Lots of films are available in a variety of versions, as director’s cuts and alternate endings are prevalent in the industry. However, in the case of the original Star Wars trilogy, that fact is met with a great deal of scorn. Ever since the 1997 VHS special editions, George Lucas has been tinkering endlessly with the first three films – Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi – making changes with each subsequent home media release (2004 DVDs, 2011 Blu-rays) that mostly just infuriate fans and change the meaning of key character moments.
The larger issue here, more so than alterations like Greedo shooting first or Darth Vader screaming “No!” as he throws the Emperor to his doom, is that the beloved theatrical cuts of the classic trilogy have seemingly been wiped away from existence. Lucas has refused to put out high quality editions of the original versions; the closest fans have gotten is in 2006, when the 1977, 1980, and 1983 cuts of the movies were made available on a limited edition DVD bonus disc. However, those were laser disc transfers and non-anamorphic, meaning the video was presented in letterbox and was not formatted for widescreen TVs.
The debate about whether or not Lucas is in the right to withhold the theatrical versions will rage on (The People vs. George Lucas is a fascinating examination of this) until Lucasfilm caves and gives the fans what they want: the unaltered theatrical cuts on Blu-ray. This was rumored to happen last year before it was debunked, but now the hope of such a boxed set is being renewed thanks to filmmaker John Landis.
Empire tweeted out that, at a Q&A session, Landis remarked that Disney is finally going to re-release the original versions of the classic Star Wars trilogy. Details beyond that were slim, but Landis did say that it was Lucas who brought it up when they last spoke. It’s true that Landis seems more credible a source for this than the conjured up rumors of years past (why would he make this up?), but it’s still important to keep those grains of salt handy.
At a Q&A tonight John Landis dropped that Disney are finally going to re-release the theatrical cuts of the original Star Wars trilogy.— Empire Magazine (@empiremagazine) September 19, 2015
Apparently George mentioned it when last they spoke. Somebody put Yub Nub on. Let the celebrations commence!— Empire Magazine (@empiremagazine) September 19, 2015
For starters, there’s a rights issue. Twentieth Century Fox owns distribution rights until 2020, when the entire prequel trilogy, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi all revert to Disney. You may notice that the first film is not a part of that group, and that’s because it will remain at Fox forever. So unless Disney and Fox can make some kind of deal together, this release has zero chance of happening. But as we’ve seen with Sony and Marvel, these kinds of partnerships can happen (especially when there’s a copious amount of cash to be made), so it’s not completely out of the question.
Speaking of Fox, the studio is planning on releasing new steelbook Blu-rays of the first six films this November. If the theatrical cuts of the original trilogy were going to be a part of that, it would have been big news by now. It seems extremely unlikely that Fox would strike a deal with Disney right now, as theatrical Star Wars Blu-rays would completely overshadow the steelbook editions and diminish sales for the first three films. It’s true that Landis did not give a date for when this might happen, but it probably wouldn’t be for a while (if it happens at all).
There’s also the matter of official Star Wars canon. If we’re following the new franchise timeline, the 2011 Blu-ray editions are considered to be the “proper” versions of the films – much to many fans’ chagrin. Now, this doesn’t mean that Disney couldn’t do a little fan service and include the theatrical cuts on a second disc (similar to the 2006 DVDs), but would the studio want to push something that technically doesn’t fit into the continuation? Yes, this kind of boxed set would generate a lot of revenue, but Disney is already going to make plenty off of all the new Star Wars films that are coming out, not to mention the tie-in merchandise. Arguably, the fans need this more than the studio does.
Again, considering the circumstances surrounding this report, followers of a galaxy far, far away would be justified in feeling more optimistic about this original trilogy Blu-ray rumor than previous ones. However, there are still a lot of holes to poke in the story and several other elements to consider. It would be great if this did happen sometime soon, but a lot of pieces need to fall into place first. Until there’s official word from the studios, it’s best not to get your hopes up.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens hits theaters on December 18th, 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.