Star Wars Revisited: The Extras

The final three discs of the Star Wars blu-ray set consist entirely of extras.  Disc seven includes extras from Episodes I-III, disc eight covers the original trilogy, and disc nine has “documentaries and spoofs” spanning the entire series.

Rather than assign each disc a grade as I did with the movies, I’ll instead point out the pros and cons.


Disc 7: The Prequel Extras

The Good: Some of the individual interviews are interesting, and all of them are relatively short.  One that caught my attention was an interview with George Lucas from 1994 in which he discusses writing the prequels.  The interview is interspersed with clips from the films as they actually turned out.  Another good one is the “Blue Screen Acting” clip that includes many of the actors discussing the experience of acting without the benefit of seeing an actual set or, in many cases, characters.  Some of their takes were quite telling (Spoiler: Ewan MacGregor is not a fan).  The “Collection” feature is a keeper for the mega-nerds.  It includes different Star Wars “artifacts” with a 360-degree rotation, close-ups, video commentary on each, and more.

The Bad: The way the disc is organized is cumbersome and frustrating.  As you might imagine, the main menu divides the disc into three sections by episode.  No problem there.  However, each episode is further subdivided into the planets on which it takes place, never mind the fact that the movies jump around from setting to setting.  So, instead of getting a linear presentation of a dozen deleted scenes, we might get four from one planet, two on another, and one on the others.  The same holds true for the other features.  There was no real reason to do this except as a stylistic choice to make the menus somehow look better.  There is a “Play All” option at the top menu, but using that means jumping in blind to the entire set of a given feature.  Using that option gives the viewer no way of knowing, for example, with whom the next interview is.

The Meh: Most of the deleted scenes were deleted for a reason.  A few (like the explanation of the “Lost Twenty” from Attack of the Clones, or Yoda’s communication with Qui-Gon in Revenge of the Sith) are useful, but most are merely longer versions of scenes that weren’t that great to begin with.  The concept art sections are just ok.  Were I an artist, I suppose they might appeal to me more.


Disc 8: The Original Trilogy Extras

The Good: The interviews are more compelling than on the prequel disc, and it’s not even because the films themselves were better.  Rather, the interviews are superior because the first three films were so much more difficult to make.  Watching Ben Burtt in 1976 or 1979 and seeing the kind of equipment he was using to create the sound effects for Star Wars is fascinating.  The same holds true for the visual effects.  Most of the prequel interviews are “Well, we had to blue screen this and then spend a lot of time on the computer,” whereas the original trilogy interviews are more like “the Yoda puppet took eight people to operate and Mark Hamill and Frank Oz couldn’t hear each other, so all the dialogue had to be ‘timed’ in order to match later.”  It gives you a greater appreciation for just what an accomplishment these movies were.  Also intriguing is a circa-1980 interview with Empire Strikes Back director Irving Kerschner in which he compares the acting styles of the three main actors.  The deleted scenes also add a lot to the package, especially with Episode IV.

The Bad: One of the deleted scenes from Empire is a (gross) romantic moment between Luke and (HIS SISTER) Leia (WHO IS HIS SISTER).  Vomit (SISTER!!!).  That, and the same organizational issues as the previous disc.

The Meh: Same as with disc seven.  The “Collection” and artwork portions are probably for superfans only who want closer looks at models, mock-ups, and designs used in the Original Trilogy.


Disc 9: Documentaries and Spoofs

I’ll just recap each documentary . . .

The Making of Star Wars: Produced circa 1977, this is more an extended commercial “hosted” by R2-D2 and C-3PO than a “making of,” although there are a couple of good looks at the special effects, plus some interviews with the then-young cast.  Sidebar – I’m not so sure that Harrison Ford isn’t autistic.  But there’s nothing you haven’t seen before (and better) elsewhere.  Also weird is that the narrator and the hosts can’t seem to decide whether to treat Star Wars as a series of real events, or just a movie.

The Empire Strikes Back – SPFX: Similar to the first doc, this is a 1980-era look at Episode V. This one is a little less corny than The Making of Star Wars. Narrated by Mark Hamill, this presents a slightly more serious and straightforward look at the second Star Wars film, focusing on the special effects.  The comparison to the effects in myriad old Hollywood movies is particularly interesting.  It’s ultimately still an extended commercial.

Return of the Jedi – Classic Creatures: This is more of the same as the previous two docs. It’s more or less a promotional piece that also examines the special effects used in the film (in this case, Return of the Jedi).  Billy Dee Williams and Carrie Fisher share hosting duties here.  It’s eye-opening to see just how much physical work and intricate detail was needed to make animatronics and puppets look “real” back when creature effects weren’t accomplished by computer.  I will admit that the segment on the casting and creation of the Ewoks was compelling, as was the building of Jabba the Hutt and sarlacc the space-gina.

