From a young Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the dark side to the rise of the Resistance and their struggle to restore peace in the galaxy, the story that electrified a generation comes to a striking conclusion. The saga will end. The story lives forever. – Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga publicity insert.
On Monday, April 20, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd. released its Blu-ray box set, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, for the UK/Western Europe market. Because the 18 Blu-ray discs (BDs) are region-free (meaning they can be played on any BD player regardless of its geographic region), BVHE – The Walt Disney Company’s home media distributor – also authorized U.S. retailers such as Walmart to sell this set as a less expensive alternative to the larger 27-disc set with nine 4K UHD Blu-ray discs and 18 HD BDs, which is a Best Buy exclusive.
Though both box sets share some commonalities – the packaging bears the same silver on black color scheme and a stark representation of a quadrant of the original Death Star on the side panels; and the distribution of HD BDs is identical (nine discs for the features, nine discs for the Bonus Features – there are a few differences as well.
The most obvious difference between the Best Buy-exclusive version of The Skywalker Saga and the import version from Walmart is the size and engineering of the packaging. Because the latter set only contains 18 1080p Blu-rays, BVHE opted to go with a smaller box which eschews the elaborately designed DigiBook with individual DigiPacks for each of the nine numbered Episodes in the “core” Star Wars saga.
Thus, the 18-disc edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga consists of the following:
- An outer slip box with a flip-top, black with the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga indicia printed in silver-white letters on the top and front panels. To open the slip box, gently lift the hinged top panel; the front panel will drop, ramp—like, to reveal the DigiPacks. The inside of the front panel also features a thank you letter from Mark Hamill
- Three white foldout-type DigiPacks, one for each of the Star Wars trilogies. Each DigiBook bears the Blu-ray, Lucasfilm, and Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga logos on the spine; each trilogy’s DigiPack bears a Roman numeral (I, II, and III at the bottom of the spine; on the front cover, under the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga title, we see the titles of the three Episodes contained herein – DigiBook I houses The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, for instance
- Each DigiPack, which folds out to reveal three compartments, holds six discs, in two-BD pairings (one feature film BD, one bonus features BD)
As mentioned above, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga rounds up the nine numbered Episodes of the Prequel, Original, and Sequel Trilogies in one 18-disc collection. These films represent the roles played by Anakin Skywalker and his descendants in a series of conflicts between the forces of good and evil “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Released over a 42-year span (1977-2019), the films that make up The Skywalker Saga are:
- Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999). Written and directed by George Lucas
- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002). Written by George Lucas & Jonathan Hales. Directed by George Lucas
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). Written and directed by George Lucas
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) Written and directed by George Lucas
- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Written by Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan. Story by George Lucas. Directed by Irvin Kershner
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) Written by Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas. Story by George Lucas. Directed by Richard Marquand
- Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt. Directed by J.J. Abrams
- Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) Written and directed by Rian Johnson
- Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Written by Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams. Story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow and J.J. Abrams & Chris Terrio. Directed by J.J. Abrams
Each Episode is paired with a 1080p BD with the Bonus Features; the six “George Lucas Era” films come with a mix of extras made for the 2015 20th Century Fox/Disney digital release and “legacy” content from the 2001-2005 DVD editions and the 2011 Blu-ray bonus discs. The three “Disney Lucasfilm” Sequel Trilogy Episodes’ bonus discs are essentially the same ones from the 2016-2020 home media releases.
In total, the Walmart “import” edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga offers Star Wars fans 18 high definition Blu-rays in one compact slip box.
As I wrote in yesterday’s post, this was the first iteration of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga I ordered back in February, which is when I found out that Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm were about to release a follow-on to the 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga box sets released a year before Star Wars creator (and Lucasfilm’s CEO) George Lucas announced his retirement and his intention to sell his company to The Walt Disney Company. I ordered this set at Walmart.com because I initially balked at paying over $250 for a 27-disc set – with nine discs that I didn’t know when I’d watch, if at all – and figured I’d be better off with a cheaper set.
Well, I ended up ordering the Best Buy exclusive set. And in a series of weird Internet-related mishaps, I ended up with this set as well. I didn’t plan on it, but due to the complexities of dealing with Walmart Customer Service in the midst of a global pandemic, I decided to take the $141 hit to my wallet and keep the 18-disc set.
Besides my reluctance to call Walmart and start a returns process for my “import” edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, I also have good reasons to add it to my collection of Star Wars Blu-rays and DVDs.
