Monday, September 26, 2011

"Star Wars" on Blu-Ray: Disc #9 – The “Star Wars” Documentaries and Spoofs – That’s no moon…that’s a Blu-Ray Disc!

As explained in this post, I’m reviewing the Star Wars Blu-Ray set disc-by-disc, and today, we finish out the set with the third of three bonus feature discs, this one containing numerous documentaries from throughout the franchise’s lifespan – including the long-awaited feature about Star Wars cosplayers! (okay, maybe not so much…) I’ll go through all the included features and give you my thoughts on their quality, organization, etc.

Review of Disc #9 – The “Star Wars” Documentaries, coming up after the jump… 

On the whole, this is probably the most disappointing disc in the set.  Don’t take that too negatively – there’s an awful lot of material here, and much of it is wonderful, a valuable part of the Star Wars experience.  At the same time, however, the quantity doesn’t always equal quality, and that only becomes more apparent when one looks at the wealth of documentaries not included here.  For example: Kevin Burns’ spectacular Empire of Dreams, produced for the 2004 DVD release and probably the best documentary ever made about the creation of the original trilogy, is nowhere to be found.  The masterful The Beginning doc from the original “Episode I” DVD is missing, as well as Within a Minute from “Episode III.”  In fact, none of the extensive Prequel Trilogy bonus material can be found here, and there’s a lot more than just Empire of Dreams missing for the original films.

Oh well.  I would have liked to consolidate all my Star Wars home video purchases in this one Blu-Ray set, but instead I’ll have to keep all of my old DVDs.  That’s a bit of a drag, and I feel especially bad for viewers who never had a chance to see the features I listed above, which are quite frankly better than most of the material found on this disc.

But as I said earlier, there’s still a lot to enjoy on this Disc, even though I have to begin discussing these features with a rant.  One of the main selling points for the Blu-Ray set in advertisements is the collection of “Star Wars Spoofs” found on this disc.  Indeed, the disc itself gives the spoofs huge prominence, as the main menu is split into two options: “Documentaries,” where the majority of the material is housed, and “Star Wars Spoofs.”  I can say with complete confidence that the Spoofs are the lesser of the two options.

Don’t get me wrong: like any Star Wars fan with a sense of humor, I love a good parody; hell, the Robot Chicken Star Wars episodes are some of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.  A light-hearted collection of parodies isn’t a bad idea in theory, just a fluffy one.  It’s the execution that destroys this particular feature.  All of the spoofs – ranging from Weird Al’s “Saga Begins” music video to Robot Chicken, Family Guy, Saturday Night Live, How I Met Your Mother, and That 70s Shows clips to YouTube videos – are played consecutively, one after another, with no logical arrangement, no narration or introduction to give context, etc.  Many of the clips aren’t even ‘spoofs.’  The HIMYM clip merely consists of Ted and Marshall talking about Star Wars.  Truly, the paramount of insightful satire. 

The construction and organization is lazy, but it wouldn’t be so bad if there were some sort of scene selection menu to allow the viewer to access any clip at will.  There isn’t.  There are chapter stops, but only at arbitrary points – one chapter may consist of five or six clips, so the viewer can’t navigate between spoofs.  You either watch beginning to end – roughly 95 minutes in all – or you don’t watch at all.  I choose to turn it off after Weird Al’s music video, a comedic masterpiece that justifies the existence of “Episode I.”  It’s all downhill from there.

So the ‘Spoofs’ are a tremendous waste of time.  The actual Documentaries, luckily, are for the most part worth your time.

The first three are all vintage television documentaries originally released alongside the theatrical debuts of the original trilogy.  The Making of Star Wars (1977, 49 minutes), hosted by R2-D2 and C-3PO, is exactly what it sounds like: a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the film.  The Empire Strikes Back: SPFX (1980, 48 minutes), hosted by Mark Hamill, explores not only the special effects of the second Star Wars movie, but also the history of visual effects up to that point in film history.  Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (1983, 48 Minutes) covers the creation of the film’s monsters and aliens, again in the context of film history and monster movies. 

