As we begin 2014, there’s a bit of hopeful euphoria going around the geek section of the internet where people believe that since Disney now owns Star Wars, they’ll immediately be releasing the non-Special Edition theatrical cuts on DVD or Blu-Ray.
This line of thinking is hitting a fever pitch today via a letter section on i09 where the editor is pretty sure Disney will release the original cuts on disc because they like money. The sad reality of this is that such a thing is much more complex than Disney simply wanting to cash in quickly by making a small, and very vocal, section of the fan base happy.
The Original Negative is Not Intact…
Many people think Lucasfilm has the original versions of the movies locked away in some vault at Skywalker Ranch and Lucas isn’t releasing them to spite fans. Again, reality isn’t on on the side these “Lucas raped my childhood” people. A very good, and detailed, documentation of the restoration and creation of the “Special Edition” is available at the Secret History of Star Wars site and in it, there are details on how the negative was chopped up to create the Special Edition:
ILM was working on many dozens of new shots, and an even larger amount of enhanced shots, using digital effects to re-do, expand, re-edit and otherwise alter many scenes in the film. When these were completed, they apparently were printed onto film and re-cut into the negative, replacing the original negs, which were undoubtedly put back into storage. As a result, the negative for Star Wars is filled with CGI-laden modern alterations. When Lucas says that the original version physically does not exist, this is what he really means–the negative is conformed to the Special Edition.
It Would Be Expensive to Restore the Theatrical Cuts in HD
Would it be possible to restore the original theatrical cuts of the Original Trilogy? Yes, and there’s a couple ways they could do it. One, Lucasfilm could re-assemble and restore the O-Neg, which was cut up to create the Special Edition, but this would cost millions upon millions to do. The other option is to re-assemble the film from other elements. Back in May of 2006, The Digital Bits asked film restorer Robert Harris about doing just that, and it is possible…for a price:
We can state with absolute certainly that we would be able to deliver fully restored quality elements as might be requested by Lucasfilm, inclusive of a pristine quality high definition video master as well as a full resolution 35mm preservation negative, if so directed.
It would be both a pleasure and a challenge to bring these films back to virtually their original state, and given a proper budget, commensurate with the work entailed, we would be willing to take on the assignment from Lucasfilm, and deliver elements which would make the release of the original trilogy to DVD as startlingly beautiful an event as it should be.
For the Costs Involved, Not Enough Seem Interested
Disney likes money, that is true, but in order to restore the Original Trilogy back to the theatrical cuts simply will cost too much based on the number of people who actually care about them.
You see, the “Han Shot First” crowd is a very vocal and noisy minority online. If the majority of Star Wars fans felt the way they do, the DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the Original Trilogy wouldn’t have sold as well. People didn’t vote with their wallets, they lined up to buy the movies on each re-release. Sure, some complained online about it…right before running out to Best Buy to pick up their $80 Blu-Ray set.
Even that recent, and stupid, “Dear JJ Abrams” video could only lure about 125k people to sign their petition. Disney isn’t going to spend multiple millions of dollars to produce a Blu-Ray set that only a few people actually truly care about.
Fox Owns the Original Trilogy and Prequels Until 2020 (and A New Hope Forever)
The final nail in the coffin rests with 20th Century Fox. Until 2020, they control all of the theatrical and home video distribution for both Star Wars trilogies, and they own A New Hope in perpetuity. Just like the Marvel characters Fox owns in perpetuity (the X-Men), Star Wars is yet something else that they have to hold hostage over the Mouse. As they don’t seem to be willing to work with Marvel over the mutant movies, it probably is doubtful they’ll let A New Hope go…