Star Wars on DVD - Reviews - Cowclops/TR47 2005 Definitive Edition Bootlegs
Updated 5/24/2006

Star Wars DVD Reviews:

The DVD format first appeared on shelves in March 1997. Almost immediately, fans began calling for LucasFilm and Fox to provide the Star Wars movies on the new format. In late 2001 (four and a half years after the format was launched), Episode I became the first Star Wars movie to arrive on DVD. Episode II followed swiftly in late 2002, less than seven months after premiering in theaters. Episode III appeared in theaters in May 2005, and even as it was appearing there were reliable rumors of LucasFilm telling retail partners to expect it on DVD by November of that year (for the record, it arrived on November 1, 2005). The movies that fans have wanted most, however, are the original trilogy, and it was those three movies that remained the most elusive. By the time that Lucasfilm officially announced plans to release the trilogy on DVD on September 21, 2004 as a four-disc set, countless bootlegs had seeped out of Hong Kong and elsewhere by means of eBay auctions and a number of often-elusive overseas online stores. Even after the trilogy arrived on shelves, there remained strong interest in bootlegs of the trilogy in their original theatrical form – the way they were before the 1997 Special Edition introduced a number of digital revisions that were further modified for the 2004 DVD's. The arrival of the Limited Edition DVD's in 2006 finally brought the original theatrical versions to an offical DVD release, but the decision to use the 1993 transfers to produce those discs didn't inspire any great confidence in fans. Over the years, I've pulled together a few reviews of both the official releases and some of the numerous "bootleg" copies.

Anyone who is desperately craving copies of all of the Star Wars movies on DVD should look over the options available and think about what they want, because at this point there are good commercial copies of all six movies readily available. The discs that we have finally received from Fox prove that LucasFilm does at least provide high quality audio and video as well as some good extras, when they finally get around to releasing a title on DVD. The original trilogy's 2004 DVD release, reviewed below, makes any SE bootleg irrelevent, just as the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith discs did in 2001, 2002, and 2005. I've retained reviews of the Phantom Menace and SE trilogy bootlegs just for the sake of amusement at this point, even though I don't recommend wasting your time on any prequel or Special Edition bootlegs. Bootleg activity continued beyond 2004, however, solely because of the changes made by Lucas to the original trilogy for the 1997 Special Edition re-release and the subsequent changes for the 2004 DVD's. Fans' desire to have a digital archive of the original theatrical versions of the trilogy led to a strong interest in bootlegs based on the 1993 or 1995 LaserDisc releases. By the time the Limited Edition discs arrived, those bootlegs had gotten surprisingly sophisticated, so I've left my reviews of those discs in place along with the reviews of the official releases. Links to each page are available below and are reproduced at the top of each review.


Introduction to the Bootlegs:

The void created by the lack of official DVD's for the Star Wars movies allowed for the appearance of a large, shady, and often unclear assortment of imitations and substitutes. There have been numerous bootleg versions of the Star Wars movies, created from available sources such as official Laserdiscs and Video CD's and even "borrowed" theater prints (complete with nicks and lint - from what little I've heard, the first Phantom Menace bootlegs were made this way, and were almost unwatchable). Even Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith fell victim, probably due in large part to the activity surrounding bootlegs of the original trilogy. These discs provide a way to have the movies on DVD, but it comes at the cost of quality. How much quality? I've documented some of my thoughts on the Star Wars DVD's I've seen, both the excellent official releases and several of the many, many bootlegs that have materialized over the last four years or so. In general, bootleg discs are not going to be good enough to stand up against an official DVD release, although some more recent fan-organized efforts to preserve the original theatrical versions of the trilogy have attempted to disprove that notion. Some of the bootlegs, such as the first Phantom Menace discs (derived from theatrical prints), are not even as good as a worn out VHS tape. In light of the release of the trilogy on DVD in September 2004, the bootlegs are really only appealing to two types of Star Wars fan: the fan who likes to collect everything available, and the fan who is interested in preserving thr original theatrical version of the trilogy on some format other than VHS and LaserDisc. The very best of the new bootlegs can rival the widescreen VHS copies (although you don't need to rewind the DVD's, and you can watch them as often as you want without wearing them out) or even the 1993 LaserDiscs. In other cases, they aren't even as good as the VHS copies. For more information on the Star Wars bootleg DVD's, try these links to The Digital Bits.

Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi Original Release
Cowclops/TR47 2005 Definitive Edition LaserDisc bootlegs in anamorphic widescreen

First, some history...

The DVD world has changed drastically since I first created a web page about the state of Star Wars movies on the format. When I started, Lucas did not have a single title on the DVD format, and all indications were that he had no intentions of offering anything on the format until 2006. At that time, DVD was still emerging as a significant standard in the consumer electronics industry, HDTV was still limited to the handful of early adopters whose deep pockets could swing the thousands of dollars required to obtain an HD-capable display, and the concept of the home theater was still a foreign idea to many. Nonetheless, many Star Wars fans had adopted the new DVD format and discovered the benefits available even with an analog standard definition TV, and all of a sudden the countless VHS re-issues of the trilogy didn't suffice anymore. Add to this quandary the fact that the 1997 revisions had wiped away so much of the original movies – classic effects shots that had been so groundbreaking in their day, not to mention the jarring inclusion of new scenes and changes to old scenes such as Han's encounter with Greedo. Two challenges had risen up before a large and determined fan base, although it would take a few years for the differences between the two to emerge. First, how to get the movies on DVD so that the old VHS copies can be retired. Second, how to preserve the original theatrical releases in the face of the films' creator's steadfast determination to make sure that those original versions were relegated to the status of "early working prints."

The first challenge was met rapidly, as the Asian bootleg market was eager to provide countless versions of the movies on DVD. Distribution channels such as eBay helped get the discs into fans' hands, with prices often ranging from $20 to $30 per movie. These early bootlegs were hampered by several things: technical challenges of producing DVD transfers at the time without the expensive hardware available to the movie studios, limited options for source material, and a lack of interest by the bootlegs' producers in providing any actual audio or video quality. The latter two were perhaps the greatest challenges. The original trilogy (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) were actually better off when it came to source material, as the only options were generally LaserDisc or VHS. While VHS was a sure-fire ticket to a disappointing transfer, LaserDisc offered the same video resolution as DVD (480 lines, interlaced) and either stereo PCM audio (similar to an audio CD) or Dolby AC3 surround (the direct precursor to DVD's Dolby Digital surround). Unfortunately, a lack of craftsmanship made sure that those early LaserDisc transfers fell far short of their potential – not only were things such as color balance overlooked, but audio was often out of sync with video, side and disc changes routinely showed up as glaring breaks in the movie (sometimes even skipping whole scenes), and the user interface often ranged from illogical to almost brutally painful. Additionally, many transfers included Asian subtitles that could not be turned off. Even worse, though, were the Phantom Menace bootlegs that were produced from "borrowed" theatrical prints (complete with lint, dirt, and wear) or even from camcorder recordings taken in crowded movie theaters. Eventually, Phantom Menace bootlegs arrived that were produced from the Japanese LaserDisc release (the US was deprived of an LD release, for some reason), but these suffered the same limitations as the original trilogy LD transfers. To add insult to injury, packaging for all of the bootlegs suffered from their Asian origins – most notably menus that often used only Mandarin Chinese or other Asian languages and cover art that was riddled with mis-translations and errors.

