Much anticipated, this collection is.
Years in the making, “Star Wars: The Complete Saga” makes its Blu-ray debut on Sept. 16.(And only on Blu-ray. There is no companion DVD release). It is a nine-disc Star Destroyer of a set. It contains 40+ hours of bonus content, nearly all of it extremely rare or never-before seen. (Suggested retail price, $140, but we're seeing it for about half that at Amazon.)
This should be a moment long remembered in the annals of "Star Wars" fandom. Instead, it’s the latest flare-up in the ongoing feud between fans and the Emperor of the Jedi Galaxy, George Lucas.
His continual tweaking of the original films has alienated more people than smugglers who drop their cargo at the first sign of Imperial trouble. Even celebrity fans like Simon Pegg (“Star Trek,” “Paul”) have ripped Lucas on Twitter for not leaving their original films alone.
What has the fans riled up this time?
For starters, nowhere on any of those nine discs will you find the original theatrical releases of the Original Trilogy. That omission irks many "Star Wars" aficionados, according to Bill Hunt, editor of the website Digital Bits.
“George seems to have this stubborn idea that he’ll just make the original versions go away by withholding them from fans, but that’s just absurd,” said Hunt. “It’s never going to happen.”
The digitally remastered versions found in this collection are the 1997 Special Edition. That means Greedo still shoots first in “A New Hope,” in high definition no less.
Even more changes have been made to the original films, some cosmetic (the glow of a light saber), others a bit more ... peculiar (the Ewoks blink now). The prequels get freshened up, too.
Here are 7 surprises in the "Star Wars" Blu-ray set.
Oh Nooooo! Vader’s ‘Jedi’ yell
Remember at the end of “Revenge of the Sith,” when we finally see the completion of Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the Dark Side, and he becomes Darth Vader? Then you probably recall how that incredible scene, something "Star Wars" fans had been waiting to see for years, was undercut by Vader’s instantly infamous “NOOOOOOOO!”
Guess what Lucas decided to add to the climactic moment in “Jedi” when Vader saves Luke from the Emperor? Uh-huh. The Sith Lord now also says ‘NOOOOOO!’ before he gives Palpatine the shaft and tosses him over the rail.
The Internet nearly cracked in half when news of this change leaked. Either Lucas likes the continuity of having Vader bellow the same silly thing in the end film of both trilogies, or he just wanted to get under the skin of the segment of the fan base annoyed with all his tweaks. Mission accomplished, George.
Obi-Wan sounds different
No, Lucas didn’t overdub Sir Alec Guinness’ voice with Ewan McGregor’s, though considering how much "Star Wars" fame bothered the late Guinness, he may not have minded it.
Instead, Lucas has replaced the Dragon Krayt scream "old Ben Kenobi" uses to scare off the Sand People who attacked Luke and Threepio early on in “A New Hope.” It sounds completely different, and to be honest, not at all that bad. But the new audio also adds nothing to the scene, so ... why bother to change it? (One fan has created a video linking up audio of the new scream with the original clip.)
Yoda goes CGI
The Grand Master Jedi is getting a digital makeover. Instead of the puppet Yoda that was used in “The Phantom Menace,” Lucasfilm’s tech maestros have subbed in a fully computer-generated version of the greatest of all Jedi. Considering how puppet Yoda stood out in the CGI-scape of Episode One, this is a welcome change. Now if only they could have figured out a way to digitally scrub Jar Jar Binks from “The Phantom Menace.”
When you’re talking about a film franchise like "Star Wars," any unseen footage is a big deal. And the deleted scenes are the highlight of this set.
According to Hunt from Digital Bits, several of the deleted scenes from “A New Hope” showed up years ago in low-quality form on a CD-ROM called “Star Wars: Behind The Magic.” But most have never seen the light of day, until now.
“I’ve seen a few of them [on the Blu-ray] and they’re really exciting,” he said. “Major stuff ... things fans have been wanting to see for decades.”
Up to 45 scenes are included. One of the biggies is an alternate take on the scene early in “The Empire Strikes Back” where we first get a glimpse of the romantic tension between Han and Leia. Besides that, there is another deleted “Empire” scene involving Wampas and the rebel base on Hoth.
From “Return of the Jedi,” there is a sequence involving a sandstorm after Han’s rescue from Jabba’s palace.
The outtakes from “A New Hope” include one scene with Luke and Biggs, and another where Aunt Beru pours blue milk. Trivial? Yes. But weren’t you always curious what moisture farmers actually farmed?
The prequels have a number of extra scenes that haven’t been released before, too, but it’s the footage from the first three — material that’s been under lock and key for decades — that make this collection special.
“In this day and age, it's rare for any existing footage to be kept off the Internet for very long, whether it gets there via leaks or marketing campaigns,” said Rick Marshall, contributor for Movies.com and IFC.
Behind the scenes features
The enduring popularity of "Star Wars" means even normally mundane material such as "Making Of" documentaries is highly sought after by diehards.
Disc IX features several hours of behind-the-scenes features. The gems are “The Making of Star Wars,” which was created in 1977, and 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back: SPFX.” Both include vintage interviews with Lucas and the stars, including Harrison Ford, who over the years has distanced himself from the franchise.
Inside the archives
Hardcore Jedi geeks are going to have a field day digging through Discs VII and VIII.
For the first time, Lucas has opened the doors to the Star Wars archives. Segments called ‘Turnarounds’ offer 360-degree views on props and costumes used in the making of all six films. There are even special mini-documentaries created for this set that delve into the backstory of many of the key props in the "Star Wars" galaxy.
Easter eggs: 'Star Wars Holiday Special'?
While still unconfirmed, word is the Star Wars Blu-ray collection is loaded with hidden Easter Eggs — intentionally hidden content. Speculation is there may be an episode of the 1980s animated television series “Droids” hidden on one of the discs. The biggest rumor, however, is that the legendary 1978 “Star Wars Holiday Special” may appear in some way, shape or form in the set.
Lucas reportedly keeps the only masters of the hilariously awful TV special under lock and key because he was embarrassed by it. But releasing this quirky piece of "Star Wars" history could help mend some fences with some of those unhappy longtime fans.
One thing we can confirm which is included is a 90-minute compilation of the best "Star Wars" spoofs and parodies. Which goes to show that Lucas may have his issues with tradition, but he does have a sense of humor.
What do you think of all the tweaking of the "Star Wars" films? Did Han or Greedo shoot first? Discuss on Facebook.
Michael Avila is a writer in New York; follow his pop culture musings on Twitter.