The original theatrical audio multi-tracks mixes of Star Wars Episode IV which were awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, have never ever been released on either VHS, LD, DVD or Blu-ray ! Here we take a look at what happened...
The Star Wars trilogy has had a lot of mixes over the years. In 1985, Ben Burtt supervised a stereo remix for home video, taking into account the acoustics of television audio (as this was the pre-home theatre days it has the least dynamic range of any mix). In 1993, the sound was remixed in stereo again, this time "sweetening" the audio with added effects in Star Wars. In 1997, the films were remixed in 5.1 surround and released on Laserdisc in Dolby Digital (and VHS in stereo). In 2004, the sound was remixed and released in Dolby Digital yet again for DVD release.
However--the history-making original audio has never been officially released by Lucasfilm, excepting the two-decades-out-of-print stereo mix. These are the audio mixes that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would have heard when they awarded the films for sound design and mixing, and they are also the audio mixes that everyone was blown away by during the original theatrical experience.
On May 25th, 1977, Star Wars was released in two audio formats: stereo for regular 35mm and a six-track surround for 70mm. The six-track 70mm mix in particular was memorable because of the surround channels, wide dynamic range, and special low-frequency "baby booms" (equivalent to sub-woofers today) that made this a very special experience; people today still talk of hearing the roar of the star destroyer first flying overhead. The stereo and six-track mixes were both sourced from the same stems, although they are not entirely identical. In June, the film expanded onto more screens and now it was accompanied by a mono mix, which is what most people would have heard in theatres. Since Lucas had more time to work on this mix, he could add many more sounds and fixed things he was unhappy with in the initial mixes. At the time, Lucas put the most amount of effort into this release, and considered it definitive (ironic, as it was never released on home video).
If you compare the stereo/six-track to the mono, you can hear that this contains additional foley and ADR work (listen to the trash compactor sequence, for example). It also contains more obvious ADR, such as C3P0's tractor beam explanation and "close the blast doors", both of which were restored for 1997 (many thought they were new additions since they had never heard the mono mix), and many of the stormtrooper voices are different as well. But there are more obvious examples, probably the most noteable of which is that Aunt Beru is voiced by a completely different person (neither the stereo nor mono version is actress Shelah Fraser), and the battle of Yavin radio chatter is undistorted. There are more mundane differences as well, such as different sound effects used in the background--for instance the alarm that sounds on the blockade runner, or the squeaks emitted by the 3D chess board. The levels are, of course, mixed a bit differently as well. In fact, each of the three original mixes had to be done seperately, so each mix was it's own "performance." Starkiller's excellent mono mix comparison page catalogs all the differences with audio samples of each.
The original stereo mix showed up on the few pre-1985 home video releases. The fidelity is not as good as a modern transfer, but the Laserdisc releases from this time are very listenable. Moreover, the 1993 remix used the same stem that the original stereo and six-track mixes were derived from. The actual stereo mix off of a 1985 pan and scan Laserdisc (catalog number 1130-84), contained the analogue theatrical mix. Although the film's sound was remixed in 1985, this only appeared on VHS that year, and the first Laserdisc to use it was in 1989, (catalog number 1130-85).
The mono and six-track mixes were never released on home video. The mono mix, containing many alternate recordings, was heard on European television broadcasts from the 1980s (UK and Denmark specifically).
Which brings us to the 70mm six-track. The 1993 stereo mix Laserdisc PCM track was created from the original 1977 stems that were used to make the initial stereo and six-track mixes. This mix has the greatest dynamic range and is therefore most similar to the range of the six-track release. It remains for now the closest way to experience the original 70mm six-track sound release.
Read more on www.savestarwars.com