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The Star Wars Trilogy

A Digital Star Wars Scrapbook.

19. April 2013 07:16
by jedi1

Star Wars Trilogy - The Definitive Collection

19. April 2013 07:16 by jedi1 | 0 Comments

This release was a milestone in it's time. Released in the summer of '93 it featured all three films in the CAV format across 9 laserdiscs. All the movies had been remastered to THX standards, with the video cleaned up by state of the art techniques (more on those later), and the soundtracks remixed from original elements.

The box also housed a special printing of the full Charles Champlin George Lucas biography. (Excerpts from the book were also included in the US VHS release of this collection).

The first pressings of this set was missing a few seconds of footage from The Empire Strikes Back and a replacement program was soon implemented.

Star Wars Trilogy Definitive Collection Boxset front

Star Wars Trilogy Definitive Collection Boxset Details

[Source: Star Wars on Video]

Contemporary reviews are very good. Here is one from Rolling Stone Magazine:


What weighs 13 pounds, costs $250 and ranks as the best toy a laser freak could ever have? It's The Star Wars Trilogy: The Definitive Edition (Fox). Here at last, in wide-screen with peerless picture and sound, are Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983) as we remember those epics before previous videos and discs reduced them to visual and sonic rubble.

Put on the first of the 18 sides and then just try not to get sucked into George Lucas' saga of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), set in "a galaxy far, far away." How innocent that first film looks now in its breathless, just-for-the-fun-of-it simplicity. The effects got bigger in the second and third movies, and the relationship between Luke and the masked Darth Vader (dark father) grew deeper and more twisted. But it's the way the trilogy captures the kick of a rainy-day adventure at the movies that makes it indispensable.

Faults? You bet. Turning over nine CAV discs means a lot of getting up and down; several of the side-breaks are jarring; the audio commentary is sparse and, when Lucas speaks, disappointingly vague. But nobody skimped on the movies themselves. The Force was with them.



[Source: Rolling Stone, 11/11/93, Issue 669, p81]

And another from Films in Review:


What to give . . . What to ask for . . . Here's a Best-of-the-Year List for everyone.

As the holiday season approaches, and friends and relatives are stymied over what to buy you for Christmas, but they know a laser disc would be greatly appreciated, perhaps a Best of the Year list would come in handy? Let's assume you have ten gift-giving friends and/or relatives. Let's assume further that one disc in most cases would be the extent of their generosity. A few may be big spenders--so you would make theirs a Criterion super-disc, or a boxed set. From the rest you can expect a modest $35-40.00 disc which, if they've not waited until the last minute, might be more cheaply obtained during periodic laser disc sales.

The Star Wars boxed set is the item of the season. There have been other auspicious laser debuts this year, but none to equal it. If you have lower back problems, you should proceed with caution, for the black containment box weighs in at nearly fifteen pounds. It is the second most cumbersome American disc container of all time. What is found inside, however, is a veritable treasure trove.

All three films are presented in the CAV frame-by-frame-perusal-function, which accounts for most of the eighteen sides. I feel this way: about the series there is one great film (Empire), one important film (the original), and one silly sellout (Jedi). But they belong together, and I can't imagine anyone not wanting them all. Anyway you don't have a choice here, so there's no use thinking about it. Fox did release them separately a few years back, and they are still available, but they've been digitally remastered here and the 'fanatic consensus opinion' (FCO) is that they've all been considerably improved.

The sound has been transferred, as well, by Skywalker Sound North, and little details have been added. The FCO is not unhappy about this (and since many well respected laser collectors and reviewers are also members of FCO, I've polled them as thoroughly as possible about this release) since the THX monitoring program that tweaked this set into shape was fathered by George Lucas himself . . . the initials having been drawn from his first feature, THX 1138.

There is a handsome little Harry Abrams book about Lucas's twenty years of cinematic achievements. More pictures than text, it nonetheless impresses with its reminder of just how many major pies he's had his fingers in. I'd forgotten about Coppola's Tucker: The Man And His Dream, Schrader's Mishima, and Henson's Labyrinth, not vastly successful, but worthwhile undertakings. And when will Captain EO, his rare collaboration with Michael Jackson, see the light of laser?

There are extra audio track interviews with Lucas, production illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, special effects directors Dennis Muren and Ken Ralston, Sound Designer Ben Burtt, and puppeteer/voice actor Frank (Yoda) Oz. Each of these is clearly indicated in a booklet of chapter-stops enclosed next to the Lucas tribute book. FCOs feel the interviews are less substantial than they could have been, but I don't anticipate any disc returns because of it. There have also been pressing defects reported, but in this case you should return the collection, and replace it with an immaculate copy.

