Star Wars: A New Hope DVD Review

Every time someone watches "Star Wars" it becomes a part of them. These films affect people in a way almost no other movie could. They have created their own culture, one bound by rules someone outside of the nearly cult-like institution could never hope to comprehend. It's not just something the United States is caught in either. These films have taken over people's lives worldwide. It's pretty impressive considering this is a story that might have stayed inside one man's head forever.

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy.

"A New Hope" is different than the other films in this trilogy. It's a cheaper production, the studio relentlessly cracking down on Lucas to get it finished. The big budgets allocated to the next two films were unimaginable at this point and the marketing onslaught had yet to emerge. It is also the only film in the entire series so far that can stand on its own, not relying on what has come before or after. This is George Lucas' dream.

And a dream is what appears on screen from the brilliant opening text crawl to the final celebration ceremony. Setting a standard for special effects that would be a benchmark in Hollywood until CG would take over, "Star Wars" is a masterpiece of science fiction, drama, and action. The first jaw-dropping sequence in the film, the Star Destroyer chasing down the small rebel cruiser, is a monumental piece of model work. Scenes of Tie Fighters swerving throughout the screen, evading what seems like hundreds of lasers and opposing ships at the same time, is still a remarkable achievement.

The film is also perfectly cast. It is almost impossible to imagine anyone else in these roles today. The imposing Darth Vader (James Earl Jones providing the voice) is a flawless, wicked being, one the audience instantly hates after boarding the rebel ship. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is perfect as a leader, holding her ground in the face of a certain death. Viewers are split on Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the galaxy-traveling smuggler with a short-tempered Wookie by his side. Luke (Mark Hamill) is obviously the every-kid here, appealing to both the adults and children, something that didn't work so well in "Episode I" with young Anakin.

Included on the DVD is yet another edition of the classic, one that is tweaked yet again, but just slightly. Han and Greedo now shoot at the same time, a compromise of sorts to hopefully silence those who have argued for far too long. Jabba the Hut has been touched up with the latest in CG technology, a remarkable improvement over what was once a cringe-worthy sequence when it was initially inserted. Elsewhere, any scene with a lightsaber has been either enhanced or fixed for the better and a few other effects sequences have been touched up as well (such as the speeder entering into Mos Eisley).

Critiquing this film is utterly useless. This almost flawless piece of cinema has been analyzed, studied, ripped apart, and discussed likely more times than any other in Hollywood history. Even if by some chance this film is not a personal favorite, there is absolutely no denying its place in the annals of film history. (***** out of *****)

"Star Wars" affects everyone differently the first time they see it. Watching it on the confines of a standard TV set in pan & scan is not the way to do it. That's why we now have DVD. Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen (and sadly, a separate pan & scan version is available), "Episode IV" looks just incredible. The color is by far the most stunning part of this latest restoration, made even better by the contrast from the deep black levels. Compression issues are minor and acceptable and grain is never a problem. Only some of the finer detail wreaks havoc on the resolution, something that is only caused by this generation of DVD. It's no fault of the people responsible for this immaculate presentation. (*****)

Already people have made some noise about this new 5.1 Surround EX mix and their complaints are, for the most part, valid. Numerous action scenes drown out the memorable John Williams score, but on the plus side, these actions scenes have never sounded better. Dialogue problems begin early, especially when Han Solo first makes an appearance. His words sound scratchy and slightly washed out, while Luke and Obi-Wan sound just fine. A few of these moments are annoying, but it is likely the original masters are to blame and not the mix. Other scenes include wonderful ambience (the cantina is just awesome) and the LFE channel gets a workout during the multiple explosions. Besides the minor issues, this movie now sounds better than it did back during the theatrical re-release in 1997. (****)

Each disc in this set includes an individual commentary track. "A New Hope" gets George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher. Lucas carries the track for the most part and it's odd that Mark Hamill doesn't make an appearance. The rest of the features are over on the fourth disc. (**)

Whether or not you purchase this DVD set or hold out and continue signing online petitions to get the original versions released on the format is obviously a personal choice. But, be aware that this is a startlingly good set (and disc), one that will likely only be matched by the HD-DVD format whenever it finally emerges. There is hardly any reason to wait. The finished product is remarkable.

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