Is There Really a New Hope for a Proper ‘Star Wars’ Restoration?

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the recent round of rumors claiming that the new Lucasfilm owners at Disney are preparing a full and proper restoration of the original, unaltered theatrical versions of the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy to coincide with next year’s release of ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – Han’s Fallen and He Can’t Get Up’. Could there be any truth to this story, or is it just more fanboy wishful thinking?

Of course, rumors like this surface all the time, usually without any basis in fact. For whatever reason, this one seems to have gained a lot of traction on the internet recently, even though all of the news blurbs about it lead back to a single source – a very short, vague article on Comicbook.com that states:

“For a long time Star Wars fans have been clamoring for Disney/Lucasfilm to re-release the original, unaltered cut of the first Star Wars trilogy, and Comicbook.com has now confirmed with two independent reliable sources that just such a plan is under way.”

“According to our sources, Disney has plans to release the original cut of the Star Wars trilogy on Blu-ray. Our sources indicate that the project has been under way for quite some time, but it’s been challenging because of some damage to the original negatives they are utilizing. The goal is to release A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of Jedi in their complete, unaltered, original form without the redone special edition SFX.”

“Our sources did not have an exact date as to when the original cut of the Star Wars Trilogy would be released on Blu-ray, due to the challenges Disney has encountered in pulling everything together. However, our sources indicated the goal is to have it ready and released before Star Wars Episode VII is released in theaters.”

That’s it, unspecified “reliable sources.” We’re supposed to take this seriously?

I want to be clear that I have no insider knowledge about what Disney may or may not be doing with ‘Star Wars’. However, I’ve heard second- and third-hand reports that one of the original ‘Star Wars’ producers allegedly told someone about this restoration project at Comic-Con. This wasn’t an official announcement at the convention, mind you, but a private conversation that can’t be verified by anyone else.

Maybe this isn’t Comicbook.com‘s source. Maybe Comicbook.com has other really good, concrete sources that have backed up the story. I don’t know, but it strikes me as very dubious.

With that said, I’d like to clear up one misconception that has spread in the wake of this story. In an attempt to debunk Comicbook.com‘s claim, the ever-excitable Devin Faraci of Badass Digest wrote:

“There’s one problem with this report: Disney doesn’t own Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. Fox does. They also own the distribution rights to the Prequels.”

Well, no, that’s not precisely correct. Fox only holds the distribution rights to the ‘Star Wars’ movies, which is not the same thing as ownership. More specifically, Fox holds the distribution rights for the first ‘Star Wars’ film (a.k.a. ‘A New Hope’) in perpetuity, but only has distribution rights for ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Return of the Jedi’ and the three prequels until 2020.

The movies are owned by Lucasfilm, and as part of the big merger in 2012, that means the copyrights to them are controlled by the new corporate owners at Disney. If any work is being done to restore the ‘Star Wars’ movies to their original theatrical versions, that work would be done by Disney. However, once that work is completed, the results of the restoration would have to be distributed to theaters and home video by 20th Century Fox (at least, until 2020). Beyond distribution, Fox does not control what happens to the movies.

If a restoration was really happening, would Fox block Disney from being able to release it? Other than perhaps pure spite at being passed over as a potential owner for Lucasfilm (reportedly, George Lucas went straight to Disney and never even gave his longtime distributor a heads-up that he was putting the company up for sale), I can’t see why Fox would refuse an opportunity to make some more money off another ‘Star Wars’ re-release. Reissuing the movies yet again would be a win-win for everyone.

More likely, if anyone were being difficult, I’d expect Disney to hold onto the movies until it can release them under its own label in 2020 (assuming it can work out a deal to buy the distribution rights to ‘A New Hope’ from Fox at that time.) Yet waiting that long would mean missing a vital tie-in opportunity with ‘Episode VII’.

