Home > Rants, Reviews > Special Review: “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (Blu-Ray Edition)

Special Review: “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (Blu-Ray Edition)

Han shot first!

Last week should’ve been a special week for geeks across the world. Star Wars, both the original and the prequel trilogies, was released on Blu-Ray. The announcement, made almost a year before the actual release, made the wait unbearable. And yet, the promise of a brand new, high definition restoration of the films was cast into shadow — the dreadful sense within every fan as they held their breath and braced themselves for the inevitable betrayal as they sheepishly asked aloud, “Which versions?” And inevitably, as millions of Star Wars fans cried out in terror, the details finally came out into the light: These weren’t the films fans were looking for…

How does he even fit in there, now?! Click to see more changes at ScreenRant.com

You would think fans would be used to this by now. 1997 was the year Lucas released the first of what would be many more revamps of the classic saga in order to bring it more in line with what was then the upcoming prequel trilogy and with what George Lucas’ claimed to be his “original vision” for the films, blaming the lack of funding and technology at the time for the “necessary” revamps he’s done since.

While the internet is still all a flurry with raving fans denouncing the changes to this latest release, I do need to point out that not all of the changes have been that bad. Aside from fixing some glaring errors that really shouldn’t have been there in the first place (inconsistent lightsaber colors, transparent HUD in The Empire Strikes Back). As alternative versions, the 1997 “Special Editions,” as they were called, were a fun, if unnecessary, way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the films by giving them a few new computer effects here and a few deleted scenes there. Nothing completely horrible. … Well, except for one deceptively minute change.

Ever heard of “Han shot first”?

If you’re unfamiliar, that’s not some new catchphrase from the films fans are tossing about. It’s become a sort of mantra for fans who continuously feel betrayed by Lucas’ now constant tinkering with the trilogy, only to make it worse with each go.

The scene in dispute is the one below, presented in its original form:

As you can see from the user-added annotations, this is kind of a hot topic. They even want you to boycott the new Blu-Rays! Why? Well, consider the staging of this scene and the characters involved. Despite being an alien planet, this is clearly in the same vein as a Western, and Han Solo is totally the cowboy here, only substitute the word “cowboy” for “space pirate.” Now, just follow with me on this, okay? Greedo, the alien, is a bounty hunter and is coming to collect. In the original version, Han isn’t having any of it and quickly dispatches Greedo before he has a chance to, yes, shoot first. This is called “character development,” and is something that Lucas has completely forgotten about as of late.

Exhibit A: A version of the scene from one of the Special Editions:

Yes, Han now shoots in retaliation. The smuggler is now apparently equitable to that of a cop, which changes the whole dynamic. The loss of Han’s inhibitions has cut short his development into a hero to what is essentially the first scene he’s in. It also renders Greedo a fool with absolutely hideous aim! And then there’s the stupid, jerky-looking post-process animation they did on Han. Twice they have re-edited this scene, and it always looks ridiculous because that unnatural movement they’ve been forcing in was just not intended to be there in the first place and shouldn’t be now. And this is just one of the several grievances fans have had with every home release for the past 14 years, with each version angering fans more and more.

So where does that leave us with this new, HD release? Fans really should’ve braced themselves for the worst and expected more changes. Lucas has become an infamous perfectionist and can’t seem to stop tinkering with his work. In the latest version Han still no longer shoots first, but it looks as though he’s at least attempted to find a happy medium with fans now that Greedo doesn’t really, either. They’ve basically dropped a few frames and sped up Greedo’s shot so that it now looks as though it was a quickdraw situation. Overall, I can’t say that it’s not an improvement over the previous revisions, and it keeps in line with the wild west style, but, still, why did it need to be done in the first place?

Outside of this, the picture quality is generally pretty fantastic and is probably the best it’s looked since, probably, its original release (I obviously wouldn’t know having not been born). IN fact, the new HD transfer is so good that there were a few times when I realized that some of the energy they’ve been putting into changes would have probably helped out in a few glaringly obvious scenes, and I’d argue that the changes needed really would have amounted to actual, helpful clean up rather than revisionism. For example, some of the weird graphical tics on lightsabers, such as flickering lighting and erratic blade structure, and some weird, red tinting around TIE Figthers that fly by the windows of the Millenium Falcon really stand out in HD, and more so in contrast to the newer digital effects inserted, some of which I’d actually defend as being completely justified (fixing awkward . Perhaps they wouldn’t have been so glaringly noticeable had they given fans the choice of the original version, but, alas, I doth protest too much. Speaking of digital effects, there are scenes where it looks as though the computer effects from 1997 haven’t been updated at all. The newly added wamprats running around Tatooine in particular look horribly low quality now and have aged worse than anything else. Why they didn’t bother at least updating the texture resolution and smudgy image quality on those elements is beyond me.

I keep harping on these problems, but the fact is, that’s only because this is really one of the most entertaining movies of all time. I really don’t know what is left to say about this series, other than the fact that it is pretty much essential viewing for anyone who has any taste in good film and has a love for adventurous stories. Even with all of the additions and issues I have with the newer editions, most of the time I found myself still enjoying the movie immensely and admiring all the work that went into establishing this ever expanding universe. The first film is too often placed in the shadow of its follow up, The Empire Strikes Back, and I’m here to say that, while ESB is technically the best in the series, the first is still probably the most fun. The actors may not have had faith in the project while they were filming it, but they sure managed to make this potentially silly world come alive and feel authentic and yet fantastic all at once, something that the prequels failed to balance in almost every way.

Perhaps one of the funniest scenes in the entire series.

I’m still not convinced I should buy the films on Blu-Ray just yet. I’d totally accept them as a gift, and maybe if they were sold at a very good price (whatever that may be justified as at the time, I guess), but a part of me is convinced that they’ll release another edition, just as they did with the 2006 “Limited Edition” release that had both the 2004 DVD revision and the original 70s/80s versions (albeit in poor quality, non-anamorphic widescreen format, classing it as a second-class special feature). Until then, though, if you don’t have any prior editions, or if you just HAVE to have them in HD, no matter what, I’d totally recommend getting this. It’s still a fantastic movie. It’s just more flawed than it ever was before. And that’s a shame. Had we been given a choice between a “Special HD Edition” and a “Original HD Remaster,” as with the Blade Runner 5-version(!) sets, this wouldn’t have been an issue with fans, and Lucas would have still gotten to do all his revisions. Perhaps we would have even embraced them, too. But the fact remains that Lucas seems to want to blot out all previous versions by not giving us this choice. Of course, with Lucas having already announced years ago that the process of re-releasing all six films in 3D has already begun, the next box set to be released is likely going to be a 3D edition. Putting the original versions in with those versions will likely start feeling like holding them ransom by that point.

Yes, I have a bad feeling about this…

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5 (for the groundwork film), 3 / 5 (for the 2011 edition treatment)


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