Original Star Wars Trilogy Retro Version DVDs

Star Wars fans can go back to the future with DVDs of the unaltered versions of the original trilogy scheduled to hit stores this fall.

Die-hard Star Wars fans soon can see the original theatrical versions of the first three Star Wars films on DVD.

Even though George Lucas adamantly declared 2004’s digitally restored Star Wars Trilogy DVDs the definitive versions of his movies, fans have held out hope for DVDs of the originals. Their wishes will be granted Sept. 12 when Fox releases new two-disc DVDs ($30 each) of Star Wars (since retitled as Episode IV: A New Hope), The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi that include the films as they first appeared in theaters, along with the new, restored versions (now available in the four-disc $70 Star Wars Trilogy).


Fan attachment to the originals is strong. The movies topped entertainment website IGN.com’s recent chart of Top 25 Most Wanted DVDs. “People want the option of having the movies that they remember and people are opposed to George Lucas’ revisionist tendencies,” says the site’s Chris Carle.

The original films’ video quality will not match up to that of the restored versions. “It is state of the art, as of 1993, and that’s not as good as state of the art 2006,” Ward says.

The idea of movies, especially hugely popular classics, as a work in progress is an odd one. Still, most of us routinely buy DVD versions of more recent films that differ from the theatrical releases, with the Director’s Cut and additional scenes added being most common. No one seems to have a problem with that. And we’re not just talking about films no one will remember.

Some examples:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Just announced from Columbia is the two-disc set of Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Replacing the previous. Largely disappointing release, this new two-discs special edition looks terrific. Featuring a new “21st Anniversary” cut of the film running an extra 24 seconds, the feature is presented in anamorphic widescreen, English 5.1 along with the original mono track, subtitles in English, French and Spanish and even a separate subtitle track “for people who don’t like the film” (with text from Shakespeare’s Henry IV!), an “onscreen screenplay” allowing you to read the screenplay while you watch, audio commentary with Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin and “Follow the Killer Rabbit” (yes!). Disc two includes”Three Mindless Sing-Alongs” and “The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations” featurette, “How to Use Your Coconuts” educational film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail in Japanese” (with English subtitles), the BBC Film Night special “On Location with the Pythons,” an interactive cast directory, still galleries with Terry Gilliam’s original sketches and behind-the-scenes photos, “A Load Of Rubbish” with mystery items, unused ideas and other material, and finally two trailers and weblinks. Retail is $29.95. Sweet!

The Wild Bunch, which one reviewer dubs, “one of the most influential films in cinematic history and arguably the greatest western ever made.”

The 144-minute director’s cut enhances the theme of male bonding that recurs in many of Peckinpah’s films, restoring deleted scenes to deepen the viewer’s understanding of the friendship turned rivalry between Pike and his former friend Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), who now leads a posse in pursuit of the bunch, a dimension that adds resonance to an already classic American film. The Wild Bunch is a masterpiece that should not be defined strictly in terms of its violence, but as a story of mythic proportion, brimming with rich characters and dialogue and the bittersweet irony of outlaw traditions on the wane.

Superman (1978, Christopher Reeve version)

For this brand-new, fully restored DVD release of Superman: The Movie, director Richard Donner has reinstated eight minutes of footage cut from the original 1978 theatrical release. The overall effect of the new footage is just more of a great thing. The additions help to flesh out characters a bit more, especially Jor-El (Marlon Brando), given his short screen time in the original. Such additions as a scene where Superman discusses his newfound purpose with his long since gone father is a good example. This is a rare case in which the changes made for a new special edition don’t detract from the story, such as they often do in many other director’s cuts and alternate versions. (For a detailed look at the changes made to the new edition, visit our Cut List update.)

Now, granted, these examples at least involve scenes filmed along with the rest of the movie, the original actors, and so forth. But it’s odd that there is essentially no controversy over this type of thing and yet Lucas has been the subject of South Park parodies and sheer vitriol over his tinkerings.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ugh says:

    So, if I understand this correctly, we will at least get the 1993 “cleaned-up” version of the movies on DVD (i.e., where the removed the visible matting andn outlines and space-ships, etc.)? Of course, if I buy them I’ll now own two versions of the 2004 DVD release.

  2. McGehee says:

    Personally, I prefer extended editions, although as I Netflix my way through the Star Wars saga this spring I’ll admit I’ve been wishing the Ep4 DVD would be the one I’d seen in 1977, just for old time’s sake.

    Trouble is, that version doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the series. Viewing it by itself sometime next year would probably work better.

  3. Perhaps Star Wars purists are more annoyed by Mr. Lucas’ changes because they seem to be motivated by down the memory hole attempts to be politically correct, e.g., Greedo shooting first to avoid that pesky preemption bugaboo which wasn’t quite so much of an issue 30 years ago.

  4. I’m one of the purists and have been waiting for this release. Greedo shooting first is my primary complaint, though in the special edition of TESB that played in theaters in 1997, Luke YELLED(!) as he fell into the chute! I understand that bit of insanity was later removed.

    I’ll definitely be buying the originals when they come out. I just hope they clean up the picture a bit.

    BTW, some director’s cuts are good (Bladerunner) and some are bad (Amadeus, The Abyss).

  5. Jay Cline says:

    Not to nit-pick, but SWI was already titled as Episode IV: A New Hope since the first showing.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Jay: Yeah, I noted that as well but forgot to mention it in the post. But that was just “inside” the film. Everybody just thought of it as “Star Wars.”

  7. Keith Demko says:

    Lucas is certainly doing this now much more for his wallet than for his fans, but this will still be the ultimate DVD release of the year!

  8. Nemo says:

    In the first release of Star Wars, there was no “Episode IV: A New Hope”. It was added during the second release of the film (just a few years later, plus all the video releases. Most people have seen it enough now, though, that they have forgotten that it wasn’t there to begin with.


  9. James Joyner says:

    Nemo: Interesting. I didn’t see “Star Wars” when it first came out in the theaters and it was there by the time I first saw it. Even before I’d seen the film, it was understood that there were three trilogies in Lucas’ head. Unfortunately, the quality of the prequel trilogy was such that a the future trilogy seems unlikely.

  10. just me says:

    I remember seeing the original when it came out, and agree, I remember seeing that and Empire multiple times.

    I also confess that I am not a purist enough to get all worked up over this, and am mostly content with the versions that were put out, althought I do think the whole Greedo shooting first thing was stupid.