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DVD: The Star Wars Trilogy

Van Ling
DVD Producer
Tuesday, September 21, 2004; 12:00 PM

The "Star Wars" trilogy -- that's Episodes IV, V and VI to you stormtrooper sticklers -- finally debuts today on DVD in a four-disc set that is easily the most anticipated release of the year. The long-awaited set includes only George Lucas's 1997 special-edition versions of the films, each with a few recently added tweaks, a fact that has rankled "Star Wars" purists who covet the original editions from the 1970s and '80s.

"Star Wars" DVD producer Van Ling will be online Tuesday, Sept. 21, at Noon ET to discuss the box set, its bonus features and what it's like to work as a DVD producer.

Kris Kristofferson (washingtonpost.com)

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In addition to serving as producer on the "Star Wars" trilogy, Ling has worked as a producer on such previous DVDs as "The Phantom Menace," "Attack of the Clones," "Terminator 2" and "Independence Day."

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Portland, Ore.: Your "Terminator 2" DVD edition set a benchmark for its striking menus and numerous text explorations of film concepts, so I assume James Cameron was insistent on utilizing the DVD format to its maximum. Did you find George Lucas to be as interested in these extras, or was the presentation of the movies his primary interest?

Van Ling: Thanks for the kind words on T2. I was very lucky to have James Cameron allow me to go as far as I could on T2; since I had worked with him for many years, he trusted me to take care of his film on DVD. I think George is equally interested in both the film presentation and the documentaries, but the films themselves were the focus. The other folks at Lucasfilm were very interested in making sure the extras were both consumer-friendly and fan-friendly, and unique within the context of all of the other materials available (books, games, etc.).


Bethesda, Md.: Why make the changes in the films. Can't you just leave the masterpeices the way they are?

Van Ling: It's George Lucas' position that he is making the versions of the films that he always wanted to make, and that as the original artist, he has that right. Personally, I respect his right to do that but would love to see the films as I originally fell in love with them, "flaws" and all.


Tysons Corner, Va.: Can't wait to watch this DVD on my HDTV. Does this set have more unreleased footage? Or deleted scenes? And are there interactive "Star Wars" games or trivia on the bonus discs?

Van Ling: There's a lot of never-before-seen material on the bonus disc, including portions of deleted scenes within the big documentary. There are also some great game links and previews.


Washington, D.C.: Are there any differences between these DVDs and what we saw at the theater (i.e. additional footage with longer running times)? What kinds of bonus features will there be?


Van Ling: There are definitely some surprises in the films themselves for the discriminating fan... and a great 2.5-hour documentary on the bonus disc, among other things.


Alexandria, Va.: Is there any possibility that after the initial release of the DVDs, there'll be a second release a few months down the line with even more goodies included, a la the "Lord of the Rings" DVDs? My husband bought the DVD for the first LOTR movie, only to be royally p---ed when the "special edition" with added scenes came out later that year. He knew better for the second and thirrd movies in that series. I want the "Star Wars" DVDs, but not if there's a better version waiting in the wings.

Van Ling: I don't believe there will be another release of the Star Wars Classic Trilogy for several years, until probably 2007, which is the 30th anniversary. So this is money well spent now.


Greenbelt, Md.: How badly did Lucas mangle these films for the DVD? I realize that the toys are the main profit area for him, but movies should be about more than merchandising placement (which is the problem with the lousy prequels).

Will there be a release of the original films on DVD at some point, or should we continue to buy pirated versions?

Van Ling: Talk about loaded questions! You'll have to decide for yourself how you feel about what George has done to the films. As far as I understand, there are no plans to release the "original" versions of the films, which George considers to be unfinished versions. And no one should be buying pirated versions anyway, since these original versions are commercially available as legitimate product, just not on DVD.


Arlington, Va.: Did you feel any extra pressure on this project because of the fans? I mean, did you ever say you were working on this project at a party or something and somebody from out of the blue says, "You know what you ought to do..."

Van Ling: I felt the extra pressure of being a fan myself, so I set the bar pretty high in the first place. I also never talk about the project to others (I never had time to go to any parties, this was so time-consuming!), and I try to avoid any discussions or ideas from others, especially since in these lawsuit-happy days. I went on my instincts as a fan and as a film professional.


