Like most folks in their 30s, I like Star Wars. However, the first time I'd ever watched a Star Wars film was not until 2002. I saw Episode II: Attack of the Clones in theaters, on opening night. Needless to say, it didn't make much sense to me and I didn't really understand the appeal.
A few years later, I decided to give the films another try. In the summer of 2007 I began purchasing the 2006 DVD releases one at a time. I watched the Special Edition of A New Hope and thought it was ok. Over the next few weeks I would slowly purchase the rest of the DVDs, usually one per weekend followed by a viewing.
After getting through all six films, I had a newfound appreciation for the original Star Wars Trilogy, and also found the prequel trilogy to be enjoyable as well. They weren't my favorite films ever, but at least I could finally stop saying "I've never seen Star Wars."
Fanboys and casual fans alike often complain that George Lucas ruined the original Star Wars Trilogy with his 1997 Special Editions. These re-releases cleaned up some of the special effects, included some additional footage, and removed some unnecessary scenes. Additionally, with every new DVD release, more tweaks and changes were made, often met with criticism. What is special about the 2006 DVD releases is they included a second disc featuring the original theatrical versions of the original trilogy.
A few years back, I did finally watch the unaltered originals but didn't have any strong opinions. Having not experienced Star Wars as a child, none of my childhood memories were ruined with the Special Edition releases or tainted with the further edits and tweaks.
However, I did lose hours of my life reading Wikipedia articles on all of the changes made through the years. I honestly find it all quite fascinating. I believe George Lucas when he states the original films were never complete, and admire that he is still working on them three decades later. However, I also appreciate the fans that want to preserve the original movies they fell in love with as kids. This fascination led to my discovery of fan edits of each of the films.
The ones everyone seems to talk about are the "Despecialized" editions. These versions of the original trilogy have just one goal in mind, to restore and preserve a copy of the Star Wars films as they looked during their theatrical debuts.
In the past couple years I've watched the DVD Special Editions, Unaltered versions, as well as the Blu-ray releases. I was disappointed with the Blu-ray releases in general, as the picture quality seemed to lack detail and had somewhat washed out colors. I assumed this was simply because of the age of the movie’s source material.
Then a few weeks ago I stumbled across a documentary on YouTube and it blew my mind:
Despite watching these films numerous times already, I had to watch these despecialized editions. After spending hours following links through the back alleys of the internet, I finally got them. And now... I think I finally understand a little bit of what hardcore fanboys have been complaining about.
Harmy began his quest to recreate and preserve the Star Wars film as he saw it back in 1977. From here, a journey began to obtain as much material as possible to preserve that experience. There would be no alterations, all of the original warts would be restored, and colors would match the 1977 experience as best as possible.
After burning the AVCHD image onto a dual layer DVD and popping it into my Blu-ray player... I was again blown away.
As I didn't see the 1977 version in theatres in 1977, I am totally oblivious to all the edits and changes that have happened throughout the past 3 decades. What I noticed immediately was the colors. That washed-out look I've grown accustomed to over the years, was not accurate. The original trilogy is actually very bold and colorful.
A New Hope is probably the best of the bunch, and the release is currently on version 2.5. The Empire Strikes back is on v2.0 and The Return of the Jedi is v1.0. All three titles have been released in 720p along with a plethora of sound options (sourced from the original theatrical releases). From what I gather, 1080p isn’t necessary as the current source materials doesn’t contain enough detail anyway.
If you are Star Wars fan, and don’t mind downloading a movie in 51 parts from sketchy websites, I would highly recommend checking these out. They have certainly enhanced my appreciation for these beloved films and I can now call myself Star Wars fan.
If you want to experience them yourself, start your journey here, like I did.