Why I wish I would have known about the Star Wars “Despecialized Edition” earlier

As I stated earlier, I saw the special editions of the original trilogy on the big screen in 1997, and I LOVED them.  It was probably more the idea of seeing it in the theater than the special editions themselves (I remember applause in the theater when Han Solo first appeared), but I also have a distinct memory of praising The Empire Strikes Back’s “Darth Vader walks to his ship” and “his ship flies to his Star Destroyer” cut scenes.  The older I got, however, the less I appreciate them.  They’re not a director’s cut – they’re something less pure.  As YouTuber HanDuet eloquently puts it, the special editions basically undo or remake the plot, score, sound design, special effects and editing – all of which Star Wars won Oscars for.

When I wanted to show my daughter the original Star Wars, I couldn’t do it.  Everywhere I looked, all I could find  was the special edition.  (The original film was released as part of a Blu-ray set in 2006, but it sure isn’t the one on iTunes or GooglePlay.)  This isn’t just my problem either, as apparently the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry is still waiting for the original print after turning down the special edition.

So a bunch of hobbyists decided to do what George Lucas wouldn’t and the government couldn’t – recreate the original Star Wars in full HD/Blu-ray/4K/high resolution format of your choice.  The lead, Petr “Harmy” Harmácek, calls it the “despecialized edition,” which is a really catchy name.  There’s a YouTube video by the aforementioned HanDuet that goes into a lot of technical detail, but what stands out is how compromised ALL of the current versions of the film are.

Watching the video, the color correction issues are clear, and I definitely agree that it’s the 1997 CGI, not the 1977 miniatures, that look dated.  So while the technical specs and jargon are impressive, what is it like to watch?

Simply put: challenging but worth it.  It involves a lot of downloading from a slightly dubious file sharing site in the Czech Republic, decompressing, password entering, and then convincing your computer to play the file (as always, VLC comes through).
Technically, you’re not even supposed to do this unless you own the originals.  Luckily for my conscience, I own the 2004 DVDs based on the special edition).  If you’re interested, there are detailed instructions available.

If I hadn’t first seen the YouTube video, I would have doubted that amateurs could recreate something that looked this professional (but, after watching the YouTube video, it’s clear that even pros can’t do it sometimes).  It simply looks amazing.  The colors look great – and correct – and there’s a nice grain to it that’s missing from my slick looking special edition DVD.  This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fan edits, as apparently there are some very specific fan versions of the original, as well as the prequels, out there.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to show this version to my daughter when we watched the original Star Wars together a few weeks ago.  But since I know she’ll watch it again, at least future viewings will be safe from Lucas’ tinkering.

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