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Watching The Original Star Wars Movie In 2019

As everyone knows the Star Wars Special Editions are the only available versions of the movies. The new 4K versions on Disney+ have tweaked things a bit, improved color grading, there are some minor edits here and there, but they too are the Special Editions of course. Which is just what George Lucas intended. He considers the Special Edition the ultimate edition, the version fans should see. However, many old fans would also like to see the original version of the movies they saw in cinemas back in 1977, 1980 and 1983. The last time these versions were released was in 2006 as mediocre DVD transfers.
However, you can watch the original version of Star Wars even today. Even in 4k! In this article I want to talk about how you could, in theory, watch the original, unadulterated Star Wars movie. In this article I will tell you about two fanmade edits of Star Wars and I will show you several screenshots, so you can see how they differ from each other and the Blu-Ray. However, there are several important caveats. I will address them after the jump! So click through for a trip back in time, when “A New Hope” was simply “Star Wars”.

Original 1977 Lucasfilm Title Card

Original 1977 Lucasfilm Title Card

You can go directly to the screenshots, if you want to. However, I STRONGLY advise you to read the preface, because you have to be 100% aware of certain things, before you go ahead and try to find and get the original version of Star Wars!

Before I adress the caveats and issues a few things first: I believe George Lucas has all the (moral) right in the world to make the version of Star Wars he likes best and change the original movies as much as he likes. If he feels that back in the day the technology didn’t allow him to fully realize his vision, but that many years later and with the help of CGI he can do what he always wanted to do, let him do it. It’s in his right to tell fans that THIS is now the version of the movie they should see.

However, I also believe that not just for film historical reasons it should also always be possible to watch the original version. Star Wars, as a cultural phenomenon, should be something you can watch as it was originally made. And not just because you are a film historian. It’s our own personal history as well.

Now, I mostly like the Special Editions, the issue with A New Hope is, that some of the CGI is really, really dated, and that we need a special special edition with new CGI. The CGI has not aged well in certain parts, mostly Mos Eisley. But seeing the cut Jabba scene, or the scene with Biggs is certainly very interesting as well, even if the scene with Jabba looks terrible.

Also, I think many people have this nostalgia for the original cut and forget how terrible and basic it looked in certain parts. But still, it’s the original, and thus it’s of historical relevance, and for many it’s also a cherished childhood memory they cannot re-experience anymore. And maybe you just happen to prefer the movie as it was originally made, notwithstandingh some rough edges.

This is where fanmade restorations and edits of the original Star Wars movie(s) fill the void. But now comes the caveat: this is a very, very thin line between fair use and piracy. I will talk about two projects here, Harmy’s Despecialized Edition and the much newer Star Wars 4K77 project. Harmy’s project is the much older of the two and Lucasfilm is certainly aware of these fan projects. None of the people who make fan edits have ever been sued by Lucasfilm. So they seem to tolerate the existence of the edits.

But now a huge caveat, read this!

All of that being said, it’s still, technically and legally speaking, piracy when you download a fan edit. So I will not and cannot tell you to download the movies and I will most certainly not tell you where to download the movie. I can tell you that even a brief search on Google or some famous other site that has a pirate ship as a logo will give you download links in very short time. But you have to realize it’s not legal. Your ISP may hate you if you download the movie. I cannot say. You may want to use a VPN to cover your tracks. I do not encourage you to get the fan edits. It’s up to you. Your own decision.

If we talk about moral rights, then I say this: Lucasfilm will certainly not be harmed by these projects. Only die hard Star Wars fans are even interested in this, all of us bought the movies, most of us probably many times over even, on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray. In other words, all of us legally own at least one copy of the movie, or have subscribed to Disney+. While it’s still illegal to download the fan edits, I don’t think it’s morally wrong. You may agree or disagree here, that’s just how I see things. No one is harmed, the original cut of the movie is not commercially available, Lucasfilm is not losing any money, for all we know the original cut is lost to time, never to be seen again. People who do download the movie may violate George’s moral rights though, he wants you to watch the Special Editions. So you have to consider this, what is more important? George’s rights as author or the historical and nostalgic interest in the original, unaltered version that was originally shown in theaters in 1977 (1980 and 1983 as well)?

Since Lucasfilm has never pursued the people who make the fan edits (even when George Lucas was still head of the company) I think that they also apply some common sense and just let the fans be. Also, it’s important to point out that all of these projects are non-profit, that is, the movies are always free of charge! Some dubious people sometimes sell copies on eBay, DO NOT, NEVER EVER, buy these! The movies are free, out of principle and for legal reasons.

I know this was a long preface, with that out of the way let’s talk about the movie! And by this I mean only A New Hope. There are fan edits of the other movies as well, I will briefly mention them!