Then, in 2001, Lucas provided fans with a two-disc DVD set of Phantom Menace, and while the transfer received some criticism for excessive edge enhancement it was still far superior to the bootlegs of the day. Bootlegs of Episode I disappeared almost overnight. Attack of the Clones arrived the following year, followed less than six months later by a DVD release of that movie. Not long after this second release attempted to satisfy the fans' steadily more vehement cries for DVD's, an organized online community began calling for Lucas to preserve the original theatrical releases of the trilogy – the versions that were (and remain today) best represented by the 1993 and 1995 LaserDisc releases. With the LaserDisc format already effectively dead as far as new hardware and software support was concerned, these old releases served as a dubious solution for long-term preservation of the movies as they had originally existed. This online community struggled at first with the issue of bootlegs: on the one hand, paying any attention to bootlegs would undermine the community's credibility with Lucasfilm and Fox; on the other hand, those same bootlegs represented the only existing way to get access to the original versions of the movies on a format that by this point had become the de facto standard for movies. The struggle endured for some time, during which the first of what I consider the fan-supported bootlegs appeared. First there was the "Five Star" bootleg, which was the first to offer audio and video quality that could reasonably be said to be superior to a VHS tape (although the DTS tracks were at best atrocious). These discs soon became very popular online, but they were based on the 1997 LaserDiscs, which meant that they were the Special Editions of the movies, not the original theatrical releases. Then in 2003 came the discs that are generally identified by their US distributor, TR47. The TR47 bootlegs were among the first produced from the 1993 Definitive Edition LaserDiscs, and they offered transfers that had undergone some deliberate tweaking to optimize picture quality as well as the original PCM audio tracks. These tracks were in stereo only, unlike the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, but the uncompressed audio actually sounded better than the other DD 5.1 tracks (especially when fed through Dolby Pro Logic II processing, which was just emerging around this time). At some point early 2004, the online community that most vehemently wanted to see the original theatrical cuts of the movies preserved on DVD (a community that had rallied around the site had begun to lose hope that Lucas would acknowledge their request, and a number of individuals began trying to assemble the best quality transfers of the movies. Official word of an impending release of the trilogy on DVD came at last in early 2004, but those discs arrived in the fall of 2004 along with a handful of additional revisions and firm assurances from Lucas that this was now the true form of the movies – he had no intention of investing the time or money in creating transfers of the earlier edits of the films, no matter how much fans asked for it. The release of the trilogy on DVD in "special edition" form proved as effective at killing off bootlegs of the SE's as the Phantom Menace disc had been in 2001, but it only heightened interest in bootlegs of the original theatrical cuts among a small but determined portion of the Star Wars fan base. Countless versions have resulted, many for individual's personal use.

This lengthy history lesson brings us to 2005, as we await the arrival of Revenge of the Sith on DVD in November and look forward to the emergence of two new optical video disc formats (HD-DVD and Blu-Ray) along with the accompanying inevitable format war that is likely to help assure DVD a long and healthy life at the forefront of home video. The highly competitive fan efforts to develop the best video transfers has continued now for quite some time (as well documented in the forums of One of the new transfers to emerge from that competition is a replacement for that original TR47 set. It is that new set of discs – the Cowclops/TR47 2005 bootlegs – that I am here to discuss today.

Finally, some new DVD's...

It's been over a year since I posted a new review of a Star Wars bootleg set and almost two years since I first posted a review of TR47's original bootlegs. Several people have contacted me this year with word that new transfers were appearing that truly approached the video quality and presentation quality of a commercial studio release. These contacts routinely included queries about whether I would be reviewing any of these new discs. Between a hectic work schedule, the birth of a daughter, and some assorted home theater hardware upgrades, I had little or no chance to even consider such an endeavor. One of these e-mails, however, came from TR47, and it served to inform me that he was developing a new set. This set was to include anamorphic transfers (something that had been restricted to the realm of inaccurate packaging until 2004 saw the first anamorphic bootlegs appear) and commentary tracks in addition to the original PCM audio. The set would also retain the array of bonus discs that had (thanks largely to the efforts of RowMan from become a standard part of his package in 2004. In mid-August 2005, a bundle arrived in my mailbox with eight unlabeled discs, each tucked into a separate paper sleeve. An e-mail arrived shortly afterward from TR47 confirming my suspicions. Here was one of the newest generation of bootlegs, with the focus on preserving the original theatrical cuts as best as possible using the material available to the public.

The bundle of discs included one standard CD-R (a good quality RiData blank) loaded to capacity with no fewer than 278 JPG covers, organized into folders to help sort through them. The contents of my covers web page are included in their own folder, but there are many more covers to choose from. There is also a single-layer DVD-R containing A New Hope, with 4.18GB of the disc used to store the movie and menus in anamorphic widescreen, PCM audio and a Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary track, Greedo subtitles that can be disabled, and four pages of chapter selections with six animated thumbnails per page. The single-layer DVD-R with The Empire Strikes Back uses 4.22GB of the disc to offer anamorphic video and menus, PCM audio or a commentary track, and four more pages of chapter selections (again with six animated thumbnails per page). The fourth disc in the set is the single-layer DVD-R with Return of the Jedi, using 4.30GB of the disc for the anamorphic video and menus, PCM audio and a commentary track, optional Jabba subtitles, and the same four pages of animated chapter selections. The last four discs contain bonus material. There are separate discs for each movie, plus a fourth disc with the collected supplemental material included in the 1993 Definitive Edition LaserDiscs. The content of the first three discs is very similar to the content of the original TR47 bonus discs, and the fourth disc is essentially unchanged from the previous discs. Both the earlier set of bonus discs and this new set were developed by RowMan; if you have any questions about them, you can e-mail him at the address that he has offered to have included here.

