Star Wars Blu-Ray: Ep. IV Extras

I had to wait 2 hours after getting home before the UPS truck arrived.  The website says “delivery by 7pm – later in some residential areas.”  It’s never been this late, so of course it’s late today.  But I have the set now.  I did a cursory check to make sure none of the discs were scratched, and then I immediately put in disc 8 – Ep. IV-VI extras.  You knew I would… well, you knew if you know me.  34 years of waiting has come to this moment.  I figured just because I can, I’d offer some thoughts here for those who might be interested.

My rationale for going through Ep. IV first is simple.

1.  This was where it all began.  It was the first movie made chronologically, so as you go through the behind-the-scenes stuff, you can see how things evolved from concept to film as it happened on our own timeline, and…

2.  It was my first movie experience / memory of life back in ‘77, so this one always holds a special place in my heart.

Incidentally, the first shot they show on the bonus disc menu is Vader’s entrance on board the Tantive IV, the scene that made this fanboy sit up and take notice at the age of 3.  I know that means nothing to most people, but to me, it means the world.  It’s the little things, after all, that make nostalgia what it is.  A side note along those lines – the menu is very slick, harkening to modern versions of the old Rebel Alliance computer graphics.  The issue I have is that when they do the interstitial scenes, my blu-ray player shows how old and decrepit it is.  It gets really choppy.  Thankfully this is the only time it does this.  The menu itself and the content is smooth as silk.  I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  There’s a warning up on screen first thing when you load the disc that tells you it’s the best technology available and issues can be tracked at a given website.  My player is updated, it’s just old.  So’s my sound system, but that’s another matter too.  Look at that – an excuse to upgrade!

I have now seen deleted scenes that were only rumored to exist for A New Hope.  We’d been teased over the years with still photos or somebody piping up, saying they had a copy, but for me, this is the first time I’ve seen them in their entirety.  It’s also the first time I’ve seen the prototype models for Luke’s landspeeder and the Millenium Falcon.  Honestly, the bonus features alone are worth the price for this set, and I thought this while still working on the Tatooine segment of the disc.  Each film is broken down by planet, and each planet has deleted scenes, interviews, props from the archives, concept art, schematics, matte paintings… things of that nature.  Tatooine is the first one, and that’s how dense this set is.  I may be working through just this one disc every evening the rest of this week!

One of the things that surprises me is how many times the Star Wars Holiday Special is referenced, usually in the form of alternate takes that were overdubbed for use in that televised Bantha poodoo.  Makes me wonder if maybe they’ll actually release the thing.  George may not like it, but he may have finally figured out there’s an audience that actually wants to own that curiosity.  It’s money in his pocket, and it’s a shining example of what happens when you take George out of the Star Wars equation.  That’s what you get.  So for all those who want George to step back… beware of history repeating itself.

When looking at the prototype and final models of the X-Wing and Y-Wing, it’s reiterated once more that George wanted a “used universe.”  That’s one of the things that made me chomp at the bit all my life to see the Clone Wars era is because you knew by looking at them that those starfighters were throwbacks to that time.  We’ve come to learn since then that the Y-Wings were indeed from that era, and the X-Wings were designed for Imperial use, but the contractor pulled the plug and sold the ships to the Alliance.  Makes me wonder where the manufacturing plants are.  If I were the Emperor, I’d have had Vader destroy them all.  But then, you don’t see new X-Wings, so maybe that’s exactly how it unfolded.  Maybe the A-Wings and B-Wings are there to fill the gaps in the dwindling ship numbers.  I really got a kick out of some of the little points the model makers dropped about how they cobbled those iconic fighters out of anything they could find.  For instance, the front of the Y-Wing engines were made from the Leggs pantyhose containers.  Anyone that grew up in that era knows somebody that had those egg containers lying around.  My grandma used ’em.  Primitive modeling?  Oh yes, and yet, the final product still holds up far better than any computer animation in my humble opinion.  And I say that as a man who went to film school and eventually majored in computer animation.  Practical effects are always better when such can be achieved.  The computer is just another tool in the box, not a crutch as modern films seem to accentuate.

