The Empire Strikes Back

Blu-ray REVIEW: Star Wars – The Complete Saga (2011 9 disc set)

I will be going LIVE at 12:30 AM (ET) Saturday morning with Robert Daniels on VISIONS IN SOUND. Tune in on your dial to 98.5 or internet to CKWR!  You folks in the UK can tune in as you enjoy some morning coffee or tea!

Rob says:  “May is Star Wars month on Visions In Sound and we will be celebrating the 40th Anniversary with a slew of special shows. Joining me this week will be special guests Jason Drury, Michael Ladano & Erik Woods to help with the celebration. Featured music will be from the Star Wars prequel trilogy (John Williams). Join Us THIS Saturday 12:30-2:30am (ET)”

 

STAR WARS: The Complete Saga (2011 Lucasfilm 9 Blu-ray set)

Includes:  Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and three bonus discs.

Star Wars on blu-ray…it took a lot less time than it did for Star Wars to arrive on DVD!  In special features and deleted scenes alone, it was well worth the wait. You can’t do a box set like this without the bonus of unseen footage. The good news is, The Complete Saga is loaded with unseen special features and deleted scenes. In fact, the Tosche Station scene (deleted from A New Hope) is worth the purchase alone for the true fan. It’s that great.

Will this be the last time we buy the first two Star Wars trilogies? Heck, no! When 3D comes out, everybody will be having the same discussion all over again!  And when the sequel trilogy is complete, we’ll be doing it again.  Will Greedo still shoot first? Well, in my mind I have long accepted that Han shot first. Only in some weird Lucasverse is there a way that Greedo could shoot and miss at that range. That close, I’m sorry, Han is toasted smuggler stew.  Disney says there is no way to re-release the original trilogy without its Special Edition enhancements, as the original film materials are too far gone.

However about 10 years ago or so, Lucas did an official DVD reissue of the ORIGINAL original trilogy, which I went out and bought on day one. It was satisfying, it looked better than my old VHS copy, but it wasn’t cleaned up nice like the special editions were. Which, in my opinion, is fine. It looks good and it’s as close to your childhood memories as you’ll ever get. After all, we didn’t have 1080p TV tubes.

Accepting that a Blu-ray version of the “ORIGINAL” original trilogy will never happen, I am very satisfied with my Blu-ray of the Complete Saga.

The sound is awesome, very deep, and annoying to the neighbors.

The video is perfect; I realize there are probably some colour changes here and there but I’m not about to do an A/B test and find them. I don’t care, it’s sharp and bright and clear and even Phantom Menace looks good!

Content wise, you know what? Hell, I’m actually enjoying Phantom Menace. I’m lost in that moment in 1999 or whatever it was, when we sat there watching it the first time, trying to figure out who the new baddies were and checking out all the cool designs, which all stand up today. Except Jar Jar. Take him out and the movie’s not half bad at all, flawed as it may be.

Bonus featues: I wanted to watch the deleted scenes and there is good news and bad news. The bad news is, I hate how the deleted scenes are organized. You have to click the movie you want, click the planet you want, and then pick deleted scenes from the features. You can’t just go to a menu called “Deleted Scenes”. Anyways, these were mostly great although some action scenes were just animatics. And, I don’t think these deleted scenes overlap at all with the scenes provided on previous DVD editions. For example there was no Greedo scene in the Episode I deleted scenes, but there certainly was on the original DVD release for Episode I. That goes for the special features in general…I don’t think there are many that overlap at all with the ones you already have.  That could be good or bad; for most fans that’s good.  You’re buying new stuff, not the same stuff you have already.

Highlights: As mentioned the Tosche Station scene, which has all the soul of old Star Wars along with finally tying up the Biggs storyline. Also welcome was the attack on the droid control ship from Episode II — previously only available to subscribers to Lucasfilm’s ill-fated Hyperspace service.

There’s also an hour and a half (!) of spoofs from all over the place, including The Simpsons, Family Guy, Robot Chicken, Saturday Night Live (including that hilarious Kevin-Spacey-as-Christopher-Walken-as-Han-Solo one), Colbert, That 70’s Show, and many more. Most of these, I have never seen.

