Episode I: Puppet Yoda is replaced with a CGI version of our favorite 2.5’ green Jedi master Episode IV: Obi-Wan’s Jedi scream that scares off the Tusken Raiders is completely re-done. Episode VI: Ewoks now blink. Yep, forget the horrendous teddy bear suit because a blinking Ewok is somehow much more real than one that doesn’t. Epic fail… Darth Vader now yells “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” as he throws Palpatine into the DeathStar power generator… Yes, it’s completely stupid.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace:
Episode I is arguably considered the worst film in the saga and I think it will unanimously be thought of as the worst video transfer in this Blu-Ray set as well. Unfortunately Lucasfilm decided to go to the dark side of the force for this one and have killed it with DNR. The resolution is sharp at times, but there are very few details to be seen in this transfer. Facial features suffer horribly from the “waxy” by product of digital noise reduction. I had read that this was the case and I hoped it was a mistake, but alas the rumors are true and The Phantom Menace is an extremely inferior transfer compared to the other movies in this set. Black levels and shadow delineation suffer from severe crushing not only in dark scenes, but on characters wearing black or general shadowed scenes. Additionally, the CGI in The Phantom Menace is showing its age badly as several scenes look more like something out Toy Story than Star Wars and CGI characters and sets that mix with real actors are extremely evident and stand out profusely. Overall I was very disappointed that the team at LucasFilm could not do a better job on cleaning this one up. It does look better than past releases, but only marginally and the downside to HD is evident in the almost cartoonish look of the Gungan’s and Battle Droids. Episode II: Attack of the Clones:
Episode II fairs much better than Episode I however; it isn’t what I would call reference quality by any means. Although I will admit that there are spots throughout the film that are gorgeous, especially after having to sit through The Phantom Menace. Black levels and shadow delineation is much improved and rarely fall on one another, though it does happen a few times. Color reproduction is much more consistent and accurate as compared to the overly muted tones of Episode I. CGI took a big leap forward in Attack of the Clones as well and while you can still pick out some scenes where actors are clearly standing in front of a green screens, computer generated beings are a lot more palatable. Overall this was a very solid effort that gave me some hope that all of the films were not as bad as Episode I. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith:
Episode III is by far the best transfer in the prequel trilogy and maybe the entire saga. This is a reference level video transfer that must be seen to be appreciated. The opening battle over Coruscant speaks volumes about what one can expect from Episode III. The grand scale of the battle in itself is awesome but when it is viewed in 1080P it’s absolutely jaw-dropping. Black levels are infinite throughout this film and shadow delineation is, for lack of a better word, flawless. Color reproduction is perfect as every shade pops with brilliant looking hues and wonderfully textured details. From the vibrant tropical setting on Kashyyk to the glitz of a night at the opera on Coruscant and the lava spewing volcanic setting of Mustafar, Episode III delivers the goods. I could not detect any deficiencies in this transfer and must say that I was immensely impressed with the results of this effort.
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace:
In this 1999 film the early CGI effects are clearly dated, and this combines with a lot of digital tomfoolery to result in a very disappointing picture. While the practical effects used in Episodes IV-VI stand up well to the test of time, Jar Jar looks like he's been cut and pasted into the frame a lot of the time and characters frequently stand out from the background with faint haloes as a result of poor chroma keying. Textures and high level detail in live action scenes are almost universally scrubbed by a thick layer of Patton-esque DNR. It appears that DNR was used so frivolously in order to better combine the effects and live action components on screen while also trying to give a digital look to a film that was shot on 35mm. And while the DNR may hide film grain and cover up aliasing, the vast majority of the time the rest of the picture suffers as a result. Skin, hair, clothing and props all suffer equally from a polished, waxy finish. There can be no question that the aggressive use of DNR here removes detail and compositing remnants with equal success. This is a disappointing result and were it not for the absence of any other issues (banding,Edge-Enhancement, and color timing changes), I would be hard pressed to give this movie the three stars it has earned. Episode II: Attack of the Clones:
Shot entirely in digital this film is subject to a greatly reduced level of DNR, though the effects are still present. Many decisions were made in post production in order to try and give this film a consistent look, and this is telling as many CGI scenes suffer from filtering that wasn't needed. Chroma keying issues are actually artistically covered up in this film (see the elevator ride with Obi-Wan and Anakin for reference) though the other components of the film are generally much improved. Detail is present and though moderately scrubbed, the picture does have moments of brilliance where you can almost forget that it could look even better. Regardless, this remains one of the best films in the series from an action perspective so you'll surely be too caught up in the action to nitpick like I have. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith:
It's hard to fathom the first two films in this trilogy when this film starts. From the first scene it is painfully obvious that no DNR whatsoever has been used. CGI and practical components alike are razor sharp and brimming with detail. Obi-Wan's beard is visible down to the individual hairs while the coarse knit of jedi robes is easily visible. The opening space battle is literally crammed with detail, from antennae and blaster scores on the hulls of ships to mottling on the chassis of astro-droids, it seems that at long last Star Wars looks the way it should. Blacks are magnificent and incredibly deep with huge dynamic range. Shadow delineation is also impeccable - note the flawless gradation from dark to light as Anakin and Obi-Wan move through the corridors of General Grievous' flagship. Cutscenes as a vessel is about to land on a new planet or flies past are stunning, with the planetary shots from space looking particularly gorgeous. This is an oustanding transfer and properly shows off just how far ahead of their time ILM was when doing the effects work for this film in 2004. While it's hard to accept that these three movies are cut from the same cloth, take solace - Episode III actually visually makes up for I and II, and that's saying something.
