.: Frequently Asked Questions
If you are reading this, it is probably one of your first times visiting this site. You may know a bit about the subject matter of this site, or you may know nothing, or you may just want a bit of orientation. There is a ton of information in the many pages on this website, and navigating them might seem a bit bewildering, or a bit on the information overload side of things. I hope this FAQ will give you a crude summation of all the major questions you may have and all the major issues at stake. Within each subject and question I have listed here, I will provide a short and simple answer to give you a basic understanding, and then provide a link to the corresponding page which has a more detailed analysis. Below is the overview:
7) Q: It seems like every Star Wars fan expects something different for an "original DVD or Blu Ray." In terms of how original, whether any clean-up has been done, how many defects to leave in like matte lines and scratches. Isn't it sort of impossible to please everyone?
9) Q: As both the legal rights holder and also the artist behind the films, shouldn't the films be Lucas' to do with as he pleases? Isn't forcing an artist to make a choice they do not wish an unethical practice?
Questions and Answers
1) Q: I sort of know about how Lucas wants the Special Editions to be the only version available to people, and I would like to know a little more about the issue than the summation on the main page. Is there a slightly more detailed history of this issue?
A: There is! In 2008, I wrote a summation of the whole history of the fiasco for the website obsessedwithfilm.com, with a mass audience in mind. I have reposted the article in the editorials section. It looks at the issue in broad terms, and touches upon every major aspect of the controversy, but it doesn't get too bogged down in detail. See How the Grinch Stole Star Wars.
A: Yes, sort of anyway. Those releases were only as "bonus materials" for a Special Edition re-package and don't constitute a dedicated release, and they were presented in low quality. They were taken from a video master made for Laserdisc in 1993, hopelessly outdated and with a multitude of flaws, such as being non-anamorphic, meaning it will not fill a widescreen monitor, and being plaugued with digital video noise reduction which smeared away detail in moving shots. Bottom line was that it is a video telecine closing in on being twenty years out of date today, and looks its age. As mere "bonus features" perhaps this is more understandable, but the problem in the first place is that the originals are bonus video from the early 1990s (which was already owned via the 1993 and 1995 releases anyway). Home theatre professionals the world over criticized this release, both for its poor treatment of the originals and the poor nature of the video quality. This is neither a preservation nor proper due for the films, although it does at least acknowledge their existance, which is not to be underestimated. In 2011, these editions went out of print.
For more information on the controversial 2006 DVD, see Got GOUT? The 2006 Original Versions DVD Fiasco.
A: The original version negatives today look as good as the Special Edition negatives. That is because they are the same thing! The only differences are the new Special Edition shots. In 1995, Fox started restoring the entire negatives for the Star Wars films, which saved them from their state of disrepair. Luckily, this means the original versions can be presented in nearly the same quality as what you saw in theatres in the 1997 re-release. Were Lucasfilm to not to use the negatives, there are other 35mm materials available for use. Although some are in states of disrepair, many are not, and while not being as high quality as the negatives, should be very presentable. For instance, George Lucas himself kept a special Technicolor print of the original film, which does not fade at all and would look exactly as it did when it was first printed.
For more information on film preservation and the available 35mm Star Wars elements, see From Interpositives to Separation Masters: How Film Preservation Works.
A: Lucas speaks about how expensive it would be and all the work that would need to be done, but in fact it would be relatively easy and inexpensive. One, presenting existing prints in high-def with modest cleanup would cost in the hundred thousand dollar range. Relatively speaking, this is very inexpensive, which is why obscure films like Police Academy 5 are available from original 35mm elements. Restoring the films from the negatives is not too expensive as well--because it was largely already done. In 1995, Twentieth Century Fox spent $20 million restoring and enhancing the Star Wars trilogy for the anniversary re-release. All that would need to be done today is retrieving the missing original pieces (roughly five to ten minutes per film), cleaning them if necessary, and editing them into a scan of the existing negative. Further cleanup could be done, but this is not strictly necessary, as the 1997 release had no major digital cleanup. So, the pricetag to finish the restoration of the trilogy from the negatives would be in the range of a million dollars, to throw a ballpark figure out there. To put this in perspective, the 2004 DVD set sold $100 million in its day of release. To put it in greater perspective, Lucas is a billionaire as it is. Lucas also need not involve himself in this, as film restorationists could handle the project themselves and seek to match the new digital copy to archival material. The project could be outsourced as well, to Criterion for example.