This is exactly what anybody who had reasonable expectations wanted.

5/5 stars

 

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#542: Guy Zemmiton

A biographical tale about world-renowned bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano, a champion of improvised music…and my sister.

GETTING MORE TALE #542: Guy Zemmiton

My sister had a favourite Star Wars figure when we were small. There were so many to choose from. I had plenty of my own favourites. Droids such as IG-88 and 2-1B were cool and different. Yoda was special because he came with a record four accessories: his belt, cloak, walking stick and snake. But my sister’s favourite was Luke, in his X-Wing pilot outfit. It was released in 1978 and went beautifully with the X-Wing toy I got for Christmas that year. My sister Kathryn called him “Luke, the guy with the helmet on”. When she said “guy with the helmet on,” it came out as “Guy Zemmiton”. She was three.

We spent hours setting up massive wars on our living room floor. Guy Zemmiton would heroically defend the Rebellion from Darth Vader and the Empire. [See Record Store Tales Part 0: A Few Words for Days Gone By] Star Wars and its action figures were our universe back then.

We knew there was a second Star Wars movie coming.  The Empire Strikes Back was finally released right around the time Kathryn got incredibly sick.

One night she was complaining about a “sore tongue”.  I remember my parents frantically running around the house in the middle of the night.  “I want some juice,” I heard her croak from another room.  My dad said they had to take her to the hospital.  They got a babysitter.  I was incredibly upset and Kathryn remembered me looking down from the top of the stairs as they carried her away.   It was a rare condition called epiglottitis that can affect children and causes their airways to close.  Bill Bixby, star of The Incredible Hulk as David Banner, had a son who died of epiglottitis.  She was in that hospital in an air tent with a tube down her throat before she started getting better and visitors were allowed.

marvel_special_edition_esbThis whole time I was very worried and my dad decided to take me to see The Empire Strikes Back just the two of us, while my mom stayed with Kathryn in the hospital as she did every day.  In the movie theater lobby, they were selling oversized Marvel Empire Strikes Back comics and my dad bought one for me!  The movie was amazing.  I didn’t like seeing “Guy Zemmiton” being hurt, but the snow walker scene was an instant hit.  We left the theater to go and see my sister at the hospital.  I wasn’t to tell her that we had seen “Guy Zemmiton”, as we didn’t want to upset her.  That made it hard to explain where the comic came from, but I was so excited to see her.

A couple weeks later she came home, and dad took the whole family out to see Empire.  Kathryn was elated to get to see “Guy Zemmiton”, especially since there were so many scenes of Luke in that very outfit!  But my dad was a tease.  The whole time before the movie started he was claiming we were in the wrong theater.  “No Guy Zemmiton here,” he said.  “This theater is showing Captain Peachfuzz and the Penguins!”  He may have actually convinced her that we were about to see Captain Peachfuzz and the Penguins, and I was beginning to wonder myself!  It was with great relief that we saw “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” on the screen in big blue letters.  “I thought this was Captain Peachfuzz and the Penguins,” whispered my dad.

“Guy Zemmiton” was thrilling and my sister was in her glory finally having seen his latest adventure.   It was great for everything to finally be back to normal.

I read that comic book over and over again the whole summer, and later on we even got to go see Empire again.  It was at a drive-in and Empire was the second feature.  I think we both fell asleep long before the movie was over.

A lot of people say Empire is their favourite Star Wars, but for Kathryn, she really means it.  Empire was central to a scary time (that she still remembers clearly) when she almost died.  Not every three year old kid can claim that.

 

#454.5: Tune in tonight for some Star Wars radio!

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ANNOUNCEMENT!

Tonight at midnight, you can catch me LIVE on Robert Daniels’ radio program VISIONS IN SOUND.   Tune in locally on your FM dial to CKWR 98.5, or even easier, just click “listen live” via their website!  The show runs from midnight to 2 am (ET).  Needless to say I’ll be fueling myself up on coffee.