This is the first set of discs to be reviewed on my current home theater setup: an Outlaw Audio Model 990 surround processor, Oppo Digital OPDV971H DVD player capable of 720p or 1080i output via DVI, and a Zenith C32V37 32" direct-view HDTV. In order to make a fair comparison, I spot-checked a few earlier bootlegs (including the Five Star SE discs, TR47's original set, Kristhemovieman's dual-layer discs, and the anamorphic set that I received last fall) as well as the official releases; the two earlier bootlegs were left out of the serious comparison (both because I only have access to one of the sets and because neither is good enough to warrant comparison), although I did briefly run the first LOOK disc through the Oppo. The Oppo's ability to output HD resolutions is very useful for good video transfers, but more average transfers benefit less from this capability. As a separate point of comparison, I checked out the A New Hope disc of this new set using my Yamaha DVD-S1500 progressive scan DVD player.


The set that I received came in as basic a form as you can get: eight unidentified discs in individual sleeves. I quickly grabbed one of the CD labeling pens that I keep around (for DVD's that I make using my DMR-E80 DVD recorder) and figured out what each disc was, as can be seen in the picture below. This has always been TR47's approach: just the basics, nothing extra. The included CD offers an abundance of options for making covers for keepcases, and a little time online can get you empty cases very readily for not much money, but buyers need to be ready for this. Some of the sets that I've reviewed come packaged much like a commercial disc. These most definitely do not.

Seven DVD's and one CD included in package

Once you get the discs in a player, the presentation is much less spartan. The movie discs have anamorphic menu screens that offer three choices: Play Movie, Chapter Selections, and Audio Options. The Chapter Selection screens offer direct access to chapter stops in groups of six at a time, with video clips of each chapter stop to help guide the user along. In a few places, the text appears over a block of black background that blots out the background graphic, but the menus are easy to understand and quick to navigate through. Music plays in the background throughout the menus. The screenshots below were taken with a digital camera and have a lot of glare from the kitchen window, but they give you a decent idea of the menu arrangement.

Screenshots of menus

The bonus discs are all formatted in 4:3 aspect ratio (which is pretty appropriate to the content), and while the content is very similar to the content of the TR47 bonus discs I reviewed last year the menu structure is a bit cleaned up. These discs are set up as nicely as any other bootleg I've seen. The menus may not be quite as polished as a good commercial disc, but they are easy to understand and get around in.


As I mentioned above, each movie disc includes the movie in anamorphic widescreen with the choice of a PCM stereo soundtrack (flagged for Pro Logic decoding) or a Dolby Digital 2.0 commentary track. When combined with the easy-to-navigate menu system (including scene selection), this represents a pretty solid movie-only content, especially for a bootleg. The remainder of the content in the set comes from the bonus discs. The first three discs are clearly descendents of RowMan's earlier bonus material discs (discussed in the original TR47 review), but with some content changes and new menus; the fourth disc is carried over from TR47's earlier package. I've summarized the content offered on these discs below.

Disc One –
Star Wars: Bonus Material

4.38GB DVD-R
  • Interview / Documentary
  • Trailers and Promos (five trailers)
  • Cast Auditions (Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford)
  • Delected Scenes
    • Luke's Introduction
    • Anchorhead
    • Biggs
    • The Cantina (early cut)
  • Parodies (SNL, Simpsons, Troops)
Disc Two –
The Empire Strikes Back: Bonus Material

3.56GB DVD-R
  • Interviews & Documentary
  • Trailers & Promo
  • Deleted Scenes Gallry
    • Luke's Recovery
    • C-3PO's Diversion
    • Wampas in Echo Base
    • Another Bespin Kiss
  • Rare Television Clips
Disc Three –
Return of the Jedi: Bonus Material

3.31GB DVD-R
  • Interview & Documentary
  • Trailers & Promo
  • Deleted Scenes Gallery
    • Jedi Jump
    • Tatooine Sandstorm
    • Vader's Walk
    • Jerjerrod's Death
  • Rare Merchandising Clips
  • THX Demos
Disc Four –
Definitive Edition Supplements