See From Interpositives to Separation Masters: How Film Preservation Works for greater detail on the subject.
A: No, this is untrue. There are relatively good quality 35mm print masters, such as interpositves and fine-grain prints, as well as Technicolor prints. There is also a perfect duplicate of the negative in separation masters. Finally, the original negatives were not destroyed. What is meant when it is said that "they don't exist" or permanently altered is that the assembled edit of the film which uses the original pieces was re-ordered from the original edit to the Special Edition edit, so in this sense the original does not "exist." It would be very easy to simply put the original pieces physically back in, but in a theoretical modern restoration they would just be scanned digitally to avoid re-cutting the negative.
See From Interpositives to Separation Masters: How Film Preservations Works for information on existing 35mm elements, or for the process of re-cutting the neg for the Special Edition see Saving Star Wars: Its Restoration and Changing Physicality.
A: In 1995, the original negatives were discovered to have been in a state of disrepair, and so a restoration was enacted. First the film was washed in a bath and then hand-cleaned to remove dirt. Then, some optical transitions like wipes and dissolves were re-printed using the original film pieces and new modern printers. Some parts of the negative were damaged or too degraded, and so were replaced with duplicate material from second-generation copies. Finally, the faded colours were colour-timed back to life, using a non-fade Technicolor print from 1977 as the reference. In 2004, the negatives were scanned in 1080p HD resolution; Lucas supervised a re-colouring at ILM, and the films were digitally cleaned to remove dirt and scratches not possible in 1997 for new high definition digital masters.
A very detailed article on the restorations for the 1997 and 2004 releases is available. See Saving Star Wars: Its Restoration and Changing Physicality.
7) Q: It seems like every Star Wars fan expects something different for an "original version." In terms of how original, whether any clean-up has been done, how many defects to leave in like matte lines and scratches. Isn't it sort of impossible to please everyone?
A: In a literal sense perhaps, however Star Wars fans are not as hard to please as one may think, because most of us are inclined to automatically like what is presented. While some people may want matte lines and other "defects" cleaned, this constitues altering the original photography, and so would not be a proper restoration. Erasing dirt and scratches would constitute restoring the original photography to its unblemished state, although original negative grain should be left in simply because that was how the film existed. The audio should be the original too, and could be presented in surround sound via the 1977 six-track mixes. Basically, what I am getting at is that "restoring" the "original" Star Wars means actually doing that, and I think most people would be pleased if this was done. It is true that people might have greater or lesser expectations, and that some would want some minor enhancements such as matte removal, however I think most would agree that a proper restoration would satisfy both fans, cinema buffs, and home theatre enthusiasts, therefore constituting the maximum amount of satisfaction. Although presenting the films from high quality sources other than the negatives would be rightfully met with some criticism, at the end of the day I think most people would nonetheless be pleased as long as it looked good. I would say that relying on the excuse of "you can't please everyone" is simply pre-emptively justifying Lucasfilm's lack of effort. In order to fail to please everyone, they have to try in the first place.
