In 1977, the film we think of now as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was just called “Star Wars.” Contrary to popular belief, George Lucas did not slap that “Episode IV” stuff onto the opening title crawl of the movie until a theatrical re-release in 1981. Ever since then, one could argue, Lucas altered Star Wars every time it was re-released, culminating in the controversial — but canonical —Special Editions in 1997. Since then, a theatrical re-release of the original Star Wars film that started it all has been off the table. That is, until now.
Last month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a double-screening of A New Hope and Rogue One, and apparently, the cut of A New Hope was a 1981 70mm print of the film, pre-special edition. People who went to the screening said that “A New Hope” was on the crawl, but other than that, this was the original film.
Now, in order for this to have happened, George Lucas probably would have needed to be okay with it, since he’s been pretty clear about the special editions being the real versions of the movies. Technically, this means the 2004 versions of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which famously featured Hayden Christensen as the ghost of Anakin Skywalker at the end of the trilogy instead of Sebastian Shaw. (Obviously Hayden couldn’t have been in the 1997 re-releases because he wasn’t even cast yet.)
Anyway, back in 2017, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy went on record saying that she “wouldn’t touch” Lucas’s versions of the classic trilogy, implying that Lucasfilm would never do a theatrical re-release of the classic trilogy that wasn’t the Special Editions. But, that was two years ago, and way before the Fox and Disney merger was finalized. Why does this matter? Well, prior to the merger, 20th Century Fox still controlled distribution rights to A New Hope, but not any of the other movies. (This is why, if you download the classic trilogy on iTunes, Empire and Jedi won’t start with that familiar 20th Century fanfare, but A New Hope will.)
So, now that the 20th Century Fox merger is complete, and Disney and Fox are — at least where Lucasfilm is concerned — the same company, it seems like some of these distribution rights stuff could go away. In other words, the company that originally distributed and produced Star Wars — Fox — is connected to Lucasfilm again. And, if George Lucas is okay with the Academy showing an old 1981 print of A New Hope to film critic people in Hollywood, then, maybe, just maybe, a new re-release of A New Hope is coming.
After The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters this December, there won’t be a new Star Wars movie in cinemas until the Benioff and Weiss Star Wars movie in 2022. But, if Lucasfilm, Disney and Fox want something to fill that three year gap, then there’s always the possibility of the oldest, and original Star Wars to tide everyone over.