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Monday, September 19, 2011

Star Wars Blu-ray and A Better Alternative

(NOTE: This post refers only to the Blu-ray of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, because that's the only one of the six I've watched so far.)

I'm of the generation that saw Star Wars in theaters before "Episode IV, A NEW HOPE" was added at the top of the crawl.  Pre-1997 Special Edition, Aunt Beru's voice was changed, Death Star alarms were added, Leia's blaster was made to sound like a .44 Magnum, Porkins' scream was lost ... so I know that George Lucas is apt to change things from time to time.  That's why these newest changes don't really anger me.  (Yes, I think Vader's newly vocal contrarian nature in Jedi is pointless, but I'm only talking about Episode IV here.)  In fact, I'm going to plant myself firmly in the minority by saying Lucas didn't change enough things.

OK, Obi-Wan's new yell to frighten off the Tusken Raiders.  That alteration is dumb.  If you haven't heard it, go stand in a long hallway and scream, "WhooOOOOAARRRRGHHWOOOOOOOoooo!"  There.  You've just done a better job than whoever did it at Skywalker Sound.  I don't know what was wrong with the original Krayt Dragon roar from so long ago, but the new sound seems only likely to incur laughter from Tusken Raiders and not fleeing.

Here are the high points of the Blu-ray: fantastic visuals and fantastic audio.  Uniform film grain throughout and the tiniest of details that I have never noticed before suddenly pop from the screen (this is saying a lot, because I've seen this film a lot).  The music mix is finally corrected after the 2004 debacle and the effects are great (save for Obi-Wan's yell).  Good special features, too.

But here's what I meant before, that Lucas didn't change enough.  There are still points when Luke's lightsaber aboard the Falcon looks green.  C3PO alternates between being off and on in Kenobi's home.  The graphics of the Death Star on the Rebel Base look just like the early designs, but not like the final version.  Pondo Baba's wrong arm is on the floor and it bleeds.  The wrong dialogue is used on a few different occasions (example: Biggs says he's coming to help Luke and then Luke says, "Blast it, Wedge, where are you?").

My point is, George, if you're going to fix it, frakking fix it.

The 1997 Special Edition stuff on the Blu-ray often looks fuzzy.  You know what I mean.  That "early CGI kinda blurry around the edges" fuzzy.  It's very evident in the entrance to Mos Eisley sequence with the stupid rats and droids, the Rontos with the Jabba scene especially.  I like a lot of the other Special Edition adjustments, but again, he didn't fix enough.

If you're a fan, get the Blu-rays and enjoy the audio and visual superiority.  But if you want a truly fixed version of the film, I have a recommendation: Adywan's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Revisited.

Adywan's real name is Adrian Sayce (here's his Twitter).  With the help of the online community, he culled as many official and unofficial Star Wars resources as he could to make Episode IV what it should be.

Example time!  (He did loads of little things I don't want to spoil, not to mention color correction that was sorely jacked up in the 2004 DVD.  What follows are a few highlights.)

One of my favorite little touches.  In the Cantina scene, many of the aliens wore simple rubber masks.  Well, Adywan makes many of them blink, sniff, etc.  It's not distracting and you might not have even noticed if I hadn't told you.  He also makes Greedo blink, as you can see.

Oh, and Han shoots first.

Some of you might have wondered "Who is Pondo Baba?" when I dropped his name a while back.  That's Walrusman, in case you wondered.  He wore an orange jumpsuit and had flippers.  That's right.  Flippers.  So, in the film when Obi-Wan cuts his arm off, why does he have a furry hand?  I have no idea.  Also, why would Obi-Wan cut off Baba's arm when it's Dr. Evazan ("I don't like you either!") who we can see pulling a blaster?  Adywan fixes this by putting Evazan's arm on the floor and removes the blood, because, as we all know, lightsabers cauterize wounds.

Oh, look at that.  Luke's lightsaber is actually BLUE, thanks to Adywan.

Also, the scene at Kenobi's home when he is given the weapon has been re-edited and therefore fixed.  The conversation flows better and once C3PO turns himself off, he stays off.

This is one of my favorites.  The Millennium Falcon's departure from the Death Star is now more dynamic and far more exciting.  When I was watching the Blu-ray, it really stood out to me how stationary the Falcon felt and you rarely see Luke and Han's laser fire against the TIEs.  Adywan has made this a full out battle sequence and it's great.

Right after that battle, Vader tells Tarkin that the Falcon has jumped into hyperspace.  But in the very next scene, nearly static stars are all we see outside the cockpit, even though they should be in that blue tunnel we saw before.  Oh, Adywan fixed that, too?  Awesome.

See that?  Why would Lucas after three decades not fix the graphics of the Death Star in this scene or in the Rebel briefing scene?  Why would there be an outdated version of the Death Star in those databanks?  There wouldn't.  Fixed.

Here's a fun one.  Instead of the visually helpful but ultimately unnecessary 2D graphic we see at the bottom in every version of Episode IV, Adywan has given us a 3D holographic representation of the battle more in line with other Rebel tactical technology.  (I say it's ultimately unnecessary because there are announcements as to when the Rebel base is in range and Tarkin has his own tactical display showing the same thing).

So there's that part of the Death Star battle when Rebel base informs the pilots that enemy fighters are on their way.  Red Leader says, "Here they come!"  And it's six TIEs.  That's all.  The Death Star has hundreds, perhaps thousands of TIEs, but they don't launch an overwhelming force against these few dozen Rebels?  Pah.

Adywan (and his online CG community) have really earned their accolades with the Death Star battle.  It is tremendously exciting and adds so much more to the climax of the film.  And the music when the TIEs come? Perfect.

Speaking of, throughout this sequence, he's added great effects outside the windows of the Rebel pilots.  Whereas before you only saw starfields (mostly), Adywan gives us Death Star landscapes, distant X-Wing/TIE battles, the curvature of Yavin (that big red planet) and more.

He also seeks to unify this film with the remainder of the saga in a way that I'm surprised Lucas hasn't even tried yet.  The Death Star is given a grander introduction and we hear "The Imperial March."  When Tarkin announces that the Emperor has dissolved the Senate, we hear the deep choir of Jedi's "Throne Room."  And, most effectively, when Obi-Wan is fighting Vader, Adywan has inserted Episode III's "Battle of the Heroes," dramatically tying this battle to the one from the previous film.

Is it perfect?  No.  There are two alterations I found unnecessary.  One, he gave the syringe of the interrogation droid some electrical arcs.  Second, he turned off Vader's light saber when Obi-Wan found him (it was far more menacing to have Vader standing there, waiting).  Also, an attempt to smooth out a jump cut when Luke first ignites his lightsaber doesn't really work.  But that's it.

Now, how do you get it?  Brother, I don't know.  I got mine before there was a big crackdown on fan edits a few years ago.  There are tips in this humongous forum thread (along with a list of many changes).  If you're curious, here's his Facebook page, too, which has hundreds of comparison shots.

If you can find it, get the full disc image version.  That includes a text commentary that points out everything he changed like subtitles as the movie plays.  And there are sweet Easter Eggs, like this:

He's working on Episode V now, Episode VI after that and then he'll go back to Episode IV to make a 720p version.  I can't wait.

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