Any of this assumes that Disney is even interested in restoring the ‘Star Wars’ movies in the first place, which has yet to be determined. Remember, Disney has just as much of a history with permanently altering or censoring its old movies as Lucasfilm ever did. Does anyone at Disney even care about the old ‘Star Wars’ movies? At the time of the merger, most reports claimed that Disney was primarily focused on creating new ‘Star Wars’ content under its own brand, not recycling the old stuff.

I’m inclined to think that this story about a ‘Star Wars’ restoration is just wishful thinking and click-bait rumor-mongering. Nevertheless, I really want it to be true and am trying to remain cautiously optimistic.

48 comments

  1. Indeed, Fox will only (forever) own distribution rights to ‘Episode IV’. Here’s my four cents (two cents per thought):

    a) Fox will allow Disney to re-release all three movies, because it will make them a pretty penny without any effort (Paramount also made a lot of money on ‘The Avengers’, so Fox would be the more foolish (Star Wars quote) to not follow this business model.)

    b) Disney will restore the movies. Although the company made some unnecessary changes in the past (The Rescuers, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King etc. … with only The Rescuers arguably justified), don’t forget they also love to restore their classic library. While Disney may have updated, say, the colours of Snow White, it’s still the movie Walt once made. No unnecessary CGI-witch scenes, for example. Disney has a sizeable amount of respect for its classics.

      • Anja

        Does anyone honestly need to see Song of the South again, though? I think re-releasing it would do more harm than good. It’s better left for the history books and Wikipedia articles.

          • Anja

            Well, maybe he does, but there’s a huge difference between what George does and censoring or suppressing racially offensive films.

          • Josh Zyber
            Author

            I’d be all for Disney suppressing The Phantom Menace. 🙂

            I’m not particularly a fan of Song of the South, and I fully acknowledge that its depiction of racial stereotypes is offensive (or at the very least insensitive) by modern standards. However, I don’t agree that it should be suppressed. Even offensive films have cultural and historical value, and should be preserved – along with supporting information that explains the context of the time they were made.

            Warner Bros. has released old Looney Tunes cartoons that are way more offensive than anything in Song of the South. It did so in a way that acknowledged and provided context for the offensive content. There’s no reason Disney couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do the same for Song of the South.

          • Don’t be too harsh, Josh. It’s the best of the prequels. The movie has redeeming qualities. Allow me to quote one Zyber, J.: “It is Star Wars, and so cannot be all bad. The success of the Star Wars series thrives largely on several factors: innovative special effects, thrilling action scenes, and fantasy elements grounded in an elaborate mythological framework. The Phantom Menace does not disappoint in these areas.”

          • “Words written 14 years ago. In subsequent viewings, I find the movie less and less tolerable.”
            Amen Josh. I waited in line overnight to get my Tickets to see Phantom Menace. While I enjoyed the spectacle when seeing it for the first time, I have gotten to the point where I can’t bring my self to watching any of them now. In fact I refused to buy the movies on BluRay at all.

          • I always imagine if Disney ever did release Song of the South, it would be completely re altered with Morgan Freeman doing the voice for Br’er Rabbit and James Earl Jones as Uncle Remus, with a special introduction by both of them talking about how important is not to forget our past and how this film is a time capsule and a piece of history, etc.

          • Josh speaking of Warner and Looney Tunes, did they ever release the Bugs Bunny world war 2 cartoon where he makes reference to The JAPS? I recall when it was on laserdisc they did a recall and rereleased it minus this cartoon.

          • William Henley

            Disney has PSAs at the beginning of many of their movies now about the dangers of smoking. They haven’t replaced them with CGI E-cigs yet.

            And they still release Dumbo.

            Song of the South is one of my favorite Disney classics. I would certainly pick it up if it was offered. Right now, I have to be happy with laserdisc rips.

      • You’re right. What also bothers me to no end, is how they treat their acclaimed flops. ‘Treasure Planet’, ‘Atlantis’, ‘The Black Cauldon’ should all at least be mentioned in their theme parks. I’m not saying they deserve million dollar rides, but you don’t gloss over significant entries in your canon. Apart from a few pins in 2002 (when the movie was hot, and supposed to make big bucks), I have never found TP-merchandising in Disneyland.

