I was lucky enough to attend a special media event, held by Fox studios, to showcase the upcoming (and long awaited) blu-ray releases of the ‘Star Wars’ saga. After being greeted by Darth Vader, and two Stormtroopers, we were taken into the special blu ray lounge inside the ‘Blue Hotel’ in Sydney. Fox then took us through a hour long presentation of what we can expect from the set. We also go to group interview Skywalker sound supervisor Matthew Wood. You can find that here. Anyways onwards:It began with a very cool video introduction by Anthony Daniels (who played C3PO). He welcomed us to the ‘Star Wars’ Blu Ray lounge “where, for the next hour” we were to be shown a bunch of cool stuff from the upcoming ‘Star Wars’ blu ray box set.
Firstly we were shown a look at the menus and general navigation of the Blu’s, followed by a look at hi-def scenes from the movie/s, deleted moments, behind the scenes footage – and finally we took part in a roundtable interview with the lead sound supervisor of the re-release: Matthew wood. Which you can find here.
It’s obvious that the new box set’s greatest element is the special features – which clock in at over one hundred hours! Whether or not you are against the re-releases (i.e.. The special editions of the films) you will have to buy this set for the features – what we were shown – which was only tip of the iceberg – was extraordinary. This set could very well rival the ‘Lord of the Rings: Extended editions’ in terms of quality of features. But more on this shortly…
We were then shown the trailer for the set; which showed off the astonishing Hi Def transfers – the films have never looked better.
The trailer opened with Vader speaking: “The force is with you young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet,” then it was a montage set to John Williams’s ‘Duel of the Fates’ score from ‘The Phantom Menace’ – the montage showed off the crystal clear quality of the picture, the sound design, and of course the boatloads of epic features. “Goosebumps” was how the presenter described it – and that’s not far off at all. I don’t care about new shots of Jabba – or whatever we’re going to see in the new re-release – it’s the other 90% of the picture that will be amazing.
The menus are kinda cool; each film being themed around a famous planet from the series. I.e ‘Empire Strikes Back’ is Hoth, ‘A New Hope’ Tattooine – and so forth. You open the blu ray disc and there’s Hoth, set to the immortal ‘Imperial March’ theme. R2 Beeps along in the background and it’s just plain awesome. The care in the design struck me as slavish. I mean this in a good way; in that they have created the menus in ways that the fans of the series would love.
One of the things that Lucasfilm have done, is they’ve gone through the ‘Star Wars’ archives (a massive warehouse in Skywalker ranch) and have shot over 100 mini-featurettes using the newfound material. Some focusing on the costumes, others on the actors, the script etc. You will be able to access these as you watch the movie through a little fly-through menu that appears periodically during the films. To illustrate this we saw a clip, roughly two minutes in length, detailing how they designed and shot the ‘Rancor’ monster from ‘Return of the Jedi’ – it went though the original design, how it was first a man in a suit that failed, and then was finally changed to a puppet.
These clips are not only informative, they’re also funny, with key members of the team recollecting humorous anecdotes and stories – there were even 360 degree shots of the models and suits. This careful and detail driven work just shows how comprehensive the set will be.
The next clip we saw went through how they made (and how they are now deteriorating) glass matte paintings. We saw them in use during the famous Darth Vader and Luke confrontation in ‘Empire’ – it showed how 90% of the background was the glass matte. All of these mini featureless are amazing because they spend minutes of what amounts to only seconds of films. The detail is really impressive. We learnt that the glass paintings were deteriorating at such a speed that Lucas was concerned with how to save them. He came to conclusion that with Hi-def what it is now he could preserve them forever. This, to me, summarizes the whole thought process behind the box set: they want it to be the ‘definitive’ ‘Star Wars’ release. With the effort we saw from the above clips, it looks like they’ve succeeded (well, no theatrical editions aside).