A point they brought up regarding the Death Star model is that they used the flat grays because the original shiny silver makes everything look cheap and small on a movie screen.  I instantly started considering the shiny silver Naboo ships.  Being from the time before the Empire, it makes sense that these ships should be shiny and new.  But between the concept of the used universe and this statement about silver on screen, I realized that as beautiful as the Naboo cruisers are, that’s one of the reasons they always felt out of place in Star Wars for me.  Well, that and the use of the SR-71 design.  Nothing takes you out of a fantasy movie faster than seeing real-world stuff, especially when that stuff is infamous.  So here it is, 12 years later, and I’m finally putting two-and-two together.  Tweaking the design and changing it around a bit for the Naboo starfighters… that makes more sense. 

 The Death Star’s superlaser is on the upper hemisphere in the film model, but the technical plans show it in the dead center, a detail which has bugged me all my life.  One of the models they showed was the superlaser at the center, matching the technical plans.  Interesting they never used it.  All things considered, it actually looked better somehow, like the equator of the Death Star was suddenly a channel point for the massive energy output.  Another curiosity, which I forgot to mention before, is that the Falcon, when it transitioned from its original Space: 1999 form, George suggested that it look like a hamburger, and that possibly when it flew, the cockpit stablized while the rest of the ship rotated up on its side like an angel fish.  In a testament to the notion that George recycles ideas, it should be noticed that last season on The Clone Wars, Ventress piloted such a ship.  *fanboy grin*  See, I’m full of useless archival knowledge like that.

I really got a kick out of seeing the early attempts at lightsabers with practical effects.  Seeing this stuff really makes you appreciate the finished product that much more.  It’s easy to look back at a movie like that and think, “of course, it’s always been like that, and it couldn’t be any other way.”  And yet, there’s so much that happened by accident and trial-and-error that it really could have gone any number of mind-boggling and less effective directions.  The prototype ship models really put that into perspective.  Or the early character sketches in which Luke and Leia were actually the same character.  Or the ones where you see Han and some Stormtroopers all carrying lightsabers.  Or the designs for other Sith Lords walking around.  It’s this kind of thing that really stands as evidence to how much of the story wasn’t fleshed out in the script, to say nothing of the later chapters.  The Prequel era backstory was there, but it wasn’t recognizable in any form.  I think that’s why so many OT fans were disappointed with the PT.  We grew up somehow having this knowledge in our collective consciousness.  Nobody really knows where we got it from, but we all agree that we grew up knowing it.  It’s something that later generations will never really understand or appreciate because, for them, the OT was always there as it is on screen.  That’s why part of the fun for me is challenging all the PT era fans to read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first Expanded Universe novel.  There are so many directions the Saga could have gone, and it’s with humility and respect that I acknowledge that some of those directions weren’t up to George.  Indeed, where the characters are concerned, many of the defining moments were in The Empire Strikes Back, and most of those were adlibed or developed through the talents of director Irvin Kershner, one of George’s film instructors.  George was the source vision of the story, but the manifestation of everything else was a collaborative effort.  It can’t be otherwise when dealing with film.  Ralph McQuarrie envisioned the look and feel of the universe.  Ben Burtt gave us the soundscape.  John Williams… what can you say about those breathtaking scores?  And the entire host of creature creators and model makers that put the Star Wars universe together…  To think how close we came to not actually seeing this film, much less having an entire serialized saga…  It’s mind-blowing.  But again, without George Lucas, it all falls apart.  Credit where it’s due.

With that transition, I’m looking forward to the TESB section this evening.  Technically I need to finish out the Ep. IV stuff.  I ran out of time last night and this morning, so I still have the prototype and final versions of the TIE fighter and Vader’s TIE Advanced to drool on.  But after that, Empire, and depending on how dense that is, I might have time to get through some of the Jedi material as well.

I’ll leave this entry here with this final thought: the blu-ray box set is worth it.  Regardless of how you feel about the changes to the films now or in years past, the archival features alone are worth the price tag for anyone who’s ever called themselves a fan.  I say this having gone through only one film’s worth of bonuses.