Let me introduce you to the two most prominent fan projects:

  1. Harmy’s Despecialized Editions. These try to recreate the original Star Wars using various sources. Laser Disc, DVD, even the Blu-Ray and 35mm prints here and there. There are despecialized versions for all three original Star Wars movies. But these versions don’t just remove the edits made for the special editions, they also correct color grading, since the Blu-Ray versions have some issues. The movies exist only in 720p versions, which basically means it’s not Full HD, but only HD Ready. However, when you watch the movies on a TV etc. you can hardly notice any difference. Unless your TV is the size of a wall. On most normal TV sets 720p is still fine.
  2. Star Wars 4K77. This is a much more recent project, which was only completed in 2018. What they did is a bit different. They mostly used one 35mm Technicolor print of the original movie and scanned it. They had to use parts of another 35mm print and a few frames from the Blu-Ray here and there, but for the most part it’s a copy of just one 35mm print. This version comes closest to what Star Wars would have looked like in theaters. Technicolor prints were made to be projected onto a silver screen, so it looks visibly different from the Despecialized edition, but in a way it’s also the closest to the original you can get. This version exists in a full 4K resolution version and a normal full HD 1080p version, there are also versions with or without digital noise reduction. DNR will get you closer to the look of the Blu-Ray, the version without DNR preserves film grain, but it can look really rough in some places. However, the version without DNR is much closer to the original look and feel.

And now I will show you several screenshot comparisons. The order is always the same! On top you will find the Special Edition Blu-Ray, in the middle is the 4K77 version and at the bottom you find Harmy’s Despecialized version.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

The official Blu-Ray is usually very dark, it also has a blue tinge. Now the all new 4K Disney+ versions correct that and I think they come closest to looking like the Despecialized Edition at the bottom. The 4k77 version in the middle is usually the brightest, and also somewhat less saturated than the Despecialized Edition. It can also be really grainy in certain scenes, but that is just what it was like back in 1977. And you absolutely have to look at the full resolution version to see all the differences!

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

You can immediately see that white balance and color grading is very different. The Blu-Ray is much too cool, it has a blue tinge, and it’s also quite dark. The 4K77 version in the middle is usually very warm, whereas the Despecialized Edition at the bottom looks like a compromise between the 4K77 and the Blu-Ray version, it has better white balance here, but not always, as you will see soon!

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

The 4k77 version in the middle looks the best here, even if the highlights may be somewhat bright, but skin tone is great and the corridor of the Tantive IV looks very neutral. Again, you can see that the Blu-Ray looks rather underwhelming, in comparison. Look how dark the Imperial Officer behind Vader is and how great his skin tone looks in the 4k77 version. The Despecialized Edition usually falls somewhere inbetween the two.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

You see it even here perhaps, without enlarging the screenshot, but please look at the full version. You can see how grainy the film can be. But this is what Star Wars actually looked like for many, many years. This is film. And optical printing (when several overlayed frames were “printed” onto a new reel of film to combine optical effects) only added more grain.
All the scenes on Tatooine are really, really bright in the 4k77 version, as you may expect when you are in a desert, under twin suns. Once more, the Despecialized Edition tries to give you a good compromise.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

This is down to taste. Do you like the very neutral approach of the Blu-Ray, the very warm looking 4k77 version or the inbetween version of the Despecialized Edition? Once more the Blu-Ray is the darkest version here.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

The Blu-Ray has the best dynamic range, but the foreground is rather dark. The 4K77 version is once more the brightest, but the background is close to being blown out, you cannot see as many details. But skin tones look good, even if the scene is overall quite warm, and Luke’s blond hair is actually blond. The Despecialized Edition makes everything look more neutral, but hardly improves on the dark foreground.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

Yes, Tatooine was never that dark in the original version, it’s still only sunset after all (twin sunset even) and not in the middle of the night. However, the Special Edition corrected a continuity error by adding clouds across the suns in the wide shot, which are clearly visible when we get a look at the twin suns a split second later.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

The 4K77 version looks best, to my eyes. Great skin tones, the scene is much brighter overall and not so gloomy. However, the Despecialized Edition is a bit more vibrant, C-3PO is really golden here, the 4k77 version can look a bit faded in places. The Blu-Ray is much too dark again. Crushing shadows.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

Once more the 4K77 version in the middle has great skin tones. But the Despecialized Edition at the bottom gives you the best version of Vader here.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

The 4k77 version is really very bright here. The Despecialized Edition is certainly looking better. The original Mos Eisley matte painting is not that great though, it looks like chicken scratches and the Special Edition Mos Eisley overview looks much more realistic.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

The Blu-Ray is just too dark, in my opinion 4K77 usually wins when it’s about skin tones, but the Despecialized Edition is certainly great as well.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

The Despecialized Edition at the bottom went out of its way to not only add a light blue hue to Luke’s lightsaber, no, they also tried to emulate its glow on Luke’s tunic. Ambient lightsaber lighting is something we only got much later, when they could use LED blades while filming. So the Despecialized Edition certainly wins here, it looks fantastic. But if you care about the most original version, then the 4K77 version is what you want.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

