At the Star Wars Celebration V event in Orlando this morning, Main Event interview host Jon Stewart asked franchise creator George Lucas THE question on fans’ minds: when will the STAR WARS films debut in high-definition on Blu-ray?
“I wish I could say it was coming out this year,” said Lucas, “but it will come out next year” — Fall 2011, to be inexact, according to the official release at StarWars.com. Lucas blames some of the delay in Blu-ray releases to his experience releasing Episode IV in the earliest days of VHS, when it sold slowly until users embraced VCR technology at home. Now that Blu-ray is comfortably atop the high-def battle for home entertainment, Lucas feels secure committing his film series to the format.
Here’s a breakdown of what we know about STAR WARS on Blu-ray as of today’s announcements:
- Lucasfilm will present all six films in high-definition image and audio of the highest quality seen.
- All six STAR WARS films will be released in a Blu-ray box set, according to the New York Times. A press release just received at FilmEdge confirms that the entire Saga will be released as a box set with no mention of individual titles being available upon first release.
- The Original Trilogy films will only use the Special Edition remastered editions from 2004 DVD releases, and the theatrical versions once again will not be available. According to Lucas himself, presenting the theatrical editions in HD on Blu-ray is “kind of an oxymoron because the quality of the original is not very good.” Lucas also admitted that a complete digital restoration has never been on the theatrical versions because of the time and expense involved, such restoration was only applied to the Special Editions which were already being upgraded for their theatrical runs.
- Each Blu-ray release will include “extensive bonus features” with deleted scenes, documentaries and previously unseen footage, but there are no details how much of this content will be new and exclusive to the Blu-ray editions.
- Apparently one reason for the delayed Fall 2011 release is continuing work on “additional Blu-ray features” which may imply some exclusive bonus materials will debut on the Blu-ray editions.
- Revealed and introduced by Mark Hamill this morning at Celebration V, the RETURN OF THE JEDI Blu-ray will include in its bonus material the long-lost sequence of Luke making his own lightsaber, which he stashes in R2’s dome before rescuing Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt. Per the official Star Wars release:
Actor Mark Hamill came out to describe the scene, remarking that once again his original introduction in a Star Wars film was cut out (his Anchorhead introduction was, of course, cut from A New Hope). Luke’s intro is purposely played as ominous, with his face cowled in shadows and his intentions unclear.”I had the black cloak, the glove, and I thought, wow, this time around I get to be the antagonist. Little did I know I was predicting the path of the prequels,” said Hamill, noting the similarities to Luke in this scene and Anakin Skywalker’s appearance.
- The 2011 release may have more to do with Fox Home Entertainment’s release schedule: “We’ve been working on them for quite a while,” says Lucas, “but still there are pipelines. Unfortunately, the recent releases get priority over what we call the classic versions of things.”
Overall it’s good news finally having a release date window for STAR WARS on Blu-ray, but die-hard and especially original generation fans like myself can’t help but be a bit disappointed that the Original Trilogy will only be represented by their Special Edition versions.
Blu-ray’s exclusive branching playback technology would be the perfect format to seamlessly integrate theatrical and Special Edition cuts of the films. Even if Lucas didn’t provide two complete editions of each film, branching would easily have allowed viewers to opt for specific changes made in the SE versions: fans could once again allow Han to shoot Greedo first in the Cantina, and they could skip the meaningless, utterly aggravating exposition shots of Vader returning to his ship after his duel with Luke in Episode V. All this was possible and hoped for in the Blu-ray releases of the Original Trilogy, and given the years of delay in their arrival, such scenes could have been individually restored to HD quality without remastering the entire theatrical cuts at great expense . . . as a minimum effort in giving Star Wars fans what they’ve wanted and begged for from Lucas all these years. Give the fans a choice on how they view STAR WARS with the technology specifically designed to accommodate such choices, at last.
Is this now a missed window of opportunity for George Lucas to satisfy life-long fans with the true “Ultimate” editions of STAR WARS? High-definition versions of the Saga’s six films have been airing on cable networks for a while now — I’m watching Episode IV in HD on Spike as I write this — so the unseen allure of watching STAR WARS in HD doesn’t exist anymore in terms of selling Blu-rays as a first opportunity.
Will fans buy yet another box set (and likely an expensive one) just to watch the films in HD without commercials and enjoy whatever new bonus features are included? The answer is undoubtedly yes, but perhaps in smaller numbers without a truly new way to view and enjoy these favorite films as never seen before. Frankly, many fans will wonder why their previous investments in multiple VHS and DVD purchases, not to mention multiple soundtrack edition buys, has not and will not pay off in the truly ultimate STAR WARS release on Blu-ray next year. Yes, Mr. Lucas, the process would be expensive, but millions of fans have already made considerable cash investments in STAR WARS to see some new dividends come back to them after three decades of loyalty.
When full details on the STAR WARS Saga Blu-ray box set become available, we’ll see just how impressive it actually is on its own merits.