There’s no doubt that Star Wars is one of the most impactful films of all time, having changed the movie-making game ever since it premiered in 1977. It quickly became a global phenomenon and has accumulated some of the most passionate fans in the universe. We as Star Wars fans are often divided, split by mixed reactions to various aspects of the films or tie-in products. And with that comes yet another thing to divide us. Star Wars is now available on Digital HD.
The original Star Wars trilogy tells the story of Luke Skywalker, a young Jedi who restores order to the galaxy by leading the rebellion against the evil empire. Nearly twenty years later, George Lucas returned to his beloved franchise to tell the story of how the empire was formed. Throughout the six films, audiences grew to love characters that are now household names. Who hasn’t heard of Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, or Darth Vader? The films have had such an impact on our pop culture that it’s impossible to not know at least a little about Star Wars, even if you’ve never seen it.
All six films have gone through numerous changes (George Lucas claims he was unable to make his original vision due to technological limitations of the times in which they were made). The digital release presents each film in its most recent form. That means Gredo and Hahn Solo shoot at nearly the same time, Hayden Christensen appears at the end of Return of the Jedi, and Darth Vader yells “NOOOOOOOOooooooooo.”
Has Disney changed anything beyond what is seen on the Blu-Ray versions? Just one thing that some fans will see as a minor change, but others will feel is a great insult. The Twentieth Century Fox fanfare has been removed from five of the six films (the only film that retains it is A New Hope because that film is fully owned by Fox). In place of the original intro is a new Lucasfilm fanfare that will presumably be used on the forthcoming Star Wars films as well. They didn’t put the Disney logo anywhere on the films as some had feared, they simply removed Fox’s credit from the films that are now owned by Disney. It’s a surprising move, seeing as Disney chose not to remove Paramount’s name from the Marvel films they acquired.
The relationship between Fox and Disney seems less amiable than the partnership they had with Paramount. The proof is in the fact that the five films Disney owns will link through Disney Movies Anywhere, unlocking a streaming copy through their service when you purchase the films through iTunes, Vudu or Google Play. Fox and Disney couldn’t come to an agreement to get A New Hope on DMA, so that is the one film that will be available exclusively on whichever provider’s service you purchased it from. To unlock A New Hope through multiple providers would require purchasing it multiple times. As Darth Vader says in this version: “NOOOOOOOOooooooooo.”
The films mostly look amazing in their most recent HD restoration. Episode I looks the worst of the bunch thanks to a generous amount of noise reduction that was used, which removed quite a bit of detail while obliterating all grain. Episode II used some noise reduction as well. The original trilogy, however, were expertly restored exhibiting detail previously unseen on DVD while maintaining an acceptable amount of grain. The best looking film of the six is Episode III, which makes sense since it is only ten years old.
The digital HD versions of these films are a huge step up from the DVD versions, so if you didn’t upgrade to Blu-Ray you will be thrilled by the video quality here. Compared to the Blu-Ray, the quality takes a small step down. It’s not huge, but because digital copies are compressed greater than on disc (average file size is 5GB compared to 40GB per film on a Blu-Ray disc), there is a noticeable difference. The difference between choosing the films on Blu-Ray vs. digital really depends on the size and capabilities of the screen you plan to watch the films on. For most Star Wars fans, you’re buying these for the convenience of having them digitally wherever you go and this probably isn’t your only copy, so the video here should satisfy your mobile needs.
The presentation also varies by provider. I prefer iTunes because you can download the films, reducing any decreases in quality while streaming. Vudu offers the best looking stream, while Google Play has some catching up to do. The films look the worst on Disney Movies Anywhere, but look fine on a tablet or phone.
Star Wars has always sounded amazing, thanks to the talented sound designers and mixers at Lucasfilm. The films are offered in 5.1 surround sound through most providers, but again the audio file is highly compressed compared to Blu-Ray. You also lose one channel of sound if you have 7.1 surround sound in your home, since the Blu-Ray’s featured 6.1 tracks. But for watching the films on the go through headphones in stereo, the films sound great.
Disney has created an assortment of new bonus features exclusive to this digital release. The new content is very informative, opening up the Lucasfilm Archives where some amazing Star Wars artifacts are located. These new bonuses cover the entire saga (with greater emphasis on the original trilogy), but to get them all you have to buy all six films. They are split between two themes, Conversations and Discoveries from Inside. I’ve listed them in their thematic order, with the episode title each feature is attached to in brackets.
