Star Wars: Limited Editions (Original Theatrical Versions And 2004 Versions)

What's the only thing worse than refusing to release three of the most beloved movies of all time on DVD? Releasing them with the worst presentation possible. That's exactly what George Lucas has done with his much beloved original Star Wars trilogy. After years of refusing to put the original movies out on DVD, preferring instead to foist dramatically altered, and in many ways completely inferior movies on us year after year, version after version, Lucas has finally deigned to shove out the real movies. You know, the ones people like. It's Star Wars. There's nothing I can say that hasn't already been said about it. It's a worldwide phenomenon. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who's never seen it, and if you do find such a person there's a good chance they're a little out of touch. Love it or hate it, it's a landmark not just in American cinema but in worldwide pop culture.

What needs to be discussed here is not the content of the film but what you're getting in this release. The Limited Edition sets include two versions of the films. One, the 2004, massively altered, fan-loathed, Lucas approved versions which do such dastardly things as digitally insert Hayden Christenson into the end of Return of the Jedi. Two, the 1977 - 1983 original theatrical versions of the films with no computer-generated effects, Han shooting first, and all the things that are good and pure and right about Star Wars.

Till now, the thing that's had Star Wars fanatics most up in arms about all the revisionist changes Mr. Lucas has been making to his films is that he hasn't made the original versions available. Chop, hack, and piss on your own movies all you want Georgie boy, just give us the good ones so we can ignore your shenanigans and watch your movies as 1977 - 1983 technology intended.

With this release, Lucas has done that. That argument is dead. But ever eager to stomp on his own fans, he's gone about it in the worse way possible. Frankly, I'm not sure which is worse. Not having the movies at all or having them like this. What's wrong? They're all there aren't they? Yep, but they've never looked so bad. This is minimum effort DVD releasing at its worst. Actually, it's worse than that. This is a DVD release so bad I'm almost certain it was intentionally designed to suck.

Let's start with packaging, since that's the first thing you'll see. You'll instantly notice that all three movies, Episodes IV, V, and VI are sold separately. Yep, that's right. No complete Limited Edition set. If you want them, you'll have to buy them one at a time. I found them at Target for about $16 bucks apiece. Figure in tax and you'd better plan to spend around $50 if you want all three. By contrast, you can get the entire 2004 version of the trilogy as a single set for around $35, and it comes loaded with bonus material that's nowhere to be found on this.

The film's packaging problems don't end there. To me, the worst thing about these Limited Editions is that they don't tell you what they are. What is a Limited Edition? What does that mean? If I walk into a store and see it, how do I differentiate it from all the other versions of Star Wars floating around? Apparently you don't. There's nothing on the front of the box to indicate what this set contains. Flip it over and you'll see tiny print detailing what's on each disc, but browsers aren't likely to flip it over if they can't tell what it is at first glance. The Target where I bought mine had stuck signs up next to their display with the words "Theatrical Version of Star Wars!" emblazoned on them in big black letters to help out.

The artwork on all three discs is pretty pedestrian. Imagine the most clich�, boring, Star Wars artwork you've seen and that's what's been used. At least the case is made out of hard, quality plastic; so this thing is going to bear up quite well under years and years of being bought and then traded in for something better. Good job on that Lucasfilm. These turds will be around forever.

Open the case and inside you'll find an ad for the other two Limited Editions, a card with concept art stamped on it, and two improperly labeled discs. Disc one is labeled as "Disc One" and disc two is labeled "Bonus Disc". Does "Bonus Disc" mean that there's a second DVD stuffed with bonus material? No, you can forget about bonus material. There's a commentary on Disc One with the 2004 version of the film, but any extras begin and end right there. "Bonus Disc" is the place where they've unceremoniously dumped the theatrical versions of the films. Disc One has the 2004 versions of the movies, the ones already out on other cheaper and better releases. The "Bonus Disc" is the only reason anyone is going to buy this thing, but they haven't even bothered to properly label it. They're ashamed to be releasing it, it's as if they can't even admit to themselves that they're actually letting us have the theatrical versions of Star Wars.

So skip right over "Disc One". You've seen this version of the film before, that's not why we're here. If you're interested, it still looks and sounds fantastic. It's that "Bonus Disc" which is supposed to justify this set's existence, so pop that sucker in.

Wait, you're using a widescreen, high-definition television? Ouch, you're out of luck. The 1977, 1980, and 1983 versions of the movie aren't presented in the 16:9 format used by most widescreen TVs. Instead, it's in 4:3 Letterbox which means those of you with kickass plasma televisions will probably never get it to fit properly on your screen. On my Sharp Aquos I found that the "Zoom" setting worked best, though that cut off a tiny piece of the picture. You'll have to tweak it a bit to find a way to make fill up as much of the screen as possible without distorting the image. Honestly, they might as well have just given it to us in Foolscreen. Alright, I guess it's not that bad, but it's damned annoying. That's par for the course with this release though, since Lucas and his cronies have done absolutely nothing to port this thing over for home theater other than to simply dump it on DVD. That means that not only will the picture not fit properly, but the sound is crap and oh yeah, the picture quality is grainy. It needs cleaned up badly. The sound isn't much better. It should have been remastered in THX. It hasn't been. Instead you're stuck with Dolby 2.0. By contrast the movie on Disc 1 uses the latest Dolby 5.1 Surround EX.

This is a bare minimum movie release. Actually, it's less than bare minimum for a company like Lucasfilm, a company with a reputation for taking every possible advantage of every new technological format. The theatrical version of these three Star Wars movies does none of that. Lucas has just thrown them on a DVD and slapped a price tag on them. Don't give me this load of crap about how he's doing us all a favor by giving them to us in their purest form. The movies didn't look like this when they were first projected up on a movie screen. Time takes its toll on film, and to get it back to the way it was when we all first saw it takes a little bit of elbow grease. Lucasfilm doesn't care enough about these movies to bother.

So yes, the unmodified, theatrical versions of Star Wars are now on DVD. Lucas probably expects fans to shut up now and let him keep on tinkering and toying with the movies until they become unrecognizable without another peep out of us. I should probably sit here and wax poetic about how happy I am simply to have the real movies I remember and loved available to watch again. Well screw that. I'm not happy. This is another kick in the nuts of the long-suffering Star Wars fan delivered by Hollywood's biggest egomaniac George Lucas. The only thing he hates more than his fans are his original movies. If he hates them and doesn't want them, you'd think he could at least let us have them. But even that has to be tainted. This release stinks to high heaven. Yes, Star Wars, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi are now on DVD in their unaltered, preferable state. It's not enough. Theatrical versions or no this release doesn't deserve your money. I refuse to be happy with it. There's absolutely no reason Lucas can't do better.

Josh Tyler