Director George Lucas utilized particular effects to make controversial adjustments to his Star Wars series. Now 1 fan is trying to restore the originals.
“People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians.” — George Lucas, 1988
A lengthy time ago
In 1988 George Lucas issued a statement to the US Congress rallying against film studios releasing altered classic films, and urging the preservation of the unaltered functions.
“Tomorrow, a lot more sophisticated technologies will be in a position to replace actors with ‘fresher faces’, or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match,” he predicted, emphasising “our cultural history should not be permitted to be rewritten”.
Decades later fans are now attempting to preserve the cultural history of the Star Wars films, which Lucas blotted out with successive ‘Special Edition’ revisions.
Academy Award-winning practical effects were covered up with 1997-era personal computer graphics (CGI) that now appear sorely dated. Actors and voiceover perform have been replaced and story components changed, most famously the ‘Han Solo shot Greedo first’ debacle.
This would all be fine, says ‘Despecialised Edition’ project creator Petr ‘Harmy’ Harmaek, except for the reality that Lucas created it his mission not to make the classic versions of the films accessible once again in decent video high quality.
In a 2004 interview Lucas famously stated, “I am sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in adore with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be.”
Harmy and other fans have been painstakingly restoring the original trilogy, frame by frame, as close as attainable to the version released in cinemas – but in high definition.
He has been sourcing and splicing footage together from 35mm film, a 1993 master released on DVD, HDTV broadcasts and the high-definition Special Edition Blu-Ray release, in order to generate a HD version of the films without having any traces of Lucas’s alterations.
A fan emerges
Harmy, a 27-year-old former English teacher from the Czech Republic, seems an unlikely candidate to lead the charge to restore Star Wars.
He was not even born when audiences had been very first introduced to a Star Destroyer crawling across their cinema screens in 1977 and he has no background in film editing.
“I don’t forget seeing Star Wars on Tv when I was about five,” he says. “I have a distinct recollection of seeing the [Death Star] trench run on Television.
“Then later I got a copy of an old VHS of the original version of Star Wars which I watched so much as a kid that I completely wore it out.”
For the sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, he watched Lucas’s Unique Editions first and then later hunted down the originals.
“It took a lot of work to locate the original versions on VHS here in the Czech Republic,” Harmy says. “It was 1 of the greatest Star Wars moments for me when I ultimately got to watch it.
“Even though it also produced me pretty angry when I realised that some of the specific effects shots I was admiring so much had been in fact re-composited digitally [in the Unique Editions] and thus lost much of their historical value.”
The last look Star Wars fans got at the original unaltered trilogy was in 2006 when old, un-restored masters also employed for the Laserdisc versions were once more utilised to make a limited run of companion DVDs for inclusion in a set with their Special Edition variants.
These editions also had their concerns: the frames had been not cleaned up, they have been primarily based off a master that was made with 1993 technologies rather than the most recent advances, and importantly, the DVDs had been not in high definition.
Until fans took charge, the original Star Wars trilogy had in no way been released in restored top quality without having Lucas’s changes.
“I wanted to be able to show individuals who have not noticed Star Wars but, like my tiny brother or my girlfriend, the original Oscar-winning version but I did not want to have to show it to them in undesirable top quality,” Harmy says.
Lucas changed a myriad of things in his Special Editions: from adding in CGI characters and backgrounds to changing audio — like bounty hunter Boba Fett’s voice and producing Darth Vader scream “Nooooo!” in the course of Luke’s final confrontation with the Emperor.
The ghost of Anakin Skywalker, played by Sebastian Shaw, was expunged from the end of Return of the Jedi and replaced with Hayden Christensen.
Lucas even went so far as to make nuanced alterations like removing Anakin Skywalker’s eyebrows throughout the scene where his helmet is removed by Luke.
Plus there is the concern of regardless of whether Han Solo shot Greedo initial in the cantina on Tatooine (he did), and the inclusion of Jar Jar Binks’s race, the Gungans, at the end of the final film (“Weesa free of charge!” 1 of them cries).
