Star Wars is close to holy for many fans of cinema.
We remember growing up with the movies, and having them look a very specific way. You think of the colors of certain scenes, and the fact that Han shot first. The X-Wings fly in very distinct patterns.
The Star Wars that was released in 1977 no longer exists. The film has been edited, special effects shots have been swapped, colors have been changed and more. Lucas has worried over the films so much that those of us who wish for the version of the film we remember have no way to watch the movie that means so much to us. Instead, we're treated to a series of re-releases from mediocre sources, with massive flaws in the presentation.
This is why rumors of a remastered, unaltered original trilogy are so thrilling. It would mean that fans of the series have a way to watch the film as they remember, on modern equipment, with time and money spent remastering and correcting decades worth of film degradation and wear.
Lucas has long said this was impossible but, as I explored in an earlier story at Ars Technica, that’s untrue.
Besides, the holy grail exists today. It’s called the Despecialized Edition, and the only problem is that you can’t pay money for it. This is an a gray-market release of the film, only available as a huge download on bittorrent. So what do you get for your 17GB of hard drive space?
You get everything you want. You get a long time ago, far far away in the most stunning presentation possible.
The Despecialized Edition is the years-long work of a diverse group of people who have taken elements from many different sources and created the ultimate version of the first Star Wars film. It has also been upgraded to display properly on high definition screens, with high-quality sounds and a near perfect image.
The latest Blu-Ray release of the film serves as the skeleton for this edition, but elements of the 2006 bonus DVD that included the unaltered version of the film was also used to remove special effects and edits that were added by Lucas.
Even these basic, official sources weren’t perfect, though. For such a fan of technology, Lucas and his crew have long presented us with mediocre versions of the source material.
"An overall color correction was first performed by an OriginalTrilogy.com member called You_Too, who wrote an AVISynth script to fix some of the worst color issues of the 2004 master," the documentary about the sources stated. "Mainly the ever present magenta tones, which are especially visible in laser fire flash frames, but in other instances as well. At the end, a shot by shot color correction was done based on the colors of a well preserved Technicolor print."
Wait a minute, there are working prints of the film in existence? Yep, although they’re rarely shown to the public.
"One print is special. It is a Technicolor imbibition dye-transfer print. This means: it has a finer grain and better picture, but, more importantly, it looks exactly the same as the day it was printed. Properly cared for, it will outlast all of us," an article about one such viewing on Saving Star Wars explained.
Remember though, there is no one perfect source, which is why this project was so ambitious. "It doesn't look anything like the 1993 Laserdisc or the 2006 DVD, with all of its dirt and grain, and the colors are terrific," the article said. "The Star Destroyer fly-by looked pretty pink, as it is from a 1981 photochemical splice-in for the re-release that year."
Other prints of the original film have been shown, but it’s reported that they’re confiscated by Lucasfilm when they surface. Still, the print described in that article is an amazing piece of history, as shown by this image taken from the theater's screen.
These primary sources give us a good idea of how the film is supposed to look, the original version shown in theaters in the later 70s. It's just a matter of tracking them down and making sure they're presented in the best possible way.
Puggo Grande is another legendary object for fans of the original film, and it served as a source for content for scenes that needed to be restored to remove edits or special effects that weren’t in the original version of the film
"[Puggo Grande] is my telecine transfer and restoration of an old 16mm print of Star Wars. The film was borrowed from a source who wishes to remain anonymous, and who for now will go by the name Jaxxon," the official site for the content says.
"Actually, Jaxxon provided me with two prints, both of which have the original crawl. One of the prints has Swedish subtitles and the mono mix. I used the Swedish version as a source for the mono mix and for a few video segments when needed to patch damaged frames. The Swedish print was later restored separately.
You can see the quality of the transfer in the included image, and it’s not great. But for reference material and to grab elements that can be edited together to recreate certain scenes it’s invaluable.
Other still images, reference material, and even other partial prints were used, upscaled, color-corrected, and edited together to create the final version of the Despecialized Edition.
These sources have been chopped up, enhanced, color-corrected, edited together, cleaned, and ultimately released as one huge 17.8GB MKV file in all the places one would expect to find gray market, if not outright pirated, films. So how is it?
The release is now up to version 2.5, and it's literally one of the most jaw-dropping presentations of classic science fiction I have ever seen. The colors look amazing, details pop off the screen and the overall image quality is so far beyond anything available in an officially sanctioned release that it's nearly laughable.
I've been lucky enough to see the Despecialized Edition in a few barely advertised public screenings and in the home theater of friends, and it's startling to see the film you know versus the poorly updated and re-edited versions we're used to from Lucas.
Even the audio options are top notch. "Version v2.5 offers few more little tweaks to the picture and contains an unprecedented number of audio options, including lossless DTS-HD tracks for the original mixes, an isolated score, four different commentary tracks and dubbing tracks in ten different languages and dialects," the official release notes state.
It is, to put it in very simple terms, Star Wars. It's the version we've always wanted, with an immense amount of effort put into retaining the original vision of the film. You can't buy it, it won't be shown at your local cinema, and the legality of the project is questionable at best, but the version of Star Wars you've always dreamed of is available online.