For the last 20 years, virtually the only way for fans to officially watch Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi has been via the Lucasfilm approved Special Editions, the versions that were “improved” with extra scenes, “modern” special effects, and some needless extra shots. You know exactly what I mean by shots, too.
While director’s cuts and movie tampering is nothing new, it’s relatively rare that these become the only versions available to the public upon their release, but that has been the case with Star Wars. Over the last few years, depending on who you asked, the culprit was either George Lucas, who was famously never satisfied with the final product of his films, rights issues between 20th Century Fox and Disney, and the state of the film prints themselves.
Well, now it turns out that it’s none of the above. Disney could release the original cuts, they simply won’t. The Steelewars Podcast (hat tip to MovieWeb for the transcriptions) caught up with Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy at Star Wars Celebration (where many fans, including this writer and most of the Den of Geek staff, were hoping for news of an original cut Blu-ray release as part of the 40th anniversary festivities), and asked if there were plans for the unaltered version of the trilogy.
Her response was less than encouraging.
“I wouldn’t touch those, are you kidding me? [laughs] Those will always remain his.”
There’s little doubt that under Disney and Kathleen Kennedy, Star Wars as a franchise is healthier than it has been in well over a decade, with high quality offerings like The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Rebels reaffirming fans’ faith in the brand and making new converts by the bucketload. But that very success makes Lucasfilm’s continued reluctance to release the originals in the form they were intended even more disheartening. These are some of the most important science fiction films ever produced, and the fact that fans can’t own the best possible versions of them in their unaltered state is frustrating.
The unaltered trilogy did get one official home media release in the days since the dawn of the Special Editions, on the first DVD release of the trilogy in 2006. The problem is that while those were certainly the original cuts, there was no effort put into the release. Instead, they were considered “bonus features” on the special edition DVDs, and while the special editions were there in remastered glory, the original cuts were hasty laserdisc transfers, and of much lower picture and sound quality than what fans were expecting…or that the movies deserved.
This is why dedicated Star Wars fans have had to take matters into their own hands in recent years, with the famous Despecialized Editions making the rounds. For those who know where to look, the Despecialized Editions are absolutely gorgeous, HD versions of the Star Wars trilogy, without any of the unnecessary “enhancements” of the last 20 years.
Hopefully Ms. Kennedy will have a change of heart.