Van Ling : For more details on the "Star Wars" DVD's bonus features, you can also read the post.com review: "The Force Is Finally With Us."


Alexandria, Va.: Previously on a CD-Rom for the PC, Lucas Arts included deleted scenes from the original film.

Why weren't those scenes included in the DVD? Especially since they had already been available?

I have visions of Lucas and Fox deciding to release a "deluxe box" following the final film that would include all of the material that was left out of these releases, as well as the original cuts of the films, ostensibly released "due to fan demand", but really meant as a way to get people to pay twice. (Not unlike the extended versions of the "Rings" DVDs that have been released.)

Van Ling: I would disagree with you on LOTR, as they made sure that they announced both versions simultaneously and they scrupulously made sure that there was no overlap between the features of the two sets. Similarly, I think that any subsequent release of the SW films will have new materials that are not on this current set, so it's not money wasted. It also allows fans to decide between different content, not just the same thing.

As for the deleted scenes, I think George may want to finish them and clean them up before he puts them on DVD.


washngtonpost.com: By the way, that message about the post.com review was posted by the Web site producer, not from Van. Had a brief technical difficulty there.


Rockville, Md.: Can you describe what a DVD producer does? Do you have any role in deciding what goes on a DVD, or how the featurettes are edited? And how does one become a DVD producer?

Van Ling: The role of a DVD Producer can range from creating content and designing the entire package to managing existing assets. It's usually a combination of both to various degrees, depending on the project. I have no idea how to become one, as I started as a laserdisc producer. You have to have a good balance of technical and creative skills, because it's a pretty technical medium.


Pensacola, Fla.: Van, why is the music in the surround channels on "Star Wars" reversed in the stereo sound files? This doesn't sound right.

Van Ling: I believe Lucasfilm has released a response to this question already. You'll have to check the web for it.


Los Angeles, Calif.: When producing the trilogy DVDs, aren't you responsible for all of the audio tracks, etc? Why is the "Star Wars - New Hope" audio track so messed up? (Surround music reversed, unbalanced dialogue that used to be balanced, poor music mix, lines now distorted that weren't, etc.)

Van Ling: The tracks are as they were intended, according to Lucasfilm. As the DVD Producer, I had nothing to do with the audio.


Los Angeles, Calif.: How do you feel about how your menus ruin the story by giving away images from key plot points to new viewers? Remember, many kids will see the films for the first time, and your menus just show what is going to happen ... Why do you do this?

Van Ling: My goal in creating menus is to evoke the spirit of the film and immerse the viewers in the films' environments. If anything, they give away no more than a preview trailer, so I'm not sure what key plot points you are talking about.


Washington, D.C.: I'm sure this question has been asked/will be asked again, but I'll ask anyway: How come there are no deleted scenes included in the bonus features? What was Lucasfilm's explanation?

Van Ling: I think he may want to work on them before putting them on DVD. Then again, deleted scenes are deleted for a reason, generally.


Arlington, Va.: I know you're probably inundated with angry questions about the DVDs from fans, so I want to go ahead and thank you for at least getting them out there and making them look good.

I just wanted to know if you know of any plans to show the movies in high definition, like with Episode II on HBO-HD?

Van Ling: The films were all restored to HD, and are actually ready for digital cinema release should Lucasfilm so choose. I'm not aware of any HD broadcast plans at the moment, but if there are enough people interested, maybe they can do a digital cinema thing. It would look amazing!


Alexandria, Va.: I bought the Star Wars Special Edition Trilogy when it was released on VHS a few years ago. Other than the format change, what's new with the DVD edition? Why should I buy this one, too?

Van Ling: There are definitely some changes in the films, some of which have to do with Episode III. I think it's definitely worth getting, especially with this big documentary on the bonus disc.


Lyme, Conn.: "Star Wars' is one of the greatest movies of all times and I love the trilogy. Yet I am not an enthusiast who is going to be excited because a film has a few minutes of additional film footage or because a few extra details have been added to the background. What does this new issue offer to someone like me?

Van Ling: Apart from seeing the films cleaned up and restored --it really does look and sound great-- the bonus disc has a lot of interesting materials, including a big 2.5-hour documentary about the history of the films.


U Street & 13th (Washington, D.C.): Hi. I just wanted to say that I cannot wait to get my Star Wars Trilogy set in the mail. I ordered it online last week. I have been looking forward to this release ever since I got my first DVD player.

