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Return of the Jedi.

So while out yesterday evening to pick up some power converters, I managed to procure the Star Wars Original Trilogy DVDs through the NYC fanboy underground, and subsequently stayed up way too late in the night perusing the set. On the plus side, the transfers are really crisp and stunning, particularly A New Hope. Whatsmore, the 2.5 hour Empire of Dreams documentary on the supplemental disc includes quite a bit of fun material I’d never seen before, such as Kurt Russell and William Katt reading for Han and Luke respectively, Bill Moyers and Walter Cronkite assessing the trilogy’s cultural impact, and Harrison Ford and Lawrence Kasdan making the case for a dead Captain Solo to start off RotJ.

But as for the 2004 changes…well, they can be jarring to say the least. Alas, as feared, Greedo-shoots-first now looks even worse than it did in the 1997 iteration. For some reason, they tried to make it seem as if Han’s now-disembodied head dodges Greedo’s blast by floating to the left, and it just looks awful. Hayden Christiansen at the end of RotJ also seems bizarre, given that Alec Guinness and Yoda still look the same (I mean, why not throw in Samuel Jackson while you’re at it?) As for the other changes (the revised Emperor scene in ESB, Temuera Morrison’s voice replacing that of Jeremy Bulloch), they were off-putting last night, but I expect I could grow used to them. The CGI-Jabba in A New Hope is also much-improved, although he still seems a pretty distant cousin to his RotJ incarnation.

Regarding the Episode III teaser, it’s not much of a tease — mostly just footage of Christiansen and Ewan MacGregor practicing their climactic fight scene on a soundstage, intercut with ILM ugnaughts manufacturing a new Vader helmet. One of the ILM guys goes on at great length about how Vader’s mask wasn’t symmetrical in the OT, and how the new one they made is now perfectly symmetrical, which I thought encapsulated one of the central problems with the prequels. Who care if Vader’s mask was or wasn’t symmetrical, and why don’t you just make the mask he was wearing in the first films? It’s the Midichlorian Dilemma — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

While I’m complaining, also included on Disc 4 is a documentary featuring other genre directors — PJ, Spielberg, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, the ID4 guys — explaining the contributions the original films made to their own work. And, while Lucas should be justifiably hailed for both the OT and his many FX contributions to the medium (ILM, THX, Skywalker Sound, etc.), the tone of this piece — and particularly its over-reliance on clips from Lord of the Rings — sadly comes off a bit smug and sour grapes-ish.

Still, despite the unnecessary tweaking and slightly tone-deaf docs, the set does include Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (and, ok, Return of the Jedi) in all their glory and, for long stretches — when Boba Fett isn’t speaking with a Kiwi accent or Gungans aren’t (sigh) proclaiming “Weesa free!” — it’s possible to remember a time not so long ago, in a galaxy actually not all that far away, when there were only three Star Wars films, and they were almost inarguably the most amazing, awe-inspiring, captivating and entertaining works of science fantasy ever put to film. Obi-Wan, Mos Eisley, Tarkin, Hammerhead, Yavin, AT-ATs, Cloud City, Ozzel, Veers, Needa, and Piett, Wedge, Lobot, Yoda’s discourses on the Force…they’re all here looking and sounding better than ever. For these and for countless other moments, this DVD set is worth picking up. But as for the tweaks and the prequels…well, best not to dwell any longer on them, I suppose. Once you start down the dark path, forever it will dominate your destiny.

Update: The Production Photo Gallery is definitely worth a look as, not only did the Lucasfilm wags have some fun with the captions, but there are a number of shots from deleted scenes (Toshi Station, the ESB Wampa Attack, etc.) that aren’t otherwise included in the set.

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