What We Want And How To Make It

Consider this a short sequel to my WIRED article.

What We Want

For almost 25 years, the fans have been handed one version at a time and told this is as good as it gets. Star Wars is one of the few movies treated like this. Most other movies with alternate cuts give you a choice of which version you want in the box. Blade Runner gave you five versions, even the theatrical cut that Ridley Scott hated. He knew it was important to give the fans options, even if he personally disliked some of them. The Apocalypse Now UHD set gives you three versions of the the movie, all in 4K. Even Lucas’ personal friends know that choices are important.

Lucasfilm tried to give us a choice once, but they did it using the least effort possible. In the mid-2000’s, Lucasfilm saw that the fan community was distributing preservations of 1993’s The Definitive Collection LaserDisc online, the last home video master made of the theatrical cuts (which was also used in the “THX” release from 1995). In order to curb what they considered to be piracy and not preservation, Lucasfilm decided to cut those fans off by releasing the 2006 “Limited Edition” DVD. Unfortunately, instead of doing a modernized release of the films, they took the exact same 1993 home video master and burned it to DVD retaining the 4:3 format of the LaserDisc. (I will give them credit for scanning the original theatrical crawl for Star Wars, although they tried their best to make it look as bad as the rest of the LaserDisc).

The infamous four-eyed Stormtrooper, part of the LaserDisc master.

But this did set a precedent. Lucasfilm gave us a choice in the past with a bonus disc release. They have the capacity to release the originals. They have before, they can again…even if it’s just to have a leg to stand on against the distribution of modern fan preservations.

These fan preservations can fill the holes, but it’s shameful they have to exist at all. In order to watch the original version of Star Wars legally, you need to find the “Limited Edition” DVD in a second-hand store or on eBay, and that only gives you the non-anamorphic rip of the 1993 Laserdisc. If you want to see it in HD, you have to find a legally-grey fan recreation that utilizes the Blu-ray and undoes each change individually. If you want to see it in 4K, you have to find and download a 90 GB file that is an illegally scanned fourth-generation theatrical-run print that is probably not in a format you can just play on your TV. Anyone should be able to walk into their local store or load up their favorite digital store or streaming service and have the choice of what version to watch.

An ultimate release of the Original Trilogy should be about one thing: preservation. These are historical artifacts and should be treated as such. Yes, even the Special Edition is an historical artifact. If someone grew up on that (extremely flawed) version & prefers it, by all means they should be able to watch it as what it should have always been: the bonus disc.


How To Make It

“I started out as an editor, so to me saving the film— the film is what the whole process is about. So I’ve saved all my films, I’ve saved all my negatives, I’ve saved everything.“

George Lucas, Anatomy of a Dewback (1997)

While the “original” negatives are currently cut to the 97SE (as in they printed the new effects onto film and spliced it into the negative), negatives aren’t the final word on preservation. Lucasfilm has backups made directly off of the theatrical negative, and at least one of the prints is a fade-free three-color separation master. We know this exists because LFL used it to color-time the 97SE and possibly the 19SE. These separation masters could be scanned and used as the centerpiece of this set. The original award-winning effects, the films that changed the entire world, better than it ever looked in theaters. Heck, the Special Edition Jabba scene was restored from an interpositive because they lost the negative. If they could clean that well enough for it to be inserted into the negative for the rest of the film, it’s definitely another possible source. I’ve heard rumors that there’s already a 4K scan ready and waiting to be released.

Some might ask why I don’t advise that they take apart the negative again and rebuild the entire theatrical cut from the original elements. I would argue that it wouldn’t be preserving anything. It would be making what the Special Edition should have been, and maybe if that’s all it was I wouldn’t be here making these arguments. But what it comes down to is that it’s not just about the original timing, it’s about the original visual effects and the original compositions. It’s every hand-made wipe, every painted glass, every shot that was created in the early morning hours after two days with no sleep. Industrial Light and Magic worked their asses off, and every frame of what they delivered deserves to be preserved exactly as they delivered it. Any reconstruction would introduce the temptation to fix this or that.

The first disc for each movie would be a 4K presentation of the original theatrical version in the highest quality possible (separation master, internegative, uncirculated print). The original Star Wars could even have the “A New Hope” opening available via seamless branching, pulled from a 1981 print. As for audio, every pre-97 version should be available as an option, so fans can hear it how they heard it when the saw it originally. No new Atmos mix, just the preservations of the original Dolby Surround tracks. The goal would be for the average viewer to recreate their first experience with the films.

For the bonus discs, the 4K scan of the 97SE “original” negative used as the base of the 19SE could be presented with seamless branching to the 19SE changes. The 97SE was theatrically released and is a time capsule of film history. It should also be preserved.

This imagined set could take or leave the HD Branch (the 2004 DVD & the 2011 Blu-ray) as they ended up being rough drafts of the 19SE, but the current Blu-ray discs could be included if necessary. Perhaps Lucasfilm could create a seamless branching Blu-ray that recreates the DVD version. If they didn’t, only thing that would be lost would be the 2004 sound mix of ANH with Obi-Wan’s piercing wail to scare off the Tusken Raiders and the “Deliberate Creative Decision™” of having reversed surround channels during the Battle of Yavin. If these versions were not included at all, we would also lose the iterations of Greedo Shot First from those editions and the “unique” color-timing choices made for that branch. However, since you can still unknowingly buy the 2011 Blu-ray on shelves today, it again wouldn’t be necessary.


The UHD Set

Disc 1: The Classic Edition

Star Wars / Star Wars: A New Hope

  • 35mm two-track (four-channel) Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 35mm Academy Mono
  • 1985 Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 1993 Dolby Stereo Surround

Disc 2: The Saga Edition

Star Wars: A New Hope: Special Edition (97SE)

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (19SE)

  • Dolby Atmos

Disc 3: The Classic Edition

The Empire Strikes Back

  • 35mm two-track (four-channel) Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 35mm Academy Mono
  • 1985 Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 1993 Dolby Stereo Surround

Disc 4: The Saga Edition

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition (97SE)

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (19SE)

  • Dolby Atmos

Disc 5: The Classic Edition

Return of the Jedi

  • 35mm two-track (four-channel) Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 1985 Dolby Stereo Surround
  • 1993 Dolby Stereo Surround

Disc 6: The Saga Edition

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: Special Edition (97SE)

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (19SE)

  • Dolby Atmos

The set I’ve laid out is not unreasonable to request. The fans have already proven that by doing it themselves. And I think that’s the key to an official release: include the fans. There are fans out there who know these movies better than the people who worked on them 40 years ago. We know what we want. And if Lucasfilm doesn’t think they can put together the best set, leave it to someone who can. There are plenty of boutique distributors like Criterion who know how to make sets like this.

The elements exist.
The tools exist.
The knowledge exists.
The demand exists.

All that’s left is to #ReleaseTheOriginalTrilogy.

Published by doubleofive

Curator of Star Wars Visual Comparisons, webmaster for Star Wars Revisited, former co-host of Standard Orbit podcast, all around nerd.

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