Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Film Reviews, Science Fiction

Blu-ray: “Star Wars: The Complete Saga” – Version 3.0

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I gave up my indignation over George Lucas screwing up Star Wars and sequels/prequels by re-editing scenes, adding special effects and rewriting small but central parts of the original experience. That doesn’t mean I like it—I’ve kept my lo-fi, non-anamorphic DVD edition of the original Star Wars, just so I can preserve a copy of the experience I first had way back in 1977 without the CGI noodling in the margins of the Mos Eisley spaceport and other scenes—just that I’m tired of complaining about it.

So in Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Fox), I can confirm that Greedo doesn’t noticeably shoot first (it’s pretty much simultaneous by now) and Muppet Yoda has NOT been replaced by a CGI version, that all those distracting CGI embellishments to the original Star Wars (aka A New Hope) are still there and still distracting, that Vader doesn’t scream “Noooooooooooooooo!” so much as growl “Nooo!” at the end of Return of the Jedi, and that I still don’t care about Episodes I-III.

With that out of the way, we get to the question that the collectors have: is it worth the upgrade? And the answer is pretty simple: if you want the highest quality of presentation for a high-definition system, then yeah, this is a definite step up in video clarity and audio muscle. It’s possible that it could be better, as Lucas is using digital source material created for its DVD debut, but it looks good to me.

If you are more concerned with the integrity of the original films, however, you might as well hang on to those unrestored editions on DVD. Those are hardly state of the art (Lucas made sure of that back in 2006 by presenting them in non-anamorphic editions—an unnecessary slight to his loyal fan base) but they are the original theatrical versions, which Lucas is apparently uninterested in making available on Blu-ray.

For more on the set and an MSN exclusive clip from the supplements, continue reading on Videodrone, the MSN Home Video blog

Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Film Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: Star Wars

[Originally published in Movietone News 55, September 1977]

Relevance has always been the great bugaboo of science fiction film. Among film genres, sf (“sci-fi” is a flippancy coined during the Fifties by people who took the genre less than seriously; those who know and love science fiction call it sf) has been a distinctly poor relation for the last several decades, sharing with hardcore pornography the obligation to have redeeming social value in order to be acceptable. Even when Westerns, swashbucklers, historical epics, war films, romances and those most improbable of fantasies, musicals, were allowed to justify themselves for entertainment’s sake, or for the sake of a well-crafted work, meaning and social relevance aside, the sf film had to teach a lesson if it was not to fall under suspicion of rotting young minds. It’s as if all those scientists existed to show us that we must not meddle in things man was not meant to know, and all those monsters and invaders came to teach us that we must use science wisely, or that we must trust in God, or in love, or in each other, or remain eternally vigilant against those who would destroy us from within.

The extent to which George Lucas’s Star Wars liberates an entire film genre from this stigma is signaled by the film’s tagline, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s a way of saying that this film has nothing whatsoever to do with human life on earth, now or in the future. In making that clear, Lucas sets his film apart from every other science fiction film. But in setting aside the sf film tradition until now, and returning (might one call it “pre–Flash Gordonism”?) to the aboriginal wellsprings of mythic art, above the watershed where social relevance diverges from the course of pure fantasy (many call it “escapism”), Lucas nevertheless has had to acknowledge the influence of several generations of motion picture genres and styles on his new adventurism. If Star Wars celebrates its own freedom from the generic restrictions of Metropolis, Things to Come, The Thing, This Island Earth, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, it also commits itself to the tradition of Tarzan, Tom Mix, Douglas Fairbanks, James Bond. Lucas uses opticals that place us squarely in the world of the Republic serials; and an analysis of the structure of Star Wars reveals a seemingly insoluble crisis about every ten or twelve minutes, with appropriate combat scenes in between (it would be interesting to see how easily commercial breaks could be spaced into Star Wars for a TV run). The message, if there is one, is nothing more than that adventure is fun; exhilaration of the human spirit is enough to justify a work of entertainment or of art.

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Posted in: Commentary

George Lucas: The Last Champion of Colonialist Cinema

Way back in the original Star Wars (before it was branded with a “IV” and subtitled “A New Hope”), it did not escape notice that at the end of the film, it was human heroes Luke Skywalker and Han Solo who got the glory while the non-humans – the wookie, Chewbacca, and the two robots – stood to the side to watch the royal blessing laid upon the Republic’s two great white hopes.

What’s a Wookiee need to do to get a little respect?

After six feature and countless spin-off reiterations, not much has changed. The Jedis (mostly human, though at least those ranks are not completely Caucasian) roam around the galaxy like the master race, swooping in to save the lesser races with their gift of protection and leadership. There are a few token races sprinkled through the supporting parts, mostly providing exposition and exclamations, and only Yoda has any real authority or distinction among them. The droids are essentially happy slaves. These robots talk and offer opinions and often suggest emotions, while R2D2 and C3PO have distinctive personalities. They’re offered up as characters as real as the humans, but in the scheme of this enlightened era of interstellar unity, they are treated as servants or pets at best and cannon fodder at worst. Decades after Blade Runner and Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, it’s a little arrogant to give a robot personality and self-awareness without suggesting they might be, in their own way, people.

All right, maybe that’s picking apart a little point, but the last two Star Wars features introduced the Clone Army, a race of genetically hatched humanoid soldiers designed solely to fight. They are treated, essentially, as organic robots, flesh and blood slaves sent to fight the Republic’s battles.

I’m sure Lucas never thought any of this through, which is really the point. What began as his paean to the innocent attitudes of the old sci-fi serials and the swashbuckling thrills of classic Hollywood adventures and pirate movies feels more and more like Rudyard Kipling’s imperialist adventurers in the stars. Read More “George Lucas: The Last Champion of Colonialist Cinema”