`Star Wars' fans seek long, long ago edition
By Joshua Klein
Special to the Tribune
A little more than a year ago, millions of "Star Wars" fans finally got their wish granted with the release of the original "Star Wars" trilogy--"Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi"--on DVD. A vocal minority, however, merely grumbled, since what was sold was not the original trilogy at all but the so-called "special editions," released theatrically in 1997 with added scenes, new special effects and, some might argue, inferior results.
The real original trilogy--which is to say, the versions many fans grew up with--were nowhere to be found.
Short of a change of heart on creator George Lucas' part, the original "Star Wars" films are unlikely to ever appear on DVD, and needless to say, a few weeks before the DVD release of the final "Star Wars" installment "Revenge of the Sith," many fans remain frustrated.
"Look at the DVDs that are out now," says Garrett Gilchrist of Carlsbad, Calif., a 24-year-old film school grad responsible for "Deleted Magic," a remarkable compendium of seldom-seen deleted scenes, alternate takes and outtakes from the first "Star Wars." "They're not getting any respect anymore. These are classic movies that should be preserved, like `Bridge Over the River Kwai' or `Seven Samurai.' Not to get too pretentious about it, but these films should be given a bit of respect so that everyone can enjoy them, not force you to overlook how bad the release actually is."
To that end, some fans have repeatedly attempted to re-create and reconstruct--with home computers, professional software and various releases of Lucas' sci-fi epics, as well as plenty of time and money--their own versions of the director's sci-fi epics. Gilchrist's "Classic Edition" combines elements from the 2004 DVDs and the '93 laserdisc. His close approximation of 1977's "Star Wars" goes so far as to digitally paint out distracting special effects, correct real and perceived errors discovered on the official 2004 DVD versions and feature professional-looking DVD menus. Gilchrist even edited together his own commentary track. He calls his "Classic Edition" the "original" version of "Star Wars," "not the way it was, but the way you remember it." That's keeping in line with Lucas' stated views on film restoration.
"I am very concerned about our national heritage, and I am very concerned that the films I watched when I was young and the films that I watched throughout my life are preserved, so that my children can see them," said Lucas, referring to the colorization movement.
That quote is the first thing you see at www.originaltrilogy.com, where fans commiserate over changes Lucas made to their favorite films as well as discuss, attempt and trade remedies. There's also a petition addressed to Lucas.
"Obviously, all the chain-rattling one person on the Internet can do is about as effective as the world's smallest violin," says Justin Bielawa of Connecticut, a Web site regular and friend of Gilchrist. "The question is now what can we do to get him to change his mind."
These homemade "preservations" provide to the unsatisfied (and perhaps unsatisfiable) the next best thing. Yet the proliferation of so many different versions of the films, from Lucas' own to the dozens of bootlegs and ambitious re-creations, shows that a solution may now be impossible.
"I don't know if that'd be possible, due to the many sources of the original trilogy and how differently each person tackles their preservation project," says Rid Hughes of Gloucestershire, England, who has worked diligently on his own laserdisc to DVD transfers of a universally embraced DVD edition. "Everyone has their own idea on how it should look, and they're all different."
Hughes' version of the first "Star Wars" was made from three different laserdisc sources: the U.S. Definitive Collection, the French THX collection and the German THX collection. It's cost him more than 200 British pounds (about $350), "utilizing parts of all three versions to combine them into something I'm happy with."
Ben Payton of Great Falls, Mont., who has embarked with four friends on what he calls the "X0 Project," is a freelance Web designer whose "Star Wars" obsessions drew him to the pricey Pioneer HLD-X0 laserdisc player in hopes of preserving the best possible image.
"It is perhaps the best laserdisc player ever made, and still demands a hefty asking price on eBay--$2,800 last time I checked," he says. "We have centered our preservation around using this player, and the early results are about the best we've ever seen in an LD-to-computer transfer."
"I have had a lot of fun doing what I'm doing, and someday might even like to do something like this for a living," adds Payton, who is serving in the military. "I'd say even if by some miracle Lucas decides to release the original `Original Trilogy' right in the middle of our project, I think I'd still finish it, just to see how well it stacks up to the real thing."
Gilchrist, who recently completed a version of "The Empire Strikes Back" and is pondering attempting "Return of the Jedi", stresses that as angry as fans sometimes seem, this is largely a fun exercise. He also points our that until Lucas makes the original trilogy available again, in its original form, he sees no harm being done.
"The `Classic Edition' was about revisiting a movie that doesn't exist anymore," Gilchrist says. "The movie you're creating is the movie you grew up with, and the movie you want to see again. It gets harder and harder to watch ["Star Wars"] the way Lucas has it now . . . .He's interested in what he can do now, but we're not as interested. And if these films are being ruined, and [his versions are] all that's coming out, then that's no fun."
*EDIT* feel free to move this thread, but i figured most of the article focuses on the activities of this particular board.