A: If the Special Editions are the same basic films as the originals, why make the Special Editions in the first place? There is a reason George Lucas has spent so much time and money altering the movies. While I will agree they are the same films in the larger sense, the Special Editions do not in any way represent the look, sound or experience of watching the original versions. Star Wars, for example, has over 100 altered and new shots in the Special Edition, in addition to totally new colouring and sound mixing. Furthermore, the original material is historic in many ways. The visual effects work of ILM is pioneering, but much of it is no longer present in the new editions, as is the award winning sound mixing. Moreover, as culturally significant artifacts of the time in which they were made, it is important that the films be preserved so that viewers can understand what films were like back then. Films illustrate the technologies and tastes of the era in which they were made, and it is important for our national heritage that they be presented in their authentic original form, in as high a quality as possible. It also is important for purposes of pure entertainment, as these versions of the films are widely considered to be superior versions of the films, and are in any case adored by millions of people.
For detailed breakdowns of how the Special Editions have been altered and enhanced, see Special Edition Changes. For thoughts on why films should ethically, and legally, be preserved see Right to Cultural Heritage: Film Preservation and the Law. Thoughts on the importance of the originals can also be found in How the Grinch Stole Star Wars.
9) Q: How can you demand that Lucas relinquish the originals? As both the legal rights holder and also the artist behind the films, shouldn't they be his to do with as he pleases? Isn't forcing an artist to make a choice they do not wish an unethical practice?
A: A complex and loaded subject. First, no one has suggested that Lucas not get the chance to make his Special Editions. Preserving the originals does not nullify the director's version, and the current home video era of multiple versions being concurrently released exemplifies this. Second, Lucas has already acknowledged this with the 2006 DVD release which included both versions. Third, that same release also deflated his integrity about one artistic version existing, since he has acknowledged that the older versions do in fact exist and can be made available to the public alongside his re-edits. The issue can really die here.
Beyond this, however, it is not clear that they are solely "his" films to unilaterally control and alter. He neither directed nor was the primary screenwriter on either sequels, conditions that the 1987 Film Integrity Act which he supported demanded to allow alteration of a film. That act was later repealed, however, after being criticized for simplifying the collaborative nature of moviemaking down to the control of two people, further muddying any case Lucas would have had. Although Lucas legally owns the copyrights, in a moral sense this means little, otherwise we would have to consent to unilateral studio control in almost every other non-Star Wars example. Moreover, Star Wars is a culturally significant artifact of 20th century popular culture. Congress recognized both films and Star Wars in particular as important parts of its cultural heritage. The United States has enacted laws to prevent artifacts of cultural heritage from being altered or destroyed, regardless of the wishes of their legal or even artistic owners, such as historic paintings, buildings and landmarks. However, these laws have not been passed on to motion pictures, due to the complexity of motion picture law. Otherwise, Lucas would be stopped. What he is doing is in violation of the ethics of United States law, but there is no enforcement agency in place. Star Wars is part of cinema and cultural history, and it is bigger than any one man (Lucas) or corporation (Lucasfilm) and should be protected.
See The Right to Cultural Heritage: Film Preservation and the Law for more detail. See also The Greatest Speech Against the Special Edition was By George Lucas for Lucas' testimony before Congress in 1988 where he rails against not releasing films as they originally were. See also Do as I Say Not as I Do for additional quotes from the man about the importance of film-as-cultural-heritage.
A: Currently, no. Until cultural heritage protection law is extended to motion pictures in the same way as it is to other fine art forms, all films, not just Star Wars, are vulnerable to destruction by their rights holders. See The Right to Cultural Heritage: Film Preservation and the Law.
A: The 2006 DVD was better than existing Laserdisc captures, but since 2006 many fans have done their own restorations to improve upon the DVD in very significant ways. Most notably, the image jitter has been stabilized and the picture made anamorphic, and the original theatrical sound mixes have been included. Some restorations reduced the grain and tweaked the colour slightly.
For a history of fan restorations and the current state of the art, see Fan Preservations: Navigating the Waters.
A: Yes. There have been a few showings, without Lucasfilm's approval, making them technically illicit (probably in some cases to the ignorance of the exhibitors). There is a black market for 35mm prints, since it is usually illegal to own them privately, and so the Star Wars films are highly sought after. After at least one screening, Lucasfilm confiscated the print. The most noteable screening was a 2010 screening of a super-rare, pristine, non-fade Technicolor print that was privately owned. This was done as a free screening for the closing of Baltimore's Senator Theatre, which I have covered in detail with videos and photos of the event and the print. See Technicolor I.B. Screening.