I welcome the changes to the films that Lucas did for the DVD release. I don't understand what the big hubbub is about not including the original theatrical releases on the DVD set.

I can't wait to include the entire set. I am sure that once all six films are available for DVD release ... Lucas may release a whole box set filled with even more special features and even more footage not previously seen. Do you foresee this happening after the final installment ends its theatrical run?

Van Ling: I don't see any new releases before 2007, which is the 30th anniversary of the saga.


Washington, D.C.: So were you a huge "Star Wars" fan growing up? You mentioned that you'd like to see the originals, too, so I'm assuming you were. Did you collect the action figures, the Underoos, the whole nine yards?

Van Ling: I was a huge fan, but even I didn't have the kid's budget for all the toys! But the films did inspire me to get into the movie business.


Washington, D.C.: Since it's a four-disc set ... I hope that means Chapters 4, 5 and 6 and a special "extra" disc.

If not ... how do the discs partition the three films?

Van Ling: You are correct on the configuration.


Washington, D.C.: Are you aware of any plans to release an "uber" collection of all 6 episodes in the future? Would such a collection be the place where fans can expect to find deleted scenes and other archival stuff not included in this release?

Van Ling: I would definitely expect something like that, probably around 2007. But I still think this current set is worth getting as well, since the content will be different for any future sets.


Washington, D.C.: I have not yet seen the price range discussed. What will the four-disc set cost?

Van Ling: You should be able to find the set for between 40 and 50 bucks out there. Not bad for three movies and a bonus disc with four hours of extras on it.


Philadelphia, Pa.: You are a leader in the development of content for DVDs. What do you see happening in the future in what the consumer can expect from DVDs?

Van Ling: A big question... I think HD is going to come along soon, as long as everyone can agree on a standard and consumers are willing to get more gear to make it worthwhile. More interaction from filmmakers in the DVD process is giving consumers a lot more content that isn't just PR-type stuff. Hopefully, there will be more interaction, and I think there is going to be some greater web connectivity soon as well.


Virginia: Any Easter eggs you can tell us about?

Van Ling: Sorry, if I told you, they wouldn't be Easter Eggs any more, right? But yes.


Alexandria, Va.: Actually the original "non-special edition" versions of the film have not been available for some time.

Since Lucas was unhappy with the way these films turned out and wanted to go back to "correct" them, when can we expect to see the special edition of "Howard the Duck"?

Van Ling: You know, I both strangely hope so and also hope not! ;-)


Alexandria, Va.: I understand from the DVD specialty site, Digital Bits, that there are some disturbing audio glitches that the studio is explaining as "intentional." The glitches in Episode IV include a swapping of the left and right rear channels; the trumpet fanfare that used to play right after Red Leader says: "This is it!" and just as the X-wings start diving towards the Death Star's surface has been dialed back in volume so that it's almost inaudible; and audio quality that varies wildly e.g. - as Tarkin says the line: "You would prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system." The sound element seems damaged.

Are you aware of these points, and if so, are you aware of efforts to correct the problem?

Van Ling: I'm not involved in the original audio or picture for the films at all, but I understand that Ben Burtt and the creative folks at Lucasfilm have addressed that concern in a statement. The presentation of the films has varied for years, with certain lines being changed or dropped or levels changing, and they certainly have the ability to do what they want, so I have to trust that what you see on the DVD is what they intended, even if you may disagree with their choices.


Staten Island, N.Y.: If we already own the original films on laserdisc or VHS, why shouldn't we make our own 'theatrical' version DVDs when we don't want the 'enhanced, altered, or changed' versions? It's legal for me to make a DVD of something I've already purchased...

Van Ling: You'll have to check the laws on that one...


Washington, D.C.: The thing I liked best about TESB (episode V) was the imaginative use of darkness throughout the film. I hope the new version remains true to that aspect of the film ... or has a brighter picture quality been introduced?

Van Ling: The folks at Lucasfilm really tried to maintain the intended look of the film, and Empire is definitely the darker film. Just make sure you have your TV monitor calibrated correctly, using the THX Optimizer tests that are included on each feature disc, to take full advantage of the DVD.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Are you any relation to Van Lingo Mungo? He used to pitch for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Van Ling: Um, no. Sorry.


