Before visiting LucasFilm, I was most interested in jumping right into the films and seeing how improved the audio and video quality was, as well as look for any changes George and ILM might have tucked in given George's propensity for fiddling with the films. That exercise has now dropped to number four on my list ahead of, in this exact order, the deleted scenes, the Collection, and a new documentary with the "movie masters."
Before I proceed, LucasFilm has yet to formally announce the exact contents of the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set. They've mentioned some in various articles, but not offered the complete unabridged list.
Last weekend a list of bonus features for discs 7, 8 and 9 made their way online from a vendor involved in the manufacturing process overseas. I won't be linking to it, but you can find it using Google easily enough. The list has been confirmed by LucasFilm's Chris Argyropoulos who also stated it's "incomplete." More on that in a bit.
The first stop on our LucasFilm tour was in a small conference room with a pair of televisions and Playstation 3 consoles. One was playing footage from Revenge of the Sith, while the other was disc 8 which houses the bonus features for the Original Trilogy.
Lost and Found
All the press members ignored the breakfast goodies and converged immediately on disc 8. It was a nearly silent, unanimous decision to spend our brief time in this room looking at the deleted scenes to see what they were about. What an eye-opening experience it was.
Unfortunately the one aspect of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray I'm not allowed to talk specifics about are those deleted scenes. What I can tell you is that we watched almost every one of them from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as a few more from The Phantom Menace a little later in the day.
Whatever preconceived notion you had about the deleted scenes, flush it. There is far, far more footage scattered across the scenes than I knew existed, especially for A New Hope. We'll not only be treated to deleted scenes, but alternate angles and takes from some key sequences. It's a Star Wars historical gold mine.
As a side note, the deleted scenes on The Phantom Menace appeared to include the ones from the previously released DVD as well as several all-new ones. We ran out of time before Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith could be examined.
This is How You Archive
In preparation for Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray and to further preserve props and costumes from the films not designed to withstand the test of time, a select group of extremely fortunate individuals were tasked with documenting the goods in high resolution images and video at the high-tech barn on Skywalker Ranch where they are stored under many locks and keys. Some, but not all of the props and costumes documented appear on discs 7 and 8 in what's being called the "Collection."
The Collection allows you to view a prop, costume, matte painting, model, etc. by spinning around it in 360 degrees (except for paintings, of course), zooming in extremely close to the point where you can see the most minute details, individual brush strokes and fibers, and watch a short video on the piece with commentary from the artisans who made it.
I shot a short video from the Collection that features the AT-AT Walker, my all-time favorite vehicle from the films and one Kenner toy I wanted as a child but never got (that has since been rectified). The video doesn't include the zoom-in, but it does include some of the video elements, turnaround, commentary from ILM's Dennis Muren, and how AT-ATs spend their free time. You'll also get a feel for the menu navigation on the bonus features discs which is broken up by location (takes a little getting used to but is ultimately easy to navigate).
I'm going to jump away from the bonus features and talk for a moment about Mr. Muren. Part of our LucasFilm and ILM tour was spending about a half hour with the legendary effects artist about Star Wars and film in general. Dennis wasn't involved in the making of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray aside from providing some interview snippets. Doing those brought back all sorts of memories about creating the films in a time when visual effects were mostly practical as opposed to created in a computer.
One neat story Dennis told revolved around the creation of the AT-AT. Conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie based his first design for the imposing Imperial Walker from a commercial still featuring a short, squat mechanical robot with stubby legs and no head. Through many revisions it evolved into looking more like a dog with a defined head, but I can't help but wonder if that original headless, short inspiration robot is where the AT-TE design came from.
Here's a rough look of that inspirational commercial image.
It's amazing being in the presence of Dennis. Not only because he's a legend and is seriously tall, but also his knowledge and passion for movies and visual effects is inspiring. He misses the tactile feel of working with models, but embraces the freedom with effects that modern CGI affords. When it comes to 3D, Dennis is a fan only when it's done properly. In his mind, that's been a rarity thus far.