        I don’t like that modus operandi. It’s like a parent picking a favourite kid. Disney would have a lot more street cred if it just acknowledged its flops, and even tried to rerelease them. Remember, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was an initial flop, now it’s a classic.

        Disney wants its slate to look flawless. It’s as fake as a Facebook profile with only happy pictures and moments.

        (apart from that, I’m one of Disney’s biggest supporters! I even own stock in the company.)

  2. C.C. 95

    This is too lucritive an opportunity for either of them to pass up. By hook or by crook, I think a deal will get hammered out. Probably one of the most elaborately complex contracts in cinema history, but I think the opportunity is too attractive for both parties.

    • William Henley

      Agreed. Fans have been demanding this for years, loudly enough that the studios surely have heard and understand that there is a cash-cow here. It’s been Lucas who has been the hold-up in the past. With him out of the picture, I am sure studio execs are at least pondering the idea.

      • James

        From my understanding Fox has actually wanted to release these for a while, which is why that horrible laserdisc transfer was released a few years ago. Lucas was the only one standing in the way, but now he’s out of the picture so I absolutely think they’ll re-release the unaltered OT. Oh, and remember, Lucasfilm wants to get a new boxed set on the shelves that doesn’t read, “Complete Saga” since Episode VII makes that set outdated. What better way to resell the films than to include the originals?

  3. Chris B

    Meh…I just can’t muster up enough energy to care. I still own the original unaltered trilogy in LD and the complete saga on BD. With so many movies to watch (old and new) I can’t get that excited about watching the old Star Wars movies for the umpteenth time…Call me a casual fan, not one of the diehards.

  4. Phillip

    I’m going to say that I believe Disney will release the unaltered versions and soon, just not in time for episode VII. Two years is too short a time to get something as huge as the original trilogy ready for the masses. If they do, it’ll be a rush job and not worth it. I said it on Twitter and I’ll say it again. If Disney pull this off and release the unaltered versions of the films, George Lucas lied through his teeth when he proclaimed that the original elements couldn’t be found and that the special editions were the only versions available for ever and ever, blah, blah, blah. In that case, he remains a great ideas person and ceases to be a great showman.

    • C.C. 95

      Check me if I’m wrong. But when the original negatives were scanned into a computer to change and add all the new effects, doesn’t that mean that all the films are, logically, in a hard drive(s) in their original state? They couldn’t MAKE the Special Editions if the originals were not scanned and IN the computer.If the Special Editions were all nice and shiny, the ONLY things that need to be restored and cleaned up are the MINUTES that were tampered with. That CAN’T be THAT much trouble.

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        The bulk of the changes to the Star Wars movies were performed in 1997, before the Digital Intermediate process. (The first movie with a full DI was ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ in 2000.) At the time, George Lucas had the original negatives to all three films conformed to the “Special Edition” versions. Old footage was cut out, and new footage was spliced in. Permanently.

        However, if he has no other saving graces, George Lucas is fortunately a hoarder. It’s fully expected that he saved every frame of film that he cut. If nothing else, he would have kept them available to use as the basis for further changes in the future.

        What needs to be done now is to rescan the negatives (now the 1997 versions), then scan the original trims separately and merge them up on a new DI. The “unaltered” versions will only exist in the digital realm, but at least they’ll exist again.

        Even if not all of the original trims can be located, other sources such as interpositives, internegatives and answer prints exist that could be used to reconstruct the movies. The results might not be as ideal as using the negatives, but they’d still be better than nothing.

        Subsequent changes that Lucas made to the movies for DVD and Blu-ray were performed in the digital realm based on scans of the 1997 “Special Editions.” The archival copies of the films are the 1997 versions.

        • William Henley

          Thank you, Josh, someone actually gets it! I’ve been saying it for years – so what if the original negatives are gone, interpositives and internegatives still exist! How many movies have we seen on Blu that were sourced from interpositives? For that matter, I wonder how many movies are actually scanned from original camera negatives anyways – this would mean that someone would have to completely reassemble the movie digitally. While some movies have, I would imagine most of the transfers of movies out there are made from a copy.

