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The Sad State of Star Wars in the Home

May 19, 2014 9:51 AM, By Jason Bovberg

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I have a very fond memory of my 16th birthday party, back in 1984, when my dad managed to get his hands on a bootleg VHS recording of Return of the Jedi—long before its official home video release. He surprised me with it so that I could host my geek friends for a showing of the trilogy on our enormous 25in. console TV. For the next 7 hours, my buddies and I watched pan-and-scan versions of the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and then that terrible handheld video recording of Return of the Jedi. We had a great time, despite the chopped and squeezed aspect ratios of the first two films, the lack of high definition in any of the visuals, and the especially grainy, shaky image of the final film. I mean, it was Star Wars! And this was the best we could do.

Little did we know that, over a period of 30 years of home video evolution, the home-video presentation of that landmark trilogy wouldn’t get much better. In some ways it would get worse.

For a decade after that birthday party, the Star Wars films would be relegated to substandard video treatment, on those horrid VHS tapes and on admittedly forward-thinking laserdiscs that nevertheless required you to flip discs at certain intervals, thereby wrecking the fluid home-video experience. In the early to mid-90s, the films finally debuted in widescreen at home—but still on standard-definition VHS, of course. Sadly, it would be these video representations that would be the pinnacle of Star Wars on home video, because in the late 90s, George Lucas released the so-called “special editions” of his trilogy, essentially aiming to scrub the original versions from the collective consciousness. Every home-video Star Wars release since—from DVD to Blu-ray—has favored the tinkered, CGI-happy special editions, and only once have the original versions graced DVD. And those were tossed out to fans as a bonus-feature afterthought, not enhanced for widescreen sets (i.e., not high-def), with zero image restoration performed.

It’s difficult to fathom how, in the age of ubiquitous home theaters, high definition, and extreme media availability, one of the most important and beloved film franchises has been literally absent from high-end home video for years and years. The Star Wars trilogy that you remember fondly from your youth is gone. Out of print. Nearly forgotten! In its place is a rejiggered monstrosity full of early-CG hack work (a new Jabba the Hut sequence that makes even my 9-year-old cringe), bone-headed revisionism (“Greedo shot first!”), poop jokes inserted into Mos Eisley, and scenes deleted entirely. It’s hard to imagine this kind of treatment given to any film. It’s even more difficult to imagine that such a crime has been perpetrated upon three of the most treasured films of all time.

Wait, we don’t have to imagine.

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