Of all the Star Wars movies on UHD, this might be the most difficult to judge. The 2160p/HDR UHD presentation considerably elevates the material over any previous version, the old (and the new) Blu-ray included, but at the same time there are some underlying problems that dampen enthusiasm and degrade from the experience. First of all, grain definitely appears to be frozen into place, but at the same time it doesn't look as if noise reduction has taken a drastic a toll on the picture, at least not for the duration. Certain shots look a little more scrubbed than others, but textures largely remain intact and, indeed, oftentimes incredible, delivering intricate, intimate detail well beyond the previous Blu-ray release. At film's beginning fans are going to spot wear and tear on R2 they have never seen before with so much clarity. All of the dings and dents and discolorations and building materials are plainly obvious, and perhaps even more so on his golden companion, C-3PO, whose long worn outer covering reveals countless scratches and dents and points of wear heretofore never seen in such grand detail. Many close-ups amaze, particularly when looking at iconic elements like Vader's mask and button cluster on his chest piece. The resolution actually begins to betray some of the "cheaper" production components, showing some of the seams and lower grade materials used, including Vader's helmet. Character close-ups generally reveal quality facial definition. Imperial uniforms are crisp, Stormtrooper suits show tangible textures and wear, and some of the grungier Falcon interiors and grimier X-Wing exteriors offer fantastic clarity. Some of the optical shots go soft and there's some general murkiness here and there (the trash compactor sequence) but even with some obvious filtering and frozen grain the movie still offers a fantastic level of raw detail never before seen for home viewing.
But some of the problems are impossible to overlook. There are times when the frozen grain appears to move with characters in clumps. Look at Luke's head against the bright Tatooine sky in chapter eight when he's taking part in selecting new droids for the farm with his uncle. Such occurrences are not commonplace, and this example is itself not particularly egregious, but it's still an unnecessary problem. Further, there's a little edge enhancement along some distant horizons on Tatooine in a few other places throughout the film. A couple of soft shots exist, notably as Luke, Ben, an the droids first enter Mos Eisley in some of the "new" scenes; there's even a stray vertical line at the 43:19 mark (and, yes, this is the "special edition" version of the film, not the prized and oft demanded original theatrical cut). Playback froze at the 54:38 mark. It played fine after removing the disc and wiping off the fingerprints that are an inevitable result of removing it from the boxed set.
The HDR colors darken the image a bit, adding depth and some interesting changes, albeit not overly drastic, to the proceedings. The iconic opening crawl sports a deeper tone, definitely not what fans are used to seeing through the years from VHS to Blu-ray, from Laserdisc to DVD. It's almost a very light orange rather than the more traditional solid, bright yellow. Another one of the more immediately obvious color transformations comes on the circular board on Yavin 4 where the Rebels watch the Death Star's progress as it approaches firing range. The red color on the board finds significantly deeper push. C-3PO's golden exterior is much less gaudy here, presenting with a deeper, more subdued, but more polished, appearance. Stormtrooper whites and the blockade runner interiors find some of the most prominent improvements for color stabilization and white pop. Generally, colors enjoy improved saturation and contrast, be that skin, laser blasts, lightsabers, Tatooine terrain, or the slick gray and black surfaces around the Death Star's interior. Vader black is perfect and space exteriors and low light interiors enjoy boosted depth as well. By-and-large, HDR improves where necessary without fundamentally altering the movie, though a few of the above-referenced elements do stand out a bit.
The film begins with the scratchy, dated fanfare to open. The Atmos track proves capable if not a bit stunted. Volume increase from calibrated reference norms is not vital but it does help. The sound design can be little cluttered during the opening assault on the blockade runner, with music and effects and some dialogue competing for dominance, primarily the former two. This holds for several of the larger scale action scenes, which have some underlying muddiness to them, though seemingly at the source. But the track is mostly good-to-great. Music is every bit as wide, detailed, and immersive as it should be. Action scenes do deliver some wonderfully robust depth and impressive surround integration and movement. The overhead channels don't offer anything obviously discrete but do carry elements in an effort to create a modestly more immersive sound field, never betraying the sound design but only improving it where it should, not necessarily where it can. Alderaan's destruction sends an impressive concussive blast through the stage, ditto the Death Star at film's end (spoiler alert?). One of the standout moments comes in chapter 13 when Obi-Wan makes a strange animal sound when rescuing Luke. It's enhanced here, sounding larger and louder and thereby more effective in its intensity and dispersion than ever before. Atmospheric effects also dot the film to positive effect. There is a lot of humming and radio chatter in a control center in chapter 30, a little symphony of sonic detail that brings the location to life. Other environmental details fill in scenes to good, immersive, effect, such as in various scenes in the kitchen and dining room at Uncle Owen's farm and, of course, inside Mos Eisley. Dialogue delivery is faultless. Atmos suits Star Wars and even if, like the video, there's room for improvement, the movie has never sounded so good for home listening.
4K Bluray detailsVideo
Codec: HEVC / H.265 (47.81 Mbps)
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
French: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
Japanese: Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
4K Ultra HD
Three-disc set (1 BD-66, 1 BD-25, 1 BD-50)
Movies Anywhere, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
Slipcover in original pressing
4K Blu-ray: Region free
2K Blu-ray: Region free