After years of waiting the “Star Wars Trilogy” has finally
arrived on DVD.  While the devout “Star Wars” purists will
surely deride George Lucas for his further tinkering, at least
these landmark films are finally on the market – and that’s all
that really matters.

The trilogy began quite auspiciously in 1977’s
“Episode IV: A New Hope” — originally known as
“Star Wars.” The film is the saga of Luke Skywalker
(Mark Hamill), his quest to become a Jedi knight, lead the rebel
alliance and save the galaxy from the hands of the evil Empire.
This simple parable of good versus evil successfully combines
influences as far reaching as 1930s-era serials and ancient Eastern
philosophies. For newcomers, the special effects will seem ramped
up beyond what was capable in ’77, which is because they were
— twice in fact. “Episode IV” features few major
alterations from the 1997 re-release, though the loathed scene
featuring space-pirate Han Solo (Harrison Ford) getting shot at
first by Greedo still remains.

“The Empire Strikes Back” is the pinnacle of
Lucas’s cinematic efforts, bringing a darker edge to the
series. The climactic confrontation between Darth Vader and Luke
still captivates, even though the revelation is no longer as
shocking. The largest change between the new edition of
“Empire” and its previous releases is a reworking of
the scene in which Vader communicates with the Emperor. Instead of
having an awkward-looking hologram and filler dialogue, Vader
speaks with an improved visage of Emperor Palpatine (now played by
Ian McDiarmid from the prequel trilogy) and discovers his link with
Luke prematurely. While this change eliminates most of the tension
from one of the most fervently revered moments in film history, it
makes sense with Lucas’s new vision for the series. He
desires to weave the original trilogy with parts I through III,
making the big revelation in “Empire” obsolete and
well-documented to the viewer.

Whereas “Episodes IV and “V” are virtually
flawless — even after the further toying of Lucas —
“Return of the Jedi” proves to be a satisfying, if
ultimately underwhelming conclusion. The first act, as Luke and
friends lead an assault on Jabba the Hutt’s palace in an
attempt to free Han Solo, exquisitely reunites the heroes and
propels the audience back into the world of “Star
Wars.” Yet, it is the middle part of the film that exposes
the greatest weakness of its creator — George Lucas’s
love of obnoxious puppets. The Ewoks single-handedly make a great
film good. The second attack on the Death Star and the final
confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor are seamless. As
far as new additions go, the added celebrations in the finale and
Hayden Christiansen playing Anakin Skywalker add cohesion with the
prequels and don’t detract from the original intentions of
the film.

While most fans will lament the alterations made to their
beloved saga, at least the features will give them a glimpse into
why the changes were made. All three movies have feature-length
commentaries with Lucas and many of the important technical staff
from the film. Though these tracks often veer too much into the
effects, they sometimes offer interesting anecdotes about the
filmmaking or explanations for Lucas’s tweaks.

The real gem among the extras is the two-and-a-half-hour
documentary about the trilogy entitled “Empire of
Dreams.” The piece reunites all the principals from the film,
who reflect on not only the actual production of the film, but also
on Lucas’s career leading up to his creation of the
“Star Wars” universe. “Dreams” enables
viewers to see pre-production sketches, screen tests for actors
like Kurt Russell and some deleted footage. Through
“Dreams,” Lucas explains his visions for what
“Star Wars” should be and continues to justify the
modifications to the trilogy — which he says are the final
cuts. Too much of the documentary focuses on “A New
Hope” and the entire piece fails to mention some of the
unmitigated “Star Wars”-related disasters (the
Christmas Special, Ewok movies and cartoons). In spite of these
omissions, “Empire of Dreams” is an extensive and
captivating retrospective that stands on its own merits.

The additional featurettes focus on lightsabers, Lucas’s
influence on major directors and a sneak peak at Darth
Vader’s return in the upcoming “Revenge of the
Sith” prequel. While interesting, after “Empire of
Dreams,” these featurettes don’t offer too much to
anyone but the most ardent fan. All of the original and re-release
trailers are also present on the bonus disc.

As expected, the picture quality is stunning. Lucas’s
touch-ups enhance an already beautiful film. Additionally, the
sound nearly captures the theatrical experience, complemented by
John Williams’s incomparable score.

“Star Wars” on DVD should be enough to warrant a
purchase, but Lucasfilm’s release adequately supplements the
landmark series. Purists may still be screaming for George
Lucas’ head and a copy of the original cuts of the films, but
everyone else will be more than satisfied.

Films:  5 out of 5 stars

Picture/Sound: 4 out of 5 stars

Features: 4 out of 5 stars

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