For the past couple of weeks, I have had Star Wars on the mind. That should be plain to see because I have been writing about the beloved geek franchise for a couple of weeks now. You would think it’s because Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker came out just recently and I had to go to a special advanced screening to go see it in the Philippines because of the Metro Manila Film Festival which removes all foreign films during the holidays. Well, yes. That’s one of the bigger reasons.
There is another thing that is motivating me to talk about Star Wars for the past couple of weeks. I recently got my hands on the “de-specialized” editions of the Original Trilogy. They do exist and I actually went through watching A New Hope (which should just be called Star Wars but we’ll get to that), The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. However, these aren’t officially licensed versions by Disney or George Lucas. Rather, these were re-edits by a team of fans led by a man named Harmy.
And I do have to say, bravo! Harmy and his team pulled off a spectacular job of putting together three really good cuts of the Original Trilogy, recreating them almost flawlessly. Oh, and to make it free for anyone to see just makes me love Harmy and the De-Specialized Editions even more!
First, a little background may be in order to fully explain why Harmy’s Star Wars De-Specialized Editions are so important. When George Lucas re-released the Original Trilogy way back in 1997, he went back and made a few nips and tucks to them. The intention was good as he wanted to make some improvements to all three films. After all, technology had vastly improved in the couple of decades the films were released. George Lucas wanted to clean up some special effect shots and fully flesh out some scenes with deleted footage.
While his heart may have been in the right place, these new Special Editions changed a little too much here and there. Granted, some changes did make some sense, like putting in Ian McDiarmid as Emperor Palpatine when talking to Darth Vader in Episode V and getting rid of the weird vision he looked like in the hologram communication. You were still seeing the films and the stories weren’t altered all that much. Not in any significant way, at least. However, some of these changes were rather jarring, especially for fans who loved the original versions of the Original Trilogy. There were just a few too many changes and most of them didn’t really add anything
What’s worst is that George Lucas kept on editing the Original Trilogy to accommodate some of the retcons that happened after he made Episodes I, II and III. The most jarring for me was when he replaced Sebastian Shaw’s Anakin Skywalker’s Force Ghost with a reshot Hayden Christensen in his place! Why did he appear as his younger version? Obi-Wan is a Force Ghost but he didn’t become Ewan Macgregor in Return of the Jedi! The changes kept on piling on and a lot of the Original Trilogy has been cut away.
It’s not so bad as, well, George Lucas didn’t destroy our childhood with these edits. What’s bad, however, is George Lucas is actively not allowing us to relive our childhood by watching the original versions of the Original Trilogy. For some odd reason, he doesn’t want the original theatrical cuts of the films, the films that launched the franchise and made him a household name, mind you, to be released for home video. It is very baffling to me as to why he doesn’t want them to be seen anymore.
Anyway, this is where Harmy and his friends come in. These guys managed to cobble together footage from various sources to recreate the first film versions of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I didn’t call Episode IV A New Hope because, when it was first released in 1977, it didn’t have the “A New Hope” title nor an episode number! Now, I wasn’t old enough to actually remember watching the film on the big screen when it was released but, when I was a kid, I always thought it was called Episode IV: A New Hope because that’s how all subsequent home releases had the opening crawl start out! Seeing it without those titles looked strange but really refreshing to me.
But how do the films look like? Honestly, they look fantastic… mostly. Since an official HD version of the original versions of the films are not available, Harmy and his team had to scrounge around for footage of lesser quality. I imagine they had to do some serious upscaling on some of the SD scenes and they are noticeable but they’re not too bad. It’s not painfully obvious in most cases but you can tell. The same thing can be said for the overall audio quality. There are just some shots where the audio quality just doesn’t match the entire film.
Thankfully, it isn’t that jarring and you might not even really notice it if you’re not looking out for it. I do have to say that the edits seem much more noticeable in both the first Star Wars movie and Return of the Jedi. That just may be because those were the films wherein George Lucas made the most changes. I’m not really sure but I just noticed the quality changes much more with those films than with The Empire Strikes Back.
Now, to do this review, I did have to watch all of the films and what do I think of them now? Do these three unaltered versions of these films hold up? I say heck yeah! I enjoyed watching them much more than I expected! There was a part of me, after getting the De-Specialized Editions, that dreaded watching them. After all, I grew up watching “A New Hope,” The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I still remember the stories and the general plot points. I was worried I was going to bored because I knew exactly what was going to happen and when.
To my surprise, I was just sucked in. I loved watching all three films in their original glory, without all the changes George Lucas made to them! In fact, watching them in quick succession kind of rekindled my childhood love for Star Wars as a whole. The fandom has gotten so serious about the franchise and how sides have been taken regarding the direction the franchise has taken. That kind of mentality has embedded into my psyche for a while.
Watching the original Star Wars Trilogy, all of the seriousness and talk of what makes Star Wars good or bad melted away for me. They were just incredibly enjoyable movies that did a lot of things right. Of course, that could be just my nostalgia talking because, now that I’m older and can think logically now, I can definitely see some problems with these films, even in their unaltered forms. Things like Obi-Wan’s explanation that he told Luke that Vader killed his father was just “a point of view.” I can call bullcrap on that now and see that wasn’t George Lucas’ original intention when he made the first film.
But, in the grand scheme of things, I was still sucked into the entire experience of being in this grand adventure set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Watching these films again made me really feel what made these films so special when they were released over three whole decades ago and why they launched one of the biggest moneymaking franchises of the world.
If you’re a Star Wars fan and you’ve been bitching and moaning about the franchise you love as of late or you might just want to relive your childhood without all of the unnecessary changes George Lucas made to them, I can fully recommend getting Harmy’s Star Wars De-Specialized Editions. Maybe it’ll remind you why you love Star Wars so much. This was a great watch and I will be watching them once in a while to remind myself why Star Wars became a part of my life in the first place.
Have you seen Harmy’s Star Wars De-Specialized Editions? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments section below!