Star Wars Blu-rays: Why fans should accept it and move on
Back on May 4th, Lucasfilm announced the details and release date of the full Blu-ray collection of the Star Wars saga. Fans were split: some of them were angry that their favourite bonus features were being left out; some were indifferent, claiming that the release was pointless; others were legitimately excited (an insignificant minority, I'm sure). Home releases of the Star Wars films have long sparked intense debates amongst fans, ever since the 1997 Special Edition of the first trilogy.
But why? Why do Lucasfilm’s marketing decisions inspire such strife? Is Lucasfilm really to blame? Today I’m going to dig into this issue, and explain why I’m torn about the Star Wars Blu-rays – and why it may not be all Lucasfilm’s fault (as fans are wont to claim). Read on after the break!
First off, let’s look at exactly what is being released on September 16th. The Star Wars website extols the wonders of the Blu-ray collection, celebrating the “pristine” 6.1 DTS Surround Sound, the “gorgeous high-definition” available on the new discs. In the nine-disc collection, you get each of the six movies on their own disc, complete with audio commentaries.
Then there are two discs of “Archives”: deleted and alternate scenes, FX and costume tests, concept art and interviews. On the last disc is a suite of EIGHT documentaries (some feature-length), on topics ranging from creature design, special effects or general behind-the-scenes investigations. That is a LOT of material. Sound like the definitive set?
Wrong! At the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo in April, Steve Sansweet (the Director of Content Management and Head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm) described the September Blu-ray set thusly: “We have been at work for a couple of years working on - I won't call it the Ultimate Set because we keep finding stuff - but a very full set of all six movies on Blu-ray with lots of extra material.” This angered fans: they wanted a definitive release, with some kind of guarantee that there would never be anything else added. Ever.
This doesn’t make any sense. Why would any production company lock down a release as the final version? Firstly, as long as there are uninvented media formats (like the DVDs, Blu-rays, streaming video before them), a company like Lucasfilm would never banish the concept of releases with more material. Who knows, maybe in five years they’ll be able to include digital holograms of costumes as a bonus feature. I know I’d like to go all Iron Man inside a hologram C-3PO!
Secondly, some fans are likely unaware of just how much stuff lies in the Lucasfilm archives. Sure, you might not want to see it all, but someone will. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly: the money! The sheer piles of cash! Why would a company ever turn down millions in revenue? To the angry fans: Stop turning up your nose at the idea that Lucasfilm wants to make money off of you. They’ve been doing it for YEARS. What’s another hundred bucks?
With all that cynicism out of the way, there was something else about this issue I wanted to explore. It comes down to our very existence as fans of one of the most recognizable and enduring film franchises ever. If you’re a die-hard fan of Star Wars, you’ll want to have the latest release, for fear of missing out on some cultural milestone that the other versions don’t have.
Less intense fans might be content with their last DVD or even VHS set, but even I like the idea of having another pretty box (with added features I may never view) to add to my library. If that’s the case, then we should be upfront with ourselves about we’re getting in this Blu-ray release.
So, 6.1 channel audio? Hmm, I can take it or leave it. I get 5.1 audio on my current DVDs, and I doubt having one more speaker (which I don’t own) pumping out FX or that awesome music will be worth the purchase. “High definition”? Not really. The original films weren’t shot in HD, so you’ll be seeing the 2004 digital restoration as sharply as your HDTV can manage, but the actual shots aren’t in HD (I won't even get into whether the majority of people can identify an HD picture).
Therefore, the purchase decision comes down to three things: the bonus features (Personally, I’m already well-steeped in the production details), the packaging (it’s as good as it can be, but does it really matter?) and (here’s the real selling point) the ability to say you have the Blu-ray set.
That’s what it really comes down to, isn’t it? Be honest – if you really cared about the audiovisual quality of the films that much, then you’d be volunteering to do your own restoration of the prints. No, it’s going be the prestige of having the set that does it for you. Don’t get me wrong – I’m always buying new versions of films on DVD, or replacing titles I used on own on VHS. I have both the theatrical and extended versions of The Lord of the Rings. How often do I watch through all the extra stuff on these purchases? Hardly ever. But I have them if I want them! Just so you know.
That’s what’s really behind all this. No fan likes the idea that they don’t have every significant “trophy” from their favourite franchise. Just when their collection is complete, the company makes something else. Frustrating, I know, but such is the life of fans. We keep companies like Lucasfilm in the black because we can’t go without another few frames of concept art on the latest disc. Better accept it and start saving up. Now, where did I put my remote-control R2-D2?
Check out my other film commentary articles below, and share your thoughts! Will you buy the set, or are you abstaining from the latest Lucasfilm release?