The original trilogy is a much different scenario than the prequel trilogies video. It is going to be hard for me to describe just how absolutely brilliant these movies look on Blu-Ray. Let’s start with the detail and resolution. These movies are not only given new life, but new depth and perspective as well with this Blu-Ray release. What I mean by my statement is that I never really fully appreciated the amount of work that went into these films until now. Every model, set piece, costume, android and alien is just incredible to see in 1080P. Every detail, texture, color, imperfection and every little aspect of the original trilogy is just jaw dropping to look at in high definition. Things like realizing the types of fabrics that were used for the costumes that never stood out to me before are now completely different than what I thought they were. For instance, the orange jump suits that the rebel pilots wore in Episode V are made out of materials commonly found in snow suit clothing while in the other two films it is made out of common fabric. Of course this makes sense because they are on the ice planet Hoth however; until seeing it on Blu-ray, this little aspect never stood out to me. There are tons of other things that will stand out as you go through the original trilogy and avid fans will see those things and go “WOW! I never noticed that before!”.
Of course this has more to do with the way things were done back then. There were no computer generated effects or sets, everything used had to be built and created by hand. Models and set pieces had to be properly textured for realism and until I noticed it watching these classic films, I didn’t realize how far CGI still has to go in order to achieve that level of realism. Puppets still look fake as do some of the vehicle scenes such as the speeder bikes on the forest moon of Endor, but I would rather have that than the smooth edges of a rendered cockpit especially when compared to the marvelous detail of one created by hand such as the Millennium Falcon. These films have never looked better nor do I believe they ever will.
Episode IV: A New Hope:
Though largely bereft of any digital tampering, the first of the original trilogy has some minor flaws. While the original theatrical scenes by and large look excellent other than a few minor instances of noise reduction, the CGI additions are horrible. It's hard to imagine what could possibly throw the viewer out of the film more rapidly than an obviously CGI-created stormtrooper riding around in the desert, but these scenes remain in my opinion, a blight on an otherwise excellent film. Practical effects really show their strength here, with the stucco elements of walls on Tatooine, doid parts inside the Jawa sand crawler and a scad of other minor set components looking no worse today than they ever have. It's these practical effects that really illustrate just how dated and unneccessary the CGI elements are in this film. Granted some CGI technologies have improved things - Luke's speeder is far more believable today than it was in the past, and the death star explosion looks much better with the color corrected. While DNR does show up from time to time (some may argue soft focus, but I disagree), for the most part the grain structure of this film is intact and regardless of my complaints, this is the best this film as ever looked. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back:
Thanks to less modification by Lucas, this film actually feels the most authentic from start to finish. Though there are some minor changes, most of them are for the better. Color timing has been corrected and standardized across the Hoth scenes resulting in a much improved and more consistent viewing experience that is much closer to white than the blue-white that was visible in the DVD releases. Shadow delineation and blacks are both excellent and this is extremely important in such a dark scene heavy film (asteroid, Dagoba etc.). Fans of the original trilogy will be happy to note that this is the clear winner among these three from a PQ perspective and really looks incredible all things considered. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi:
All in all this title looks very similar to A New Hope, other than the fact that George went even more crazy. Yes, I said it. I have no idea how he got away with it, but George chose to replace a lot of solid elements with extremely obvious CGI substitutes. Han Solo now has an angelic birth when he thaws from the carbonite and the Ewoks on Endor now blink - it's creepy, trust me. So, while this title has been messed with far more than any fan could hope to stomach, it still looks far better than any previous release. The rich greens and browns of Endor really look great, and it's hard not to appreciate the visible detail during the final minutes of the film. Based upon the unmodified scenes alone, this film is an easy 4.5 - unfortunately the crazy changes George has made just suck you straight out of the film and leave you scratching your head.
