A decade ago, on store shelves near and wide, fans had their last chance to obtain the uncut theatrical versions of the Star Wars trilogy. Packaged with the 2004 remasters of the second wave of Special Edition alterations that George Lucas added on top of the 1997 wave of alterations, the original Star Wars were ported over from the Full Screen 1993 laserdiscs with less than optimal quality; but they were there. I personally own all three, and I bought them knowing that while it may not be a perfect copy (and I was getting screwed out of the special features the Special Edition box set came with,) I'd have a copy of those original films I fell in love with in a contemporary format. Now, just as we're about to see a new chapter begin in the Star Wars saga, we might be able to see those films again.
Comic Book.com ran a rumor this weekend that they claim is "exclusive" knowledge that the Star Wars trilogy is being planned for an unaltered release, all thanks to Disney. Make no mistake, the claim is that these are going to be 100% unaltered (save for picture quality), with all of the original effects and scenes we grew up watching present and accounted for. Of course, there was no specific release date mentioned by Comic Book.com, citing "the challenges Disney has encountered in pulling everything together."
Looking at the ownership quagmire that these films are in, challenge doesn't even begin to cover what lies ahead, should Disney seriously be planning to release these films.
There are three parties that have to agree in order to have an unaltered Blu Ray release of the classic Star Wars Trilogy. Those three parties are George Lucas (the creator of the series,) 20th Century Fox (the company that previously distributed the series), and Walt Disney Studios (the current owner of Lucasfilm and Star Wars). Each of these three parties has varying stakes in the series, and each can block the other at every turn the road to re-release takes. In the case of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, it's completely owned by 20th Century Fox, as they funded and distributed the film. However, Fox only has the distribution rights to Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi (as well as the entire Prequel Trilogy,) and they have them until 2020. Disney actually owns the rights to the films, so anything Empire or Jedi related, as far as merchandising and intellectual property are concerned, belongs to Disney. They just can't release the films theatrically, non-theatrically, and on home video.
Therein lies the first hurdle: 20th Century Fox and Disney have to make a deal where the distribution rights for Episodes V and VI, as well as all of the rights for Episode IV, are square in the possession of Disney. Sure, Fox could make a deal where they grant special access to the films (much like Universal did with The Incredible Hulk for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase I box set), but Disney's not going to want that. They'll pay any price and probably make any deal to get those films. Which means that Fox is probably going to part with those rights for one of two things: a deal where Fox gets to keep its foothold in the Marvel universe for as long as they like, or an obscene amount of money. If I were Fox, I'd be playing for the Marvel rights. Once all of that is out of the way, it should be easy peasy to get on with the Skywalker Saga – Part I box set, right?
Wrong. Click onto the next page to see just what the hold up is all about.
The second, more morally minded hurdle, is the feelings of Star Wars creator George Lucas. Lucas has gone on record as saying that he never wants the Star Wars Trilogy to ever be released in their original, untouched format. He has done all he could to limit and squash all access to the original films in their original format, and the fact that they were even on DVD for a limited time is something that should tell fans he's only interested in giving in for small windows of opportunity, and even then you're not going to get a perfect product. Could Fox and Disney flip George Lucas the saber and just plug ahead anyway? Legally, they could. Morally, on the other hand, they probably wouldn't want to.
While he may have made a mess out of the Star Wars empire himself, pissing off George Lucas by going behind his back and making a Blu Ray release of the original trilogy is a bad business move. Not only does Lucas have enough money that he could probably pay lawyers enough to find some sort of loophole against the unaltered releases; but he has enough clout that he could make life very difficult for both studios. After all, who do you think owns Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound, two legendary companies that provide visual effects and sound (respectively) to a staggering number of films each year? If Fox and Disney want to avoid a business street fight, they'd better find some way to grease the palms of Papa Lucas before even laying a finger on the original trilogy's original form.
So after all of this legalese, and all of this scenario drafting, do I think there's going to be an unaltered Blu Ray release of the Star Wars Trilogy?
You bet I do. We already got everyone to compromise once, and it yielded in a result. All three parties involved know that there's more money in providing the fans with what they want, instead of going after each other for whatever sums of money or property rights that they want. More importantly, all three parties should know that if you piss off the fans, that money you're spending on production of anything Star Wars related right now is going to be a riskier proposition as the days go on.
This rumor set our wheels in motion. My suggestion? All three parties should lock themselves in a room, negotiate a huge deal that makes everyone happy, and secures a PROPER, full nine picture Blu Ray set, including all three versions of the original trilogy. That's right, Lucas! The laserdisc isn't going to cut it this time. You're going to have to go back and restore all three original versions for Blu Ray. As an added bonus for making the fans wait so long, the set should also come with a copy of the Star Wars Christmas Special, for the first time ever on home video. After all, why should the pirates make all of the money off of George Lucas' shame?