First, after examining the Walmart set and comparing it to its larger, more elaborate, and pricier Best Buy counterpart, I determined that the import version of the BVHE/Lucasfilm Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is the set to get if you:
- Don’t own a 4K UHD TV set and compatible 4K Blu-ray player and don’t plan to buy them in the near future
- Don’t have the financial resources to buy the larger – and pricier – 27-disc version of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
- Don’t own any of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga films on Blu-ray
- Are a Star Wars Blu-ray “complete collector” who must own every variant ever released
- Want a less expensive Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga for everyday use and only watch the 4K discs on special occasions
Second, as nice as the Best Buy version – with its cleverly engineered collectible packaging and beautifully-illustrated DigiBook – of the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga truly is, I find that the more compact, three-DigiBook design of the import version is just more ergonomic and easier to handle. This is especially true in regard to taking the Blu-ray discs out of the packaging to play them and then putting them back after use.
With the Best Buy set, the discs (4K UHD as well as 1080p HD) are stored in niches set inside “pages” in a book-like disc container. You have to carefully tease the disc you want to play out of its compartment without damaging the playing surface with scratches or smudges from your fingertips. It can be done; the original 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/Lucasfilm Star Wars: The Complete Saga from 2011 used a similar storage system, only the “niches” for the discs are located on the “side ”edge” of each page-like sleeve, whilst on the newer set, they are placed on the “top” edge of the sleeve. (And, of course, taking discs out from a brand-new DigiBook is a nerve-racking experience, because the discs are packed in their sleeves tight.)
I prefer the less showy but more practical and “old-school” plastic compartments on the foldout-design DigiPacks in the import version. The three DigiPacks aren’t as impressive in size and looks as the $249.99 (MSRP) Best Buy set’s single “Collector’s Edition” volume, but you can extract the discs more easily and without frying your nervous system worrying about damaging a disc in the process.
I noticed that the Blu-rays for the six films of the Prequel and Original Trilogies aren’t – like the individual disc reissues from late 2019 – merely relabeled versions of the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment BDs. Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm gave the 2020 discs for the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga sets a makeover that retains the geek factor from the earlier Blu-ray releases – the commentaries by George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, and other cast and crew members were ported over to the 2020 discs, for instance.
To reflect the changes of ownership of the Star Wars IP and the relationship between 20th Century Fox and Disney, as well as to allay fans’ fears that the 2020 discs are essentially the same as the ones BVHE issued less than six months before, the discs have – as Han Solo might say – “special modifications.”
First, the six films originally released by Fox between 1977 and 2005 come in discs with new menus. Even the cute “disc is loading” R2-D2 graphic is gone, which wasn’t the case with BVHE’s late-2019 reissue of these films. The menus are more in line with the ones in the 2016-2020 Blu-rays of the Sequel Trilogy and the Anthology standalones Rogue One and Solo.
Second, though the familiar 20th Century Fox logo and Alfred Newman’s classic Fanfare still introduce Episodes I-VI, the former corporate owner, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, is no longer mentioned in the Fox logo. So, even though the old studio that produced the original Star Wars film is now a subsidiary company of the larger Disney corporation, fans don’t have to fret about Star Wars history being erased by the House of Mouse.
The one other feature worth mentioning here is in one of the Sequel Trilogy discs. It’s unique to Star Wars Episode VIII’s disc, which is significantly different from the 2018 home media release. From what I understand, it’s the only Sequel Trilogy Blu-ray that underwent a total digital remastering process, and – in at least the import version – Lucasfilm added a “music-only” track that lets you watch The Last Jedi as a silent film accompanied by John Williams’ brilliant score. I looked for this option on the Best Buy set’s The Last Jedi disc, but either (a) the U.S. version doesn’t have a “music-only” audio track, or I didn’t look for it with enough tenacity.
Overall, I don’t regret that I was not able to cancel this “phantom order” of the 18-disc Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga import edition box set. If I didn’t have a 4K UHD TV and a compatible Blu-ray player, this would have been my preferred choice anyway; it just happens that I do have one, so the nine 4K UHD discs in the Best Buy counterpart will get played – eventually. But because I like this set’s more compact packaging and it’s far easier to handle the discs without giving myself a heart attack, I’ll probably use this one as my “everyday” use collection, while I’ll only trot out the 4K discs in the more expensive Skywalker Saga set on special occasions.
Updated to add: As it happens, the Best Buy exclusive set’s Blu-ray with Star Wars: The Last Jedi does, indeed, include the isolated music track option. Apparently, I tested that disc in haste and late at night (way past midnight, as a matter of fact), so I didn’t see the option on the Main Menu.