Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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“That's impossible! Even for a computer.”

I just watched Star Wars.

Not Star Wars: A New Hope. Not Star Wars: Episode anything.

Just plain old Star Wars.

I stumbled by accident across a project by a fan who has created 720p HD editions of the original Star Wars trilogy from various sources. The project is in 720p for several reasons, including both the processing power it would have required to make the edits in 1080p, but also because the because some of the footage was sourced from the '93 and '97 laserdisc transfers, and 720p was the highest resolution where the difference in picture quality from the source to source wouldn't be so obvious. However, I've seen the 1080i broadcasts, and this is equivalent to them, and the HD picture is quite solid throughout.

The first film contains a reconstruction of the original 1977 70 millimeter six-track Dolby Stereo magnetic mix in Dolby Digital 5.1, the THX Dolby Surround mix for the 1993 CAV Definitive Collection laserdiscs in Dolby Digital 2.0 (this is my preferred mix), the original 1977 mono mix (which features the original actress voicing Aunt Beru), and the original 1977 Dolby Stereo optical mix in Dolby Digital 2.0 (there is also a dubbed track and a descriptive track for the hearing impaired, which I did not sample). The bit rates for all of these tracks is much higher than DVD standards for Dolby Digital, which means that the sound has space for the oomph that the official DVDs of the theatrical versions don't, and with some minor manipulation, sounded quite fantastic.

This was the movie that I saw when I was three, and was the first movie I ever asked to see again. This was the movie that demonstrated that space opera could be popular entertainment. This was the movie that revolutionized what the industry thought could or could not be depicted visually on film. It's the film that brought back the symphonic score to Hollywood in a big way.

This was the movie that had me transfixed as a child.

And you know what? It still transfixes. Strip away the sequels and the hoopla and you get a sprawling adventure yarn depicting distant worlds told in a swashbuckling but economical manner. And I loved every minute of it.

Watching Star Wars up until now had been a tedious process; I could watch my laserdiscs which sound great but they don't look so great and there are side-flips (although I now have the CLV editions, thanks so much to ehowton, which helped a lot). I could watch the 2004 DVDs, but I really can't stand all of the additional effects, which I always found quite distracting, and I loathe the changes in content Lucas has been introducing since the 1997 Special Editions. I haven't bought the Blu-rays, because they're essentially spruced-up Special Editions with even more changes of varying shades of repugnance, and I've just gotten sick and tired of all of that.

Yes, I know there were alterations and alternate sound mixes before, but c'mon, those were really, really minor — in addition to the whole “Han Shot First” controversy (actually a misnomer, Han shoots; Greedo doesn't shoot at all), one of the funniest scenes is severely blunted in the new version. Han chases cadre of stormtroopers, shouting and creating the illusion that he is more people than he actually is. However, he runs the stormtroopers into a dead end and they are forced to turn around and realize that THERE'S ONLY ONE SCHMUCK CHASING THEM, and the tables are turned. Isn't that a much better “oops” than running into a room with more stormtroopers?.

It felt… relieving. This was exactly what I wanted to see; a good HD transfer of the movie I had seen many times in the theater and too many times to count on home video. It's a film that I had memorized, and while some of the effects have dated, I have to say, they're still quite effective. During the last battle above the Death Star, I just found myself thinking, “There's nothing wrong with these special effects!” And that's a sequence I think looks good in the Special Editions.

To make my position clear on this: I don't mind that Lucas is constantly revising these films. I think that's actually kind of cool that he can do that. What I don't like is that he is attempting to erase the existence of the previous versions, which, let's face it, are the versions of the films that had the cultural impact and made him into what he is today.

Worse, the self-indulgent George Lucas of today is not the same person as the maverick filmmaker determined to make this science-fantasy film that everybody knew was going to flop. The changes he's making to the films at this point seem to be just to fuck with people.

So for Star Wars, I have turned to other sources, and all I can say is that everybody who was involved in that restoration has my gratitude. It has been a long time since I could watch that film in a manner even approaching state-of-the-art. This was just immensely satisfying.

If you're interested in finding these for yourself, search for them under the term “Despecialized Edition.”
Tags: cinema, film music, john williams, science fiction, star wars
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