Anatomy of a Dewback: This is a 26-minute look at the adding of some of the new effects and “improvements” to the special editions.  I’ll cut to the chase: Lucas says he keeps all the original footage from every single one of his films because “I never know when I’ll want to go back into it again.”  We know, George. We know.

Star Warriors: An hour-and-a-half of people who like to dress up as Stormtroopers in their spare time.  The opening scene is great, as a megafan dad brings his son (dressed as a Jawa) in for an awkward show-and-tell.  The dad turns out to be a “Darth Vader” who, in real life, is a sniper for a SWAT team[2].  The climax of the documentary is an appearance by the stormtroopers in the annual Parade of Roses.  The weirdness of some of this is strangely fascinating, but there’s really not much going on.

Star Wars Tech: This one compares the technology in the Star Wars films with that of real life.  The unsurprising verdict is that – I hope you’re sitting down – we can’t really do a lot of the things that are possible in the Star Wars universe.  We can’t build a Death Star.  We can’t travel at the speed of light.  But we CAN create fake hands.  We COULD freeze someone a la Han Solo, but we CAN’T thaw them out without turning them into “goo.”  My take: WHO CARES?  It’s a sci-fi fantasy movie.  I don’t need 100% accuracy.  Some of the actual science presented appeals to the nerd in me, but the comparison to Star Wars is meaningless.  At least this one is in HD.

A Conversation with the Masters: Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later: A retrospective look at Episode V, consisting mostly of interviews with the principle creative forces behind the film. Irving Kershner is a good storyteller.  Lucas’ insights are welcome, and his discussion about thinking his own writing abilities were only average (which lead to brining in Lawrence Kasdan to help with rewrites) causes one to wonder why he wasn’t as vigorous about similar measures with the prequels.  This is a worthwhile 25 minutes about the best of the movies.

The Spoofs: This is about ninety minutes of a loosely-titled collection of “spoofs” in no particular order.  It’s about what you’d expect.  Everything from Weird Al to SNL is included.  A lot of the so-called “spoofs” are just references to the Star Wars saga within a particular show, not actual parodies.  It’s a mixed bag that lacks any kind of coherence. Some of the individual bits are amusing, though, especially Robot Chicken[1] and Chad Vader.  However, most of us saw those clips years ago via YouTube.  The Donny & Marie clip from 1977 (with Kris Kristofferson as Han Solo?!?) is horrifying.

The overall problem I have with these documentaries is that none of them are Empire of Dreams, the documentary film produced for the release of the previous Star Wars DVD set George Lucas made us buy.  Empire of Dreams was a feature-length look at the background and making of the original trilogy, and it was excellent.  It combines all the best elements of the entirety of the content on this blu-ray disc, cleans them up, and expands upon them over the course of two-and-a-half hours.

The docs on this disc are largely forgettable except as nostalgia pieces, with the exception of the Conversation with the Masters (which, again, is a poor man’s Empire of Dreams). I thought the set of documentaries would be a little more robust than this.  Unless you longed to re-live seeing the promotional programs that aired on television in ’77, ’80, and ’83, you can probably skim through the spoofs, watch the Conversation with the Masters, and never look at this disc again.

– – –

The extras are hit-or-miss overall.  There are a few things to catch the eye once, but none require repeated viewings.  It’s a shame Empire of Dreams couldn’t have been included here, but at least I can justify continuing to allot my standard DVD set of the original trilogy some space in one of my albums.

Final Thoughts: Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a must for completists only, or for people who don’t already have the movies on DVD.  There’s no doubt the picture and sound are the best yet, and put even the good transfers on the DVD sets to shame.  However, the additional content provided here probably isn’t enough justification by itself to warrant a purchase, and the never-ending tweaks to the films get more irritating all the time.  Those changes bother others more than they do me, but there’s no question they tend to distract.

This is a fun series of movies with a couple of classics in the mix, so I recommend a buy if you don’t have them otherwise.  If you do, just wait for the inevitable 3-D versions in five or ten years.

___________

[1] I have to admit that the Admiral Ackbar Cereal ad cracked me up.
[2] In Provo, Utah. So, you know . . . maybe he’s never fired his weapon.  Just saying.

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3 Responses to Star Wars Revisited: The Extras

  1. Matt Gregori says:

    The Donnie and Marie bit is on par with the much derided and cringe-worthy “Christmas Special.” It’s interesting that George Lucas couldn’t have that bit completely suppressed as well.

    • Tom Garrett says:

      Agreed. I think Lucas thought he had finally squashed just about every manifestation of the Christmas Special about ten years ago (aside from superfans trading grainy VHS tapes). Then YouTube came along and caused the SWCS to rise up like a horror movie monster.

      • Matt Gregori says:

        Ha! Grainy VHS tapes! The best part of Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” video is when he makes a back alley deal for a VHS copy of SWCS. And let me just add that I like math so I can nominate this comment as the nerdiest ever posted on the intergoogle.

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