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September 2004

This has been a difficult month in many ways. The third anniversary of the act of devout Neanderthals who symbolize pure evil (read: September 11); multiple hurricanes in a row (with two more targeting the U.S. eastern seaboard as I type); and Star Wars will be out on DVD in a few days.

Why am I listing Star Wars as making the month difficult? There are two reasons, actually.

One is that the releases are going to be the modified-yet-again Special Editions, which Lucas has been declaring for years are replacing, not augmenting, the original 1977-1983 theatrical releases.

This part is incredibly difficult for me.

One side of me feels betrayed in a way. He's taking something that most of us grew up with - watching over and over again until we had the music, words, and timing down so that we could just about recite all of the movies from memory - and modifying it (twenty years after the fact) with changes that seem to be useless and blasphemous at the same time. { Cue the "Greedo shoots first" and "Hayden Christensen at the end of Jedi" arguments }

A recent interview with the Associated Press confirms that we'll probably never see the non-Special-Edition trilogy on DVD.

Lucas: "The special edition, that's the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it's on VHS, if anybody wants it. ... I'm not going to spend the - we're talking millions of dollars here - the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn't really exist anymore. It's like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I'm sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be. I'm the one who has to take responsibility for it. I'm the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they're going to throw rocks at me, they're going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished."

The other side of me adheres to my firm belief that movie makers should have the ultimate say in how they want their movies to be shown. So, from that aspect Lucas has every right to modify his movies as he sees fit, even if such modifications make no sense to us. { Cue the "Greedo shoots first" and "Hayden Christensen at the end of Jedi" arguments }

From the same AP interview: "The movies are what the movies are. ... The thing about science-fiction fans and Star Wars fans is they're very independent-thinking people. They all think outside the box, but they all have very strong ideas about what should happen, and they think it should be their way. Which is fine, except I'm making the movies, so I should have it my way."

He's right. They're his movies. He should have the final say. So, it looks like the original theatrical versions are condemned to history. But, who knows? Lucas has changed his mind before. Maybe he'll be convinced to do it again. After all, we all know that he'd easily recoup the money spent on refurbishing the original prints.

So, if any of you want the original trilogy on DVD, it looks like you're going to have to do it yourself or have it done for you.

For what it's worth, I've done numerous laserdisc-to-DVD conversions for others as well as myself. I'm very proud of my Pioneer Special Edition 1776 laserdisc conversion, which is my first conversion to contain the regular track and a separate director's commentary track. So, if you own the THX, non-Special-Edition laserdiscs and would like me to do a DVD conversion for you, send me an e-mail. Since Lucas admitted several times that the non-SE version doesn't exist anymore, I make this offer with a clear conscience. (My laserdisc player is NTSC only, so I'm afraid that I won't be able to do this for anyone who uses PAL. Sorry.)

UPDATE: I apparently need to qualify this. I'm not asking for anything beyond return shipping costs and the price of the raw materials. But what you must relize is that anything that you send to convert will be exactly what you get back. For exmaple, if you send me your pan-and-scan "Star Wars" VHS tapes, you'll get back three DVD-Rs that are converted from those tapes. Don't expect to get DVD-Rs from the widescreen, THX laserdiscs from the Definitive Collection. What you have is what you will get back, except that it will be on DVD-R as well.

The other reason why I'm not thrilled with the upcoming Star Wars release is because the movies are also going to be released in pan-and-scan. As I mentioned over a year ago, you can thank Wal-Mart and their Nazi-like tactics for this. "You vill do vhat ve zay or ve vill not zell any uf your DVDs!" Someone close to Hollywood reported that Fox received so much pressure (read: power-hungry threats) from Wal-Mart to release The Phantom Menace in pan-and-scan that Fox practically begged Lucas to authorize the release of the movie in pan-and-scan - over a year after the widescreen version came out. He relented. Unfortunately, all of the subsequent Star Wars DVD releases were and will be dual-releases. Ick.

(Of course, neither Fox nor Wal-Mart would ever acknowledge this, but I have complete confidence in the person who said this. In fact, he told us this in order to get the home theater community to stop complaining to Fox about dual-releases.)

Now is a good time to remind you that I have Star Wars comparison images in my Examples area. If you have friends who still think pan-and-scan is acceptable but love Star Wars, get them to my Star Wars example page before Tuesday! We need to show them the light of truth as soon as possible!

I'm going to keep a close eye on the widescreen vs. pan-and-scan sales numbers and let you know more when I find out myself. I'm pretty confident that widescreen will blow away the pan-and-scan numbers, but we'll see what happens.

To give you something to look forward to, LucasFilm already has the high-definition masters for the original trilogy. He wisely decided to make the HD masters when he was cleaning up the OT for next week's release. That is something that I really would love to see, even if Greedo does still shoot first.

Now, if only Sony would get their butts in gear and get Blu-Ray out there en masse - just as long as they don't create another Betamax debacle.

Until next time...!