Below is Dennis answering one of the press questions and casually talking about his thoughts on special effects and filmmaking in general. It's a little hard to hear, even though I was sitting literally two seats away from him. Turn up your speakers all the way and enjoy nearly five minutes of a master sharing thoughts and insights on his craft.
To wrap up the Collection, it will prove an amazing tool for prop builders, cosplayers, and Kenner/Hasbro toy customizers who previously relied on DVD screen captures and a handful of official stills from the films to build their replicas. For the rest of us, it will reveal details in the Star Wars universe we never noticed before. As if the Collection weren't enough, there will be fly-bys of the actual archive barn where all the props and costumes from Star Wars and the Indiana Jones films are displayed.
A Final Curtain Call
As you may or may not know, The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner passed away in November, 2010 at the age of 87. Before his death, he participated in a documentary created specifically for Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray called 'A Conversation with the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later.' This documentary, which will include interview snippets with numerous Hollywood big name directors, would be must-see material even without Kershner's involvement. What makes it extra special is the documentary is the last interview Kershner participated in.
The leaked list of bonus features from Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray is missing many of the documentaries featured on the 2004 DVDs. This was a deliberate decision by LucasFilm as they wanted to fit in as much all-new material as they could instead of retreading on features that have already been released. If you're a stickler for having it all then I'd suggest holding onto the 2004 DVD set as these bonus features compliment those rather than replace them.
Speaking of new bonus features, I asked LucasFilm's Senior Director of Marketing Kayleen Walters about the Star Wars Holiday Special making its way onto the set after Fox Home Entertainment's James Finn tweeted the following image back on August 2, 2011.
That's Boba Fett riding a creature from one of the Blu-ray discs inner sleeves, clearly from the Holiday Special. In response to my question, Kayleen answered "You'll have to wait and see! The Holiday Special is a challenge, but look for some Easter Eggs. What's a Star Wars release without a couple of Easter Eggs?" I read into that as something pertaining to, if not the entire Holiday Special is hidden on these discs. These Easter Eggs are also what LucasFilm is referring to when stating the leaked bonus features are "incomplete."
An additional Blu-ray inner sleeve depicts a scene from Droids, the animated cartoon revolving around the further adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO. Does that mean an episode of Droids or maybe something from the Ewoks television show is hidden as an Easter Egg? We'll have to wait and find out on September 16, 2011.
Everyone has their own expectations for what Star Wars should be like on Blu-ray. My wish list included, in addition to the obvious audio and video improvements, seamless branching to offer the original theatrical cuts and special editions, as well as features specifically discussing the making of the set and all the new tweaks ILM and Skywalker Sound made under the direction of George Lucas. Maybe the Easter Eggs will come through on the latter.
I came away from LucasFilm feeling more excited about the Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray than I did going in. It's guarded excitement, but excitement nonetheless. Everyone is going to have their nitpicks, but I feel safe in telling you that thus far this looks like the set to rule them all.
Looking forward, the door is cracked for LucasFilm and George Lucas to build upon the Star Wars Blu-ray experience. I confirmed with LucasFilm that the discs are fitted for BD-Live, though no plans for additional content exist at this time. The potential definitely exists should the powers that be decide to tap into it.
Indy fans, keep this in mind. If LucasFilm spent the time and money to go into the archives and document all the Star Wars props and costumes, don't you think they would have done the Indiana Jones collection the same time? If they did, wouldn't it show up on next year's Indiana Jones Blu-ray release? Food for thought.
- Dan Bradley
Special thanks to all the folks at LucasFilm and ILM for their hospitality, time and assistance in creating this feature, especially the incredibly accommodating and awesome Chris Argyropoulos and Connie Wethington
Here's some additional reading and information related to Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray, followed by some pictures I took during the trip of tired me being a dork and the final batch of HD Stills (their naming convention, not mine) provided by LucasFilm to accompany this piece.
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