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Friday, November 04, 2005

Review of the Revenge of the Sith DVD

I've had a few days to play around with the Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith DVD. Well, the REAL one anyway, not the unlabelled DVD that wound up arriving here back in June that turned out to contain Episode III, in surprisingly good quality too. It even had a crude menu system. That one is forever going to be a curious item in my collection: I've never had a bootleg copy of a movie before. It ain't the one that's going to be shown and shared with my children someday though. That honor belongs to the real DVD, which is now sitting nicely between Episodes II and IV of the complete collection on my shelf.

So, how is it? I'd give the Revenge of the Sith DVD a score of 8 out of 10, with a few things keeping it from being totally perfect in my opinion. The first has nothing to do with the DVD itself: it's where I purchased it from. Wal-Mart is packaging Episode III with a "bonus" disc, "The Story of Star Wars". What's NOT being said very much is that this isn't a freebie: the extra disc tacks on an extra four or five bucks to the cost of Episode III. I watched this disc and though it does a fairly good job of synopsizing the stories of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, I was rather disappointed in it. The details from the third prequel are prominently absent: Threepio mumbles something about not being allowed to talk about the REAL details of what made Anakin turn into Darth Vader. If you're a completist collector you'll probably want this disc, but in retrospect I would have been perfectly happy to buy Revenge of the Sith by itself from somewhere else like Target, which packages a nice collector's coin in with its DVD. "The Story of Star Wars" just wasn't worth the extra money, I have to say.

Disc 1 of the set contains the actual movie, and it's a beautiful and vivid transfer (easily two or three times that of the bootleg I received months ago). English Dolby 5.1 Surround and Dolby Surround 2.0 are available, as is the option to watch it with French and Spanish audio. You can select to watch Episode III with commentary by George Lucas and a few other Episode III production notables. Ever since The Phantom Menace came out on DVD there's been a pretty high bar set so far as the the quality of these discs go, and Episode III meets or exceeds that easily.

What I really like about Disc 1 though is its DVD-ROM capabilities. If you have a DVD drive in your computer, you can access a special section of the StarWars.com website that will display either the script as the movie plays, or various production notes and bits of lore from the movie. Ever since first doing this with the Attack of the Clones disc a few years ago, I've really liked this feature. If you ever wanted to know what kind of ship that Obi-Wan flees Utapau in or who that blue-skinned guy in the hat at the opera house is (it's George Lucas by the way) or who built what miniature set, this feature is for you.

Disc 2 contains the special features, including the much-anticipated deleted scenes. The one everyone wanted to see has got to be the stunning (albeit short) scene of Yoda arriving on Dagobah for his self-imposed exile. I can kinda understand why Lucas left this out of the final cut, because we do know where Yoda winds up later on in The Empire Strikes Back. What I can't understand being left on the cutting room floor are a couple of scenes that show some of the political backstory of Episode III, including one that has Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, Padme and a few others (including one of my favorite characters, Fang Zar) forming what would later become the Rebel Alliance. Establishing Mon Mothma here as the Rebellion's founder would have been a perfect set-up for when she reappears in Return of the Jedi. Why this was left out, I've no idea... but it's still nice to see it here.

The documentaries make up the bulk of Disc 2. My favorite was "Within A Minute": taking one minute from the Obi-Wan/Anakin duel on Mustafar and dissecting it apart to discover EVERYTHING that went into making that one minute of film possible, from the script stage to concept art, to stunt training and filming, and finally post-production putting it all together. What I especially like about "Within A Minute" is that it credits EVERYONE that worked to make this minute of action - and the rest of the film - come together. "The Chosen One" is a shorter work that delves into the mythos of Anakin's transformation into Vader and his ultimate redemption. "It's All For Real" focuses on the stuntwork of Episode III. The disc also includes all of the online video documentaries that had previously been made available during Episode III's production to members of the StarWars.com paid Hyperspace service. All of the movie's promotional trailers and TV spots are also collected here.

If you have an Xbox you can insert Disc 2 and play a demo for the new Star Wars Battlefront II game. It took several minutes for the disc to load up some info into the system, after which play could begin. I controlled a clonetrooper during a battle on Utapau. I never played the original Battlefront so I don't know how this compares to that, but I thought it was okay.

I found this to be a good 2-disc set, but there were some things lacking with this release of Revenge of the Sith, in my opinion. You've probably heard of the "dancing Yoda" easter egg already, but otherwise this DVD seems terribly bereft of any hidden features. The DVDS of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had hilarious outtake reels that you could watch, along with some of the visual gags that the ILM crew came up with during production (remember the 200 MPH sandcrawler on the Episode I disc?). There's none of that here that I've been able to find, and the REALLY upsetting thing about it is that I know that there were some hilarious gags that were done for Episode III: the DVD-ROM content makes mention of several, and I've seen a few myself, like the clonetrooper holding Jar Jar's severed head. Unless you happened to catch that at Star Wars Celebration III, you might never get to laugh at seeing that. Things like that would have been perfect on the Revenge of the Sith DVD, but they're not there, apparently. Maybe someday Lucasfilm will release a DVD containing ALL the crazy things that have happened during the production of the Star Wars movies, and those jokes will get their day in the sun. I'd sure be the first one with cash in hand at the local Best Buy to get that.

All in all though, I'm pretty happy with the DVD release of Revenge of the Sith. It's wonderful to have all six films lined up in sequential order, to be enjoyed with family and friends for years to come. There was no better way to have ended the run of Star Wars movies that we've had for going on thirty years now than how George Lucas did it here, and apart from some minor qualms this was a good way to finish the DVD collection.


Chad said...

Nice review, Chris. I haven't delved into all the features yet. I'll have to give the DVD-ROM features a try. When you wanna watch 'em all in sequence?

Chris Knight said...

Let's try sometime over the holidays maybe. I think Lisa may be up for watching 'em ALL in a row too :-) We're definitely gonna spend a day watching The Lord of the Rings: that's our lil' family Christmas tradition.