Eleven Movies. The newest Format. The Best Picture. The Best Sound. But is it? Really, is it???
42-years later and we’re still talking about Star Wars as a Pop Culture Series. The series has always been a bastion of the Home Video Market. I still remember the first time I saw the original trilogy on LaserDisc in the Remastered (not Special Editions) THX picture and sound CLV editions. For my money, those were the best editions ever produced for Star Wars. They were focused on Picture (correct Aspect Ratio) and Sound (the 4-Channel Dolby Stereo Mix which was downmixed from the original 6-Track 70mm Mag).
Cut to Twenty-Five years later as Disney has released their version of The Series in a new 9-Film Box Set (Rogue One and Solo getting their own separate 4K UHD Disc releases). I have braved the wilds during this shut-in. Watching all eleven films in the newest premium format. Some of the results were unexpected, to say the least.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
You know… George Lucas told us that no one would want to see the prequels because they were about trade agreements and shit like that. Well, he gave us both barrels. To watch The Phantom Menace is to watch a film from someone that seems like they’re forced to make a film that they honestly did not want to make. That’s not true. Not fully. The moment the film wakes up from its “checkbox” slumber is during the Pod Race. The Pod Race is a technical marvel but narratively inert. The entire film is narratively inert, almost like some sort of punishment to the fans for not loving Willow, Radioland Murders, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and Howard the Duck. Though fans have been too harshly critical of certain aspects of the film. Specifically, Jarjar Binks. Binks now 21-years later isn’t the sort of harbinger of crap that fanboy nation claims him to be. He is rather a character that children are supposed to love in all his goofy stupid glory. This is also coming from a man who saw his point of view change on the character through the run of the brilliant The Clone Wars TV Series.
TRANSFER: I’ll be honest. I know this isn’t the most loved of the series but fuck Disney you could have spent a bit of time and love on the transfer. This is by far the worst transfer of the bunch. It gets better from here but this film just looks terrible in 4K UHD.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode II is not about the prelude to War mystery it claims to be. This is a movie about the beginning of a bad-bad abusive relationship that is formed under the guise of gaslighting an idealistic woman at the hands of a toxic piece of egotistical shit burger of a kid. Anakin Skywalker as designed by Lucas and Co-Screenwriter Jonathan Hales (with some uncredited rewriting/advising by the late-great Carrie Fisher) is a piece of abusive narcissist that has been told by so many he’s the “chosen one” and believes it. Like the self-entitled rich kid who thinks his shit don’t stink. The signs are all there. This kid is going to turn into someone who massacres an entire schoolyard (he does, wait seventy minutes into this film and another hundred minutes into the next film). Though his minders including the great Obi-Wan Kenobi, are too busy looking at their stuffiness and over-bloated sense of righteousness to realize they have the biggest problem dead center in their ranks. The only one that glares at this kid like he needs an ass-whupping he so rightfully deserves is Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson). It is almost as if Windu can see the racist shit heel’s true face but is not allowed to say anything because of “social decorum”. What Lucas does with his supposed romance is skin-crawlingly good. It is an outright subversion of romance rather than a romance. He pairs and separates Anakin and Padme from the rest of society. Anakin then begins his verbal dismantling of not only Padme’s political ideals (done as what he thinks is “slight ribbing”), her work as a Senator, and the men she’s dated (see how upset he gets about “Paolo” from years prior), and most importantly of her decisions as a woman who/where/when/how to either engage or not engage sexually/romantically with anyone. Listen to his crybaby diatribes about “the kiss she should have never given him” or “It’s all Obi-Wan’s fault. He’s Jealous. He’s Holding me back.” All wreak of a privileged prick that’s trying to manipulate situations in his favor. Once Padme is convinced she has feelings for this dipshit, mind you after Anakin KILLS women and children of another race (add the fact he’s a bigot and racist fascist killer), she sounds more like a woman who’s been verbally beaten into submission than one in love. It is truly a brilliant dissection of self-entitlement, abuse and the relationship between an abuser and victim. You won’t look at the film the same way once you realize how much seething hatred Lucas has for Anakin. The crying and bemoaning from this little shit belies a truly awful human piece of trash.
