Just forget the words and sing along

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

All the Times I've Bought Star Wars: Episode V -- Cutting Edge in 1993

Welcome back to All the Times I've Bought Star Wars.  For those just joining us, I've penned an epic series of blog entries recounting all times I've bought Star Wars, and trying to figure out why I've bought it so many times.  We continue with Episode V: Cutting Edge in 1993.

Freedom of choice.  That’s all it really boils down to.  The home theatre enthusiasts want a choice.

When DVD first started going mainstream, there was a startling trend.  A lot of the DVDs that came out contained a “director’s cut, with footage you weren’t allowed to see in theatres!”  There were quite a lot of people who were upset about this trend.  Leonard Maltin summed it up best in one of the forewords to his legendary movie guides:  “If the director’s cut is on DVD, what are we paying to see in the theatre?  The rough draft?”  

Some filmmakers, though, have taken this criticism to heart, and they make sure that both their director’s cuts and the theatrical editions are available.  A prime example is Peter Jackson, with the theatrical versions AND the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy both being readily available at your favourite DVD emporium.  Another good example is James Cameron.  He’s produced extended editions of his classic films Aliens, the Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day for the home theatre market, and thanks to a technique called “seamless branching,” you can put both editions on one DVD, and at the start of the film, you pick which one you want to watch on the menu screen.  It’s just that easy.  Freedom of choice is preserved for the viewer.

Except in the case of the Star Wars trilogy.  George Lucas has the opinion that the Special Editions are the ONLY editions of Star Wars.  As far as he’s concerned, they no longer exist, despite all the fan pleas that they be released on DVD.  And he’s gone to extremes to convince the fans of this.  “The original film stocks have become too degraded!  They can’t be restored!”  “They’ve been destroyed!”  “IT JUST DOENS’T EXIST ANYMORE!  WHY WON’T YOU BELIEVE ME?”  We know it exists, George, because we grew up watching it!  If we can buy it on a bootleg DVD out Thailand that was just ripped from a Laserdisc, why can’t you do the same?

And Lucas realized that, yes, he can do the same.  

And with much hype and fanfare, it was announced that the original theatrical editions would be available on DVD in the fall of 2006!  Once again, the fans cried, and Lucas answered!  

So, the question again, would getting the original theatrical editions on DVD be worth buying it again?  Why, yes it would, of course!  It would be like those halcyon days in university all over again.  I could watch the Special Editions, but, when I have that hankerin’ for the original Ewok celebration song at the end of Return of the Jedi, I could pop that in the DVD player.  I would have the freedom to choose once again.  When these DVDs were released, under the moniker of the “Limited Editions,” I made a special trip into Edmonton just pick them up.  

In the Limited Editions, each DVD is a two-disc set.  Disc 1 is EXACTLY THE SAME as the DVDs in the 2004 DVD release.  I don’t think I’ve even watched these discs.  Because as we all know, the main reason for buying these was disc 2...which contains the original theatrical versions.

Now, this is where Lucas raised the ire of the fans.  The original theatrical versions contained absolutely NO DIGITAL RESTORATION WHATSOEVER.  It’s the original stereo soundtracks.  They’re not in anamorphic widescreen.  That means, when you watch them on your big fancy widescreen TV, they’ll appear in a black window in the middle of the screen.  Unless you get creative with the zoom functions, but that distorts the picture so much it winds up looking like crap.  It’s not even THX!

Eventually, the truth came out as to how these DVDs were created.  George Lucas got his inspiration from those bootlegs.  All they did was take the 1993 Laserdisc release of the films, and burn them to DVD.  Even Lucasfilm personnel were not happy with this.  Granted, when they were restored for the 1993 Laserdisc release, they used all the cutting edge technology of the time, and as one Lucasfilm employee exclaimed, “cutting edge in 1993 is NOT cutting edge in 2006.”  Lucas, however, was unfazed by the criticism.  He once again reiterated that the original theatrical versions no longer exist, and the 1993 Laserdisc versions were the best versions in existence they could find.  He doesn’t even refer to these as being a DVD release of the theatrical editions.  He just callously refers to them as a “bonus feature.”

Thing is, though, George, we know that’s BS.  There’s about 30 seconds worth of original theatrical version footage that was BEAUTIFULLY  restored for that Empire of Dreams documentary.  So we know it exists, and we know it can be done! 

But Lucas says no it can’t, and he’s already told us that we’ll never get it on Blu-Ray.  And the cycle beings anew.   

Oh, and one last technical detail.  This was the first time since the VHS release of the Special Editions in 1997 that the three films were available individually, and not in a boxed set.  So if you love those lovable Ewoks, and don’t like all the darkness of Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars, you could by just Return of the Jedi and only Return of the Jedi.  Which is why I made my special trip into Edmonton just to buy these editions.  I figured buying it at Best Buy – where you could get all three films in this exclusive tin – was enough bonus features to warrant buying it again.  

But, despite all my griping about George Lucas not even taking the barest amount of effort to bring it up to what’s considered to be industry standard for DVD, I can’t complain too loudly.  After all, I do have my freedom of choice again.  And at the end of the day, that was all I was asking for.  It’s not quite the halcyon days of college, but then, nothing ever will be like that again.
And that brings us to the end of all the times I’ve bought the original trilogy.  Good thing I’ve never had to do this with the prequel trilogy.  With the prequels, I bought them all once on DVD and that was it.





AHHH!!  You caught me!  I can’t lie to you.  I bought Episode I twice.

Next issue:  Episode I Twice. 

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