Today is May the 25th, and every Star Wars fan worth their salt knows that today, not May the fourth, is the true Star Wars day. It was on this day in 1977 that Star Wars was first released to theaters, and the world has not been the same ever since. Despite that fact, it is extremely difficult to obtain an official, legally distributed copy of that film, which seems mighty odd that the local Target's bins are practically bursting over with the likes of That's My Boy and Fantastic Four. The only version available is one altered in key respects by George Lucas after twenty years of tinkering.
The crime of this came back to me recently when I taught an intercession course at my school about Star Wars. One thing I wanted to bring across was how and why so many people were wowed so spectacularly when they first saw it in the theater. I set that up by showing parts of other sci-fi films that preceded it in the 1970s, like THX 1138, Silent Running, and Logan's Run as well as the Flash Gordon serials that had been a big influence on Lucas. I decided to show them only the first reel of the film (even though we were seeing it on DVD), and then for us to analyze it. And while I knew that there were not the kinds of severe alterations in the first reel that so badly alter later scenes (especially in Mos Eisley), I knew that there were small changes, some barely detectable. That fact bugged me, since it was hard even for me to know what was there in 1977, and what was not. I realized that my students could not actually see the thing in 1977 that had carried such a heavy impact.
Forget all the whining by Star Wars fans like myself upset over "ruined childhoods." In the first place, my childhood was ruined a long time ago by an abusive kindergarten teacher. In the second place, it's what posterity has lost that is more important. I came to realize that the vast majority of my students had never actually seen the original Star Wars, only the special editions. The original had been disappeared before they were even born. Considering the massive cultural importance of Star Wars, it is a crime against history to suppress or destroy such an important cultural artifact. It would be like painting a permanent mustache on the Mona Lisa, or putting a neon sign in the background of Starry Night. It is my most fervent Star Wars day wish that the powers that be release a remastered version of the original 1977 version of the film on blu-ray. If they want to include it with the special editions, or versions with different sound mixes for the true obsessive, all the better. Perhaps that way George Lucas' feelings can be spared. Hell, I'll even allow them to call the original version "bonus materials" if that makes him happy. I would pay a pretty penny for it, like a lot of other Star Wars fans, so Disney, 20th Century Fox (who still owns distribution rights to the first films), and Lucas will all benefit. Despite rumors that it's going to happen, for some reason I doubt it.
Above all, I wish for a remastered 70mm version of Star Wars released to the theaters. I first wrote about that last year at this time, and plan on making the same plea every Star Wars day to come.
The film podcast The Projection Booth is a must-listen for me, and they've termed this month "maudit May." They have been discussing films so snakebitten or unfortunate that they cannot be seen, such as Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind, which the master never completed. Imagine my surprise when I saw that Star Wars is their film this week. Wasn't the world saturated with Star Wars, and DVD copies easy to find? After that initial thought, I remembered the reason: Star Wars cannot be seen in its original 1977 version, which George Lucas has kept under lock and key, and which he has even claimed no longer exists. (I call shenanigans on that one.) Instead we are stuck with constant revisions of the original film, which I can only see now with cheesy add-ons made with low-grade 1990s CGI. This great film now has a completely clunky, idiotic scene with Jabba the Hutt jammed in where Han is forced to step on Jabba's tail to account for the gratuitous retrofitting of a fake-looking CGI slug, in addition to all kinds of silly crap happening during the trip into Mos Eisley spaceport.
The new sequels make me mildly excited. You know what would make me truly elated? Seeing a restored, remastered, 70mm version of the 1977 original in stereo sound on the big screen. This would still technically be a "special edition" because the original, first release of the film in May of 1977 had multiple sound mixes, both mono and stereo. The stereo mix was a bit of a rush job, and Lucas actually preferred the mono mix because it was more refined. (Little known fact, the sound mix was still being put together just days before the film hit theaters.)
Seeing the original film with cleaned up sound fit for modern theater speakers in glorious 70mm would truly be something else. I saw the 1997 special edition at the now demolished Indian Hills theater in Omaha in 70mm on a towering, concave screen built for Cinerama. Despite the annoying additions to the film, it was one of the most amazing cinematic experiences of my life. Please Disney, get this right and give the people what they want: the movie they fell in love with (or at least the closest we can come to it) looking fantastic and sounding great in glorious analog film. There are a lot of people who will put cash on the barrelhead for this. If that isn't motivation enough, at least bring back one of the most culturally significant films ever made and stop allowing it to be suppressed in favor of a far inferior version.