TRANSFER: Better but not what you expect from Star Wars and Disney. Realistically, they should be ashamed of these first two transfers and the lazy work done here. I expected more. The Blu-Ray of this film looks better than the 4K. Now, this may be an effect of the format. I’ve noticed the deeper I dive into the format (not streaming but actual discs that have a healthy bit rate) the format brings to the surface real issues with imperfect transfers.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
The beginning of the end of the Prequels. Yeah-yeah-yeah, so many people say this is the best of the Prequels. It’s good but I honestly think Attack is better for the aforementioned reasons above. Revenge puts the icing on the cake that is the terrible shitty human that is Anakin Skywalker. This douchebag was already Lord Vader, he just didn’t make the transition until this final film. With the help of Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and the Ego of the Jedi, the Sith rise, kill everyone (but Obi-Wan and Yoda), and place an authoritarian dictatorship in place that will take 60-years to get rid of. To make matters worse Padme is finally killed by her abusive (secret) husband when Anakin thinks that Obi-Wan is doing the Star Wars-nasty with his (secret) wife. Many people feel the tragedy of it all, as Obi-Wan leaves Anakin to suffer. I don’t. I see Obi-Wan getting a bit of payback and frustration because he didn’t realize that this kid was a racist fascist asshole of the highest order. That the troubled kid from Tattooine should have been dumped back on that planet as soon as Qui-Gong was killed. Obi-Wan gets the best revenge by hiding the abuser’s kids from him. Though, if you’ve seen the OG Trilogy you know how good that works out.
TRANSFER: Fuck, this one they finally get it right. Revenge of the Sith looks gorgeous in 4K with the healthy bit-rate that comes with having the disc and not streaming from Disney+. It does help that this is the first film of the modern proto digital era (though Attack of the Clones was filmed digitally). There also seems to some amount of care and time taken with this transfer.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Hey, you know what? Solo is a damn fine movie. More so than that. It overcomes its trouble production to be quite a good piece of crime fiction. I still yearn to see what Lord and Miller had in store for us but what we are left with is criminally underrated. There’s a sense of fun, easy, low stakes storytelling going on here. The universe isn’t at stake here. Just people trying to save their asses and make their way in the world. It’s too bad that Alden Ehrenreich isn’t going to get a chance to play Solo again. The guy has got the goofy, unwarranted charm that Harrison Ford had. Ford always played Solo as a braggart but we as an audience for 40-years saw him through the lens of a god-complex when a generation anointed him “our Star”. No one could and still cannot see the fact that he played and plays Solo as an idiot and braggart way in over his head. The fact that Ehrenreich plays him like this just amped up with some sort of youthful exuberance is part of the reason so many have disliked this film. I could tell you that Donald Glover is brilliant as Lando (he is) but so much has been written about him that … I feel like a little love for the man who plays Han Solo should be given. Bonus points for casting Woody Harrelson as Tobias Beckett, a mentor of sorts for Solo. Harrelson plays Beckett in the same ilk as he does his character from No Country For Old Men. That’s a good thing. A very good thing. I for one would LOVE-LOVE-LOVE them to take everyone’s contracts for two movies and turn them into a Disney+ TV Series. They’ve been itching to make a Crime series out of Star Wars since the early 2000s (Google it, you’ll see) and this would be perfect. Plus, Ehrenreich could grow into the swagger and confidence for the STAR WARS ORIGINAL TRILOGY REMAKES you know is down the line in about five to seven years.
TRANSFER: This was released 2 years ago and it still one of the prettiest transfers on a 4K UHD disc. Bradford Young’s moody lighting and atmospheric picture is aided greatly by the HDR10 encoding. The film is like candy-noir with pops of color perfectly imbued into smoke-filled low light imagery. People may not love this film, but fucking hell does it look amazing on disc.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I love this movie dearly. It could be my favorite of the New-Era Star Wars. That being said… fuck does this one have some huge story problems. I never saw them, or maybe, I didn’t want to see them. They are there for all to see. This is definitely a film that began as one film and was drastically changed to be another. Each is very clearly there. The biggest indicator of this is the relationship between Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor. It’s almost manic the way they shift from passive-aggressive anger to friendly almost romantic swoony looks. Saw Guerra also hiccups between Colonel Kurtz and gruff but understanding Rebel leader. Another simple example, Bodhi Rook, the pilot that Saw tortures with the creature Boogali. Boogali is supposed to make everyone go mad as a side effect of getting the truth. Two scenes later Bodhi is fine talking and chatting it up with our Rebels. The film still works but some of the decisions made narratively to try to “course correct” Garreth Edwards’s darker take are baffling. All that aside it is still one of my favorites and works despite a lot of flaws and narrative inconsistencies.
TRANSFER: There’s a reason why Greg Frasier has been DP and “Visual Consultant” on The Mandalorian. His photographic style here that feels like Star Wars but from a ground level. The transfer is like Solo’s transfer is damn near perfect. Bonus; the transfer aids the Special FXs and the digital characters (re Tarkin and Leia).
