May 4, 2006

Han Shoots First on 9/12/2006: Original Stars Wars Films on DVD

I know a lot of you are probably scratching your heads thinking something along the lines of "What's the big deal? Those movies are already on DVD." Then there are those of you who are jumping up and down for joy at this momentous announcement.

Lucasfilm has come out and said that the original Star Wars films will be coming to DVD, as reported by USA Today and The Digital Bits. Let me explain this, the best I can, to you who may not know about the history here. Back in 1996, George Lucas brought the original trilogy back to the big screen, but in an altered fashion. These were the so-called Special Editions. Lucas and company went and restored the three films, frame by frame, and then he changed them. He wanted to make the films closer to his original vision. These changes included a complete overhaul of the original groundbreaking special effects, plus the restoration of some, but not all, of the previously deleted scenes. These versions were greeted with welcome arms, they proved to be hits all over again, released over a 3 month span in early 1997.

Shortly after this, rumors began to swirl that these would be the only versions that Lucasfilm would ever release to the home video market. This turned out to be true. The remaining boxsets of the last release were quickly snatched up. Then the story took another turn as George Lucas stated that the original theatrical versions no longer existed. To say there was an uproar across fandom would be an understatement. A more accurate analogy would be the scene in Star Wars where Ben Kenobi shudders and says "I felt a great disturbance in the
Force... as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened" just after the destruction of Alderaan. OK, time to ratchet down the geek mode.

The disappointment continued for years. Then, it was announced that the original trilogy would be released on DVD. The cries and desires for the original theatrical versions became much more vocal. Then world trickled down that these versions were changed even further from the Special Editions of 1996. That turned out to be true, nothing quite as dramatic, but this DVD release, as welcome as it was, became the third iteration of the films to appear.

Now, finally, the original versions, that so many of us fell in love with as children will finally be available again, and the first time on DVD. This is a momentous occasion. First, it proves that Lucas was lying about these versions no longer existing, and second, those of us who desire these films can finally add them to our collections and close this chapter of our lives.

Something that I have always found interesting is all the people who cried foul with regards to the unavailability of the original versions, Star Wars is the only film (well, 3 films) to get such a response. Many films have been altered over the years for their home video release, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That doesn't even get into the the growing trend of releasing "Director's Cuts," "Extended Cuts," "Unrated Editions" and the like. Sometimes those editions are the only way to get the film at all, or at least get it in its proper widescreen presentation. It was only Star Wars to get the cries of erasing history, destroying childhood memories, and worse.

I never went anywhere near the extremes that many demonstrated, although I did, and do, want those versions. They were the movies I saw as a kid, and I would like to be able to relive those wonderful memories of Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia fighting the evil Empire and Darth Vader. I also agree with the comments of erasing history.

The original Star Wars was groundbreaking, forever changing the face of film. Lucas essentially ushered in a new era of films and the idea of the blockbuster. Steven Spielberg is credited with starting the summer blockbuster model with Jaws, but it was George Lucas who cemented it. No one had ever created effects like this. I was transported to this place "A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away." The movie, besides changing the face of Hollywood, it also influenced an entire generation of movie fans. To some it inspired a lifelong love affair with the moving image, others were inspired to enter the business with some even working for Lucasfilm or one of its affiliates. Whatever the case may be, the film has made an indelible make on pop culture, on the industry, all the way down to the individual.

This is a very welcome announcement, one that has been a long time coming. I love Star Wars, let me say that again, I love Star Wars. I always will, whatever version is availble to me will be mine. I have the original trilogy on VHS tapes, albeit in full frame (I was young and naive), I have the 1996 Special Editions on widescreen VHS tapes, I have the 2004 DVD box set, widescreen of course, and I have all 3 of the prequels on widescreen DVD. Come this September, I will also have this release.

Now the big question is extras, will there be any and what will they be. Not much is known on this front. What has been announced is that the 3 films will be released individually, no box has been announced, and it will be a limited run, kind of like what Disney does, they will be available until the end of 2006. It is also known that they will be 2 disk sets, and will include the 2004 edition in addition to the much desired originals. It is also known that only audio will be 2.o stereo, there will be no surround mix. There are no plans for an HD DVD or Blu Ray release at this time, so this will only be a standard DVD release.

All that is left is the wait, four months, to be exact. It will be a good day for cinema lovers. It is time to introduce the glory of the original versions to a new generation that may only be familiar with the more recent incarnations.

I will close this with one caveat, next year marks the 30th anniversary of the unleashing of Star Wars. With that, it has to be known that Lucas has to have something special in store to mark the occasion, like perhaps some sort of uber-box that collects all things Star Wars in one place. Time will tell.

In the meantime, be thankful that Han will regain his rightful place as the first, and only shooter.


Anonymous said...

The three films were released to the theatres ( in THX ) over a three month period from January 1997 to March 1997 Not 1996..

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