Fall 2011: Once again, the "Star Wars" trilogy is being released on a new medium and once again, the new release causes controversies. For the forth time, creator George Lucas altered the content of the movies. Digital special effects have been added...
...familiar goofs have been corrected. However, the amount of alterations has been kept within reasonable limits this time. In Episode I, Frank Oz' Yoda doll has been replaced by a digital model. In Episode IV, the droid R2-D2 may hide from the sand people behind a rock now. In Episode VI, Ewok Wicket now blinks with his new CG eyes. This strictly visual alterations are mainly positive but a tiny auditory alteration makes fans angry. When emperor Palpatine intends to torture Luke Skywalker to death in the throne room of the second Death Star, his Sith student Darth Vader intervenes and pushes Palpatine down the reactor shaft to spell doom for him for good. Under the slogan "Everything rhymes", George Lucas has added auditory samples from Episode III to that scene. Darth Vader, who is silent before he kills the emperor in the previous versions, he kind of moans "Noooo" twice. This alteration is a sacrilege for many many fans - not only because a further film scene has been altered but also because Lucas makes the original trilogy more and more suitable to the prequels. The new "Noooooooooo!" is obviously Vader's scream from Episode III and not only the fans don't like it.
Here's the thing: established contents, also referred to in the so-called Expanded Universe (novels, comics, short stories), are being destroyed that way. Tatooine e.g. was the most wicked spot in the entire universe for years - and specifically designed that way in the beginning. Who lived on Tatooine didn't have a future - and if it had been up to him no past either. Obi-Wan himself mentioned only the biggest scum of the universe used to live there, particularly in Mos Eisley. It's an incredibly filthy place. Who lives there has no intention to be found by anyone. That's the only explanation for Han Solo being able to shoot Greedo in public without consequences and without being disturbed. Tatooine was the sci-fi counterpart to Sergio Leone's sleazy Western towns full of hookers, criminals and failed existences. It was the end of the line in life. Since the release of the Special Edition in 1997, the look has changed at least. Since the release of the prequels, the content has changed as well. Tatooine became the narrative linchpin of the universe. It's not somewhere at the end of the universe anymore but right in the middle of it. One could almost think that each and every character in the "Star Wars" universe has at least one former class mate on Tatooine.
It's especially dreadful for fans of the original trilogy because Lucas consistently refuses to release the original Theatrical Version in an adequate quality. From the film historical POV, it's a big loss. It was "Star Wars" that didn't only put the SFX technology on a new level but also originated entirely new techniques. For the first movie, the so-called "Motion Control" technique was developed. This technique made it possible to repeat a tracking shot as often as intended and to add new elements to the turning shot. The scenes this technique was used for have been entirely removed or altered, at least in the first movie.
For fand that grew up with the original Theatrical Versions it's a big loss after all because they became fans because of this exact version. They wasted their time and money for that and put a lot of passion and enthusiasm in it. Ironically, it's those fans with their money who made it possible for Lucas to alter the movies in the first place. Due to the tremendous success of the saga, Lucas was able to get the rights for the original trilogy from Fox and Fox got the permission to release the prequels as compensation. If he hadn't done that, Fox would be able to release the old and unaltered Theatrical Versions without any permission necessary. The official statement from LucasFilm is that there's no HD-capable material available but that's at least doubtful.
Even back in 1997, George Lucas mentioned he didn't have the slightest intention to sustain the original Theatrical Versions in any way. His Sepcial Editions were supposed to reflect real vision of the movies. A really weird statement, even for itself, because "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" were directed by Irvin Kersher and Richard Marquand (both deceased). In the process of filming "The Empire Strikes Back", Lucas only was Executive Producer and he come up with the story. Actual producer was Gary Kurtz and the screenplay was written by Lawrence Kasdan. Of course, Lucas is the mastermind, the brain of the saga - no doubt about that. But one couldn't pretend that "The Empire Strikes Back" was his baby because that's just not true. It was the deal with the prequels that got him the rights for the old movies. Period. Hypothetically, he could have demanded the rights for any other movie as well.
Already in 2006, Robert Harris, one of the best restorers in Hollywood, offered to restore the "Star Wars" movies FOR FREE and revealed that the exitence of good 35mm copies! LucasFilm didn't even react to that offer.
In 2007, LucasFilm seized a 35mm copy of "Star Wars" because it had been screened on a more or less public convention. It seems to be beyond grotesque but at least we know for sure about the existence of a well-preserved 35mm copy.
Of course, further copies exist. When "The Senator", a movie theater of a small town, had to close in 2010, the people in charge decided to show the original version of "Star Wars" as final performance. Considering its age, the quality of that copy was incredibly amazing. It was a British copy of the original version from the 80s (so it was a copy auf the revival in theaters, recognizable at the addition "Episode IV" in the title which hadn't been added at the movie premiere yet). Way better than the alleged HD master of the LaserDiscs. A video of that performance can be found online (the relevant part starts at 3:00).
The LaserDisc masters, which was also used for the release of the original versions on DVD in 2006, are nothing but a disaster. Despite the fact that the release isn't anamorphic, the quality still sucks because not even the slightest attempt to restore the worst-looking scenes has been made. That is why the reason that the old versions were available on DVD is invalid. The list of what's wrong in the original version is quite long. The following two screens are a perfect example.