The subject:  STAR WARS!  The soundtracks specifically.  Last week, Rob covered the music from the prequel trilogy composed by John Williams.  Tonight is the original classic trilogy, also composed by Williams, so you don’t want to miss this.  And if you do, it should be available online for streaming later on.   Rob and I have been excitedly discussing the upcoming film The Force Awakens (only a week away!) and I can’t think of a better way to get ready.

I hope you’re able to tune in and catch some incredible music.  I’ve reviewed all the classic trilogy soundtracks already, and you know you’ll be in for a treat.

Check in tonight!

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Special Edition original motion picture soundtrack)

STAR WARS: The Empire Strikes Back – Special Edition original motion picture soundtrack (1997 RCA limited edition with holographic discs, original soundtrack released 1980)

Composed and conducted by John Williams

When I was 8 years old, this was my favourite album.  It was my favourite album for a long time.  I didn’t have a lot of albums when I was young, but The Empire Strikes Back was a clear favourite.  It was only usurped by Styx’s Kilroy Was Here several years later.

Even when I was a child I had a sense that this one was something special.  The Empire Strikes Back contains one of the best known Star Wars anthems ever: “The Imperial March”.  Hard to imagine today, but that piece of music did not exist when the original Star Wars came out in 1977.  The character of Darth Vader grew tremendously in the second film, and I think “The Imperial March” helped drive it home.

As far as I’m concerned, composer John Williams is a rock star.  He makes instrumental concept albums.  That is exactly the way that my rocker ears hear this music.  I cannot express how true to me that is.  For me, this album (in its original double LP format) was like The Wall, Tommy, or Quadrophenia.  It has always been a rollicking journey to listen to, preferably loud.  It has swells and drops, peaks and valleys.  It has memorable “songs” that you can go back to over and over and over again.

The original soundtrack from 1980 was a massive two record set, but it was still only long enough to contain 75 minutes of the film’s music.  This double CD has a whopping 124 minutes — the complete score.  Even all these years later, revisiting the soundtrack, I can immediately tell when a piece of music wasn’t on the original record.  “Ice Planet Hoth” was the first such moment.  Other pieces such as “The Magic Tree” are very familiar because I played those records so many times!  As a kid, I don’t think I even realized that the LPs didn’t have all the music.

Having the whole soundtrack, in order, on CD, is a real treat.  It makes me want to take a dig through my parents’ basement and dig up my old Kenner Millenium Falcon.  Or even better, get the bigger, badder, awesomer new one.  That thing looks incredible…but I digress.  My point is, it reignites that feeling I had as a kid.  I’d hear this music, and go grab my Falcon toy, and “fly” it around.  That feeling hasn’t gone away.  In fact, with this baby remastered the way it is, I’d say that feeling is stronger than ever.

Other honorable mentions:  “The Battle of Hoth”, “The Asteroid Field”, “Mynock Cave”, and “Yoda’s Theme”.  All these are almost as memorable as “The Imperial March”.

Since I’m not musically schooled in any way, I wanted to talk to someone who is. I spoke to world-renowned bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano about the music:

This album is one of my favourite soundtracks, and I still listen to it often. In fact, when I got my new turntable for Christmas, the original LP soundtrack for Empire was the very first album I played on it. In terms of Star Wars soundtracks, I think this is the best one. I am certainly more critical of John Williams’ soundtracks in general now than I was as a kid because I now know that much of his material was “borrowed” from other composers, but despite that knowledge, this album still has a lot of iconic and evocative themes. My favourite is probably “The Asteroid Field”, but obviously “The Imperial March” is pretty amazing too.

If I had to pinpoint a favourite moment in this soundtrack, it actually appears during the track “Carbon Freeze/Darth Vader’s Trap/Departure of Boba Fett”.  From about 5:10 to 5:20 is a series of dissonant chords that I have always loved the sound of (especially the one at 5:17 – 5:18!). Long before I studied music or played an instrument, those dissonant chords resonated with me and I still love hearing them.

I now know what album I’m going to listen to today.

I’m fortunate to have the limited edition CD wallet version of this soundtrack.  As with A New Hope, the discs are hologram etched.  This time, instead of the striking image of the Death Star, it’s just a fairly flat Imperial logo.  Not quite as awesome.

