A survey of the best and most popular fan preservations of the original versions of the Star Wars trilogy on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer : This website in no way supports or encourages the selling of Star Wars preservations. Making profits from those is thievery of Lucasfilm and the copyright holders, plain and simple. This review looks at the fan phenomenon only. Don't ask for where to find the mentioned discs. We don't know.
When the Special Editions supplanted the original cuts in 1997, Laserdisc was about to die in the United States, and when the refurbished films were issued on home video that year it marked the last time the original trilogy was released on Laserdisc. That year was also the debut of DVD. As such, there was no demand for "preservations" of the original trilogy, because everyone was still watching them on VHS and Laserdisc. But things began to change very quickly. By 2000, the new DVD format had really taken off, and many classic films were coming to DVD looking and sounding better than anyone had ever heard or seen them. In 2001, the first Star Wars DVD was officially released (Episode I), and demand for the rest of the series was really starting to build. Lucas was very vocal, however, that only the Special Edition would be released, and furthermore maintained that it would take until after the prequels were complete for it to happen.
Around this time, the first Star Wars DVD bootlegs started to appear. Among the earliest were supposedly those from Asia, which included the release dubbed "LOOK", which was popular on eBay. These usually used the 1995 THX/"Faces" Laserdiscs, and were of poor quality. By 2002 DVD sales had overtaken VHS sales and it became clear that DVD was the wave of the future; eBay had also risen in popularity quite a bit, and would soon take off with the introduction of Paypal. Around this time, several fans began making plans to use the Definitive Edition Laserdiscs for a DVD set, as it was considered the best available source for the original Star Wars films. It's hard to say what was the first fan preservation, but when the famous "Cowclops/TR47" transfer came out in the summer of 2003, based on the 1993 Definitive Edition LD, there wasn't a huge amount of competition. Cowclops described his techniques:
"Hooked up the s-video out on a Pioneer Elite CLD-59 Laserdisc player to a Sony Digital8 camcorder with analog in. Recorded the video to DV format by way of the camcorder, and used firewire to digitally transfer the video into the computer. From there, used several programs to filter out the noise from the laserdisc. Then, encoded the video to DVD format with CinemaCraft Encoder SP. Finally, authored the DVD with DVDit PE and wrote it to a Ritek 2x DVD-R with a Pioneer DVR-104 drive using Nero."
This may sound incredibly crude by todays standards, but the release was of good quality at the time, and with PCM sound was long regarded as having one of the best soundtracks. This version was probably the most illegal popular version on eBay and with street sellers, was the standard "original version of Star Wars on DVD" for a long time, and still circulates to this day. The Special Editions began to appear on DVD as well, and rips of both versions started appearing as CD-ROM burnable files on the file-trading websites and other networks that were relatively new at the time.
In 2002, originaltrilogy.com had gone online, consisting of a petition where one could add your name "to bring the unaltered Star Wars trilogy to DVD in 2005," and by the end of 2003 had garned almost 50,000 names. By then it also opened a forum, which slowly built a small community of experts, seeking to see the original trilogy preserved. The release of the further-altered Special Editions in 2004 only added to their cause, and provided further impetus for members and outsiders to transfer the Laserdiscs to DVD, such as the popular "Isomix" release, which also preserved the vintage documentaries that were glaringly absent from the official Lucasfilm set; the "Dr. Gonzo" Laserdisc transfer also surfaced in 2004, which was among the first to introduce anamorphic widescreen. Around this time, torrents and usenet had become popular as high-speed internet had become wide-spread, and DVD burners were finally becoming affordable, cutting out bootleg sellers and making things peer-to-peer. An editor created a release called "Editdroid" for his own use sometime in 2003, using professional editing tools such as AVID, re-creating the original crawl in After Effects, and providing an isolated score as well, with slick menu design; the release laid low on usergroups but surfaced on the internet in 2005 under the name "Mysterious Mysteries," as no one initially claimed credit for it, and was considered one of the premiere preservation efforts for a time. As home editing technology became cheaper, easier to use and more powerful, preservationists continued to push the bar, and community allowed them to share materials and build more and more elaborate releases.
By the end of 2005 there were a slew of Laserdisc transfers trying to outdo each other in quality and supplements : Citizen, Moth3r, Doctor M, Farsight, Rowman, second attempts by Cowclops and Editdroid. As DVD quality kept improving, it nonetheless became clear that these transfers would never look better than just Laserdisc releases, and restoration technology back then was fairly non-existant. This is why the X0 project began: an ambitious attempt to use the best Laserdisc player ever built (the Pioneer X0), as well as professional grade post-production hardware and software to make a release better than the Laserdiscs on their own could offer. The mastermind behind this project, Laserman, suffered serious health problems, stalling the project and it was never completed, despite significant financial investment from themselves and public supporters. Another project that attempted to overcome Laserdisc limitations was OCP's "Classic Edition" releases, which used the 2004 SE DVD and edited in portions of Laserdisc, to not very convincing results. All of these projects mentioned thusfar have now become obsolete; Moth3r's PAL versions and the Editdroid series were considered among the best, but by todays standards they are soft and suffer from a number of defects. Some of these still circulate simply due to their established history.
