Star Wars is one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time. People shelled out money to buy Star Wars: The Force Awakens stuff, and they haven’t even seen that movie. The Force is strong with fans, and it seems like Lucasfilm would happily sell them just about anything except what they desired most—the original trilogy without George Lucas’ “Special Edition” tweaks.
To get the original version of the original trilogy, you have to either have the widescreen VHS, Laserdisc, or the limited edition 2006 DVDs that were released as a bonus feature. And if you get these versions, you have to bite your tongue because while you lose the terrible stuff like Han shooting second, Jabba’s awkward cameo, and the musical number at Jabba’s palace, you also have to bear with a pretty crummy transfer that’s borderline embarrassing. On the other side, you have slightly better looking DVDs and the recent Blu-rays that are certainly cleaner, but still have their own issues in addition to the Special Edition nonsense.
Enter the fans, video editors, and an originaltrilogy.com forum user named Harmy, who decided to recreate the original, unaltered trilogy in high definition. Dubbed the “Despecialized Edition”, Harmy explains the flaws of all the previous versions and how his corrects those imperfections. It’s absolutely fascinating:
This isn’t a simple matter of cutting out crappy scenes or cleaning up some rough patches. There’s full-on color correction here, rotoscoping, new animation, and more. While some may cry fowl that the fans believe they know a better color palette than Lucas, it’s tough to say how invested Lucas is in the color palette of a movie he seems to have given up on at this point. While I believe that Lucas is still the true artist behind Star Wars, if someone were to back off the overuse of magenta in the Blu-ray, I wouldn’t complain.
It’s tricky territory from an artistic perspective, and one Star Wars specifically has occupied for a while where a fanbase now believes the art belongs to them (I believe it still belongs to Lucas), but Harmy and his crew have still offered up something the rest of us would gladly pay for: an HD edition of the original trilogy that removed the superfluous garbage Lucas added from 1997 onwards.
Unfortunately, an official version is currently tied up in legal issues (20th Century Fox owns the original Star Wars, Disney owns Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), but I wholeheartedly believe these companies will figure something out because there’s too much money to be made from a new home release. A 4K version for the 40th anniversary? Tell me that’s not a serious possibility.
But that’s not until 2017. What if you want HD Star Wars right now? Well, that’s tricky because it ain’t exactly legal. You could make a Fair Use argument, but I’m certainly not going to. I’m certainly not going to direct you to Lifehacker, which was the source of this story and may have tips on how to find your way to these “Despecialized Editions”. I’ll just point you to the above video showing you all the hard work these fans put in, and it’s the kind of painstaking work that I hope is going on behind the scenes to make 4K transfers of the original trilogy.