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.