But that’s only some of the nuggets from the massively comprehensive behind the scenes footage. We were next shown a quick clip from a new documentary called: ‘A Conversation With The Masters’ – A documentary which was made specially for a ‘Stars Wars’ festival, which only 1000 people have already seen. We saw a clip which concerned itself with ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ – it opened with Lucas saying “in the original movie, it wasn’t Yoda who was training him, it was Obi Wan Kenobi….I rewrote the first film, and killed him. Then when I went to do the second movie, I had killed the main Jedi teacher, so I needed another…”
Now, ‘Star Wars’ fans, will already know a lot of what is already being said, but it’s just so comprehensive that you love hearing it again. Needless to say, the set’s main features will be great for newcomers (as an entry into discovering the lore behind the films) as well as older knowledgeable fans (who just love hearing it again – and maybe even finding out a thing or two they didn’t already know!).
As well produced as the main features are, die-hard fans will instead have the deleted scenes to look forward too. As for how much the films themselves have been augmented, it’s still unknown – but we did see the famous ‘Sarlac pit’ scene from Jedi, and – I didn’t notice – but we were told that Lucas added artwork into the background of Jabba’s ship, and that the Sarlac monster had been adjusted. The changes are minor, and only obsessive fans would complain, because – damn – the visual quality of the blu ray is just jaw dropping. Who cares about the new tentacles – I can see Harrison Ford’s make up, it’s that clear!
Next up was seeing the famous battle between Skywalker and Vader in ‘Empire,’ it was just amazing. I’ve seen ‘Empire Strikes Back’ dozens and dozens of times; in the cinema, on VHS, on dvd, and I’ve never imagined it could look this good! I could see every piece of glass as Luke flies through the panel, I could see every bit of dust flung up as the lightsaber’s clashed – it’s just glorious.
Now, die-hards might cry about the new additions, but there’s so much stuff here that they’ve been waiting for. Particularly the deleted scenes. There are hours of deleted footage from all films, all never before seen. We saw a couple of them.
The first scene was the original working cut of the Cantina bar scene from ‘A New Hope.’ It was in black and white, and the sound was very, very rough – going in and out. The funny fact about this scene was that when it was originally shot, the actors in the suits were just London cabbies, and their dialogue was re-dubbed later. The scene itself was about 2 minutes longer than the final theatrical scene, and contained all the original dialogue. Han shot Greedo first. We saw different monsters, like a fly man, and most awesome was the original introduction of Han Solo – whose first moment on screen involves the payment of some space hooker. It’s the stuff like this that make the set a goldmine for fans, particularly those interested in the nuts and bolts of film-making.
The next was a scene that didn’t make the final cut of ‘Revenge of the Sith’ – it was a very cool (with very unfinished effects) sequence taking place during the films opening. There is a whole sequence removed during Anakin and Obi wan’s rescue of Senator Palpatine: the gravity goes out and sends everyone flying; it’s up to RD D2 to jet pack around, and roll along the roof upside down to save the day. He has to fight off all the droids and open up a door. It was taken out for time, but was very cool.
Scenes like these, just go to show the level of detail available in the special features. So detailed is the removed footage section: like there are heaps of 3-4 second long deleted scenes, one in particular explaining why Aunt Beru’s milk is blue. Comprehensive to say the least.
So you can see that the package is quite involving, but now you get to find out what it’s like to hear! Via Skype we had the opportunity (as a group) to speak to Matthew Wood; a lead sound designer at Lucasfilm. Wood has over 20 years of experience, and has been nominated for an academy award. You can find that here.
So there you have it. It was a great presentation. The blu-rays are clearly a must buy for any film fan. Whether or not you care about the special editions or not, there is so much work put into the extra features, the transfers of the films, and of course the sound remix.
The only excuse you can have for not buying this set is that you don’t have a blu ray player. Well I can’t think of a better reason to buy one now!
‘Star Wars: The Complete Saga’ will be available on Blu Ray on the 14th September!
Bonus photos of the event: