We gave it an A-
Wouldn’t it be neat, George Lucas thought while writing Star Wars in the mid-‘ 70s, to create a line of well-made tie-in toys? That way, even if the movie fizzled, children could act out their own space-age fairy-tale scenarios with little windup C-3POs and cookie-jar R2-D2s. (And maybe the stuff would make some money, too). Now, two decades, three movies, and several billion in revenues later, Lucas has helped craft what may be the most deluxe, customizable plaything in the galaxy of Star Wars satellite products: a boxed set of laserdiscs immodestly titled star wars trilogy: the definitive collection (1993, FoxVideo/Image, 9 CAV discs, wide-screen, digital sound, PG, $250). Of course, a keepsake this pricey is for big kids, with big bucks. It’s aimed at those who own large-screen TVs: On anything smaller than a 27-inch set, the ”letterboxed” wide-screen images of whizzing spacecraft lose their ingenious detail. Not incidentally, The Definitive Collection sports the ”THX”-approved seal of Lucas’ new home-video quality-control division, established in part to help promote Lucas-licensed THX sound and video hardware systems. But despite the hefty costs of getting this set and playing it back with maximum fidelity, it’s not terribly convenient to watch the movies in this format. This isn’t a version for viewers who like to lounge Jabba-the-Hut- style: It breaks up Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi into half-hour-or-less segments. Why? Because 30 minutes is the maximum that can fit onto each 12-inch disc side in the ”CAV” laser format. That means you can freeze-frame, slo-mo, and reverse every Death Star attack run with superlative clarity, but to watch any one movie, you’ve got to get up and switch or turn over the discs four times (or twice, if you have a player that flips sides). One look at the saga on high-quality equipment and it’s easy to conclude, never mind the expense and the effort: This is audiovisual nirvana. There’s a clarity and depth to the images that make even the worst-acted passages in Jedi (could Carrie Fisher look any more bored?) an overwhelming visual trip. The tiniest grace notes become transcendent moments. Fleeting shots of the pastel cloud city Bespin in Empire have the color-for-its-own-sake glow of a Technicolor musical, touches lost in any earlier tape or disc version. In the fastest action scenes, there is one visible technical bugaboo: a slight trailing effect caused by the video-transfer machinery, where you can see the image of what happened a split-second ago lingering over what you’re seeing right now. The sound, completely remastered, has no such flaws. Played back on a Dolby Surround Pro Logic amplifier, which splits the sonic action into four separate, directional channels, it bathes every scene in a totally convincing sonic environment. Bet you never heard Darth Vader’s leather glove crinkle before when he makes a fist. As a showcase for Lucasfilm’s prowess in fabricating visual and audio effects, this is without a doubt a definitive presentation. But as a ”collector’s edition” also intended to offer the coolest making-of material in any format, the Star Wars boxed set is something short of a benchmark. On a separate audio track that runs throughout the movies, you can hear Lucas and a number of effects specialists talking about how they accomplished certain shots. Yet because there are light years of silence between comments, you’ll have to rely on a not-always-accurate chapter listing to locate them.
Disappointingly, these remarks are sometimes repeated verbatim in three how-they-did-it appendices that follow the movies. Though they include still- frame galleries of preproduction paintings and sketches, they’re primarily talking-head interviews: Lucas chatting vaguely about Star Wars, looking half asleep; sound designer Ben Burtt giving a terrific, obsessive lecture on the audio collage techniques in Empire; and effects chief Dennis Muren walking the viewer through some of Jedi’s toughest trick shots. While many of their anecdotes can be found in the slew of books and magazine articles already written on the trilogy, there are some new tidbits, such as the fact that Darth Vader’s chest panel is partially made of coin slots marked with teeny Hebrew lettering. But where’s the rest of the good stuff? What about the opening scenes cut from Star Wars showing Luke’s friend Biggs Darklighter, who’s still mentioned in a later scene? Or the scads of screen tests Lucas mentions at one point? Of course, there’s only so much you can budget to pack into a consumer product before the price tag gets plain silly. Oh, well. Maybe it’s a testament to the cult-inducing charm of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, R2, 3PO, and their long-ago universe that no video tribute, even one crammed as full as this one, can be full enough. A-