4.28GB DVD-R
  • Interviews from Star Wars
  • Interviews from The Empire Strikes Back
  • Interviews from Return of the Jedi
  • Commentaries from Star Wars
  • Commentaries from The Empire Strikes Back
  • Commentaries from Return of the Jedi
There's a broad array of stuff here, including a few tidbits that are glaringly absent from the official four-disc set. There are deleted scenes from A New Hope, which continue to suffer from the unavoidable fact that they are taken from old, battered, and worn prints – which is still an improvement over their complete absence from the official release. The cast auditions are a bit tired-looking as well, although it is worth noting that the excerpts used in the "Empire of Dreams" documentary look pretty similar. The parodies included on the A New Hope bonus disc include Carrie Fisher's appearance on Saturday Night Live, the Simpsons episode that was Star Wars themed, and the fan-made spoof "Troops." Anyone who enjoys the "Troops" episode might do well to check out the site the team behind "Troops" has been working for years now on a feature-length Star Wars movie focusing on individual members of the Imperial Army, and they began releasing individual chapters of the movie online in June 2005. The second chapter is due some time in September 2005, with a total of eight chapters planned. The episode of "That 70's Show" which appeared on the previous set has been dropped. The deleted scene galleries included on the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi bonus discs are not actual deleted scenes. Instead, they are slideshows of still photos accompanied by text commentary describing scenes that were shot for the movies but edited out. All in all, it's a nice package of bonus goodies.


We'll start with the most important video material – the three movies themselves. The opening Fox logo initially struck me as being a bit too soft to match up with a good commercial transfer; the 1080i output from my upsampling DVD player to my 32" CRT HDTV lacked the crisp detail that I would expect it to exhibit on a commercial transfer. However, as we moved beyond the logo to the feature itself, the picture improved some, yielding the detail, color balance, and clarity that is typical of the DVD format. Moving it from the Oppo OPDV971H to the Yamaha DVD-S1500 had a slight change, but no more so than was to be expected (going from an upsampling player that scored a 94 on the Secrets Shootout and is feeding an HDTV with a 1080i signal to a progressive scan player that scored a 63 on the same shootout and is feeding the same HDTV a 480p signal). Overall, I found the picture quality to be quite good, and in fact better than I remembered any of the other bootlegs being. Do the anamorphic transfers of this Cowclops/TR47 set offer video quality that can rival the official transfers? I'm hesitant to say that they are the equals, if only due to the significant restoration efforts by Lowery Digital that went into the official transfers, but they are certainly very close. In light of the changes that my system has gone through since I wrote the first of these bootleg reviews, however, I thought it would be appropriate to make a review of all of the other discs currently available to me to see how they stacked up.

An assortment of Star Wars discs – five bootlegs, an official set, and the newest arrivals

Impressed by what I saw from this new set, I first popped in the official DVD release of A New Hope. There were a few differences in image clarity and color balance, but it was not as noticeable as I had expected to see. In fact, nearly all of the sutble differences appear to me to be attributable to the significant effort by Lowery Digital in digitally restoring and cleaning up the film. There may also have been a few segments that were darker on the official release, both deeper blacks and more of it. The original TR47 transfer has a similar color balance to the new one, but it also has a softer picture – noticeably so on an HDTV. Kristhemovieman's dual-layer Definitive Edition set exhibits a softer and grainier image than any of the Definitive Edition bootlegs I've seen, and the differences between it and the new Cowclops/TR47 transfer are readily apparent at 1080i. The Dr. Gonzo anamorphic version of the Definitive Edition has some scenes where the extra resolution yields a detail level closer to the CowClops/TR47 set, but there are some scenes where the picture isn't as stable as I'd like (the sandcrawler coming over the rise on the way to the Beru farm comes to mind, as the sky in that scene seems to shimmer oddly). Just for grins, I tossed in the Five Star SE discs, which have black levels that seem similar to the official release but don't have the detail level of the CowClops/TR47 discs. Then, to round the review out, I put in the LOOK Special Edition bootlegs that I've had for over four and a half years now – these discs exhibit probably the grainiest and weakest picture quality of any discs that I currently have available to me (and they were what passed for a good bootleg at the time).

