Rumors about the original, pre-Special Edition Star Wars trilogy finally arriving on DVD and Blu-ray are as regular as the nightly twin sunset on Tatooine. Over the weekend, an item posted on Comicbook.com gave fans a new hope. The site claimed to have confirmed through “two independent reliable sources” that Disney (the new owners of the franchise) had finally cleared the many hurdles — including series creator George Lucas’s own campaign to wipe out every copy of those beloved early versions — in making this geek Holy Grail a reality.
But the site’s scoop was almost immediately debunked from other knowledgeable sources like Badass Digest, which reiterated the small detail that Lucasfilm (now part of the House of Mouse) does not even own the rights to the original trilogy. The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi (a/k/a Episodes V and VI) are the property of 20th Century Fox, and won’t revert to Lucasfilm until 2020. And the first Star Wars film (Episode IV) will remain part of the Fox catalog until the end of time — or Disney releases Song of the South in high-def.
And while a lucrative deal between the two studios could theoretically be reached, there are other factors that might gum up the works, ranging from Lucas’s staunch, stubborn opposition to the quality and availability of the materials any potential restoration team would be working from. For the time being, it’s probably best to refile this news under “Wishful Thinking”. At least until the next round of rumors resurface.
Fortunately, there are some Jedi-level tech masters out there who refuse to wait for Lucas to have a late-career change of heart. Since 2011, a Star Wars devotee who calls himself Harmy has been working on so-called “Despecialized Editions” of the original trilogy, versions that seek to correct many of the glaring visual flaws that have crept into the movies’ various home-video editions — up to, and including, the best-selling 2011 Complete Saga Blu-ray set. As seen in a making-of video (below) and gallery of screenshot comparisons — including some from Empire — these flaws range from altered color palettes (the magenta tones are especially pronounced in the Blu-rays) to a slightly artificial quality to images caused by automated digital clean-up.
These problems got to the point that Harmy felt he couldn’t share the beloved movies with his younger brother. “At the time I stared working on the Despecialized Edition, my brother was 3 and I wanted to show him the original versions when he was old enough,” he tells Yahoo Movies via email. “I can happily tell you that he got introduced to the adventures of Luke Skywalker at the age of five, using the Despecialized Edition and he loved it.”
To create the Despecialized Editions of Episodes IV-VI, Harmy reconstructed each of the films from a variety of different sources, some readily available (the 2011 Blu-rays, as well as an earlier 2006 DVD box set that offered bonus discs with bare-bones transfers of the untouched trilogy from the bygone laserdisc age of 1993) — and others much less so (including a rare 16mm film transfer, as well as custom-designed mattes taken from both 35mm and 70mm film cell scans). So far, he’s been able to pursue this passion project without any legal interference from Lucasfilm, perhaps because he’s careful to label his work as preservation for historical purposes—that’s part of the official disclaimer that he tags on all of his projects—and maybe due to the fact that he isn’t seeking to profit from his labors. In fact, anyone wanting to get their hands on the Despecialized Edition must be an owner of the 2011 Blu-ray set. The aforementioned disclaimer also encourages viewers to report any copy of a fan-edit offered for sale.
Despite the blood, sweat and midichlorians he’s poured into this multi-year project — currently in version 2.5 — Harmy expects that his Despecialized Editions will one day be rendered obsolete. “Disney is quite likely to release the originals eventually,” he futurecasts. “The question is whether it will be a worthy release. I’m worried that we may get a release with the wrong colors and without the original soundtrack mixes or some sort of semi-despecialized edition with lots of subtler changes left in. I’m hoping that won’t be the case though, and they will want to appease the fans by doing a proper release.”
For now, he encourages interested fans to visit his homebase on originaltrilogy.com to swap stories (and possibly new source materials) and keep hope alive that rumors about an original Original Trilogy release will one day become reality. “I’m convinced that the Special Editions greatly diminish the immense historical value of these films, so I do believe that people should to be able to view the original Oscar-winning versions and that they should be presented in a quality that will do them justice.”
Photo: Lucas FIlm, 20th Century Fox/Harmy’s Comparison Gaallery