“I have no dilemma with extended or director’s cuts of movies at all but only as extended as the original reduce is also available in comparable top quality,” Harmy says.
“Like Blade Runner, when you acquire that set on Blu-Ray, you get stunning HD transfers of all five current versions.
“The original visual effects in Star Wars have been completely groundbreaking at the time and trying to suppress the original versions is, in my opinion, an act of cultural vandalism.
“It really is an attempt to bury the perform of these artists who spent thousands of hours working all the Oscar-winning art that was altered or replaced in the Unique Editions.”
Restoring a legend
“At times some of the smallest adjustments were the most tough to undo,” says Harmy, who taught himself film editing expertise as he went.
Some shots have taken him an hour to restore, others hundreds of hours — it varies with the complexity of the scene.
One particular of the most tough scenes was in A New Hope exactly where a CGI droid from Lucas’s Special Edition moves by means of the background as Stormtroopers stroll along on the planet Tatooine.
“The tiny droid flies by means of the scene and I had to replace almost everything it covered up, but also make positive that every thing that is supposed to be in the foreground is there,” Harmy says.
“I would often find some new issue – some edge of some object would move wrong, or the background would warp, or the shadows on the ground were incorrect and there have been like 50 layers, so it was tough to find where the difficulty was. That 1 gave me a lot of headaches.
“If I had a 35mm HD supply for it, it possibly would have been a piece of cake, but this way it was super tough.”
Harmy utilized the restricted 2006 DVD release of the untouched trilogy, which was based on a 1993 master, to patch footage without the droid into a shot from the HD Blu-Ray release. He also had to generate custom layered “mattes” to make the patchwork scene seem seamless.
Aside from patching footage from a variety of sources, one of the key tasks was colour correction.
Lucas’s DVD and Blu-Ray releases did a poor job of maintaining the colour palette of the original films, and also introduced “glaring errors”, Harmy says.
In one particular scene on the Millennium Falcon Luke’s lightsaber is tinged green in the Blu-Ray release, but it must have been blue.
The complete trilogy on Blu-Ray also has a magenta tone that messes with the appear of the film, he says.
Harmy had to colour-appropriate every shot to how the original would have looked using a scan of a Technicolor print.
The Despecialised Edition project has been helped along by the operates of other Star Wars fans devoted to the identical lead to, who Harmy knows online as: Dark Jedi, YouToo, Pugo, Group Unfavorable 1, Belbucus, Hairy_Hen, CatBus and Laserschwert.
Fans have offered audio restorations, scanned 35mm film reels, upscaled footage and redone subtitle tracks.
Work required to be carried out cleaning up scanned film reels to eliminate visual artefacts like scratches and dirt, and some of the aged footage was severely pink-faded, requiring the original colour palette to be sourced elsewhere.
It has taken years to the restore the films to the point they are in Despecialised, but even now they are not ideal and likely will never ever be “complete”, Harmy says.
“Despecialised is not a accurate restoration, it is a mashup of different sources of varying good quality and it has often been meant to only be a placeholder until such time that a accurate restoration from 100 per cent genuine original sources becomes obtainable.”
Harmy has no plans to revisit his edition of A New Hope any time quickly and Empire Strikes Back has had its 2. release, leaving a redo of Return of the Jedi’s 1. version with greater tools and footage the next focus.
Harmy’s Despecialised Edition is properly identified among Star Wars fans on-line but it is only accessible to download as a legally questionable torrent.
So far, Lucas and new Star Wars franchise owners Disney have let Harmy be.
Given that the franchise was sold, Harmy hopes it now implies an official release of the original trilogy is attainable.
“[Disney] have the resources and I feel if they hit the appropriate nostalgia strings with the advertising, they stand to make massive profits from the release,” he says.
But for Harmy, the project is a hobby that has changed his career trajectory.
The former English teacher has now taken a job at Ultraflix, where he is functioning to prepare and restore films for Ultra-HD 4K streaming.
Subjects: film-films, arts-and-entertainment, science-and-technology, computers-and-technologies, czech-republic