There was a great disturbance in the internet pop culture hivemind earlier this week, as if millions of voices of Star Wars fans suddenly cried out in ecstasy. The beloved original trilogy — including A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi — will return to theaters for a limited triple-feature engagement at more than 20 Alamo Drafthouse locations and select theater locations nationwide. Appropriately enough, tickets go on sale on May 4th, or Star Wars Day.
This is, unquestionably, a big deal for the countless Star Wars fans around the country, and for the new fans who signed up to explore a galaxy far, far away for after The Force Awakens. Audiences will get to sit in a darkened theater and have three of the greatest mythological stories whisk them away on a glorious ride of pure escapism. It’ll be perfect…kind of.
We’ve chronicled the harrowing journey of trying to find the original 1977 Star Wars and the other pre-Special Edition versions of the remaining two movies in the original trilogy. Unfortunately, it seems any version of the movies before 1997 which didnt feature the CGI enhancements — save for obsolete laser discs and special feature versions hidden on limited edition DVD releases — were rendered unofficial.
So-called “De-Specialized” Torrents or bootleg versions of the original films are readily available if you know where to look. But the fundamental problem with the relative unavailability of the Special Editions versus the original versions is that the originals are non-existent in the minds of the Lucasfilm powers that be.
Atrociously dated CGI aside, the Special Editions were bittersweet and ironic, because they were the first introduction for entire generations of kids to the Star Wars saga. Their success was effectively the starting point which thrust the idea of continuing the Skywalker story through George Lucas’s prequels — and now, the post-Lucas Disney chapter of the Star Wars timeline. Disney has yet to release the original versions of the original trilogy on home video despite anxious anticipation with every passing holiday that they might finally pull the trigger to make even more money off the hungry Star Wars-loving public. But alas, not yet.
The only other way to maybe see the original trilogy in its untouched, non-bastardized form is to hope that someone with a projector and a movie theater and a long lost film real of A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi comes forward and charges admission. When fans first read the Drafthouse announcement, which lovingly labelled the series “The Return of the Trilogy” and touted that “the original trilogy is back on the big screen,” many thought the time had finally come. But their excitement was all for naught.
As many fans anxiously read through the announcement, no doubt flipping out about this incredibly rare opportunity, they eventually came upon something they didn’t want to read. Tucked in the second sentence of the fifth paragraph of the six-paragraph press release were the 13 words no Star Wars fan was hoping for: “All three of the films will be presented in their 1997 re-release format.”
It was an unfortunate and perhaps inevitable conclusion: we’ll probably never get to see the officially sanctioned original trilogy in its first iteration on the big-screen. But it’s not like Drafthouse didn’t try.
Henri Mazza, Alamo Drafthouses VP of Special Events, told us: “Like everyone else in the galaxy, we’d love to see the original theatrical releases back on the big screen one day, too. At this time those are still unavailable, but we’re incredibly excited to be able to share these experiences with fans again for the first time in years.”
It’s a sad reality for fans, but it’s bittersweet. Why whine when we can see our favorite movies this way again? And besides, Drafthouse is doing is exactly what their mantra has been from the get-go and keeping the movies (and the fans) front and center. Even then, Drafthouse is probably the only fan-centric film venue with enough clout to maybe convince the Lucasfilm people to unlock the vaults and give us the inevitably pristine copies of the non-Special Edition original trilogy at some point down the line.
With Disney and Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy steering the ship, the movies are no longer locked to George Lucas’s bearded perfectionism. They don’t have to adhere to the whims of his worst tendencies, in constantly going back to try and change things that people other than him never cared about in the first place. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, as they say, and Kennedy’s willingness to put the fans first, demonstrated by her hands-on approach in the lead up to The Force Awakens, means she’s at least willing to hear us out. The hope with the groundswell of support for Drafthouse’s “The Return of the Trilogy” series is that it opens the door to see the pre-Special Edition versions sooner rather than later.