Halifax, Nova Scotia: It's clear that this set will be compared to the Indy set (3 movies + disc of extras) and to the two prequels already released. How hard is it to follow that mold and still try and take your own direction/approach to the process?

Van Ling: The Indy and SW series are completely different -- also, Indy is Spielberg-- so there was no pressure on that front. The pressure came from trying to be consistent with the previous Star Wars DVDs, especially with the complex menus. But Lucasfilm was very supportive of my designs and visions for the menus, and their goal is to make bonus materials that people want to see, not just filler.


Falls Church, Va.: I understand that George Lucas meant to have all the "new" features in the original trilogy, but couldn't there have been an option on the DVD for us purists to watch the ORIGINAL? I hate the new one with a passion.

Van Ling: George is doing the versions he feels are the ones he wants out there; you don't have to like them, but you have to respect his right to do them. As a student of filmmaking, though, I would love to see the original versions available as well, since you can learn a lot about storytelling from why things were done a certain way and how things change.


Washington D.C.: Hello! Thank you for your work on the DVD. While you were putting together the DVD extras, what was the most surprising or amusing thing you learned about the making of "Star Wars"?

Van Ling: I have to note that the DVD extras were put together by a big team of creative folks, including Kevin Burns on the big doc and Gary Leva on the featurettes and commentary. What struck me from watching their pieces was just how skin-of-the-teeth the filmmaking of SW was, and how strong you have to be with your vision to make it through all the naysayers. And seeing Kurt Russell and Cindy Williams reading for Han and Leia was pretty amusing too!


Springfield, Va.: Thanks for answering our questions!

I have a quick one for you: Why did it take so long for Lucas to release the original trilogy on DVD?

Van Ling: Believe it or not, he's been really busy on the prequels. I think he also wanted to see what could be done with the format --and what its acceptance was-- before he took the time.


Olney, Md.: Is there an option on the new release to watch the original theatrical version, without the new scenes? Not an unrestored version, I hear the restoration was beautifully done, I just want the option of watching the same movie without the new scenes.

Van Ling: I would have loved to see that too, since I've been able to do that on at least 3 of my DVD projects (The Abyss, T2, and Independence Day), but this was not what Lucasfilm wanted to do. As is their right, whether we agree with it or not.


New York, N.Y.: How much does the new set cost, for us starving artist/"Star Wars" geeks?

Van Ling: You should be able to get it for $40-50 on the net, and if you're a geek like me, it's worth every penny.


Halifax, NS: Are you surprised at the attention the sound issues with EPIV:ANH are getting? As a DVD Producer, how difficult is it to have people focus on things like the film changes and the audio issues instead of reveling in a long awaited release that you and your team worked many hours on?

Van Ling: It's always a challenge. Imagine your kid goes out on stage in the school play for the first time and all people focus on is his or her braces or a pimple. There's a lot of great work and effort that was put into this DVD set, and I'm sorry to see distractions to people seeing that. But at the same time, it's amazing to see how attentive the fans are. I appreciate how much they care.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, I've been waiting for these DVDs forever! Thank you! My question: Of the DVDs you _haven't_ produced, what are a couple of your favorites? (in terms of interesting extra content, production values, etc.)

Van Ling: There are too many to count, actually. The LOTR DVDs are fantastic, as are some of the Pixar discs and a lot of classic movies as well. Years ago, as a film fan and a film professional, I knew what I wanted to see out there and wasn't seeing it, so I did them myself. Now there's a lot of great content out there... maybe I can retire and just watch them all!


Washington, D.C.: Hi there. How did your career path take you into DVD production? I imagine you had some other jobs in the movie business before this one?

Van Ling: I went to USC Film School and started working in production for James Cameron. I got involved in laserdisc when we did the LDs for his films, and became an LD producer, along with my other feature film production work, which included visual effects on a lot of big features. It was an easy transition to doing DVDs, since I was always into documenting and learning about the filmmaking and storytelling process.


Alexandria, Va.: I would suspect working on these films for DVD is a "holy grail" for many people who do what you do. Having completed this project, what film would you most like to be able to work on if you had the chance?

Van Ling: That's a tough question. There are so many great projects out there and a lot of good producers doing them. Sometimes I think I'd like to just sit back and watch what they produce! ;-)


Centreville, Va.: Even though Lucas thinks they are flawed, many fans would love, and in fact REQUIRE the originals. Is there any chance Lucas might just drop off the originals to the Criterion people, for instance?