The official DVD announcement of the original, unaltered trilogy in 2006 provided a brief moment of elation and then a firestorm of controversy as it was soon confirmed the discs would be using the 1993 Definitive Edition masters ! However, as they were a direct port from the masters, they offered by far the sharpest and most detailed transfers of the films. They have since become the standard source for further work.
George's Original Unalterated Trilogy
Of course, the 2006 official DVD release had many problems. On originaltrilogy.com, the release was coined as the GOUT--George's Original, Unaltered Trilogy--as a jab that Lucas had intentionally released it in poor quality so that it would have a handicap in competing against his Special Edition. The official release was plagued by a number of problems: 1) The 1993 master had DNR applied to it which smeared away detail in any moving shot and sometimes left trailing artifacts. 2) It was not anamorphic. 3) It suffered from aliasing or "jaggies". 4) It was not up to modern standards of detail. All of these were a result of the era in which it was made, which was over a decade out of date. 5) It was excessively grainy, especially in early scenes. 6) The audio mix was not the original. 7) It was plagued by frame jitter, or gate weave. 8) It lacked the original subtitles. Most of these could be solved. The easiest to do was convert it to anamorphic widescreen, and by the end of 2006 viewers were already doing this themselves. The other ones required some creativity.
Here we come to the modern era of original trilogy preservation. Releases such as Dark_Jedi (v3) offers stablization, anamorphic enhancement and the proper subtitles for all the films, but the real clincher is the audio: basically, every single original mixes of the films : theatrical stereo, mono and six-tracks! Adywan Empire Strikes Back is a miracle of fan restoration work. Until Lucasfilm releases Empire Theatrical Cut in a transfer from the negative, it will probably not be topped. Adywan had previously used the HD master of the 2004 transfer to recreate the 1997 SE, reinstating the original Emperor from a rare HD broadcast of the 1997 version, and cutting out the Kiwi-Fett audio, while colour correcting the tinting to 1997 levels and re-colouring the lightsabers to their proper hues. From here, he intercut GOUT material over the 1997 material. How did he do this, when others failed to do so? Empire is very light on the changes. The GOUT wampa footage has been heavily filtered to match the clean levels of the 2004 transfer, and only the one shot of the cave wall with a shadow moving across it stands out as less-than-stellar. The restored Cloud City is a real marvel--Adywan basically treated the shots as visual effect composites. In order to preserve detail, Adywan scanned the original matte paintings from art books and composited them over the 2004 footage, to have a seamless original image with all of the quality of the 2004 transfer. For shots of the hallways, Adywan took the 2004 footage as a plate and then composited GOUT portions over the windows only. Some of the shots required intricate rotoscoping, and morphing between GOUT and 2004 sources within the same shot. It's all entirely seamless--even the shot of Lando's original announcement, which begins as the 2004 master and blends into the GOUT within the same shot, looks good. And to top it off, the original audio is in 5.1 surround sound, based off a modified 1997 Laserdisc audio capture. In short, this a marvellous effort, and for many fans the only way to watch Empire Strikes Back as it once was. The film has practically been restored to its original state from the camera negative, at least in standard def.
Despite what may be considered bleak odds, the future of fan preservations is looking better than ever. However, the biggest issues have been, and will continue to be, in picture restoration. Until someone scans a 35mm print, fans will still be working from the GOUT. The most exciting premise might be following in the footsteps of Adywan's restoration work. Adywan basically fully restored Empire Strikes Back, short of a few minor details that could be easily cleaned up. The main blockage right now is that Star Wars is very difficult to tackle the same way, and would require someone of at least Adywan's level of skill to do it correctly. One answer might be the X0 project. Before Laserman went to the hospital, he demonstrated his "Black Magic" process, which used professional post-production hardware and software to take multiple transfers of different Laserdiscs and combine the detail from all the layers while excluding dirt and noise, using Shake compositing software and a custom script. The result was stunning, and looked far superior than the GOUT. If a cleaned up GOUT was added to this process, it would be all the better, but even before the GOUT was released the results were extremely high quality. Below is an example.
The first image is from the Official Star Wars Theatrical Cut DVD released by Fox. The second is a Xo Project composite. Given the above example, it seems that this is the most effective fan methodology; one could intercut it with the 2004 masters (now available on High Definition) almost seamlessly.
For some information on various Star Wars preservations, there are a few links to start with. One is originaltrilogy.com's preservation board, which also has a stickied thread on various projects. Another is the long-standing Galactic Trade Federation, which is a little out of date now. OT.com started a sister site called fanedit.com, which has a database of some preservations and fan edits, though its currently a bit lacking on the subject of Star Wars. This website took a look mainly at bootlegs and fan preservationis of the trilogy, but has not been keeping up with post-GOUT developments.
Read more on www.savestarwars.com
Remember, virtually every fan DVD of Star Wars has been made out of the passion and enthusiasm for the franchise and is intended for personal use, not for profit. If you find someone selling a Theatrical version of any Star Wars film on DVD-R, they are making money off Lucasfilm and Fox, not to mention the fans hard restoration work. Please report them to Lucasfilm, Fox, or your country main anti-piracy office.