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The Sad State of Star Wars in the Home

It’s difficult to fathom how, in the age of ubiquitous home theaters, high definition, and extreme media availability, one of the most important and beloved film franchises has been literally absent from high-end home video for years and years.

The Sad State of Star Wars in the Home

May 19, 2014 9:51 AM,
By Jason Bovberg

I have a very fond memory of my 16th birthday party, back in 1984, when my dad managed to get his hands on a bootleg VHS recording of Return of the Jedi—long before its official home video release. He surprised me with it so that I could host my geek friends for a showing of the trilogy on our enormous 25in. console TV. For the next 7 hours, my buddies and I watched pan-and-scan versions of the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and then that terrible handheld video recording of Return of the Jedi. We had a great time, despite the chopped and squeezed aspect ratios of the first two films, the lack of high definition in any of the visuals, and the especially grainy, shaky image of the final film. I mean, it was Star Wars! And this was the best we could do.

Little did we know that, over a period of 30 years of home video evolution, the home-video presentation of that landmark trilogy wouldn’t get much better. In some ways it would get worse.

For a decade after that birthday party, the Star Wars films would be relegated to substandard video treatment, on those horrid VHS tapes and on admittedly forward-thinking laserdiscs that nevertheless required you to flip discs at certain intervals, thereby wrecking the fluid home-video experience. In the early to mid-90s, the films finally debuted in widescreen at home—but still on standard-definition VHS, of course. Sadly, it would be these video representations that would be the pinnacle of Star Wars on home video, because in the late 90s, George Lucas released the so-called “special editions” of his trilogy, essentially aiming to scrub the original versions from the collective consciousness. Every home-video Star Wars release since—from DVD to Blu-ray—has favored the tinkered, CGI-happy special editions, and only once have the original versions graced DVD. And those were tossed out to fans as a bonus-feature afterthought, not enhanced for widescreen sets (i.e., not high-def), with zero image restoration performed.

It’s difficult to fathom how, in the age of ubiquitous home theaters, high definition, and extreme media availability, one of the most important and beloved film franchises has been literally absent from high-end home video for years and years. The Star Wars trilogy that you remember fondly from your youth is gone. Out of print. Nearly forgotten! In its place is a rejiggered monstrosity full of early-CG hack work (a new Jabba the Hut sequence that makes even my 9-year-old cringe), bone-headed revisionism (“Greedo shot first!”), poop jokes inserted into Mos Eisley, and scenes deleted entirely. It’s hard to imagine this kind of treatment given to any film. It’s even more difficult to imagine that such a crime has been perpetrated upon three of the most treasured films of all time.

Wait, we don’t have to imagine.

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The Sad State of Star Wars in the Home

May 19, 2014 9:51 AM,
By Jason Bovberg

Even now, in the year 2014, the original trilogy is nowhere to be seen. Lucasfilm and Fox have brayed loudly about each new home-video incarnation, but every time, it’s the awful special edition versions that are offered. When the trilogy was recently released to Blu-ray, I began to experience real fear. Not just my eternal frustration with later-years Lucas, but fear that the Bearded One would actually get his way, and the original films—as they were originally conceived and released—might never again see the light of day. What if his master plan came to be? A whole generation of moviegoers would simply not care about the 1977-1983 originals and assume that the late-90s special editions were the originals? Is it possible that something that sinister could happen?

I always find comfort in the loud protestations of the very-much-intact Star Wars aficionados out there. All you need to do to understand their passion is scan the reviews of the latest Star Wars releases on Amazon. You’ll find legitimate outrage there. It is not unreasonable to crave the films you saw originally in theaters, and yet your only recourse today is to scrounge eBay for those ancient widescreen VHS tapes or those 10-year-old DVDs that offered the non-bastardized versions as a bonus feature. Want to see the original films in high-def? You’re out of luck, barring the bootleg market, and those versions are unreliable and hobbled together from multiple sources.

But now we’re facing a new future. A future in which George Lucas has sold his company to a team of filmmakers who are heavily invested in the original Star Wars mythology and fandom, a team that has perhaps learned essential lessons from the inanity of Lucas’s special editions and prequel trilogy. (I will speak no more of those films here.) Star Wars might finally be in the hands of filmmakers who appreciate that the original films are historical relics—much like the relics that Indiana Jones (another Lucas creation) might find valuable in his adventures. You wouldn’t want to unearth a priceless relic only to mar its surface with childish scrawls and scratches. Just as you wouldn’t want a tarnished representation of Star Wars to live on into human history.

New Star Wars films are on the horizon, and they’re worthy of excitement. I’m sensing a return to the feelings of joyous excitement that attended the premieres of the original films. Original cast members, screenwriters, and other crew are returning to the saga, in an exuberant collaborative spirit. No more insular, one-man show from Lucas. They want to do the next saga right.

Which is all fine and dandy to me, but I have to admit that I’m more interested in the spark of hope (a new hope, if you will) that all these developments might have ignited in the debate about the original Star Wars. Will the new owners, Disney, of the Star Wars saga finally make an effort to bring the true original films into the 21st century home theater? It’s my opinion that this has to happen. I can only imagine the good will (and gobs of cash) that Disney would earn from Star Wars fans by sprucing up the “Han shoots first” saga and blasting it onto Blu-ray.

Disney, give me that, and I’ll trust you all the way.

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