Why didn't they use an improved master? Well, Lucas already gave the answer: he doesn't want to. But could he do it if he intended to? Lucas mentioned that the original masters do not exist anymore several times - and that's actually true. The original copies are history. Back in 1991, he gruesomely discovered that the original material was in pretty bad shape. The reason for that was a screw-up in the production process of the manufacturer so that any reel had a durability of 6 years top. Then the disintegration started. The movie was restored laboriously - which makes the THX release in 1995 the only (officially complete) copy of the original version. The Special Edition is based on this version which was altered for the DVD release one more time.
But: this isn’t a shocking news for film restorers. Unfortunately it concerns a lot of older films (especially from the 1970s) whose master copies were destroyed this way. Ridley Scott had to use many different sources to put the Director’s Cut of “Blade Runner” together. The opportunity to draw on the original raw material is very seldom. In an interview with ArsTechnica.com, the motion picture technology expert Michael Kaminsky said, that there was created at least a separation master of the “Star Wars” movies, which is almost identical to the master copy in terms of quality, so it would be the basis for a perfect copy. The fact that the “Star Wars“ movies were only scanned with 2k for the digital copies also speaks for the necessity of creating a new digital copy sooner or later. The industry standard is now at 8k – just the original copies can live up to this, the current digital copies cannot. Lucas, the technical perfectionist, couldn’t have destroyed the complete copies in his own interest.
Of course it’s perfectly wrong to describe George Lucas as a greedy money-grubber. He’s the complete opposite. He will donate half of his fortune, the box-office gross of the premieres of his films always go to charity and not many originators grant so much freedom to their fans. Have you ever wondered why Youtube doesn’t delete all the “Star Wars” videos? It’s because Lucas as rightholder doesn’t follow that up, it’s quite the opposite. LucasFilms offers downloads of the original “Star Wars” sounds for fan projects. Even tutorials for the right lightsaber effect are provided. Lucas does a lot for the fandom – to blame him for being a money-grubber is nonsense. But this doesn’t change the fact that he refuses to release one of the most important film and cultural historical milestones of the last decades in an appropriate quality. Only the remastered versions stay and they are, as mentioned before, not even to be seen as complete versions.
The list of new alterations seems to be quite random and crude. So they made an effort to equip Wicket with digital eyes, but the eyes of the other actors of the Ewoks are still visible under the oversized masks which can be seen even better in the Blu-ray edition due to the high definition quality.
Anakin’s mean podracer rival Sebulba from Episode I stumbles through Jabba’s palace now, but Darth Vader’s snapped off forearm is still in the picture (which is anatomically impossible because his hand was chopped off – the kink is the result of the hand of the actor David Prowse).
Luke’s lightsaber in Episode IV has finally the right color (blue), but unfortunately not in all scenes...
The lightsabers were remastered in general because their visual depiction has suffered from the massive color correction of the DVD release (the white core got lost, many times the coloring of the surroundings kind of “ate up“ the lightsabers)…
...nevertheless this doesn’t count for all scenes. In “The Empire Strikes Back” the lightsabers still look like toothpicks. Moreover their color isn’t consistent neither. Sometimes Vader’s normally red blade is pink or orange, it differs from shot to shot. Luke’s blue blade seems to get absorbed by Vader’s red blade...
Even if you approve all of these digital alterations, and yes there are a lot of fans who do that, the Blu-ray edition is really not the ultimate and it still contains several errors which should normally be known to LucasFilms. So the Blu-ray edition is far from being the definitive version.
But in the following years -according to current plans- there will be a 3D cinema release of the original films. The 3D version “Episode I” will be in cinemas in February 2012. So it can be assumed that the Blu-ray edition won’t be the last version…
A new tracking shot has been added when C-3PO and R2D2 approach the entrance of Jabba's palace. Since the movement of the two robots in the old version isn't equal to the movement in the new version (easy to recognize: look at C-3PO's lowered head), it's likely that the entire scene has been animated once again or at last alternate footage has been used here.
Han Solo's release from the carbonite coffin has been entirely renewed as well.
Everyone's aslepp. Sebulba, Anakin's evil rival from the podrace in Episode I, snoops around in Jabba's palace.
Alternate shot when Han Solo hits Boba Fett's jetpack with his stick. Please find the old shot on the left and the alternate one on the right.
Ewok Wicket got CG pupils in some (not any) scenes. Now, he can actually blink. With one exception, that's not going to be mentioned anymore.
Am Ewok baby can now blink with his CG pupils as well.
In the battle of the protection shield generator, R2-D2 gets hits by a laser weapon. In the Blu-ray Version, more devices come out of his body.
New shot, equal alteration.
Altered shot of Luke and Vader crossing swords.
Another altered lightsaber effect in the Blu-ray Version.
In this shot, the white lightsaber core has also been added.
Auditory alteration: When the emperor intends to torture Luke until death, a "Noooooo!" has been added to Vader's vacant stare.
Auditory alteration: A further "Nooooooo!" is audible now when Vader grabs the emperor.