13) Q: I have heard people complaining about the video quality of the 2004/2011 Special Edition, but the picture and sound looks great to me, very clear and sharp, the best I've seen the films. What are people talking about?
A: While the picture does indeed look crisp and brand new, there are a number of problems with the colouring (aside from the fact that too much grain was removed). Noteably, the black levels have been brought down so dark that they erase detail, such as shadows and even some of the starfields. Lasers and spaceship engines have also been de-coloured, and many scenes have a dull quality to them. Other scenes have been miscoloured, such as the blockade runner in Star Wars, which has a mild blue cast to it by mistake. The most noteable flaw, and one you probably noticed if you paid close attention, is that the lightsabers have been frequently miscoloured. The white cores are no longer bright white, while in A New Hope Luke's saber is green, and Darth Vader's often looks pink throughout all three. The audio mix also accidentally reversed sound channels in some shots, and dropped out the music for some parts by mistake. These are not deliberate choices but merely technical errors. Some of these were improved in the 2011 Blu-ray, but most of them were not.
See Can't Even Get the Special Edition Right for more info and screens.
A: In the resources section there are many examples from both official and privately owned film materials, from 35mm prints to 70mm blowups to 16mm reductions. The best example of how Star Wars looked on 35mm is the pictures seen on the Senator's Theatre's Technicolor print screening. For the other films, and for additional Star Wars material, there is a resource page collecting much of this stuff, although many of the examples are not in good quality because of age and use.
A: It might be possible to buy some from private dealers, but the quality is not likely to be good. Being thirty years old, they are likely to have faded to pink, and become scratched from use. However, I still insist that even a scratched film print is the best way to see any film, especially Star Wars. There is a decent restoration and presentation on DVD of 16mm reels by "Puggo", but a self-made telecine is not the same as seeing it for yourself. Lucasfilm does not loan out 1997 prints to repertoir theatres, only screening the films in exceptional circumstance. It's a shame Lucasfilm controls circulation of all film prints so strictly, even the Special Editions, which I would enjoy seeing again for their quality.
See Watching Star Wars on Film for an overview of the 8mm, 16mm and 35mm markets.
A: The audio of all the films was remixed in 1985 for home video, then again in 1993, and then remixed for the Special Editions in 1997 and 2004. The 2011 Blu Rays will have yet another mix. So the truely original versions are from 1985 and earlier, but many of the Star Wars mixes were never released on home video. Star Wars debuted in stereo for 35mm and six-track surround for 70mm. A few weeks later the sound was mixed for 35mm mono, which added and changed many sound effects throughout the film. The six-track and mono versions were never released on home video, although the unique mono mix sounds were heard in some vintage sources like "The Story of Star Wars" LP, and some were restored for the Special Edition. Empire Strikes Back came out in 70mm (six track) first, which was actually missing a couple shots compared to the 35mm version released days later. There were a few minor sound variations on the 70mm mixes of Empire and Jedi, and also no dedicated mono mixes. The six-track surrounds of all the films were never released on home video, although the 1993 remix uses the original sound stems. The original stereo mixes were available on all home video versions from 1985 and earlier. The original Star Wars mono mixe was never officially released. Fans have restored and re-created all of these original mixes. See Theatrical Audio Resources for further detail.
A: Perhaps cutting to the ultimate purpose of the site. To start, tell your friends, and tell them to tell their friends. If you have a blog or a website, write about the suppression of the films and post a link to us. Be vocally critical of Lucasfilm to show that people are not okay with what they are doing, to show that they will be remembered as destroyers of history. The only way public pressure will persuade them to alter course is if they feel a sense of public shame, that they have alienated their audiences. Write to newspapers, websites, and magazines to highlight this travesty, and contact Lucasfilm directly.