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Empire, Sh’mpire! A New Hope aka Star Wars (1977) is the best film in the series. Pure of heart and emotion. A sly retelling of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress redone for Gen X (yes, it was for Gen Xers). The sincerity of the storytelling is always refreshing in a way that never gets old. Lucas fashioned a film of good guys, bad guys, magic, swords, robots, aliens, spaceships and princesses that is so good that 40-years later it still works for children. Many have said that Lucas’ influence from Kurosawa and John Ford are present, but I see more Walt Disney the older I get. This single film is a man who’s only purpose to give children something to believe in, in an era where they had little to believe in. The Force, at this point in this movie, in 1977 was so undefined it allowed children to wonder. Wonder beyond the frames. That was always Walt’s secret. He wanted you to use his films as a springboard for your imagination, which similarly Lucas wanted. Some part of me finds it a shame that Lucas was forced into sequel-ville here. One wonders if he was able to do different projects and left A New Hope as just Star Wars what the man could have done.
TRANSFER: This is a tricky one. A New Hope on each new video format has been a sterling example of what the outer limits of what is possible. A New Hope has finally met its match with 4K UHD. The film looks good but doesn’t look great. Not Great in the way that A New Hope has looked in the past. The sheen of poppy color that resonates from the frame is gone. The picture is a bit more muted. Though the contrast and black levels are amazing. Now, it could be the restoration itself. I am unsure because watching the Disney+ version the transfer looks the same.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
I bemoaned Empire in that last paragraph. That doesn’t mean I can’t love it in this one. As sequels go… like everyone says this is one of the titans. The Godfather Part II, Aliens, T2, Avengers Infinity War, Avengers End Game, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Mad Max Fury Road, Max Mad 2: The Road Warrior, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan… they all stand here with The Empire Strikes Back. They all share a common link. They all take a story we are familiar with and throw it on its ear. Part of the beauty is what is initially annoying about Empire. There’s no story, it’s a series of vignettes or tone poems (eg Vader’s Hunt for Luke, Han and Leia’s His Girl Friday on a bad road trip, Yoda spouting out philosophy, the Hoth Battle) strung together. It does tell an emotional story though, which is the point, traditional story be damned. It is one of the most unconventional blockbusters ever made.
TRANSFER: Wow. This is the first knock-your-socks-off holy-shit transfer of the new box set. It figures though. The Empire Strikes Back has always been the crowning achievement of the series. It makes sense that the image is glowing and perfect. The transfer perfectly renders the colors, contrast, black levels and most importantly grain structure. Empire has only looked this good when I saw this very 4K restoration on the Big Screen back in 2015 during Star Wars Celebration.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The paycheck movie. Everyone seems positively glum and bored at the prospect of returning a third time to the cash cow that is Star Wars. Too bad, because if they committed or at least felt like their having fun there’s a lot to be dug out of what was the final film in the series (at least for 15-years that is). The gag of the Death Star 2 being completed in secret and more quickly than the 20-year odyssey it took to get the first one made is pretty hilarious. If we’re honest, the Ewoks are the best part of the film. Yeah-yeah-yeah, go ahead and give me shit for it. Those little fucking human-eating teddy bears took down a battalion of Imperial Storm Troopers and a fleet of AT-STs. Plus, they cute as fuck. Did we mention that they literally ate their prisoners and almost ate Han Solo? You can squabble about a lot (re Bobba Fett’s end is still hilarious to me because it angered manbabies so much they had to recon his death) but for the most part, Jedi is a pretty great end to the series. It’s the best ending to the three trilogies here.
TRANSFER: Another big bang beauty here. Return of the Jedi is probably one of the best photochemically produced VFX films. The film houses thousands of visual effects that were produced in-camera. On 4K UHD, which is an unforgiving format, everything is laid out. Matte lines, model defects, optical explosions, frame lines, but you know what??? It’s beautiful. All of the imperfections are artfully displayed. Somehow the 4K UHD disc allows you to see the work for the first time without its strings or coverup. As a kid that bothered me, seeing Matte lines on an FX shot. I welcome it now. It’s a part of the milieu that is an ‘80s sci-fi epic. Much like Dune, another Sci-Fi epic, the time has passed for Jedi being the most advanced piece of technology. Rather they’ve both become antiquated pieces of pop art. This disc celebrates that very thing that many will call defects.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
You have to admit. The Force Awakens is the fucking genius combination of work by Lucasfilm, Kathy Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Disney Marketing. They threw out Michael Arndt’s initial plot (which if you search the interwebs you’ll find, which I loved a lot more than this film) and gave us a remake of A New Hope. Even down to the fucking Death Star… I mean Star Killer Base. The genius movie wasn’t the remake. It was the meta-commentary they imbued it with. Kylo Ren may be the second-best character created for Star Wars. Let me be more specific; Kylo Ren is fanboy nation’s cipher before and even more so since this film’s release. The way this little shit heel reacts to Ray, his father, Finn, and every character other than Snoke and Darth Vader is literally what a certain sector of fanboy nation has become (and may have always been). You know who you are you little shits. You can’t take that Luke wasn’t some badass Jedi. That Rey was a girl and was a nobody. That Finn was black. You toxic fuckers are Kylo Ren. The movie is designed as a great piece of pop fiction. Abrams had been working towards this moment since Mission: Impossible 3. I’ve been on record that Star Trek Into Darkness is a terrible Star Trek movie but a BRILLIANT Star Wars movie. No matter your criticism of Abrams, he’s made a hell of a re-invigoration to the franchise.
