Star Wars fans were recently given a new hope that Disney might finally capitulate on a Blu-ray/DVD release of the unaltered Star Wars Original Trilogy films – 1977's A New Hope, 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's Return of the Jedi – just in time for the franchise's 40th anniversary celebration, with the eruption of a rumor, one that, unfortunately, was short-lived.
However, the idea of unaltered modern Star Wars Original Trilogy releases was shot down from a source as close to definitive as one can find: Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. On a recent podcast appearance discussing the unaltered Star Wars films and their connection to creator George Lucas's legacy, Kennedy stated (via MovieWeb), "I wouldn't touch those, are you kidding me? [laughs] Those will always remain his." Thus, like a jolted Jedi trainee trying to raise his crashed X-Wing from a Dagobah swamp, formerly auspicious chances have collapsed.
While unofficial maverick fan-edited releases like the popular Star Wars Trilogy Despecialized Edition do exist, we decided to use the 40th anniversary of the May 25, 1977, theatrical release of the original Star Wars to look at the 2006 Original Trilogy box set, the only official DVD release of the unaltered original Star Wars Trilogy, presented in all its scruffy-looking, practical effects-exclusive, "Han shoots first," "Clive Revill as the holographic Emperor," "Ewok Yub Nub song" form that purists perpetually dream of reinstating as canon.
"Bonus content," indeed.
On September 12, 2006, the then-upcoming 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars justified another re-release of the Special Edition version of the original Star Wars Trilogy merely two years after the films made their DVD debut with a hyped 2004 box set. The newer release, an ostentatious SteelBook edition exclusive to Best Buy, retailed at a stupendously steep $89.99 and included the exact same versions as the 2004 Special Edition releases. However, the reason for this temerity became abundantly clear upon closer inspection of the description label stuck to the back of the tin brandishing the beautiful sub-header: "Includes digitally remastered and original theatrical movies!"
Truly, that sales pitch was no tall tale. While opening the tin box reveals three DVD cases that look only slightly different from the 2004 edition, the inside of each said case reveals a hinge for a second bonus content disc containing what could be considered the nerdy Holy Grail: official DVDs of the original, non-Special Edition, UNALTERED versions of each movie, doubling as – for what it's worth – a playable demo of LEGO Star Wars II for the original Xbox.
Aren't you a little grainy for a DVD?
The shock of holding physical evidence in your hands proving that George Lucas somehow greenlit a (pre-Disney ownership) modern medium release of a historical version of the epochal original Star Wars films that – by nearly all accounts – he had been attempting to obscure from posterity fades rather quickly upon first viewing of the discs themselves, which, among other issues, are rough and grainy.
The sad state of these coveted Star Wars DVD releases is attributed to the fact that the discs are direct transfers from 1993's Star Wars Trilogy: The Definitive Collection LaserDisc release, which was notoriously riddled with scan lines and weak colors. Additionally, while the films are presented in a standard video 4:3 aspect ratio, they are without the benefit of anamorphic widescreen stretching, resulting in distracting, unusually imposing letterbox mattes (the so-called "black bars").
This fact especially frustrated fans, since a better version of the unaltered Original Trilogy films was already available in the heavily heralded 1995 pre-Special Edition THX remastered versions (released on VHS in widescreen and fullscreen), which were the result of extensive efforts to visually rejuvenate the films on a frame-by-frame basis, along with enhanced sound quality, designed to accommodate the digital bells and whistles added in the Special Edition theatrical re-releases in 1997. Yet, like an evil genie – or, for Doctor Who fans, a magic haddock – the granted wish of this precious content contained the aforementioned cruel caveats, which felt like a vindictive slight to the purists who had mocked Lucas's retroactive Star Wars releases.
"So, be it … Jedi."
With all of that said, the 2006 Best Buy Star Wars Trilogy SteelBook box set is a coveted curiosity, and a quick perusal of the secondary market on sites like eBay will reveal that it goes for somewhere between $200 and $300. I was personally lucky to purchase mine from Best Buy back when it was initially offered (#humblebrag).
Yet, with Kathleen Kennedy's apparent declaration never to touch the original, unaltered original Star Wars Trilogy films, the true value of the discs not only seem to lie with the fact that – warts and all – they stand as the only modern(ish) format release of the unaltered versions, but that, in actuality, they are presented in such a raw, vintage style form that their adherence to the true, pre-digital, grindhouse nostalgia of the Star Wars phenomenon may just supersede whatever fancy, restored Blu-ray/Digital HD release we might have hoped to get.
Indeed, there's a special time-machine-like quality to watching A New Hope prepare its signature opening crawl and not seeing the "Episode IV: A New Hope" chapter title, since that nomenclature didn't exist back on May 25, 1977, in the film once known to the world simply as Star Wars until it was added to a 1981 theatrical re-release, the first of much retroactive tinkering. In all likelihood, the fancy (hypothetical) unaltered Blu-ray/Digital HD release that we'll never get probably would have – contrary to verisimilitude – brandished the "Episode IV: A New Hope" label before the opening crawl, in service to synergy with the later franchise entries.
Consequently, I look at this 2006 Star Wars Original Trilogy DVD set as a glass-half-full gift that probably won't be replicated, at least not for a very long time from now in a galaxy far far away; a galaxy in which Han always shoots Greedo first, the ghost of Sebastian Shaw's Anakin Skywalker still looks on in redemptive, bushy-browed glory, the cloak-covered eyelids of Clive Revill's version of the Emperor remain as sleepy as ever, and the Ewok "Yub Nub" song rings on in celebratory cacophony into the Endor night.