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Star Wars Negatives and Interpositives

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So I’ve asked this question before (don’t remember which thread, sorry) but I don’t quite understand the current state of the Star Wars O-negatives. I know that Lucasfilm has stated that the original negatives have been conformed to the special editions. To me, a layman who knows very little about how films are produced and restored, this sounds like the original negatives are gone, at least the frames that initially contained non-special edition alterations.

I’m aware of the clean up that happened in the 90s, because the film was in bad shape. So as far as I understand things, the original negatives were scanned digitally, cleaned up, and then used as the basis for the special editions as well as the 1993 release.

I’ve heard people say on this forum that we know that Lucasfilm has preserved everything. If every original negative, interpositive, composite master, etc. has been preserved, then I don’t see how the O-neg can be conformed to the special edition.

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Last I heard, back in '97 they did “conform” the negatives to the SEs, but they did NOT destroy the original frames they replaced. They did in fact preserve them. They simply spliced them out and spliced the new frames into the negative. That’s why it is both true that the O-neg is “conformed” to the SE and that everything is preserved.

Regardless, we know for a fact that there is nothing stopping them from restoring the originals. Not only should everything from the original negative be preserved in one form or another, but even if it wasn’t, lower generation copies certainly still exist. There really is no excuse, even if it wouldn’t be absolutely perfect. If fans here can make acceptable versions with only publicly released materials (well, until the 35mm scans anyway - but even with just the upscaled GOUT it was OK), then they certainly can make better versions with the resources at their disposal no matter what condition the original negatives are in.

Bottom line is there is zero technical excuse for them not to do it. Films that were in far, far worse shape or come from far, far weaker sources that have far, far less demand have been meticulously restored. No reason whatsoever not to do it here.

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Cthulhunicron said:

I’m aware of the clean up that happened in the 90s, because the film was in bad shape. So as far as I understand things, the original negatives were scanned digitally, cleaned up, and then used as the basis for the special editions as well as the 1993 release.

The 1993 release was simply the final time a fresh video master was made from the 1985 interpositives (it was done for the definitive collection laserdisc release in '93 and reused for the “Faces” aka “One Last Time” aka “THX” release in '95). Since it was still the early 90’s, this last video master was only done as a 4:3 standard def transfer with the 2.35:1 image letterboxed. Hence, in 2006 when George was reminded by the people at Lucasfilm that an unaltered dvd release would make quite a bit of money but he didn’t feel like spending a dime on it, this was the most recent transfer and we got the GOUT.

The restoration for the Special Edition wasn’t even started until 1994 and involved physically cleaning and restoring the original negatives themselves. No digital scanning was done except for the SE additions where cgi was integrated into existing shots. The technology to digitally clean up an entire film at resolutions high enough to be printed back to film for theatrical exhibition wouldn’t exist for another several years AFAIK.

The SE restoration is a fascinating subject in and of itself since they cleaned the entirety of the movies, including the parts that were going to be replaced anyway for the SE. Some frames on the o-neg were damaged beyond repair and were replaced with dupe neg made from the '85 interpositives since that was the next best source. So not only are the altered parts of the negative still in storage somewhere, the '85 interpositive is also a viable source for an OOT restoration should it come to that.

But yeah, what Density said x1,000,000. See: just about any criterion release for good examples of stunning restorations that didn’t use an original negative.

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So in other words, the Special Edition negatives are all together in a receptacle somewhere, and all the frames specifically from the theatrical cuts are simply stored somewhere else? I mean, maybe it’s a bit more complicated, but is that basically the gist?

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What about the difference between the “negatives” (with the optical effects applied to them) and the OCN (the reel that was in the camera back then)?

Even if they conformed the official “negative” into something else, there should remain the OCN frames somewhere for all scenes with optical effects (wipes and optical compositions etc).

With the OCN frames all optical effects would have to be recreated digitally which is probably a lot of work.

This post has been edited.

“People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians”

“In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.” --George Lucas on March 3, 1988

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Cthulhunicron said:

So in other words, the Special Edition negatives are all together in a receptacle somewhere, and all the frames specifically from the theatrical cuts are simply stored somewhere else? I mean, maybe it’s a bit more complicated, but is that basically the gist?

Yes

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Amano said:

What about the difference between the “negatives” (with the optical effects applied to them) and the OCN (the reel that was in the camera back then)?

Even if they conformed the official “negative” into something else, there should remain the OCN frames somewhere for all scenes with optical effects (wipes and optical compositions etc).

With the OCN frames all optical effects would have to be recreated digitally which is probably a lot of work.

The wipes were actually redone optically (using the actual camera negatives for the relevant shots like you mention) as part of the restoration process before they made any changes. I think this resulted in the wipes not beginning and ending at the exact same frames and technically still counts as an alteration from the original version, although maybe someone can clarify if I’m wrong about that.