TRANSFER: The first 10/10 transfer of the set. The 4K master of the 35mm shot film is perfect. Everything is tuned to perfection. Grain structure, color reproduction, contrast, black levels, sharpness are all reference quality. You may not like JJ Abrams remake of A New Hope but its damn near eye candy on 4K UHD Disc.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Let’s all take a deep breath. Now, let out that breath. Good. Are we calm? Are we rational? Okay, so let us begin. The Last Jedi, like The Empire Strikes Back before it, is a brilliant sequel and does what all brilliant sequels should do? Break the mode that was laid out by the first film. Where Abrams created a remake of A New Hope, Rian Johnson just took inspiration from Empire (and a slew of other films) but that’s it. The film is essentially a ticking clock film once the preamble is finished. Three clean stories for our heroes to dive into and come out the other end differently. Rey searches for Luke Skywalker the teacher she’s always wanted, with unexpected results. Finn wants to run away from the First Order as far as possible only to be stopped by the unlikeliest of heroes. Poe’s arrogance finally catches up to him when he refuses to take orders from a superior that doesn’t think he’s The Force’s gift to the Galaxies. Each Character’s deficiencies are laid out and each is challenged to overcome those inadequacies, sometimes painfully. Johnson has created a film that has gives us one of the most zeitgeisty Star Wars film so far. People will look back on this film and see just how much of the politics of the era are embedded in the film. Fuck, maybe you already do. Maybe that’s why so many hate this film.
TRANSFER: This was the first Star Wars film to be released in the 4K UHD disc format. Disney did this one right back in 2018 releasing it with Dolby Vision, HRD10 and HRD10+. They have forgone all the trimmings in favor of a plain HDR10 transfer. It’s the best image of the bunch. They’ve taken special care of this film or maybe it was the way that Johnson and Cinematographer Steve Yedlin shot the movie. Regardless, damn does this look good. There appears to be a better compression ratio than the original disc. If you know anyone that isn’t convinced about investing in a 4K setup and physical media. Show them the Rey/Kylo fight scene in the Red Room. Its all anyone needs to see to convince them. Even a halfway decent setup will convert a non-believer.
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
In ten years when the kids that grew up with The Rise of Skywalker are of age, they’re going to feel about it the way that most of my generation feel about Return of the Jedi. That is to say that critics were way too harsh on it. My third viewing I can “see” what they were aiming for. Did they accomplish it? No, not by a long shot. They’d have to go back to The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and make some major editorial or as Lucasfilm likes to call it “special edition” changes. Specifically for who they reveal as the ultimate big bad is and also the whole Rey storyline to accomplish what they’re trying to do here. Taken as an adventure film, it’s a fun and rousing piece of pop fun that uses Abrams’s fast-paced narrative run-and-gun style to its breaking point. This film made me understand Trekker’s hatred of Star Trek Into Darkness. All the goodwill set up by two great entries into the series (re The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi) is all but flushed down the toilet. I cannot in good conscious reveal spoilers. I will say playing to fan service helped no one least of all the story they were telling. Also, fuck the waste of visual space and time that are the knights of ren. I can’t even capitalize their names. That’s the kind of stuff that servicing a certain fan base gets you, rather than just telling the story you intended to make. Yes, I’ve read Colin Trevorrow’s original script, yes it was better, but if it was made… most of those people that hated The Last Jedi would have roasted it. I can’t even say they ended it well. The last line still frustrates me to no end. I will say this much, there are certain characters and set pieces that recall the greatness of Star Wars like Babu Frik, the Falcon lightspeed hopping, Lando being Lando, Hux being Hux, and D-O all fill that requirement. It’s just not enough when the film isn’t enough.
TRANSFER: Whatever said about the movie is in complete opposition to the transfer. The 4K UHD version of the film looks as good as the two theatrical engagements I saw the film at. For reference, I saw it the first time at the El Captain in Hollywood and the next time was at the Mann Chinese. So… yeah. It’s a flawless reference quality transfer.
The Final Thought
This is recommended for diehard fans. Most of the special features are here along with some new to physical media stuff. I’m not going to review said special features here because honestly this stuff has been reviewed in detail by other outlets. For the casual fan, I’m not 100% that this set is for them. The transfers are a mixed bag and the box is a huge PAIN IN THE ASS to get any of the discs out cleanly (I’ve decided to store all 27-discs in a binder that makes it much easier to retrieve). I don’t normally do this but I’m going to give this box set a rating out of 10.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
And to be honest, this won’t be the first time these films (probably in better versions) are going to show up on UHD.