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Digital Divide: October 2011

| September 30, 2011 | 0 Comments

There are certain touchstones in popular culture that demand attention whenever they become available in a new media form. Notably, back in the ’80s, the hype over The Beatles’ catalog being released on CD ensured that a few more millions would land in the pockets of the Fab Three (and estate of the Fab One). And progress being what it is, that scene was replayed when the catalog finally showed up on iTunes.

In the film world, the new-release hoopla always centers around Star Wars. Naturally, the Blu-ray adaptation garners above-the-fold headlines, and again, creator George Lucas can’t leave well-enough alone. Like the theatrical re-release and the original DVD offerings, he’s gone back to the original trilogy and “tweaked” it just a bit. We’ll get to that in a bit, but for now let’s talk about the good things.

First and foremost, all six films look and sound immaculate. The Blu-ray format simply blows away the previous DVD releases, and makes even the original (Episode IV: A New Hope) look like it just hit the theaters last week. Also, for those more concerned with audio, the 6.1 DTS sound is crisper and cleaner than ever.

Fox does the viewing public a big favor by offering up a trio of different box sets. There’s the three-disc pod of just the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi), a three-disc set of the second trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones, Revenge Of The Sith), and the super-duper nine-disc set of all the films, with three discs worth of special features.

If you have the means, the nine-disc set is the one to get. Even if you’re like me and have no desire to watch episodes I to III beyond a cursory viewing to see how they look, the set is worth it just for the special features.

Possibly the most interesting are the deleted scenes from A New Hope, specifically the ones involving Luke Skywalker’s time on his home planet of Tatooine.

In the original theatrical release, the character of Biggs was merely a fighter pilot whom Luke happened to mention as a friend. In the revamped special edition released on DVD, the two met up before the big Death Star battle. Here, the deleted Tatooine scenes show the two at the old homestead talking about joining the rebellion. Unlike most deleted scenes tacked on to releases, it actually enhances the story, and would not have been out of place had it made the final cut.

Other cuts included an extended argument between Han Solo and Princess Leia at the Hoth ice base in Empire, and a sequence of Luke building his new light saber in Jedi.

These, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg, as others feature commentary on all films by Lucas, as well as various crew members.

The third bonus disc contains hours of documentaries on all of the films, as well as a 90-minute feature dedicated solely to various Star Wars spoofs across the media landscape.

Now about the latest batch of changes Lucas implemented: there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is he hasn’t gone completely nuts with new stuff like he did for the initial re-release, so hardcore fans shouldn’t be digging out the pitchforks and torches this time around. (Yes people, we know Han shot first, get over it!) No new scenes have been added, and the tinkerings are relatively minor.

The bad news is they are all unneccessary, and one is just downright spooky. At the top of the unneccessary list is Darth Vader shouting “Nooo!!” as he tosses the Emperor over the railing in Jedi, while the decision to add CG eyelids to Jedi‘s Ewoks so they can blink is the height of creepiness. The changes bring up a very relevant question: if you’re gonna go to all of the effort and expense to make unnecessary changes, why can’t you make changes that would actually help, like erasing all evidence of Jar-Jar from the prequels, or digitally inserting talent into Hayden Christenson? Something to think about for the next big format change.

This is usually the place in the column where the rating goes for both the film, and the Blu-ray features, but come on. At this point, everyone knows how the films line up, and it’s the big-time-boffo Blu-ray release. Do you really think the features are anything less than stellar?

– Timothy Hiatt

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Category: Columns, Digital Divide, Monthly

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