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[ Star Wars Books & Comics ]
Staff Review.


[A Saga on Home Video: A Fanís Guide to U.S. Star Wars Home Video Releases]

A Saga on Home Video: A Fanís Guide to U.S. Star Wars Home Video Releases
Author: Nathan P. Butler
Published: 2017

Reviewer: Ewan, Star Wars Books & Comics
Reviewed: 2017
Review rating: 4.5 / 5

Disclaimer:
Spoilers are kept to minimum however cannot guarantee spoiler-free.

Publisher's Summary:
For four decades, the Star Wars saga has captivated us in both theaters and at home on the small screen. Never before has one volume attempted to provide an extensive guide to all of the sagaís various releases for home viewing. From Super 8 to VHS, from DVD to Blu-ray 3D, this unofficial guide to U.S. Star Wars home video releases will thrill and enlighten fans both new and old. With over 300 images from the authorís own personal collection, this is a definitive work of fan scholarship on Star Wars home video collectingís first 40 years.

Review:
While we may have become accustomed to the idea that there is around a four-month gap between a film's theatrical release and our ability to enjoy it in our own homes on our super-sized high definition widescreen televisions along with a THX certified digital surround soundtrack (should you choose to do so or can afford to do so), forty years ago Star Wars fans had to wait an amazing five years after its theatrical release in 1977 before being able to buy or, as was more popular and affordable in 1982, rent a copy of A New Hope on either VHS, Betamax or LaserDisc. However, no matter which format you selected in those days, you didn't get the "whole" film: VHS, Betamax and LaserDisc used pan & scan processing to crop the film's widescreen picture to fit 4:3 ratio televisions (known then as "full screen presentation"); while LaserDisc also had to compress the film's running time to fit onto the maximum two-hour capacity of the discs. Technically however, as Butler's book points out, these weren't the first home releases. As early as 1978 fans could enjoy selected scenes from Star Wars in their own homes on Super 8 reels (in monochrome or colour and with or without sound) allowing up to 40 minutes worth of Star Wars action to be watched outside of a theater! This is the beauty of Butler's book: it is as much a collector's guide to Star Wars home video releases in the United States as it is a history of the Star Wars films and their changes: whether by choice by their creator George Lucas with his Special Editions in 1997 (followed by 2004's DVD amendments and 2011's Blu-ray tweaks) or by their publisher 20th Century Fox and how they handled an emerging home video market in the early 1980s and now, Disney, in a digital world where 20th Century Fox retain their distribution rights for A New Hope meaning Disney can only offer Episodes I, II, III, V, VI & VII on their own digital platform (though other digital platforms can offer all the films).
In many ways upon reading this book it becomes clear that how you first saw Star Wars can affect your perception of the film itself. If you were lucky enough, or rather old enough, to see A New Hope in theaters in 1977 then you may believe that you saw "the" original film. However, that depended whether the theater you sat in played a stereo or a mono soundtrack: the mono soundtrack contained an extra line from C-3PO not heard in the stereo version. Worse still, A New Hope's first home video release in 1982 used the 1977 stereo soundtrack meaning that if this was your first viewing of Star Wars you not only had the missing line but the full screen presentation also meant that you didn't see the full picture! Thankfully C-3PO's missing line was restored for later and all (well almost all) future versions.
For many Star Wars fans, Butler is probably best known for his Star Wars Timeline Gold project, a massive chronology of the Star Wars Universe that Butler has maintained since 1996, but he has also contributed to the official body of Star Wars literature. He wrote the short comic story "Equals and Opposites" (originally published in Star Wars Tales #21 by Dark Horse Comics in 2005) as well as being a contributor to Star Wars: The Essential Atlas (Del Rey, 2009). He is also a prolific podcaster: beginning his own online audio show ChronoRadio in 2002 (in an era before the term podcast was used), was a regular on Republic Forces Radio Network, and is currently  a co-host of Star Wars: Beyond the Films. Today, he can be heard (and seen) on his vlog, From the Star Wars Home Video Library.    Drawn from his own personal collection, Butler discusses US (and other territories when appropriate) Star Wars home video releases and it was this experience that drove him to write this book. This book contains over 300 images taken from his collection of almost every US Star Wars home video version as the book takes the reader on a journey of home video releases in the US from Super 8 in 1978 up to Rogue One's HD and 3D releases in 2017. Divided into fourteen chapters, the first 7 are dedicated to all the variants of the episodic Star Wars films (and Rogue One) released on all the various home video formats. The next five chapters discuss other Star Wars related home video releases from the Ewok live-action films from the 1980s through to Star Wars Rebels' 2016 Season 2 home video releases. There is also a chapter dedicated to LEGO Star Wars home video releases and another to those standalone behind-the-scenes and other "oddities" that made their way onto home video. The final two chapters are tips for collectors, based on Butler's own collecting experiences, and a checklist of US Star Wars home video releases from 1978 to 2017. Interspersed throughout the chapters are "sidebars" where the author will either expand on the story of home video releases by including notable foreign releases, especially those from Japan and the UK; or discuss changes made to the original version or previous home video release incarnations.
A Saga on Home Video: A Fanís Guide to U.S. Star Wars Home Video Releases is more than just a collector's checklist of home video releases in the United States, it is in may ways, a history of Star Wars on the small screen. Undoubtly changes made to the films to accommodate the technical restrictions of the multitude of home video formats over the last four decades have influenced viewers perceptions of the films. Whether it was a soundless monochrome 17 minute snippet seen projected from a Super 8 reel in the late 1970s, or the infamous "missing line" of the early 1980s videos, the cropped pan & scan full screen presentations of various formats that was available as late as 2006, or the "additions" made for the high definition releases on Blu-ray in 2011, almost every home video release has differed from previous incarnations and this book catalogs those variations in both an informative and enlightening way.


A Saga on Home Video: A Fanís Guide to U.S. Star Wars Home Video Releases by Nathan P. Butler is available now.


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