Still, 5/5 stars.

STAR WARS_0003REVIEW:  Star Wars – A New Hope soundtrack Special Edition (1997)

Part 209: The Phantom Menace

 

RECORD STORE TALES Part 209:  The Phanton Menace

Some at the record store made fun of me for being such a serious Star Wars fan.  I’m not a hard core fanboy; I don’t go to conventions or follow the books and TV shows, but I am pretty dedicated to the films.  I booked May 19, 1999 off work well in advance to see The Phantom Menace on opening day.

I’m not going to turn this story into a review for Phantom Menace.  That movie’s been reviewed by thousands of people and I’m not interested in contributing to the background noise.  The only thing you need to really agree with me on is that there was a tremendous excitement for Phantom Menace back in 1999.  I had been dreaming of what might happen before and after the Holy Trilogy since I was 5 years old.  My sister was only a baby when the first Star Wars came out, but she did get to see Empire in the theaters.  She is a slightly bigger fan than I am, but she doesn’t follow the expanded universe or any of that stuff.

We both booked the day off work and planned to go together.  Our strategy was this:  Since we knew that the theaters would be absolutely packed for the midnight opening, we picked an out of the way (but still THX) theater that had a noon showing. So, all we had to do was wait an extra 12 hours (at home), and we’d get in no problem!

We showed up at the theater and were, like, seventh in line.  No sweat.  Soon we had our seats in a sparsely seated theater.  Then the trailers (something called Titan AE, which inspired a heckle of “What the hell was that?” from the audience).  Then the Fox fanfare, the Lucasfilm logo and finally…”A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….”

136 minutes later (we stayed for the credits of course) we were pretty satisfied with the movie.  Keep in mind that fast shit had been whizzing in front of our faces for over two hours.  There were things that didn’t make sense, there were things we didn’t like much (the kid, Jar Jar) but we kept telling ourselves the same thing.

“Yeah, but it’s the first chapter.  The next one will be where it really starts.”

As we were talking about it, I said, “Wanna see it again?  It went so fast there was a ton of stuff I’m sure I missed.”

“Sure!” she answered.  “Yeah!”

We went back out to the ticket counter.  There were a few people in line, but not many.  “Two for Star Wars, please,” I said as I approached the counter.

“Didn’t you just come out of Star Wars?” she said with that snooty tone.

“Yep.  We liked it,” I answered.

“And you want to see it again?”  We did.

We went back in.  The second time lacked a bit of the awe.  This time, I paid more attention to the details.  Questions came to my mind.  “If Yoda is the Jedi Master that instructed Obi-Wan, then why is Liam Neeson training him?”  Stuff like that.

I still remember that on the way home, we stopped at the HMV store, and I bought Ed Hunter by Iron Maiden.  When we got home, we were still excited about the movie, telling Mom and Dad all the details.  My dad was skeptical.

“Does it have the emotion of the first one?  Does it have the feeling?” he inquired.

“Well…no not exactly,” I rationalized.  “This is just the first chapter.  The next one will be where it really starts.”

My dad was onto something.

The hilarious Red Letter Media review

I also distinctly remember watching Phantom Menace again with Tom and a franchise owner, on VHS, shortly after it came out.

In 2005 I first met the girl who would later become my wife, but she had never seen Star Wars.  I was really excited to be the guy that got to watch Star Wars with her for the first time.  For some stupid reason that to this day I will never understand, I decided to start her off with Episode I:  The Phantom Menace.  Bad idea.

“That stupid fucking dino-guy” is what she named Jar-Jar Binks.  She hated it.  (She liked Episode III though.)  Then, her dad (rest his soul) decided that he wanted to see the Star Wars prequels too.  One Saturday night I went over there with my DVD copy of Phanton Menace in hand.  And so it was that Jen had to see Phantom Menace not once, but twice.

We’ll be married five years this August, more awesomer than ever, so “that stupid fucking dino-guy” couldn’t have been all that  bad, right?

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…

LeBrain on the radio!