With all of the talk over the last week about the unaltered Original Trilogy, I decided to actually go back and watch my copy of the 1993 Definitive Collection Laserdisc edition of A New Hope this weekend. What I found may piss off some people.
To be honest I haven’t really sat down to watch a non-SE Star Wars in about 13 years. Around 2004 or so I got to see a 1979 16MM print of A New Hope, and it was really just to see how different the audio was (original Beru actress, different Stormtrooper voices, etc.). The Definitive Collection LD set is really the only reason I even still have my LD player (a later model Pioneer combo player that reads both DVDs and LDs and can read both sides of the disc), but I honestly haven’t pulled out the set to watch the unaltered versions since the SEs came out. I also still have the Special Edition LD set, which is the only way to see the 1997 cuts now although I did get to see a 35MM print of the 1997 cut of Return of the Jedi on the anniversary in 2013.
Like everyone else the 93 cuts are the ones I grew up watching. Anyone who claimed they watched the 1977 version on home video is lying as that edition was never released on home video in any way, shape, or form. Even the 2006 DVDs with the original editions were really just the 1993 LD transfers with A New Hope digitally altered to remove the Episode IV title. The original opening crawl of ANH was formatted differently and began to scroll up before the “Star Wars” title faded, I saw that for myself in the 16MM print back in 2004. I watched the original Star Wars so much as a kid I wore out a second-hand 1982 original VHS copy, which was obviously replaced multiple times over the years with the various releases.
So this past weekend I dug out my Laserdisc player and put in the A New Hope discs, getting up to change discs once in a while and watched the whole thing. Note: I do own the 2006 DVDs, but chose the LD versions just for purity sake as the 2006 ANH was digitally altered to remove the Episode number.
And I discovered I can’t watch Star Wars like that anymore. No, not on Laserdisc. Unfinished.
That’s how the “unaltered” cuts feel now. After twenty years with the Special Editions and the improved effects, the originals really do feel like unfinished animatics. Temporary effects used just as placeholders until the real thing could be inserted. It’s now easy to see how Lucas felt unsatisfied with the movies before the SEs. Sure in the late 70s and through the 80s they couldn’t be touched in terms of effects, back then they were the gold standard. And watching it I can remember feeling how amazing these effects were…in the early 80s.
But the Special Edition version of the Battle of Yavin shows how much better they could’ve been. In fact I remember being excited about the Special Edition as by 1996 and the advances in visual effects, Star Wars was starting to show its age. That’s why twenty years ago many fans were excited to go into the theater, see Star Wars on the biggest screen possible, with effects updated to modern standards. It didn’t destroy the movie, it ensured it would live on for new generations who didn’t grow up when it was state of the art.
The 2011 version of the final Death Star battle is actually the definitive one as the Blu-Ray fixed the sound mix by restoring the correct audio level on John Williams’ trumpets as the X-Wings begin their attack run. But even more so, the updated effects immensely improve the finale of A New Hope. Going back to the originals takes the air out of that battle. Again, it’s like watching it with placeholder effects.
I think a lot of the people who are so vocal about demanding the originals really haven’t watched them in a while. And if they have, they’re lying to themselves to make them feel as if they fit into some kind of fanboy hipster crowd. And the argument that you have to own the original to preserve film history is stupid, as I know people will bring that up, because it’s a selfish excuse to try to shame Lucas. If consumers preserving film history was so important, than they would’ve been activists for other movies that needed restoration before deteriorating forever, such as the roadshow version of John Wayne’s The Alamo which is likely forever lost now. But these days the “Star Wars is a part of film history, it’s culturally important and must be released” is just another way to use Lucas as a punching bag by a vocal minority on the internet.
If the original unfinished Star Wars Trilogy were to ever see another official release, improved over the 2006 anamorphic DVDs, I’d probably buy them just for completion sake. But like those 2006 DVDs and the Definitive Collection LD set, I probably won’t ever pull them out to watch them. Like that Laserdisc set (and the SE set), and the DVDs, such a release would just earn a spot on my shelf as an artifact in the collection. If I ever want to watch one of the movies I’ll go for the superior 2011 cuts, which is exactly what I did with A New Hope a few hours after watching the originals.