A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - Elstree Studios actually - George Lucas created the most successful franchise of all time. Now DVD comes of age with the long-awaited release of his seminal Star Wars trilogy in a satisfying four-disc boxset. Meticulous to a fault (except when he's writing a script), Lucas and his Skywalker Ranch-hands give Star Wars fans a better selection of extras than on the equally-anticipated Indiana Jones trilogy boxset. What's lacking here, though, is the original movies (these are all digitally 'enhanced' versions); any deleted scenes; and commentaries from the likes of Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill (what, he was too busy?).
You Can Repair Him, Can't You?
Using state-of the-art digital jiggery-pokery, the trilogy (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi) has been brushed up and dusted down with an attention to detail that extends all the way down to Chewbacca's stray nostril hairs. As a result, some of the movies' dated charm has been lost, although THX bod Rick Dean reckons they've "been able to create a DVD presentation that's better than the initial theatrical releases". There's one obvious oversight to this revisionism: the ewoks are still there.
You can hear more about the process of restoration, as well as behind-the-scenes titbits, in three separate commentaries by Lucas, sound designer Ben Burtt, Industrial Light & Magic's Dennis Muren, and - Ms Earmuffs herself - Carrie Fisher. Director Irvin Kershner also gets in on the act for The Empire Strikes Back on Disc Two. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best bits come courtesy of Fisher, who admits she really wanted to play Han Solo after first reading the Star Wars script.
Building The Empire
The bulk of the bonus material is contained on Disc Four. The centrepiece is Kevin Burns' excellent two-and-a-half-hour documentary Empire Of Dreams: The Story Of The Star Wars Trilogy. It paints George Lucas as a mythic hero, a maverick outsider who forever changed the face of moviemaking, which is fair enough really. You'll hear from Lucas, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and more than 40 other cast and crew members. The highlights are previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage from the making of each film, and a few - very welcome - self-deprecating moments (the painfully geeky first Star Wars trailer, for example).
The Characters Of Star Wars incorporates more behind-the-scenes footage and original concept artwork to reveal the in-depth story behind each of the major characters and how they developed through each instalment. Fellow filmmakers who were enraptured by the heroic exploits of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo et al also get a forum in The Force Is With Them: The Legacy Of Star Wars. As well as James Cameron citing Star Wars as the movie which made him give up truck-driving (thanks for that, Lucas!), you can also get the considered - albeit fawning - thoughts of Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott, and Roland Emmerich.
Sometimes A Stick Is More Than Just A Stick
Discover the origins of the iconic neon stick in The Birth Of The Lightsaber, an entire documentary devoted to the must-have weapon among Jedi knights. So ingrained is the saber in popular consciousness, even Ewan McGrgeor found himself humming involuntarily on the set of The Phantom Menace - much to Lucas' consternation. Again cast and crew are on hand, this time to unravel the mysteries of design, special effects, and stunt work that went into creating those intricate action set-pieces.
Apart from the usual selection of trailers, TV spots and a focus on LucasArts' Star Wars: Battlefront video game (released the same day as this boxset), this package rounds off with a ten-minute preview of Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. Lucas presents this featurette focusing on the evolution of Darth Vadar as well as affording a glimpse of The Dark One's new costume. Although this chiefly serves to hype up the much-anticipated showdown between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, it's not worth getting too excited as no actual scenes from the forthcoming movie are included. Which is pretty annoying if you've already read this far down page looking for the scoop. Sorry.