My Two Cents
Monday, 19 May 2014 02:01

About All These Original Star Wars Blu-ray Rumors…

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Over the weekend, I’ve had a mighty interesting experience. Thanks to a friend in the industry, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit Star Wars on Blu-ray as I first experienced it many years ago – unaltered, in 720p high-definition, and with the original audio mixes. As some of you may know, I’m speaking of Harmy’s infamous “despecialized” edition of Star Wars – the most recent 2.5 version (early 1.0 versions of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are available online too – this thread at Original is a good place to start).  [Read on here…]

Like every other Star Wars fan among Generation-X, I’ve been through the endless up-and-down roller coaster of special editions, prequels, tweaks and alterations, claims that the original films no longer exist, and the aftermath of the same. (See: The People vs. George Lucas for all the gory details.) Now that ordeal has begun anew with Disney’s recent purchase of the franchise and word last week of the official the start of production on Episode VII. Frankly, I’ve become sick to death of the whole darned whole mess.

Then a funny thing happened this weekend, as I watched the result of Harmy’s heroic effort to restore the original films: I remembered why I liked them so much to begin with. Here at last was Star Wars as I first saw it back in 1977! No Episode IV: A New Hope title, Han shooting first – BAM!, all those gorgeous physical models in the end battle, no more terrible CG Jabba, and – can it possibly be? – all of it properly color-timed! I’ll be damned if the original theatrical version of this film doesn’t hold up beautifully in HD, even after all this time. Best of all, the more I watched, the more all of the bad feelings that have built up over the years for me faded away. I simply can’t remember the last time I enjoyed watching Star Wars this much.

Which brings me to the latest rumors that have appeared online over the past week. First, ars technica ran a story speculating on the possibility that Disney might finally release the original, unaltered trilogy. Their conclusion: Unlikely, given that Fox still owns the distribution rights to the original ’77 film. Then, on Thursday, Bleeding Cool ran a story claiming that they’d “intercepted an e-mail” suggesting that Disney’s marketing department is indeed planning to release the unaltered originals on Blu-ray before Episode VII arrives in theaters. (Editors Note: I want to be clear that we’e not speaking to the validity of these other stories – our opinions on this matter are strictly our own.)

You longtime Bits readers will know that we have no small amount of experience with this subject. The Bits was part of the original Star Wars on DVD Campaign that first convinced Lucasfilm to release the films on DVD back in 2000. Remember these?

Original Star Wars on DVD Campaign graphics

Then, when Lucas himself (and Lucasfilm reps) repeatedly suggested in 2006 that the original, unaltered films could never again be released in high quality because they “no longer existed”, we called BS straight away. No less an authority than Robert A. Harris – our longtime friend, film preservation expert, and former Bits contributor – confirmed for us that not only did the original elements still exist and that the original theatrical versions could certainly be restored (at worst case high quality prints remain preserved in archives around the world), it could be done relatively easily compared to other projects, and for a modest sum. All that would be required is the financial investment and the will to do so. Robert would know, of course – he’s restored the Godfather films and Lawrence of Arabia among many other beloved cinema classics. So the notion that the original films “no longer exist” is simply nonsense.

Now consider this: Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise in 2012 for $4 billion. That’s billion with a ‘B’. And they intend to continue with Saga with new episodes that tie directly into those original films. This isn’t another prequel trilogy aimed at a new generation of kids – they’re shooting squarely at Gen-Xers with these new films. The same Gen-X that's built up all those bad feelings surrounding Star Wars over the years. What do you suppose is the quickest and surest way to wipe out all that ill will in one stroke, and at the same time ensure that nearly every of those kids who first discovered Star Wars back in the 20th Century (now 40 and 50-something adults) jumps on the bandwagon for the new sequels?

Of course, Disney is going to release the original, unaltered films!

Are you kidding? The folks at Disney have $4 billion riding on this little investment and they aren’t stupid. The only reason the original versions haven’t been properly released before this is that George Lucas didn’t want it to happen… but Lucas is no longer in control of such decisions. There’s simply no way Disney would have paid $4 billion without the right to do what they wanted to with this franchise. And what they want to do is exploit the crap out of it for years to come.

As for Fox being a problem somehow, does anyone really think Fox wouldn’t appreciate the chance to make some easy cash releasing the original versions in partnership with Disney? Where there’s a will, there’s a way... and where there’s this much money to be made, you can bet they’ll find a way. Besides, if Fox can work out its differences with Warner Bros. to finally release classic TV Batman on Blu-ray and DVD, Fox should have no problem striking a deal with Disney on this.

Bottom line: We’d be absolutely shocked if the original, unaltered Star Wars films don’t A) return to theaters, B) get released on Blu-ray and DVD, or C) both, prior to the theatrical debut of Episode VII in December 2015. I mean seriously. You don’t need to be a Jedi or a Sith to see that the Force is strong in this rumor.

On the other hand, in the extraordinarily unlikely event that Disney doesn’t release the original versions on disc, don’t sweat it. You still have options. Let me just be the latest person to say: Thank you, Harmy! Your work is absolutely incredible.

One thing’s for sure… this old roller coaster’s on the move again. Time to buckle up.

- Bill Hunt

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