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'Star Wars' Fans Cry Foul Over Holy Trilogy

24 May, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

Die-hard “Star Wars” fans are using Internet forums to complain about news that the upcoming DVD releases of the original theatrical versions of the original “Star Wars Trilogy” will be transfers from the films' early 1990s laserdisc release.

Lucasfilm confirmed the versions of Star Wars: Episode IV, V and VI that will be released on DVD Sept. 12 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, will be from the laserdisc prints, which aren't in anamorphic widescreen.

Fans are upset because that means the original versions will not be given an upgrade to account for the improvements in widescreen technology over the past 15 years, and there will be no digital restoration of the prints, said both Bill Hunt, editor of TheDigitalBits.com and Ron Epstein, who runs HomeTheaterForum.com.

But Lucasfilm never intended this DVD release to be the definitive edition of the original theatrical versions, said spokesperson John Singh.

Lucasfilm is billing the original versions as a bonus feature packaged with the 2004 digitally enhanced DVD version of each film, which are being released individually for the first time.

The special-edition versions of the trilogy, with their extensive frame-by-frame restorations and sparkling new digital transfers, were previously released only in a boxed set in 2004.

The original theatrical versions are being added because Lucasfilm wanted to do something special for fans, Singh said.

“We had so many requests for these versions, we wanted to find a way to bring those to DVD, and we thought this would be a fun way to do that,” Singh said.

That stings, said HomeTheaterForum's Epstein. “Just the mere fact that they're treating this as a supplement means its almost an afterthought,” he said. “This is just not the way to reward fans that have been begging for these versions.”

But all the begging in the world can't change George Lucas' opinion of the original “Star Wars” releases.

“It's important to understand that the movies that we call the originals don't represent George's vision of the movies, and we have to stay true to the creative vision of the person who is responsible for creating the saga,” Singh said. “So we're not going to put an enormous amount of time and resources into something that doesn't represent that vision.”

Basically, that means Lucasfilm is asking fans to shell out another $90 (each disc is $29.98) for movies they probably already own — the 2004 restored versions — just to own a sub-par DVD version of the nostalgic theatrical films, Hunt said.

It's disappointing on a personal level, and also not in line with the image of Lucasfilm as a cutting edge leader of moviemaking technology, he said.

The anamorphic issue won't be too noticeable to the average viewer watching the DVDs on an older TV set, Hunt said. But anyone who's invested in an HDTV, which are all widescreen, will have the normal black bars at the top and bottom of the movie, as well as additional grey or black bars vertically framing the action. (A comparison of anamorphic and non-anamorphic widescreen can be seen at “The Ultimate Guide to Anamorphic Widescreen” link at www.thedigitalbits.com.)

This isn't just a group of technophile uber-fans getting all worked up, Hunt said. People are upgrading their home theaters all the time, and these versions are not going to hold up to even the most basic DVD release from the smallest supplier in today's market, he said.

“People have come to expect a certain level of quality,” he said.

It's also the principle that's rubbing the fans the wrong way, both Hunt and Epstein said.

Compared to the amount of money Lucasfilm has made off “Star Wars” products over the years, and the amount the company stands to bring in from the versions coming out in September, the amount it would take to spruce up the films for DVD is small change, Hunt said.

Lucasfilm has said there are no plans to ever revisit the theatrical versions — not for high-definition, and not for a super-, mega- or ultimate-saga boxed set of all six installments of the franchise.

That's all the more reason to make the September releases as great as possible, Hunt said.

According to Singh, when creating the restored versions released in 2004, Lucasfilm “cut into the negative,” so there is limited source material to even go back to.

Hunt cries foul at that too.

“Anyone who knows anything about film knows there are other places to go,” he said. “Good quality film elements of the original versions exist. We know there are separation masters out there.”

Not only that, but there are any number of restoration specialists who love these movies and would love to work on them, even for cheap, Hunt said.

Lucasfilm truly did not expect or intend to create such a fervor about the original versions' DVD releases, Singh said.

And what the fans think is important to Lucasfilm, he said.

“We value them very much and value their opinions very much and we do make every effort to listen to what they say, “ Singh said.

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