It’s been a long time since I’ve stood in line to see the first Star Wars, an early blockbuster and a movie so good and iconic that it launched a 45-year multi-channel franchise that has changed lives, if not the course of history.
Back then, before we understood how the simple story of good versus evil would find its way into our cultural fabric unlike any movie before (or maybe since), it was just a movie we all had to see. With no social media or 500 channels to promote it, Star Wars survived on word of mouth, magazine covers, and a terrible Christmas special.
The effects were, for their time, surprisingly good. When I was a teenager, I thought it was a perfect movie, like no other. But the version I saw back then was lost to time and the author himself, director George Lucas, who repeatedly altered the original Star Wars and then subsequent sequels for decades. Even in the hands of Disney, which bought the franchise in 2015, Star Wars: A New Hope, Episode IV has undergone multiple alterations and adjustments (even the name is different).
There’s little guarantee, even now, that Star Wars (pick any movie in the series) will be the same today as it is tomorrow. Disney isn’t just cleaning up the quality, it’s removing practical effects artifacts, like the wire that appears in Obi-Won’s hand during his iconic battle with Darth Vader. It’s safe to assume that Disney could continue to tweak the entire series.
Lost in a galaxy far, far away
My point is that as we celebrate all things Star Wars on May 4th, it’s worth remembering that we’re celebrating a ghost. The original Star Wars (indeed, the entire original trilogy) as it was in 1977 only exists in our memories. It hasn’t been aired, broadcast or released in its original form in at least 25 years and there’s almost no way to watch the same movie you saw when you were 13.
Almost no way.
First, there’s the way I did it five years ago, when I traveled to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and made an appointment to sit in a small windowless room and watch a series of video files on a computer screen. . Meanwhile, a cranky librarian kept a close eye on me, making sure he wasn’t capturing any of the footage from the original, untouched, theatrical version of Star Wars: A New Hope on my iPhone.
I remember it looking like a mess, but at least there weren’t any new special effects from the late 1990s and Han Solo definitely shoots first.
For those unwilling to make the trip to the capital, there is at least one other way to see something close to the original, but it may cost you a bit.
find the strength
My oldest Star Wars trilogy is a trio of VHS tapes from 1997. They look fancy, but they’re all widescreen special edition movies. I’m glad I have that set, but it’s not my most prized Star Wars possession.
In 2008, 20th Century Fox released the trilogy as a digitally remastered DVD set. In the slim box are the special editions that Lucas re-released in theaters in the late 1990s, which means they’re full of bad CGI and Han Solo shots. later Greedo yells “Maclunky” and shoots Solo.
The 2008 Star Wars trilogy DVD set.
However, the set consists of six DVDs, and while the first set is all of those special editions, the second set is all of the original Star Wars theatrical releases from 1977, 1980, and 1983.
Understand that these movies aren’t full screen and watching them on, say, a 65-inch 4K TV is only a slightly better experience than what I had at the Library of Congress. Still, it’s watchable and it’s welcome because that’s how I remember them when I saw each of the original Star Wars, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Revenge… er… Return of the Jedi in the cinemas. Intact, immutable and perfect, for me.
It is no longer easy to get this set. No one is putting out new media for theatrical releases. Disney has shown little interest in broadcasting the originals untouched, even though they reportedly have the right to do so (unless Lucas has a secret, unbreakable promise from Disney to never show those originals to anyone, at least while he’s alive. ).
If you want these discs, no you can’t have mine, you have to look on Amazon or eBay where you can find them for almost $200.
At this point, you could be measuring your commitment to all things Star Wars. How important is that original purity, really? Heck, your kids, grandkids, or the average Millennial or Gen Z-er think the sequels are the best Star Wars, anyway, or at least they did until the final trilogy. I’ll admit that the last three started well but ended in a messy mess. At least Return of the Jedi made sense and stayed true to the heroes Lucas introduced in Episode IV.
In any case, the Star Wars that I remember is gone and I will keep these DVDs until the day I die.