          So the originals are gone. Big deal

  5. Pedram

    While clearly not as good as an actual Blu Ray release, if all else fails at least there’s the de-specialized fan edits.
    If nothing else it shows the lengths people are willing to go to in order to watch the original unaltered versions, and that there’s clearly a market for it.

    I think they should do what they did with the original Star Trek BD release, where you could view an angle with the new redone special effects turned on or off – and ideally with a compromise mode too, with the clean ups done (composite lines removed etc.) that don’t really change any of the story.

  6. I realized something recently. We’re only a scant few years away from the original “Star Wars” 40th anniversary. Since the “Special Editions” came out for the 20th, that means soon we will have had them as long as the originals. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to let this obsession with the “originals” go. I think anyone will certainly agree that the changes hardly amount to a majority of each movie. If you really only consider that the Greedo and Jabba scenes are the most offensive, that’s possibly 5% of the movie. I’d say the most offensive changes to the other two at best amount to 1%.

    At the end of the day, even if the original versions were spruced up and released tomorrow it’s not going to make that much difference. We all might watch them once, maybe twice, and then put them on our shelves and watch them about as often as we do now. They certainly will not have the power to allow us to reclaim the feeling of watching them as children because we are not children anymore, which is what I suspect most people want them to do – whether they will admit to it or not. We’ll still have all the stresses of adult lives on our minds and the movies will play pretty much the same as the currently available versions do.

    I grew up on Star Wars and dearly love Star Wars. But I’m just so tired of this constant specter of the “original, unaltered trilogy” hanging over just about every mention of the films old and new. I just want to look forward to new movies and enjoy the old ones for what they are – a series of fun, but always imperfect, films.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      For my part, I will not watch the altered versions of the films ever again. But I would watch the unaltered versions. So right there, your contention is proved wrong in my case.

      I disagree that the changes are insignificant, and I disagree that we should just learn to live with them because we’ve been shafted with them for a long time already and it doesn’t matter anymore.

      Back in the ’80s, Ted Turner colorized a bunch of black-and-white classics, including It’s a Wonderful Life. Since the colorized copies have been around for 30 years now, should we just accept those as the default versions of the movies and throw the originals in the trash can, never to be seen again, and eventually purged from the historical record as ever having existed at all? That’s what George Lucas tried to do with Star Wars. I don’t care how many years go by, I will never accept it.

      • C.C. 95

        With colorization you can still turn the color off on your monitor.
        And didn’t Lucas basically erase some Oscar winning special effects work by Dykstra and Edlund?
        That’s a little rude. (If I am correct about that.)

          • Chris B

            Apparently, even Frank Capra himself was in favor of the idea of colorizing it’s a wonderful life, on the condition the director of the film have artistic control over the process.

          • How anyone could defend what Ted Turner or George Lucas did is beyond me. And the changes to Star Wars are way more than insignificant. How can anyone say the awful Jabba scene is an insignificant change?

          • Chris Bennett

            I’m not defending Ted Turner, I’m just pointing out that at one time, some artists saw the idea of adding color to some of their black and white films as a viable option…

      • Ted Turner wasn’t the oringial filmmaker, Lucas is.

        What’s original, though? How far back do you want to go with the changes? Are you worried about the different sound effects between the 70mm and 35mm releases? Is it original to the very first release (again, going back to the slightly different edits to the film, added or removed dissolves, different sound effects) or the first time you saw it. And, then, what about the kids who are now in their 20s and only ever saw the new versions?

        And, more to the point, if it upsets you that much why can’t you just let them go? Honestly, I loved the first to Nolan Batman movies to death, but despised the third. But, I don’t get all heated up about it. I just let it go. There are literally thousands of other movies I love. Perhaps it’s time to just say that you’re not a Star Wars fan and move on.