Van Ling: I seriously doubt it. Sorry...


Delray Beach, Fla.: Along the lines of the audio issue: If you turn on the French track, the missing audio cues are correct, but on the English and Spanish they are not. Wouldn't this quailify as a defect and not the creative intention that was stated in the press release this a.m.?

Van Ling: I suppose it depends on point of view. I've noticed that there are often a lot of differences between the domestic and international versions of the films, even including the names of characters. That said, I trust that the folks at Lucasfilm are standing by their statement and are taking responsibility for it by addressing the issue as they see fit. Which is not to say that you don't have the right to disagree.


Rockville, Md.: Hi, I was wondering, since the films have been "restored to HD" as you say, if Lucasfilm has any plans to re-relase them in some sort of HD format to take advantage of the fact that many of us have HDTVs? I know that HD-DVD is still a pipe dream, but will they release an HD version for the PC? And do you know if Lucasfilm has weighed in on which HD-DVD format they favor?? Thanks.

Van Ling: I'm not aware of any plans to release the films on HD yet. I think the goal is to make sure the format is stable and compatible --and piracy-protected-- before they put an HD version out there.


New York, N.Y.: Didn't you actually do visual effects, and work on films that were being made? How come you are now doing DVDs as opposed to being a filmmaker? You had a promising career...

Van Ling: Gosh, I'd like to think I haven't gone completely down the tubes just because I'm working on DVDs... ;-)

Working on DVDs these days means still working on film production, often on the set with the filmmaker, making creative decisions (how many other people can say that they designed and created their own shots from Star Wars that are part of the official releases, as I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do?). And I still do keep my hand in visual effects and am working on some of my own projects, so if one considers that the end of "a promising career", I'd have to disagree!


Detroit, Mich.: Are there plans for even more changes to this once perfect series after the release of Episode III?

Van Ling: Honestly, I have no idea. But in this business, you never say never. Which is both scary if you're worried about more changes and hopeful if you want to see the original theatrical versions someday... anything might happen.


Stanusbridge, Va.: I'm not sure how big a group I represent, but I do not wish to purchase the Trilogy DVD or any other original Star Wars trilogy material until it is released in the version I want (if ever) - that being the original theatrical movies. If the "T2" DVD is any indication of your work, I'm sure the Trilogy stuff you worked on is fabulous. However, having access to George Lucas for some period of time, do you know if he has any indication as to the demand for the original releases, and if not, can you recommend any channels to express this desire to him? Everyone wants "Star Wars" in their movie collection, but I don't want to buy something I don't want. Thanks

Van Ling: You vote with your wallets. Don't buy anything you don't want. George makes his decisions based on his vision as a filmmaker. If he were strictly about business, as a lot of folks accuse him of being, then he would have pandered to all the fan requests, right? You can agree or disagree withn his choices, but you have to respect his right to make them, just as I'm sure he respects the fans' right to disagree.


Detroit, Mich.: What great materials did you see that you loved as a fan but didn't make the final discs? (And we might see in the future...) Come on, tease us with your amazing access...

Van Ling: Tip of the iceberg. Of course, as a geek fan of the series and a student of filmmaking and storytelling, everything is great material to me, and a source of education and inspiration... but I don't think most people are interested in a lot of the minutiae like I am. There's a lot of great dated material that are a product of their era that I would love to see out there, in the right context. but it's not my place to tease... that's up to the good folks at Lucasfilm Marketing. But rest assured, there's a lot of great stuff in their archives, and whatever comes out in the future should complement the stuff on the current DVD set, not replace it.


Cincinnati, Ohio: Van,

Thank you for the top notch work you do. Don't let a few naysayers represent the majority of us. Keep up the excellent work!

Van Ling: Thanks so much for the kind words and encouragement. I really appreciate it!


Washington, D.C.: Any chance that the 1977 Christmas Special will come out on DVD?

Van Ling: I seriously doubt it, given that it has never even been shown again after its initial broadcast, let alone released on home video... but as I always say, never say never.


washngtonpost.com: Van's wrapped up for today, but wants to send along his thanks for all of your great questions. He hopes you enjoy the "Star Wars" DVD.


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