There are also behind-the-set stills, drawn storyboards and video storyboards, production sketches, rare footage, a music video for Jedi . . . As you can tell, the $250.00 investment (if you're unlucky--watch for those deals) will be spread out over weeks of enjoyment. I wonder if the THX Laser Disc Program, which so diligently supervised the production of this package, also designed the box itself? Sturdy, which so many aren't, it also has a fold over flap with a velcro swatch to hold the entire collection snug and secure. A cute and efficient design. (The three films sit in separate sleeves, and they were perhaps a bit too snugly nestled inside the box--I had to shake it like a bottle of ketchup to get them out.)

[The article goes on to review the Criterion release of John Woo's The Killer, and a couple of other laserdisc titles]


By Roy Frumkes

[Source: Films in Review, Dec93, Vol. 44 Issue 11/12, p380]

Here is a sample of the video quality you can expect from these fine laserdiscs:

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Of course, back in 1993, everybody had a tube TV and the flaws introduced by the DVNR (Digital Video Noise Reduction) techniques of the time would have gone largely unnoticed. To be fair, even today many of them are only really visible when moving through the movies frame by frame, or if you were unlucky enough to pause the movie on a frame like this one:

Star Wars DVNR See through Legs

For anyone scratching their heads, take a good look at the guy walking between the camera and the land speeder and you'll see that his legs are transparent. This was caused by a temporal noise filter which was comparing the current frame to the next and previous frames and copying pixels from those other frames where they were different only on the current frame. This can be a good way to clean up dirt, or "noise" but in this case it was somebody's legs. This is why automated cleanup processes should be used sparingly. There are many other examples, but this is one of the more egregious. However, as I said, when you see it in motion this sort of problem is hard to spot even if you are looking for it and on the whole the cleanup process greatly enhanced the viewing experience. I was 19 when these were released and I don't remember me or any of my friends complaining about "DVNR smearing". To us on our 19"-27" tube TV's the picture and sound were greater than ever before. By today's standards, not so much...

Here is a good comparision video: Before the THX cleanup and after (The top video is from the 1986 Japanese Special Collection Laserdisc, while the bottom is from the Definitive Collection):

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As you can see, the color timing has been altered (don't ask me which is closer to the original theatrical colors - as far as I can tell nobody can agree on exactly what the colors were when projected in theaters!), there is less dirt and fewer scratches on the definitive edition and for most viewers - especially those now used to seeing movies on higher resolution DVD and Blu-ray discs - the reduction in film grain in the THX picture makes it look cleaner.

Let's slow down the video on just the speeder pass:

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Now you should be able to see more clearly just how much of the dirt and scratches was successfully removed, and that if the technology had existed to manually clean the film up frame by frame on a computer rather than applying a single filter to the whole scene, it might have turned out much better.

The Star Wars Trilogy Definitive Collection Laserdisc set can still be found (even new and sealed) on Ebay, but even with the additional dirt and scratches I think I would look for the Japanese Special Collection myself, since like the Definitive Collection they also came formatted in CAV. Japanese laserdiscs command a higher price if they come with their original OBI, a price/information strip that is common on Japanese media but often discarded by the original buyer, so if that is not important to you, you may be able to find what you are looking for a little cheaper. (None are currently available on ebay as I write this.)

Star Wars Japanese Special Collection - Front

Star Wars Japanese Special Collection - Back

The Original Trilogy DVDs released in 2006 (also known as "The GOUT - George's Original Unaltered Trilogy) are from the same master as the Definitive laserdisc set, and the resolution of the video is noticeably higher. Unless you really want the laserdiscs (and to keep getting up and down to flip or change the disc) you would be wise to seek out the 2006 DVDs.

Star Wars 2006 Theatrical DVD - Front

Star Wars 2006 Theatrical DVD - Back

 Here is how these DVDs compare to the Definitive Edition laserdiscs (laserdisc on top, dvd on the bottom):

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As you can see, they are very similar, but the small details (look at the stars) are much sharper on the DVDs, plus you don't have to keep getting up to change the disc.

After making all these comparison clips, it seems a shame that they didn't use the masters for the 1986 Japanese Special Collection for the 2006 DVDs.

[A note on the sources: Footage from the Star Wars Definitive Collection Laserdiscs was taken from the X0 Project's Raw Capture. Footage from the Japanese Special Collection came from althor1138's fantastic preservation. The GOUT DVD footage was from my own NTSC DVD set. Laserdisc and DVD Cover art is from Star Wars on Video]

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