The video on the bonus discs varies pretty widely. As I mentioned above, a number of the items included on the bonus discs are taken from very poorly preserved source material, and as a result there is only so much that can be expected. All four bonus discs are in 4:3, with a mix of 4:3 and letterboxed material (prilarily 4:3). The interviews and documentaries generally fair well in all four cases, although the fourth interview on the Empire Strikes Back disc (Anthony Daniels and Harrison Ford) has some video static and softness. Trailers and Promos span almost twenty years, with the oldest trailers (from 1976 and 1977) being overly dark and showing some lint and dirt in places due to the original source material. Overall the trailers fair pretty well, especially the newer ones (newest being ads from the 1995 VHS re-release). The audition tapes for Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford are from the mid-70's and look just as weary as they do in the "Empire of Dreams" documentary on last year's trilogy box set. The A New Hope bonus disc has a good set of deleted scenes in letterboxed widescreen. "Luke's Introduction" is a heavily washed out and worn transfer; we've seen this clip before, and it looks about as good as you're likely to ever see it unless Lucasfilm and Fox choose to carry out a massive restoration effort in the very near future (in other words, the presentation here is about as good as you're ever going to see it). The "Anchorhead" scene fairs a little better, and the "Biggs" scene comes off best of all with some decent color balance creeping in. The last scene is an early cut of the cantina scene, and it looks as washed out and rough as "Anchorhead" does. Deleted Scene Galleries on the other two discs are simply soundtrack music over picture slideshows outlining scenes that we have no video of. The A New Hope bonus disc finishes up with three Parodies. First is Carrie Fisher appearing as Leia on Saturday Night Live, which looks quite good (noticeably better than the VHS quality I had expected to see). The Simpsons video is clearly from a VHS source, and as a result is a bit rough around the edges. The Troops spoof looks as good as I've seen it, offering a nice transfer for the fan film. The Empire Strikes Back bonus disc ends with Rare Television Clips. The first is a commercial for Star Wars Underoos, which aside from leaving the viewer embarrassed for the child actor also sports a transfer clearly drawn from a VHS tape. The VHS master provides a better source than the tape that yielded up the two old Kenner toy ads, both of which suffer from tracking noise and rainbows along the top. Two Sesame Street bits ("Beep" and "Love finds R2-D2") have a somewhat digitized and washed out look to them, although it is still a clearer transfer than one would expect from watching a VHS recording. The Return of the Jedi bonus disc has a similar set of five Rare Merchandising Clips, all of which come from VHS sources. Most of these exhibit the same tracking rainbows as the Kenner ads as well as a weak VHS resolution and some washed out color, although the lightsaber ad turns out noticeably better than the others and the Super Nintendo ad isn't as bad as the first three ads. Topping of this disc is a pair of THX Promos, "WOW!" and "Soundtrack!" Both have solid video. The last of the four discs is carried over from the original TR47/RowMan four-disc bonus disc collection (which I added to my original TR47 review on September 3, 2004). The three "Interviews" sections contain the interviews, still galleries, featurettes, and "Lapti Nek" music video that were included with the 1993 Definitive Edition Laserdisc set, and the three commentary sections actually include each of the three movies with the Definitive Edition commentary tracks. These tracks each include an array of speakers, all recorded separately and speaking in turn about different portions of the film. They are presented here with the option of jumping to different speakers at different sections of the movie by means of a scene selection index. There are a few spots where one commentary segment ends and the next begins and a portion of the movie is skipped because there was no commentary relating to it, but most of each movie is represented. It's an impressive touch, especially since the video quality is watchable – not great by any stretch of the imagination, but similar to an old VHS copy and certainly respectable considering the quantity of data being shoe-horned into that space. Since the same commentaries are also offered on the movie discs now, it is not as valuable an inclusion as it once was, but it is still a nice touch.


