This past weekend, George Lucas announced at Star Wars Celebration V the eagerly anticipated Blu-rays of the Star Wars Saga. What a lot of fans want from this set is every possible version of Star Wars in the format, much like how Blade Runner has 5 versions from the 1982 test screening workprint to the 2007 “Final Cut”. However, in interviews, Lucas has said regarding the original theatrical versions of Star Wars:
“You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it, and you have to do that digitally,” he added. “It’s a very, very expensive process to do it. So when we did the transfer to digital, we only transferred really the upgraded version.” (NY Times Art Beat)
What does this mean, you ask? Let me break it down for you.
“We only transferred really the upgraded version.”
This is true, so let me break down for you what happened. In the Ninety’s, Lucas decided he needed cash to make more Star Wars movies. He was going to re-release the original trilogy in theaters. Lucas also decided to let Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) practice inserting CG into existing footage after they did a full-restoration of the deteriorating prints. He took the opportunity to make the version he always wanted to make by literally cutting out the sections of the movie they wanted to change from the original film, scanning it into the computers, letting ILM do their practice, and then putting the modified film back into the original and making copies of it for theaters in 1997.
At the time the Special Edition was released, most fans thought it was nice “special” edition to put alongside the original versions. This continued until 2004, when the DVD’s of the original movies were released. Just before Episode III came out in theaters, Lucas decided to change the movies again. This time the entire 1997 film (that is, the original 1977 film and the changed scenes from 1997) was scanned into the computers and modified yet again using shots filmed or recorded while the prequels were being made. Someone at Lucasfilm re-color-timed the film to make it look more “modern” (which gave everything a blue tint and made most of the shades of black solid black). The sound editors of the prequels redid all of the sound, fading down the music at points and accidentally switching the rear surrounds a few times (all credited to “deliberate creative decision”). This was released on DVD in 2004 without the “Special Edition” title and with the original copyright dates.
Although Lucas said that he wouldn’t do it, in 2006 he released the original versions on DVD. However, things were not as they seemed. Not only would fans have to buy the 2004 editions again to get the originals as a bonus disc, they were actually DVD copies of the Laserdisc which was made in 1993 with all of the flaws that release had (low resolution, jittery picture, and not formatted for widescreen televisions). Lucas then washed his hands of the original versions.
Now in 2010, Lucas says that they only transferred the 2004 Special Edition, which is true, but there is still a problem, even if the Special Edition was the only edition…
“You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it, and you have to do that digitally”
Even if the 2004 edition was flawless, it still has a problem: the restoration was done at 1080p, current Blu-ray quality. What that means is that no matter how high resolution future formats go, Star Wars will forever be stuck at 1080p unless it goes through another “whole restoration”. What’s even more surprising is Lucas actually shot Episodes II and III digitally which was in its infancy at the time, so actually a full third of the saga has a 1080p max vs the rest that were shot on film (which amounts to between 6000-8000p). You can’t restore information that is not there, so that’s as high as they’re going.
Lucas’ quote sounds like its new information, which it’s not. Nearly every Blu-ray release goes through a digital restoration, and those that don’t are followed up by one within a year or so. Even though Wizard of Oz went through a restoration a few years ago for its DVD release, it went through another one at even higher quality for its Blu-ray release. They did the restoration at “8k” (over 8000p), which I believe is more than the human eye can perceive. They did the same thing with The African Queen. But because Lucasfilm did the DVD edition 6 years ago before “HD” was a format, they figured they would match the later prequels in resolution so they would all match, quality-wise.
It doesn’t look like they’re thinking about the future, only what is good enough for now.
“It’s a very, very expensive process to do it.”
This is also true, but coming from George Lucas, it doesn’t ring as true for him. There are movie studios paying for restorations left and right, but while George is his own movie studio, he certainly has enough money to do this. He has claimed that he can’t find any prints of the films as they originally existed, but at the very least he could find the sections of film they cut out in the Ninety’s, restore those to the quality of the 2004 edition and reinsert them. Lucas has pulled the deleted scenes out of the archives for the Blu-ray release, which he is cleaning up and putting on the disc, deleted scenes that have never been released. But he claims he doesn’t have access to scenes that were released publicly for 20 years before he replaced them. The man who did the 4k preservation of The Godfather among other movies has offered to give Lucas a discount just to preserve the movies in their original forms. This is important to a lot of people, and people will pay for the original versions.
The problem is that Lucas seems to only care about money, which he has a right to. However, the 2004 DVDs made enough money on their first day of release to pay for a restoration. Then he made fans buy them again in 2006 to get the original Laserdisc version. Plus he makes money off of every toy, shirt, hat, and convention ticket sold. They money is there. The demand is there.
I respect Lucas. I understand that he believes that the 1977 version of Star Wars was like a rough draft. But it was a rough draft we appreciated for 20 years without a problem. A rough draft that was nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Alec Guinness) and won the Oscars for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Effects-Visual Effects, Best Music-Original Score, Best Sound and a Special Achievement for Sound Effects. A rough draft that is preserved at the Library of Congress for being a “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”. A rough draft that is number 13 on AFI’s top 100 movies of the century.
Star Wars, along with its sequels, deserves to be preserved in its original, award-winning form. If Lucas is unwilling to front the money, I’m sure there are others who will. The fans certainly have paid for it in the last 33 years. I know I have.
I used information I’ve gleaned all across the internet, but most of it came from Michael (zombie84) Kaminski’s excellent sites, The Secret History of Star Wars and Save Star Wars. All of the credit should go to him.
Sign the petition for restoration at OriginalTrilogy.com, make your voice heard.