Remaster Class: Star Wars

Enthralling in every way a movie can be, George Lucas' Star Wars (retconned as Episode IV: A New Hopein 1981) is simply one of the greatest achievements to ever hit the screen. A wildly imaginative yet classically inspired adventure, it has been entertaining audiences—and spawning prequels, sequels and spinoffs—since 1977. Back then, fans desperate to watch even a few scenes at home turned to Super 8, either the various highlight reels or the hand-cranked Kenner "MovieViewer" film cassettes. Not until May of 1982 would the pricey Twentieth Century-Fox "Video Rental Library" VHS/Beta videotape version arrive, with copies individually serial-numbered to control their distribution before the movie was allowed to be sold outright that September.

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1982 Video Rental Library VHS Videotape

The first U.S. laserdisc release that same year had pan-and-scan troubles that didn't merely spoil the lovely compositions but actually cut off entire characters, leaving bizarre "dead" frames. The HBO presentation around this same time used a different master, with at least one shot alternatively squeezed to fit more of the 2.39:1 frame into the 4:3 box. The time-compressed CLV pan-and-scan disc also jammed the 121-minute movie onto only two sides/one platter. Tweaks ensued (CAV discs for freeze frames, PCM digital stereo), but the first widescreen home release was a Japanese import laserdisc, the image intentionally high on the screen to accommodate the Japanese subtitles below. A re-centered CBS-Fox "Special Widescreen Laserdisc" that followed here in the states had at least two letterboxing gaffes. In the first, the top edge of the lower black bar rises to accommodate Greedo's subtitles on side one, and then never returns to the proper position. The same happens again before the final space battle on side two, ultimately yielding an aspect ratio near 2.55:1. After the label changed to simply Fox, the letterboxing problems were fixed and the color was greatly improved as well.

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1993 Star Wars Trilogy Definitive Collection Laserdisc Box

THX remasters debuted in the massive nine-disc CAV "Definitive Collection" box. Problematic noise-reduction technology of the era, missing footage, and disappointing extras aside, this was a high-water mark—and a reminder of how good these wonderful films could look and sound. The soundtrack has always been something of a work in progress, with numerous refinements over the years made by original sound designer Ben Burtt, some of which caused certain lines of dialogue to either appear or disappear.

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2004 Star Wars Trilogy DVD Box

The THX remasters were later sold as single movies on CLV discs. These were touted as the last time the Star Wars trilogy would be available in its initial form, before the theatrical premiere of the Special Editions changed everything in the winter of 1997. The reduxes, which incorporate a series of creative modifications, were now the only official versions as far as Lucasfilm was concerned, and they landed later that year in a Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition laserdisc set that featured the first-ever Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. That same set was "upgraded" to Dolby Digital 5.1 EX for the 2004 DVD box, but the soundtrack changes unfortunately introduced dialogue quality issues, along with the incorrect channeling of John Williams' hallowed music.

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2006 Episode IV — A New Hope Limited Edition DVD

Drastic recoloring and further alterations met with fan outcry, which then led to something truly amazing: The 2006 "Limited Edition" individual reissue of Star Wars included a second disc of the unaltered 1977 theatrical rendition, marking the first and only home video release without the addition of "Episode IV"/"A New Hope." Yes, this release was non-anamorphic and sourced from an old laserdisc master, but it looked better owing to the DVD format's higher quality. For the 2011 Blu-ray releases, Matthew Wood, Burtt's Skywalker Sound successor, brought clarity and power to the DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 remix while addressing the DVD flaws. The same 2K/10-bit video source used for the DVDs was tapped again for the Blu-rays, which featured additional extra content plus quality "enhancements."

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2011 The Complete Saga Blu-ray Box

For the 2020 Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray disc release, recent archival scans of the film elements were combined with the digitally native Special Edition visual effects as well as other changes, with great care taken to approximate a seamless whole. Wood's accompanying Dolby Atmos remix is spacious while remaining faithful to the original soundtrack. In a rapidly evolving media climate where this might well be the final physical release, Star Wars ends on a high note, as the never-duplicated level of sonic and visual craftsmanship that helped make this masterpiece so damned enjoyable is allowed to shine as never before.

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2020 Episode IV — A New Hope Ultra HD Blu-ray

COMMENTS
Bosshog7_2000's picture

If the Star wars series was good for anything it was squeezing every last penny out of fans over decades of slow, late releases of modern media.

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