two and three of the micro-series, after Anakin is knighted but before the events leading up to the Battle of Coruscant that starts Episode III. Basically the pilot for the upcoming TV show (also titled “The Clone Wars”), the movie seems to consist of the first three half-hour episodes of the TV show expanded and edited together to make a 90 minute movie.

Jabba the Hutt, intergalactic crime lord, is upset that his son has been kidnapped. The Republic, eager to make peace with Jabba to get free passage through Hutt space, send Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and Skywalker’s new apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, to retrieve Jabba’s son. However, not all is as it seems, because the Sith are behind the kidnapping, and hope to manipulate things to their advantage.

Thoughts: It’s hard to figure out how best to judge this movie. Do I review it as I would any other movie? Do I review it as a die-hard Star Wars fan? Or do I review it keeping in mind who the movie was designed for, that is, 8 year old me? I think I’ll try giving all three perspectives, just to cover all of my bases.

General Review: Honestly, I found the movie to be exactly what was advertised: the pilot for what amounts to a Saturday morning cartoon. Most reviewers seem to think this is supposed to be Episode II.5, a legitimate piece of film making meant to be taken seriously as a contender for Academy Awards. They don’t seem to understand that Lucas watched the first few episodes of the TV series and said to Warner Brothers “Hey, we could release this to theaters.”

As a theatrical release it left many things to be desired. Mostly, pacing. Much like the prequels, some shots seemed to linger too long, some scenes seemed pointless, and others just seemed to drag on and on. In fact, about an hour into the movie I found myself wondering how much was left. And during a 90 minute movie, that’s a terrible sign. Anakin and his padawan had nicknames that they called everything, which got annoying after a while. However, I didn’t find the padawan as annoying as I expected. The same with the Hutt baby. Heck, the baby was adorable!

The voice acting was excellent. James Arnold Taylor, who does the voice of Obi-Wan, does an incredible Ewan McGregor impression, and if I didn’t know better I would have sworn it was him. Matt Lanter does a better Anakin than Hayden Christensen, which doesn’t seem too hard. Tom Kane is always an excellent Yoda, while Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) reprised their roles, as underused as they might have been in the movie. Christopher Lee made a surprising (to me) return as Count Dooku, who actually played more of a part in this movie than either Episode II or III.

The facial animation was alright for a TV show. Without a movie budget or time, it was expected, but I’m not sure it was ready for a theater, almost like it was rushed. The movement of bodies and ships was great. The battles, even if they did last too long at times, were fun to see. Helmeted clones and battle droids, without faces, worked the best, I thought.

Star Wars Fan Review: Looking at the movie from the viewpoint of the whole Star Wars universe was interesting. I found myself tying things into other parts of the universe, and was actually surprised to hear at least one of them explained on screen. A little more explaining could have saved some other critics’ complaints, because in the books Hutts are described as being hermaphroditic or able to choose their sex at will. This would explain why Jabba’s “uncle” Ziro was so effeminate. It also could have been explained by simply making Ziro an “aunt” and avoiding the confusion altogether.

Other things explained in the other movies are ignored in this movie, as is usual for Expanded Universe content (things not happening in any of the numbered movies). Asajj Ventress shows up again from the “Clone Wars” micro-series, who is a Sith Assassin. But as Yoda mentions on screen in Episode I and is explained in great detail in several books, there isn’t supposed to be more than two Sith at a time, one who has the power and other to crave it. But during the Clone Wars, there is Sidious and Dooku, with Dooku having a kind-of apprentice in Ventress and another in General Grievous (who thankfully isn’t squeezed into this movie). Maybe because Sidious was about to control the galaxy again he felt that having more than two Sith was a good idea. Or maybe because neither Grievous or Ventress have “Darth” titles they are not truly “Sith“, but they might as well be.

Comparing it to the other Star Wars movies shows that it has much in common with the prequels. Even though Lucas didn’t direct it, I could see shots and scenes where his fingerprint was visible. Of course, the thin plot and the questionable dialog really tied it into the prequels. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you don’t hate the prequels. The problem is that most people, especially most Star Wars fans, do.

