George Lucas Wants Desperately To Preserve Old Movies… Unless They're His; So Fans Are Trying To Do It Instead
from the edit-wars dept
Kevin Carson points us to a fascinating story in The Atlantic about fans trying to recreate the “original” version of Star Wars (“Episode IV — A New Hope for the folks who feel like being pedantic) from 1977. As various fans have pointed out repeatedly (mainly each time Lucas went back and “edited” Star Wars again), back in 1988 Lucas spoke to Congress about the importance of preserving original versions of movies, and avoiding the constant attempts to update and modernize them in ways that might erase the original versions. Key quote:
Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.
In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.
This was part of his attempt to create so-called moral rights for content creators, but the wording seems kind of strange considering how Lucas himself later did pretty much everything he described above as being heinous and troubling. The Atlantic article highlights just a few of the more famous changes (though there are many, many more):
In the original versions of the films, for example, it?s clear that Han Solo pulled out his gun and shot the bounty hunter Greedo. In the 1997 version, Greedo shoots first. In the 2004 version, they shoot at the same time. With the release of the later films, later versions of the original trilogy were edited to add in appearances from Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen. Lucas even replaced the voice of Jason Wingreen?the original Boba Fett?with the voice of Temuera Morrison who played Jango Fett in Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Even worse, Lucas has actively resisted attempts to make the original copy available. When pressed about it a decade ago Lucas claimed that the original was “half completed” and he wants people to see the “finished” product instead:
The special edition, that?s the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it?s on VHS, if anybody wants it. … I?m not going to spend the, we?re talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn?t really exist anymore. It?s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I?m sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be. I?m the one who has to take responsibility for it. I?m the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they?re going to throw rocks at me, they?re going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished.
That’s all well and good, but it’s yet another example of the sense of entitlement some creators have in which they believe they not only hold the copyright on the original work (which they may), but also ownership over the experience of fans who watched/heard/experienced the content. And that’s where things get tricky. When the artists start to muck with that experience.
And that’s what led to the result here, whereby fans are painstakingly recreating the 1977 version of the film.
There’s an incredible video highlighting how one of the main people involved in this project, a 25-year-old in the Czech Republic who goes by the name Harmy, goes about fixing things. It’s fascinating:
The “new” version is amusingly called the “despecialized” version, and uses bits and pieces from the many, many releases to reconstruct the original. While some point out that there was a DVD release of “the original” film, the video notes that the techniques used to transfer the film to DVD were very problematic, leading to a variety of problems, including “motion smearing,” faded colors and aliasing.
The lengths these fans go to in order to recreate the original is quite incredible, going through all the different versions, picking up pieces from one and inserting them in the other, doing careful color corrections, “upscaling” low res versions to make them HD. It’s really quite incredible, and it appears Lucas would rather they disappear entirely. He even rejected a request from the National Film Registry when it requested a copy of the original to preserve.
Curators at the National Film Registry picked the 1977 version of Star Wars to preserve for history?s sake, but they still don?t have a copy in the registry. When they asked for a copy, Lucas refused, saying that he would no longer authorize the release of the original version.
While Lucas’ changes and updates to his film bother some, I’ve never been that concerned about those attempts to re-imagine his own work, but it does seem particularly silly to try to block people from even having the choice to view the original. It’s great that fans are putting in so much effort to reconstruct it by themselves, but it seems like Lucas could just speed that whole process along by making the original available.