Our Cultural Heritage

May the 4th be with you
I’ve heard worse excuses

Ok, I’ll admit, this whole Star Wars Day thing is pretty stupid. The “May the 4th be with you” pun is a groaner at best, and I understand that a lot of you don’t have much patience for the kind of nerd-twee that promotes these holidays (see also Pi Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day, etc), but apparently there are people who actually need some kind of excuse to sit down and watch Star Wars. So if that’s you, settle in and accept the fact that this may be the best excuse you’re gonna get for a while. It doesn’t need to be a big deal, though. You don’t even need to tell anyone that you’re watching Star Wars on Star Wars Day. Many people prefer to just observe the relevant traditions quietly in their own homes.

Sady, in recent years it has become obscenely difficult to watch Star Wars, despite movie viewing in general becoming easier than ever. The Star Wars trilogy is conspicuously absent from Netflix, Amazon, and even iTunes. You can get a Blu Ray or DVD copy if you’re so inclined, but the experience may not be…quite the way you remember it.

This was totally there in 1977
This was totally there in 1977

Unless you’ve hung on to your old VHS or Laserdisc players, the only legal way for you to enjoy the Star Wars saga without the endless tweaking and unnecessary revisions made by certain parties who really ought to know better is to somehow get your hands on the “bonus” disc that was available in the 2006 DVD release. This was the last time that the unaltered version of Star Wars was made available for purchase, in a half-assed attempt to appease people who thought that all the changes George Lucas started making back in 1997 weren’t a very good idea.

Which is to say, everyone in the world except for George Lucas.

Sadly, like a poorly-phrased wish granted by a spiteful genie, the movies look exactly the way they did when they were released on VHS, with quality so lousy that even calling them “DVDs” is a bit disingenuous. The nicest thing that you can say about them is that they don’t look any worse than your old VHS copies did. And since they are now long out of print, they will probably be significantly more expensive.

Obviously, if your relationship with the modern world gives you room to be more flexible when dealing with people who refuse to accept your money for things you want to buy, you can easily download copies of these DVDs from the usual places.

Unrelated image of a boat
Unrelated image of a boat

But can’t we do better than this?

It turns out, we can! At some point, someone sat down and thought to themselves, “Why not take all the HD-quality footage from the Blu Ray release, then remove just the parts that have been changed and replace them with enhanced and cleaned-up footage from the low-quality DVD release? It’d be like the best of both worlds!”

Later on, someone went even further than this, going over the HD footage and digitally compositing out all of the junk that had been digitally composited in, frame by frame, by hand.

If you’ve ever thought that Star Wars fans are unfairly stereotyped as obsessive nerds, this should clear that up for you.

This effort eventually grew into a years-long collaborative project known, appropriately enough, as the “Despecialized Editions

And the result is nothing short of amazing. Is it perfect? Not quite. An official Disney/Lucasfilm release would still be (potentially) better if and when they decide that artistic integrity, goodwill, and money are more important than George’s ego. But until then, the Despecialized versions are head and shoulders above any other way of experiencing Star Wars. If you’re a fan, this is the only version you need. If, somehow you’ve never seen Star Wars before (or if you now have children) then I would urge you to begin here, and eventually get around to dealing with the Blu Ray versions the way they deserve to be treated: misguided historical novelties, and a cautionary tale of what happens when an artist doesn’t know where to stop or when to let go.

But don’t take my word for it. If you have any interest at all, see for yourself what’s possible with the help of people who genuinely care about something, not just the people who own it.

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