Another comparison is the lack of an opening crawl. There is an opening narration instead, which is great for kids who can’t read well, but the announcer voice is a bit over the top, sounding like a political ad from Starship Troopers, almost like they want you to join the Army of the Republic against the eeeeeeeeeeeevil Separatists.

The soundtrack was also lacking. I can understand them not being about to convince John Williams to work on it, but besides the obvious Star Wars themes, it sounded nothing like the numbered movies. Maybe they meant to do that, but it was weird to see those images without the classically composed score.

Kid Review: I asked a couple of the kids in my theater who had just come from McDonald’s bearing Star Wars Happy Meal toys what they thought, but they were too embarrassed and only said “I didn’t think anything.” They weren’t talking to each other or laughing, or even racing their toys around like they were before the movie. I didn’t take that as a good sign.

Thinking of the movie as a kid would is difficult. Would I have forgiven some of the faults that adults seem to harp on? Would I have been even more excited about a TV series after seeing the movie? The thing is that I don’t know. I think if it dragged on at times for me as an adult, I’m sure younger people were bored out of their minds. Even when it picked up again towards the end, would it have regained my interest? Could kids follow the convoluted plot as Dooku’s plan was revealed?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure that it hit all of the marks with its intended audience as it would have hoped to. I don’t know what processed Lucas to released this to theaters (wait, money), when he could have released it on DVD just as easily and avoided all of this critical failure. It didn’t need to be released to theaters to generate interest in the series. If anything, all of this negative attention is really bad for the future of the series.

But the negative attention mostly comes from people who would never watch Cartoon Network anyway. Will I give the series a shot? Sure. Am I it’s intended audience? No. I think the shorter run times of the episodes will help the series fare better than the movie, but I doubt the plot will get any better, especially since we know how it all ends.

Overall: An average string of episodes from a children’s television show, released to theaters.

REVIEW: Star Wars Episode IV: REVISITED (2008)

Summary: Imagine, if you will, a classic film. Imagine that over the years, the creator of the film had released and re-released different versions of the film, fixing and adding some things while breaking and destroying others. Of course, I’m talking about Star Wars. Lucas has gone out of his way to change his “final vision” of the movie and the 2004 DVDs were the most recent set. They were great quality and tried to fix some of the mistakes he had created in the 1997 Special Editions, but they managed to get the color balance all messed up, making Vader’s lightsaber pink and so forth.

In 2006, fan editor Adywan decided to take all of the suggestions from the message boards and create the ultimate edit of Episode IV. Using a combination of the 2004 SE DVDs, the 2006 original DVDs, music soundtracks, mono mixes, and his own special effects, Adywan fixes what may or may not have been broken.

Thoughts: Every single thing that I’ve ever had a problem with about Episode IV SE is gone. Jabba looks fake? Take him out! Han shoots first? Forget about it! Rope pulling that one droid in front of Luke’s hut? Deleted!

Repeated shot are mostly gone (if you look behind R2 during close ups, most of them still had the Death Star control room in the background instead of the Millennium Falcon interior). Colors are fixed, all laser and lightsaber effects have been redone, people don’t fall over without getting shot, ships move more dynamically… The list goes on and on.

Some of my favorite highlights are:

  • Most of the cantina aliens now have some movement to their Halloween-mask faces. Blinking, grimacing, it brings them to life.
  • Vader and Obi-wan’s duel has been sped up and “Battle of the Heroes” from Episode III plays in the background.
  • There are tons more ships firing tons more lasers in every battle. It makes everything much more exciting.
  • The Death Star is more of a threat. It is firing as it explodes now.
  • Chewie gets a medal from Leia.
If Lucas was going to pretend like the original editions didn’t happen, and went back to fix things in the DVDs, its a wonder why he didn’t go this far. Adywan has done the incredible, making the only version of Episode IV I will ever watch.
Overall: Perfection, perfected.