The Digital Bits had an update this morning on the whole Star Wars thing:
We’ve essentially confirmed that Disney’s current 4K scan of the film is the most recent revised version (essentially the latest “special edition”), not the original theatrical edition. What’s more, Disney’s director of Library Restoration and Preservation, Theo Gluck, held a special event at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts last night, a presentation called Animation Restoration at Walt Disney Studios. Gluck was asked there about Star Wars and reported that the original cut negative for the film currently exists in its “SE” configuration only.
In addition, 20th Century Fox’s Senior Vice President of Library and Technical Services, Shawn Belston, was also on hand at the Wexner event last night. He confirmed that all of the “trims” removed from the original cut negative (in the mid-1990s, to create the SEs) still exist as well. (Thanks to Bits reader Chuck P., who attended this event, for his firsthand report.) So what does all that mean to you?
In summary: While it is essentially technically true that the ‘77 cut negative “no longer exists” in its original state, it is also technically true that it could be re-built if so desired. All of the needed film elements still survive and have been preserved. Nevertheless, if one takes Gluck and Belston at their word (and knowing them as we do, we certainly do) this would seem to be fairly official word that no such reconstruction work has been done to date. Thus, it appears that there is little chance of the original 1977 Star Wars being released on any home video format in 2017.
Meanwhile, however, we also know (from checking in again with our sources yesterday) that original high-quality prints of the theatrical editions continue to exist in various film archives around the world, as well as in the hands of private collectors. So… the Saga continues.
I do not understand — and I will never understand — why one of the great landmarks of cinema history continues to be neglected like this. When I consider the efforts that’ve been made over the years to find an intact print of Metropolis, a 90-year-old silent movie that’s hugely important but which few members of the general public have even heard of, and make sure even that is available for the serious film-history buffs who desire it, the Star Wars situation simply doesn’t make sense to me.
Now, I can hear some of you muttering under your breath, “Ah, Bennion, not this again. The Special Editions really aren’t all that different, and I actually think they’re better in some ways.” I totally disagree, but hey, if that’s your honest feeling, who am I to tell you you’re wrong about something you enjoy watching? It completely misses the point of my argument, though: It wasn’t the revisionist, CGI-filled SEs that had the greatest impact on our culture, or that revolutionized the American film industry. Those are the versions we ought to be celebrating, preserving… and marketing. By rights, the Special Editions ought to be viewed as a novelty, just an interesting experiment, like when Coppola cut all of his Godfather movies into chronological order back in 1992 or whenever that was. But certainly that was never intended as an outright replacement for the originals… and today it’s The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 that’s hard to find, not the theatrical cuts.
Some people have told me that it’s only a small minority of older Star Wars fans who actually care about this, that it would be a niche market at best. Maybe so. But it can’t be that small of a niche, or there wouldn’t be so much interest in bootlegged “fan preservations,” and there wouldn’t have been so much excitement generated by yesterday’s rumor, however short-lived it turned out to be. There is money to be made on a home-video re-release of the pre-1997 editions, and there is artistic and cultural value in such a release, I’m convinced of it. But evidently the bean counters at Disney feel otherwise.
At least it’s been confirmed that the negative trims from the original cuts are still around. I never did believe Lucas’ claims that the original negatives no longer existed in any form. Maybe in another 50 years, when the children of the ’70s are dead and gone, our cultural priorities will have evolved enough that someone will see the value in reconstructing the historically significant editions of the trilogy. And they will wonder what in the hell was the matter with George Lucas and the Disney executives and all those casual fans who just didn’t appreciate what they had…