I was really quite impressed with these documentaries.  We’ve all seen videos like this before, scratchy old pieces from TV where a kindly narrator guides us along.  I was bracing myself for the worst, since those pieces tend to be wholly free of substance, but these documentaries are actually very informative, at times fascinating.  The first one gives us lots of vintage on-set footage, as well as interviews with people we couldn’t talk to today, like the late Alec Guinness; the second and third present more of this, as well as an interesting look at where the then-modern technical advances of Star Wars fit within film history up to that point.  Most importantly, these documentaries give us a perspective we simply can’t have on Star Wars in modern times: the perspective of those who created the movies way back in the very moment when they were made.  Modern interviews and documentaries can be fascinating, but they sometimes don’t have the same weight or authenticity as something plucked straight out of history.  All three of these features are well worth a watch.

Next is Anatomy of a Dewback (1997, 26 minutes), which I couldn’t watch because my TV didn’t like how the PS3 handled the signal for this bit of content.  In lieu of commentary, here’s what the “Guide to the Galaxy” has to say about the feature: See how some of the special effects in Star Wars became even more special two decades later!  George Lucas explains and demonstrates how his team transformed the original dewback creatures from immovable rubber puppets…to seemingly living, breathing creatures for the 1997 Special Edition update.  Oy.  I don’t know if I could sit through 26 minutes of Lucas explaining how awful CGI makes Star Wars better; especially on Blu-Ray, those Dewbacks look really bad.

After this we have Star Warriors (2007, 84 minutes), a feature-length documentary about the 501st legion, a “global organization of Star Wars costume enthusiasts.”  This one isn’t exactly my cup of tea, especially at eighty-four minutes, but it’s a lot more interesting than I anticipated.  Some of these people do have awesome Star Wars collections, and those Stormtrooper costumes are awfully accurate.  At the end of the day, it’s nice for Lucasfilm to have included a piece about the Star Wars community, which has become just as vast as the Star Wars universe itself.  Maybe if the theatrical editions ever get a Blu-Ray release, we can get a documentary about online petitioning! 

Star Wars Tech (2007, 46 minutes) is a TV presentation – though presented in full HD – where “leading scientists in the fields of physics, prosthetics, lasers, engineering and astronomy …examine the plausibility of Star Wars technology based on science as we know it today.”  This is another very cool feature, especially if you’ve ever found yourself curious about the possibility of ever handling a real lightsaber.  The best portion is the discussion of how Darth Vader would exist in real life; oddly enough, he’s a fairly medically accurate creation.

But the best documentary is saved for last: A Conversation With the Masters: The Empire Strikes Back 30 Years Later (2010, 25 minutes) is a four-way interview with director Irvin Kershner, George Lucas, writer Lawrence Kasdan, and John Williams (all recorded separately).  As the title suggests, they discuss the masterpiece sequel, and I was so excited to see this that it was actually the first thing I watched when I bought the set on September 16th.  As expected, it’s wonderful.  This was Kershner’s last interview before his death, which makes it a bit emotional to watch, but he’s just as bright and insightful as ever.  Somehow, he and the others still had new anecdotes to share about the making of the movie; even the most die-hard Star Wars fans will learn something.  Lucas is surprisingly candid about his own strengths and weaknesses, Kasdan contributes some great discussion of the narrative, and watching John Williams is a real treat.  Williams so rarely does interviews, but I love it when he does, because he speaks of music like a scholar – he doesn’t water it down, he treats his work and the audience’s intelligence with dignity.  All told, this is one of the simplest, best features ever made about the brilliance of “Empire,” and my favorite documentary on the disc.

Add it to the three vintage documentaries, and you’ve got at least four outstanding features.  Apart from the spoofs, everything else on the disc works fairly well, and if viewers ever feel like tearing their eyes away from Disc 8’s Boba Fett cartoon – hard, I know – there’s a lot to enjoy here.  I just wish it was a more complete archive of Star Wars documentaries.


All good things must come to an end, and tomorrow, I’ll be wrapping this mammoth review up with my final thoughts about the set.  Until then, may the force be with you…

No comments:

Post a Comment