Unlike the video, the 6.1 DTS-HD-MA is definitely on target. There was plenty of surround activity to bring the film to life and whether it was a firefight on Naboo or the intense pod race on Tattoine, the surround presentation delivers. LFE was much better than I expected as there was plenty of impact that could be felt from explosions as well as rumbles from crashes and cannon fire. Dialogue reproduction is succinct and holds up well against the action sequences and John Williams score just blasts onto the screen with wonderful authority. I really felt that this was about as good as this film could possibly sound, I will also say that I can’t think of any particular scene that stood out as a reference quality scene. So in a nutshell; the audio is perfect, just not reference. As with the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones is pretty much a flawless DTS-HD-MA 6.1 presentation. I did think that it was a marginally better than Episode I, but I think the film lends itself to that by way of really large ground battle on Genosia at the end of the film. Between the giant walkers, tanks, large starships, ground troops and so much more; Episode II is tough to beat when it comes to this single battle. For me personally, I think the battle on Genosia is the best in the saga. There is plenty of LFE that rumbles and impacts from missiles, explosions and crashing ships that will bring a smile to your face. If not the best audio, Episode II is definitely in the top two. If Episode II takes second place, it’s only to Revenge of the Sith. Once again the DTS-HD-MA is flawless and all encompassing. Offering a great balance throughout with crystal clear reproduction in any given scene; Episode III is awesome! I think my favorite sequence would have to be the battle over Coruscant at the beginning of the film. It’s lively and full of great surround activity and offers just the right amount of bass without it getting out of hand. Dialogue reproduction is very tight and perfectly balanced with the rest of the action on the screen.
It's hard to complain about these prequels when the audio is this good. While there are a few minor dialogue issues (digital filtering becomes audible in two parts of Episode III) the overall result is spectacular. There's tons of LFE content and the surrounds are used to great effect - this trilogy remains one of my benchmarks for engaging use of the surround channels and the Blu-Ray release is even better. A mix like this was just waiting or a real lossless format to showcase itself and this is readily apparent when you pop the first disc in. Whatever video foibles are present, from start to finish this is a compelling, heart pounding adventure of a mix and it really just doesn't get any better than this.
While the original trilogy sound design and implementation is not quite as good as the prequel trilogy, I think it is the absolute best that these films could ever sound and the team responsible should be given a huge bonus for the awesome job they did on them. A New Hope has a very distinct front loaded sound design, but I did not find myself wanting for more than that. There was some occasional surround activity via passing ships or rubble landing, but for the most part the sound was centered up front. LFE was effective when it was used and mostly done so with an impactful nature. In The Empire Strikes back however; the LFE was a little livelier with the giant AT-AT’s invading the rebel base on Hoth. Similarly, I found that the surrounds kinked up a notch or two during battles and laser blasts from ships firing off screen from the rear were in fact properly directional from that location. Return of the Jedi was an equal treat and plenty of detail could be heard throughout each channel. One thing I had never noticed before in watching this film in the past was that during the Sarlac scene when Han and Luke are about to be “slowly digested over a thousand years”, you can hear plenty of activity coming from Jabba’s barge with spectators along for the ride hoot and holler for our heroes demise. Additionally, John Williams timeless score is beautifully presented with so much clarity that one can easily pick out individual instruments that in the past have been a bit too blended to hear. This is an outstanding audio presentation and a must for any fan of the original trilogy!
It's important to note here that we are talking about a very old mix that has been painstakinly restored and re-mixed for Blu-Ray. The result is breathtaking, with many scenes that used to fall flat suddenly having incredible LFE heft and surround activity. Though A New Hope does suffer from some levelling issues (effects are occasionally almost drowning out dialogue), the remainder of the trilogy really showcases how good an audio restoration can sound. I guarantee you that never before have any of these films truly had the low frequency extension and presence that you will hear in this new release.
Onkyo 805, Yamaha YDP2006EQ, Samson Servo 600 amp
3 EV Sentry 500 monitors across the front, 4 Mission 762i's Surrounds, SVS PB13U sub, Panasonic BDT220, Harmony 1100, Nintendo WiiU
Panasonic PT-AE8000 on a 120" 2,35:1 fixed screen
Sherwood/Newcastle R972, Mission 765's, SVS SBS02's, A/D/S MS3u sub, Yamaha YDG2030EQ
Yamaha KX-393 Tape deck, CDC 805 CD changer, Panasonic BD60, Sony turntable PS-T20
Panasonic TC-P50ST60, HD-PVR & WDTV Live, Harmony 900
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