The vfx shots were re-composited digitally, presumably using the original VistaVision negatives (again, someone can clarify if I’m wrong). This definitely counts as a change, not only because the recomps were done digitally (although recomping of any kind would still be an alteration), but also because it resulted in slightly different positions for all the various elements.

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Another topic I’m interested is what exactly is meant by negatives. The camera negatives are the first generation, the actual frames taken from the camera. I’m assuming when people talk about the negatives of Star Wars, they’re referring to the frames that actually contain things like lasers and stuff animated onto the film. I know also some shots are composites, so there would have to be multiple negatives for that (one for a background, one for a star destroyer, another for a planet, etc).

In order for the negatives to be conformed to the special edition, wouldn’t some negatives have to start out unaltered, get translated into some kind of digital format, adulterated with CGI additions, and then re-printed back onto film? Or do HD digital scans still count as a negative?

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Cthulhunicron said:

Another topic I’m interested is what exactly is meant by negatives. The camera negatives are the first generation, the actual frames taken from the camera. I’m assuming when people talk about the negatives of Star Wars, they’re referring to the frames that actually contain things like lasers and stuff animated onto the film. I know also some shots are composites, so there would have to be multiple negatives for that (one for a background, one for a star destroyer, another for a planet, etc).

In order for the negatives to be conformed to the special edition, wouldn’t some negatives have to start out unaltered, get translated into some kind of digital format, adulterated with CGI additions, and then re-printed back onto film?

That’s exactly what happened. They had to scan certain shots into the digital realm in order to add cgi (think all of those shots in Mos Eisley) and then print it back out to a new piece of negative. The original, unaltered piece of negative was presumably kept in storage.

But even the composite shots from the original version you mention in your first paragraph had to be redone for some reason, either because the existing composite on the finished negative had faded or because George thought that a digital recomp would make those shots look better.

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Fang Zei said:

Cthulhunicron said:

Another topic I’m interested is what exactly is meant by negatives. The camera negatives are the first generation, the actual frames taken from the camera. I’m assuming when people talk about the negatives of Star Wars, they’re referring to the frames that actually contain things like lasers and stuff animated onto the film. I know also some shots are composites, so there would have to be multiple negatives for that (one for a background, one for a star destroyer, another for a planet, etc).

In order for the negatives to be conformed to the special edition, wouldn’t some negatives have to start out unaltered, get translated into some kind of digital format, adulterated with CGI additions, and then re-printed back onto film?

That’s exactly what happened. They had to scan certain shots into the digital realm in order to add cgi (think all of those shots in Mos Eisley) and then print it back out to a new piece of negative. The original, unaltered piece of negative was presumably kept in storage.

But even the composite shots from the original version you mention in your first paragraph had to be redone for some reason, either because the existing composite on the finished negative had faded or because George thought that a digital recomp would make those shots look better.

Presumably? So we still don’t know for a fact that they were saved?

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Cthulhunicron said:

Fang Zei said:

Cthulhunicron said:

Another topic I’m interested is what exactly is meant by negatives. The camera negatives are the first generation, the actual frames taken from the camera. I’m assuming when people talk about the negatives of Star Wars, they’re referring to the frames that actually contain things like lasers and stuff animated onto the film. I know also some shots are composites, so there would have to be multiple negatives for that (one for a background, one for a star destroyer, another for a planet, etc).

In order for the negatives to be conformed to the special edition, wouldn’t some negatives have to start out unaltered, get translated into some kind of digital format, adulterated with CGI additions, and then re-printed back onto film?

That’s exactly what happened. They had to scan certain shots into the digital realm in order to add cgi (think all of those shots in Mos Eisley) and then print it back out to a new piece of negative. The original, unaltered piece of negative was presumably kept in storage.

But even the composite shots from the original version you mention in your first paragraph had to be redone for some reason, either because the existing composite on the finished negative had faded or because George thought that a digital recomp would make those shots look better.

Presumably? So we still don’t know for a fact that they were saved?

Someone from Fox only just recently confirmed that they were saved. I still say “presumably” because it feels weird how we’ve heard about it from someone at Fox but not from anyone at Lucasfilm. There’s a complete lack of details on all of this.

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Density said:

Films that were in far, far worse shape or come from far, far weaker sources that have far, far less demand have been meticulously restored.

Nailed it.

OT

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Star Wars also had a 3 strip color separation. They found in 1994 that it had never been used to strike a clean negative and it had suffered form shrinkage. Now, back in 1994, that meant that it was useless, but today, that means that it could be used to digitally restore the original 1977 negative (original color timing, original scenes, all in original negative resolution because the 3 strip is 3 B&W strips that do not fade and have higher film grain resolution than color film). That would be the item I would want to get a hold of to start a restoration.

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