Our heroes on the Millennium Falcon. The Blu-Ray looks really bad in comparison and the 4K77 version has certainly a great vintage look, this is what movies shot on film in the 1970s looked like. As is usually the case the Despecialized Edition tries to provide a good compromise between old and new and also looks a lot better than the Blu-Ray.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

I usually think that the 4K77 version looks closest to what you’d get as a screenshot on a Kenner cardback. The Despecialized Edition looks best, it has vibrant colors and C-3PO looks really golden here, the Blu-Ray is somewhat dull.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

The Blu-Ray made the lightsaber colors more vibrant. But everything is also once again very dark. The 4k77 version is once more the brightest, Vader really pops in that version, whereas he’s a little bit too dark even in the Despecialized Edition.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

There is little doubt, in my opinion, the 4K77 version actually lets you see the X.Wing. The Blu-Ray is much too dark and gloomy. And the Despecialized Edition barely improves on it.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

Seeing that many motion controlled shots of space ship models back in 1977 was exciting. And it still looks reasonably good today. The CGI version from the Special Edition looks fine, but you can see that the CGI has aged and everything looks a bit artificial. The Despecialized Edition looks more vibrant here, but both fan edits are very close.

A New Hope Comparison

Click for large version to actually see the full difference!

And the final shot of the movie and final screenshot. The 4K77 version in the middle is the clear winner here, if you ask me. The Despecialized Edition has white balance issues here, I think, but Luke’s jacket is very vibrant in return. The Blu-Ray is, as always, much too dark and the 4K77 version just looks about perfect.

So this is it. Provided you are interested in any of the fan edits, which one should you get? It’s down to preference. If you care for the most original of original experiences, then the 4K77 version is what you need. But it also has its downsides, it can look really grainy in places (unless you get the version with DNR, which I don’t have) and some scenes are really, really bright and lose some detail. The version also lacks contrast in some scenes. I think projecting the 4K77 version with a beamer may be the best way to experience it. But you can also watch it on a TV just fine, of course!

If you look for a very good compromise then Harmy’s Despecialized Edition is the way to go! But it also has issues, it’s not as bright as it could be in places, sometimes colors look a bit weird, but it’s also usually the most vibrant looking version. Anothere issue is that it’s not available in actual HD resolutions, but 720p still looks fine on most normal sized TV sets. The Despecialized Editions are available for all three movies. So if you want the complete trilogy you need it.

Of course, you can also get both versions.

Now, there are other fan edits out there, edits that enhance the Special Editions or add even more CGI, like R2-D2’s blinking photo receptor, which was only introduced with The Empire Strikes Back, in A New Hope his receptor was static, it did change color, but only between scenes.

What I cannot tell is if you should download the fan edits. I talked about the issues above. It’s your decision. It is illegal. None of the official project sites or forums will provide you any download links for that very reason. But you can also easily find links on the internet of course.

Sadly, this is the only and best way in 2019 for fans to experience the original version of Star Wars. The 2006 DVDs are terrible, and VHS copies are even worse. It would be preferable if Disney released the original cuts on Disney+ and on Blu-Ray. But that will probably not happen any time soon. Maybe never.

But if you are willing to accept that downloading a movie is not exactly legal, then you can watch the original Star Wars, warts and all, in glorious 4K even today! But you need a fast internet connection, the download size is several gigabytes! The 4K version is more than 70GB, the Full HD version is still more than 40GB, the Despecialized Edition of Star Wars is 20GB.

I hope you enjoyed this comparison! And even though I generally prefer the Special Editions, I also want to see the original versions from time to time, because this is what we all saw back when the movies were first released. I think it’s of cultural relevance to preserve the original versions and to make them available to fans. And if there is no other way to get the versions but to use fan edits… so be it. No one (except for George Lucas’ explicit wish) will be harmed. No money is lost.
Lucasfilm could release their original versions and earn millions and millions of Dollars from hardcore fans who have been asking for the original versions on Blu-Ray for ages. But they don’t. And it seems they are ok with the non-profit fan projects. At least they don’t sue them out of existence. But the projects also cover their tracks by not offering any download links – and whether or not a mere fan edit that is not made publicly available is fair use is another question.

If you want to know more, you can go to the project homepages/forums! There you will find a lot more background info and info about the sources used for the edits! What you will not find there are download links.

Harmy’s Despecialized Edition on originaltrilogy.com

Star Wars 4k77 homepage

As mentioned, there will be no download links. I am not telling you to download the movies. Once more: it is illegal! But anyone who can use Google won’t need much time to find the movies.

So, what do you think of the fan edits? Do you happen to have a copy? Which one do you prefer? Do you know of other fan edits of note that should be worth mentioning? What is your stance on fan edits in general, given the fact that downloading the edits is entering a very, very dark grey legal zone, if not outright illegal zone?

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