- Doug Chiang Looks Back (5:23) – Production designer Doug Chiang recalls working with George Lucas for seven years and shares the five design rules he learned on these films. [I]
- Sounds in Space (6:20) – Ben Burtt (sound designer) talks with Matthew Woods (sound editor) about all of the sounds that are in the films and how they got them. [II]
- The Star Wars that Almost Was (5:04) – Pablo Hidalgo (Creative Executive) chats with JW Rinzler (Author) about the earliest treatment of Star Wars and how it felt more like Episode I than Episode IV. [III]
- Creating a Universe (8:26) – Joe Johnston (director) and Roger Christian (Set Dresser) talk about how they got started at Lucasfilm and how for Jonston, it lead to directing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids at Disney and his current career. [IV]
- The Lost Interviews (9:31) – Highlights from Charles Lippincott’s collection of cassette tapes are played, including rare interviews with Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. [V]
- The Effects (9:33) – Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett, Roger Guyett and John Knoll talk about how they got started at Lucasfilm, the trickiest effects shots including the Death Star trench and Imperial Walkers. [VI]
Discoveries from Inside
- Models & Miniatures (4:18) – JW Rinzler interviews Steve Gawley and Lorne Peterson (ILM model shop supervisors for original and prequel trilogies). They examine many pieces, including a podrace model, the Millennium Falcon prototype and the C-3PO puppet from Episode I. [I]
- Costumes Revealed (4:34) – JW Rinzler talks to Leila Wrench who oversees the costumes archive. She displays Boba Fett’s helmet, Han’s Hoth coat, Leia’s cloud city gown, and many pieces from the prequel trilogy. [II]
- Hologram & Bloopers (3:21) – Monica Chin-Perez leads JW Rinzler through the film archives, including dailies from the original trilogy. The Leia hologram work print is shown, followed by a blooper reel from the original film. [III]
- Weapons & the First Lightsaber (3:14) – JW Rinsler interviews Robert Christian (set decorator), who displays Hans Solo’s gun and the original lightsaber. [IV]
- Matte Paintings Unveiled (4:43) – JW Rinzler talks to Harrison Ellenshaw (matte painter) who shows off some of his favorite pieces from the original trilogy. [V]
- The Sounds of Ben Burtt (5:21) – JW Rinzler gets Ben Burtt (sound designer) to show off some of his foley items that were created for the film, including ice cube trays with metal for C-3PO and a breathing regulator that made Darth Vader’s breathing sounds. [VI]
Disney Movies Anywhere
There are two bonus features exclusive to DMA, which are available on all of the films but are specific to Episode II and Episode IV. At any time, DMA could add more bonus features to this release, which is an appealing concept that I hope they stick with.
- The Art of The Attack of the Clones (6:09) – Doug Chiang talks about the art design for Episode II and how George Lucas wanted to capture an Art Nouveau style.
- Scrap into Gold: Conversation with Roger Christian (7:32) – Roger Christian recalls how challenging it was to make the first Star Wars because they had little money and few drawings to go off of. He goes into detail about the inexpensive materials he found/bought to create the props, sets and even R2-D2.
The rest of the content is labeled as “Legacy Content,” which means it is mostly assembled from previous releases. For the prequels, a majority of the Legacy Content was exclusive to the first DVD releases, while most of the original trilogy content comes from the Blu-Ray set. Most of the features that came from a DVD are in standard definition. I’ve laid out what features are attached to which film and where they could be found prior to this release [DVD or BD]. There are two bonus features in this section that have never been released before on disc.
- The Beginning (1:06:21) – This slow-paced documentary is full of handheld footage covering all aspects of production, from story and design meetings to casting, location scouting, rehearsals, costume fittings, filming and post-production. [DVD]
- The Podrace: Theatrical Edit (12:21) – This bonus feature makes its debut here. When The Phantom Menace debuted on DVD, the film was extended by 3 minutes and some of those extensions were in the Podrace sequence. It’s nice to relive this highlight of the film the original way for the first time since 1999.
- Deleted Scenes
- Trash-Talking Droids (0:26) [BD]
- Bail Organa of Alderaan (0:20) [BD]
- The Waterfall Sequence (1:47) [DVD]
- Complete Podrace Grid (7:01) [DVD]
- Battle on the Boarding Ramp (0:19) [BD]
- Anakin’s Scuffle with Greedo (0:58) [DVD]
- Anakin’s Return (0:18) [BD]
- Extended Podrace Lap Two (3:56) [DVD]
- From Puppets to Pixels: Digital Characters in Episode II (52:21) – This documentary covers the limitations of puppets and how the ILM team transitioned to more CG characters in this film. It’s mostly handheld camera footage and features the stand-ins for CG characters that the actors had to interact with. [DVD]
- State of the Art: The Pre-Visualization of Episode II (23:28) – George Lucas, Mark McCallum (producer), Ben Snow (visual effects supervisor) and Rob Coleman (animation director) talk about the virtual filmmaking used on the prequels including pre-visualization replacing storyboards and Lucas’ method of collecting shots vs. shooting entire scenes. [DVD]
- “Films Are Not Released, They Escape” (25:39) –Ben Burtt (sound designer) talks about the sounds of Episode II, including going back to his audio archives from the original trilogy and how the new sounds were achieved. [DVD]
- Episode II Visual Effects Breakdown Montage (3:32) – Playing like a music video, complex shots from the film are repeated in various stages of production (camera elements, rough animation, final animation). [DVD]
- Deleted Scenes
- Raid on the Droid Control Ship & Extended Arena Fight (3:54) [BD]
- Padme’s Parents’ House (2:19) [DVD]
- Dooku Interrogates Padme (1:01) [DVD]
- Anakin’s Nightmares (0:59) [BD]
- Jedi Temple Analysis Room (1:03) [DVD]
- Obi-Wan and Mace – Jedi Landing Platform (1:51) [DVD]
- Within a Minute: The Making of Episode III (1:18:30) – This documentary analyzes how much effort went into a single minute of the film, the climactic lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan.