        • Josh Zyber
          Author

          Chad, what’s your point in arguing against this? The Special Edition versions of the movies are available on Blu-ray right now. If you like those versions (or just don’t care one way or the other), those aren’t going away.

          Many fans of these films prefer the original theatrical versions. There is a demand for that product. The people who want the theatrical versions are not saying that you can’t have the Special Editions. Both can co-exist. What would be your motivation to deny those people the opportunity to own properly restored copies of the theatrical versions?

          If you don’t care one way or the other what gets released, it seems to me that you are the one who should just move on.

      • William Henley

        I wish more would release the colorized version along with the B&W. Not that I think the colorized version is better or anything, but because, for most movies (such as It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street), those are the only versions I knew for years. I can’t express enough how much I love the It’s A Wonderful Life blu-ray for including both versions. Depending on my mood, sometimes I watch it in color, sometimes in B&W.

        Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner and Star Trek The Original series got their Blu-Rays right – release all the versions together, and let people choose which one they prefer.

    • Drew

      Good luck with that.

      Until we have the original un-molested versions, the chatter is simply not going to desist.

      It is a crime against cinema to try to pretend like the deplorable alterations in the “special editions” are part of cinematic history.

    • Sorry man but you are wrong beyond measure. I don’t care how long the special editions have been around. The originals are the ones I saw in the theaters, and are the ones that I fell in love with. While I liked the Special editions when they were first released. Much like the prequels I refuse to watch them at all now. I have copies of Harmy’s Despecialized versions and they will have to do until Disney gives us what the true original Fans of Star Wars want. You can watch the special editions if you want.

  7. I have a question for The Star Wars purists. Lets say the original versions are released and remastered and look fantastic, what of the audio? Would you want them in a fancy Atmos surround format, or stereo, mono? From my understanding, haven’t there been a lot if changes in audio ( like dialogue readings) from stereo versions or mono versions to the newly remixed versions? What would be the definitive mix for the unaltered original theatrical releases?

    • There were 70mm prints of Star Wars that had six-track audio. The 35mm prints were either mono or Dolby Stereo. Obviously, if they still have a 70mm print to work from, that would be ideal to create the Blu-ray mix with.

      • But the 70mm version has a longer lead time for release, so there were changes between those and the surround, and then even the mono. All of this leading up to the initial release. So, even if you saw it on opening day, you saw different audio versions of the movie depending on where you saw it. Therefore, which one is original? The 70mm wasn’t because they weren’t done working on it. But the 35mm surround didn’t have split surrounds, etc.

        • James

          Yes, they could include both. Also, no one would be upset if they got any version that was released before 1997. The differences in sound mixes were literally things like an extra beep from R2 in the background, or missing explosion sounds (which are more just errors when transferring the film to home video really, and not changes) so to act like those are the same as the Special Edition changes is just ridiculous. There were two original tracks, the 70mm and the 35mm (which was mono). There’s no reason why they can’t include both. People need to stop trying to pretend that this pre-1997 changes are an issue

  8. With as much lately as Disney has been telling Blu Ray owners to fuck off, I really have my doubts.
    No Frozen or Maleficent 3D Blu Rays, lossy audio for Muppets Most Wanted, Disney could not care less about the U.S. market or what people want. They’ve become too big for their britches. Unless it all implodes on them they will not change their attitudes one bit, then it will be too late.

  9. Grant Miller

    Not too long ago, the theatrical releases of the classic trilogy were re-released on DVD as special features to their accompanying special editions. I don’t know what the source of these releases were just that they were not cleaned up or enhanced in any way. I do keep wondering though that if someone somewhere has these prints to work off of then it would indeed be possible for someone to remaster these films. I guess they just choose not to.

  10. Search “Team Negative” for a new release.
    Harmy will be using some of this material as well so that its despecialized version is 100% HD. As it is now, there are a couple of scenes that are upconverted.

    I would hate to guess how many downloads the Harmy version has received, but studio execs have got to be looking at this lost revenue.

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