Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray box set pictures and hands-on
Yep, it's here! Literally. We have in our possession the Blu-ray box set of Star Wars: The Complete Saga, and we've been as giddy as a schoolchild on half a lager shandy. That's not to say it isn't flawed, of course - there's glaring omissions (the original, original trilogy, for starters) and further unwelcome additions ("Noooooooooo!") - however, it's finally out on Blu-ray, something we've wanted for, like, ever.
And, on the whole, we're impressed. Well, as impressed as anybody can be after a 25-minute unboxing and brief scan through a few of the discs.
That's why this is not a review. It's not intended to be a review, and don't, therefore, mistake it for one. We have only scratched the surface of the set (although, not literally, or else that'd be £60 down the pan), so this is only intended to give you a little insight into one of the most sought-after Blu-ray releases of all time. After all, you may not have ordered yours yet, or are American (it's not out until Friday 16 September over there)...
Apart from the previews we'd already seen at a couple of events, we've now had an up close look at the podrace from Episode I: Phantom Menace, the scenes in Episode IV: A New Hope where Princess Leia loads R2D2 with her message for Obi Wan Kenobi and Luke et al visit Mos Eisley Spaceport, and the attack of the AT-AT Walkers in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
To be honest, for the purposes of a quick look, it'd be a waste of time checking out Episodes II and III as they were both shot digitally, so will undoubtedly have the best transfers (although don't quote us on that, as we haven't seen them yet), but Episode I can't be far behind them; it looks stunning. Its only problem is that, with the podrace moving like the clappers it's hard to make out real definition, but it did help with another part of our fleeting test; audio.
Spatially, there may not be much more going on than on the original Dolby Digital 5.1 mix found on the DVD box set (bar an extra discrete rear channel), but the DTS Master Audio 6.1 has an extra air of clarity about it that only a lossless format can provide.
The soundtracks of the original trilogy discs are also in DTS Master Audio 6.1, offering new mixes that, while wide and bombastic, may yet again upset purists as the originals were rendered in stereo 2.0. And there are no stereo options offered on the Blu-ray discs whatsoever, unlike their DVD counterparts.
Video should please, though. While obviously sporting film grain throughout, the picture quality of A New Hope is superb. Indeed, it is almost too good, with some side effects of being rendered in high definition. One is clearly seen during the aforementioned R2D2 scene at the beginning. As C3PO is looking for his short, rotund friend you can see that the backdrop through a door is actually a projection screen, and a marked one at that.
Having checked out the same scene on the DVD version, it's also possible to see the line that runs from the bottom of the screen to the halfway point, but it's far less obvious.
Another foible of the 1920 x 1080 transfer is that dodgy CGI does not hold up well. Watch the Mos Eisley Starport sequence and everything that was added for the Special Edition version of the film looks horribly pasted on top. We wouldn't be surprised if even more jiggery pokery was undertaken with A New Hope before its 3D debut.
The Empire Strikes Back fares better. Bad SFX is still exacerbated when edges have been sharpened and pixels are more defined, but at least - in the AT-AT Walker sequence at least - it's the original effects, so there's a kitchish charm about them.
Other than that, normal shots, such as interiors, look incredible... Almost as good as their much more recent counterparts. From our brief samples, it truly looks as if our favourite movie of the six has come out trumps on picture performance too.
Obviously, with such a major release, The Complete Saga box set is not just about the movies, and there are three discs containing stacks and stacks of extras.
Apart from commentaries, the main movie discs are free of bonuses, so two of the extra discs contain the material you'd often find on a general release; picture galleries, specific interviews, etc. But it is the third bonus Blu-ray that offers the most, in our opinion. We haven't had time to watch much of the material, other than skip through it and glance at a few minutes, but there a host of full-length in-depth documentaries and, our favourite bit, spoofs of Star Wars taken from TV shows and the Internet, such as Robot Chicken, Saturday Night Live and the 3-year-old girl who attempts to describe the whole of A New Hope.
It's excellent stuff, and we can see ourselves watching all of this specific disc back to back.
As for the box, it's a box... You do get a pamphlet with drawings from each of the films and a list of all the extras, so that's something. Plus, in our box, we got a limited edition carded Star Wars Senitype containing a replica 35mm film frame showing the lightsaber duel between Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker from the end of Revenge of the Sith. However, as this was advertised as an extra for pre-ordering from Amazon (as we did), we're not sure if that's an exclusive to that retailer or not.
As our limited edition individual number is in the hundreds of thousands, we suspect not.
Certainly, quibbles and nervous anticipation aside, from what we've seen so far, we're happy with the wealth of content Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray box set offers, and the picture quality ranges from good to fricking amazing. Audiowise, there have been no better versions available either (unless you're a stereo purist).
Now all that's needed is to sit down and watch the trilogies in their entirety. Let's hope they make us say "Yay" more often than "Noooooooooooooo".
Have you managed to check out the Blu-ray box set yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...