May 04, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Will the real Star Wars please stand up? When we speak of Star Wars, which version are we actually referring to? Thus far, there have been four distinct editions, with one or two more likely. Let me identify them individually:

(1) The original theatrical cut, released in theaters in 1977, then re-released in 1979. (Note: Different audio mixes resulted in subtle changes between some prints. However, the assertion that a few early copies of the film contained "deleted scenes" has been vigorously denied by Lucasfilm representatives. Fan memories of such scenes can likely be traced to photographs of the delted scenes found in the novel, or to the comic books, which included depictions of these scenes. No reputable source has ever proven that any "deleted scene" appeared in any print of Star Wars available to the general public.)
(2) The 1981 re-release. Identical to (1) except that the caption "Episode IV: A New Hope" was added. This was to bring it in line with "Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back," which had appeared at the top of the sequel, released one year earlier.
(3) The "Special Edition" released in theaters in 1997. New scenes were added and a few existing scenes were "enhanced."
(4) The DVD Box Set version available on DVD in 2004. Similar to (3), but with additional "enhancements."
(5) The 3-D version expected to be released theatrically in 2007 to mark the movie's 30th anniversary. Unknown at this time is whether there will be additional "enhancements" beyond the tranformation to 3-D. But there are still deleted scenes that can re-inserted.
(6) The eventual HD-DVD release of the film. What exatly this will entail or when this will happen is anyone's guess.

The dedicated Star Wars fan probably owns (2), (3), and (4), although (2) and (3) are only available on VHS and laserdisc. (1) was never released on home video, and (5) and (6) don't exist yet, except perhaps in George Lucas' mind.

The existence of so many versions of one film has raised two major issues amongst fans. Let me address them.

Issue #1: "Lucas has no right to alter the film. By doing so, he has damaged the integrity of the original movie. This is tantamount to colorization." My response: balderdash. Lucas has every right to tweak Star Wars as much and as often as he wishes. As important as the movie may be to us (the fans), it is his baby. He conceived, wrote, and directed the thing, and if he wants to make changes, that's his right. The colorization argument is ludicrous - colorization is the wholesale changing of a movie without the consent of its director. (One can make a better argument regarding changes to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi since Lucas didn't direct those movies - at least not officially. He gets a pass on Empire because Irwin Kirshner approved the changes. But Jedi is more problematic, because Richard Marquand is dead and can't approve anything.)

Issue #2: "Lucas has a responsibility to fans and film historians to make the original version (presumably either (1) or (2)) available for purchase." This is a point of contention. In point of fact, (2) is available - just not in DVD. And Lucas isn't talking about destroying all the negatives of the 1977/78 version, just not mass-marketing copies. Nevertheless, there is merit in the argument that the 1977/78 edition should not simply be swept under the rug. If fans are willing to pay for it, why not make it available? Lucas claims that he's uncomfortable with it. Ultimately, he doesn't have to include it as part of a deluxe DVD set, but it would be a nice gesture.

Really, how different is (4) from (2)? And do the "enhancements" do more than make a few minor cosmetic changes? Not as far as I'm concerned. Either way, Star Wars is a four-star film. The same feelings are stirred up when I watch the DVD of Star Wars as when I first saw it projected in a drive-in during the late spring of 1977. None of the "enhancements" cause me to wince or wring my hands in despair. Is it a big deal whether Han shot first (original theatrical), second (theatrical Special Edition), or at the same time (DVD) as Greedo? Not to me. It's a minor detail that I won't lose sleep over.

In an ideal world, Star Wars fans would have access to any of the four existing cuts of the film (or, at a minimum, (2) and (4)). But this isn't an ideal world, and I'm just happy to have the original trilogy available in the most user-friendly home video format currently on the market. And it's nice to know that in six months' time, I will have the entire saga on my video shelf.