- The Journey: Part 1 (7:02) – This featurette chronicles the final shot of Episode III and the family that formed on the prequel trilogy. Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Samuel L. Jackson, Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen provide interviews and it ends with fan reactions to seeing the film.
- The Journey: Part 2 (5:32) – Fans at Celebration III share their passion for Star Wars with footage of George Lucas’ Q&A from the event.
- ILM Episode III Siggraph Reel (4:05) – Another visual effects breakdown similar to the one from Episode II, also done in a music video style.
- Deleted Scenes
- Yoda Communes with Qui-Gon (0:52) [BD]
- Grievous Slaughters a Jedi/Escape from the General (2:45) [DVD]
- Seeds of Rebellion (Padme’s Appartment) (0:58) [DVD]
- Exiled to Dagobah (0:37) [DVD]
- Anakin Kills Shaak Ti (0:29) [BD]
- A Plot to Destroy the Jedi? (0:56) [DVD]
- Anatomy of a Dewback (26:16) – ILM digital artists lead this discussion about making dewbacks move for the 1997 Special Edition of A New Hope. [BD]
- Star Wars Launch Trailer (1:09) – This is the first footage audiences ever saw of Star Wars back in 1977. [DVD]
- Deleted Scenes
- Tosche Station (5:14) [BD]
- Aunt Beru’s Blue Milk (0:22)[BD]
- The Search for R2-D2 (0:35) [BD]
- Cantina Rough-Cut (7:09) [BD]
- Old Woman on Tatooine (0:16) [BD]
- Stormtrooper Search (0:46) [BD]
- Darth Vader Widens the Search (0:26) [BD]
- Alternate Biggs and Luke Reunion (0:28) [BD]
- A Conversation with the Masters: 2010 (25:11) – To celebrate the 30th anniversary, George Lucas, Irvin Kershner (director), Lawrence Kasdan (writer) and John Williams (composer) reminisce about how the second Star Wars film was made. [BD]
- Dennis Muren: How Walkers Walk (1:45) – Archival footage of the original stop-motion walker scene being filmed set to Dennis Muren explaining the process. [Previously a starwars.com exclusive]
- George Lucas on Editing The Empire Strikes Back: 1979 (3:24) – This archival interview is embedded in the surrounding menu like it was on the Blu-Ray release. [BD]
- George Lucas on the Force: 2010 (5:19) – This footage from The Clone Wars production meetings features Lucas’ explanation of how the force works. Also set in a surrounding menu from the Blu-Ray. [BD]
- Deleted Scenes
- Han and Leia: Extended Echo Base Argument (1:35) [BD]
- Wampa Attacks (2:35) [BD]
- Yoda’s Test (1:13) [BD]
- Hiding in the Asteroid (0:58) [BD]
- Alternate Han and Leia Kiss (1:51) [BD]
- Lobot’s Capture (0:49) [BD]
- Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (48:02) – Carrie Fisher and Billie Dee Williams host this 1983 documentary about the creatures in Return of the Jedi. [BD]
- Revenge of the Jedi Teaser Trailer (1:27) – The original 1982 trailer from before the name was changed. [DVD]
- Return of the Jedi Launch Trailer (1:30) – The 1983 trailer with the corrected title. [DVD]
- It Began TV Spot (0:17) – A 1983 TV ad that manages to not show a single frame from the film. [DVD]
- Climactic Chapter TV Spot (0:32) – Another TV spot with footage from the film. [DVD]
- Deleted Scenes
- Vader’s Arrival and Reaching Out to Luke (2:42) [BD]
- Tatooine Sandstorm (2:07) [BD]
- Rebel Raid on the Bunker (2:14) [BD]
- Battle of Endor: The Lost Rebels (9:32) [BD]
- Jerjerrod’s Conflict (2:20) [BD]
The bonus features are presented differently depending on which provider you choose. iTunes offers a simple menu for each film with John Williams score accompanying poster art. iTunes is the only provider that offers a menu, similar to what you would find on a DVD or Blu-Ray. On iTunes, Google Play and Disney Movies Anywhere, each deleted scene is offered separately, whereas Vudu combines them into one package (they also combine both parts of “The Journey”). This is handy if you prefer to play them all at once, but irksome if you are trying to access one specific deleted scene.
The main reason to buy any of the Star Wars films digitally should be to own the films in a medium that can easily travel with you. They look as good as they can in a compact digital file and you will look so cool watching Star Wars on your next flight to the Endor Moon. The newly produced bonus features are very well done and the assortment of previously available bonuses are a welcome addition. However, the exclusion of some previously available deleted scenes is bizarre. There are also odd inconsistencies with the bonus features offered for each film (trailers for only two films, many missing documentaries, no commentaries, etc…). The price is a little high ($89.99 for all six or $19.99 individually) and this surely isn’t the last time these films will be made available digitally. But if you love all things Star Wars and want/need access to these films everywhere you go, you won’t be disappointed. May the force be with you.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.