As with the previous TR47 set, the Cowclops/TR47 bootlegs forego the typical Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, instead opting for a reproduction of the original PCM stereo audio from the LaserDiscs. At first glance, this may seem a poor choice to some people, but it is worth keeping in mind that the audio on these discs remains uncompressed, allowing for superior sound quality over the lossy compression used by Dolby Digital. (Don't get me started on the bootleg DTS soundtracks that have thankfully faded from popularity – since there has never been a commercially-mixed DTS track of a Star Wars movies, the bootleg mixes were all home-brews that clearly showed their "whipped together" origins, and the DTS tracks that I sampled on the Five Star discs were simply dreadful.) Over the last three years, Dolby Pro Logic II decoding has become almost standard for surround sound receivers, and the two different Pro Logic II processors that I've used (previously an Outlaw Audio Model 950 and more recently a Model 990) have yielded excellent results with these PCM tracks – the surround mixes are comparable to the Dolby 5.1 mixes found on other bootlegs, with a slightly better sound quality due to the audio's PCM roots. Older Pro Logic decoding will not fare nearly as well (the benefits of Pro Logic II over basic Pro Logic are quite significant). I was also curious to hear how these discs sounded in comparison to the Dolby Digital EX tracks included on the official DVD releases. With Pro Logic IIx decoding, the PCM tracks yielded quite satisfactory results – decent surround activity, smooth integration of the front soundstage, and a decent bit of low frequency. The official release's Dolby EX track definitely packs a bit more low-end punch and surround activity than the PCM track, but that's to be expected from an audio track that is a decade newer than the Definitive Edition and developed for the much larger home theater market of today. The commentary tracks included on the movie discs are different from those on the official release (due to the fact that the official release's commentaries were recorded just last year and cover the slightly longer SE versions), and to save space they are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 rather than PCM. Be ready for a good bit of dead space in the commentary track, since it was assembled from separate "mini-commentaries" and interviews. This dead space is probably the only compelling reason to use the fourth bonus disc for listening to the commentaries, as it only includes the video for which there is commentary track available.

The three movie-specific bonus discs use the same PCM stereo audio as the movie discs themselves, which is an effective way to preserve the source audio as well as possible (no compression whatsoever). In general, the audio fares as well as the source would allow. The only case I found where that source disappointed noticeably was the third Empire Strikes Back interview (Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams, which has a lot of hiss overriding the dialog). A few pieces have Pro Logic encoding, including the newest promos and the THX demos. The fourth disc (the original TR47 Definitive Edition bonus disc) uses Dolby Digital 2.0 audio to save space, which makes sense in light of the sheer magnitude of data on the disc. As mentioned elsewhere, the commentary tracks are now also included on the movie discs.


In general, the Conclusions page of my Star Wars DVD section offers an overall summary of my thoughts on bootleg and official DVD's of the Star Wars movies. In more specific terms, however, it is appropriate to stop here and ask how this latest package from Cowclops and TR47 stacks up when compared to some earlier bootlegs and to the official DVD set? As my notes above will attest, this is the best looking bootleg that I've come across. In fact, without a restoration and preservation effort similar to what was done by Lowery Digital in 2004 for the "Special Edition" form of the trilogy, I would expect it to be difficult to produce transfers that are noticeably better. A professionally-mixed Dolby EX or DTS ES soundtrack might be an improvement, but for anyone with access to Pro Logic II processing the PCM audio used here will sound better than any amateur Dolby 5.1 mix due to the uncompressed nature of PCM. Toss in the pretty extensive assortment of interviews, documentaries, trailers, old commercials, a few deleted scenes, and the other odds and ends found on the four bonus discs, and you have a pretty impressive overall package. Oh, and if you are interested in getting in contact with TR47 about these discs, try e-mailing him.

UPDATE - MAY 24, 2006: Earlier this month, Fox and Lucasfilm announced the release of Limited Editions of the original trilogy movies (see my news page for details). Each movie's Limited Edition release will contain one disc with the 2004 Special Edition version of the movie and a second disc with the original theatrical version, and each Limited Edition title will be available from September 12, 2006 until December 31, 2006. The second disc will of each movie will be taken from the LaserDisc transfers (either the 1993 Definitive Edition transfers that have been a favorite source for DVD bootlegs or the remastered 1995 "Faces" LD transfers). In light of this announcement, TR47 has let me know that he is discontinuing his Definitive Edition DVD's. He will continue to offer a nine-disc set of DVD's containing an extensive collection of supplemental material. I'm told that the price is $30. The first four discs are the same ones included in this set. Disc five is the Star Wars Holiday Special from November 1978 along with a few extras. Disc six is the "When Star Wars Ruled the World" VH-1 Special from 2004. Disc seven is the "Deleted Magic" documentary by Garrett Gilchrist. Disc eight is the fan documentary "Building Empire" by Jambe Davdar. Disc nine is a DVD-ROM with a large collection of artwork and other resources.

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