The Real Star Wars Films

Restored versions of the original movies are now available in 4K. They're likely not legal.

NYT (“How Rebel ‘Star Wars’ Fans Saved the Original Movies“):

Han shot first.

As we celebrate the most hallowed of holidays — May the Fourth, also known as “Star Wars Day” because, you know, “may the Force be with you” — let us all agree that a long time ago, in a galaxy that now feels very far away indeed, Han shot Greedo first. No amount of special editions or George Lucas declarations will change that, even if, uh, Lucas actually did change that scene. If you seek the originals, these aren’t the films you’re looking for.

A rebellion began in 1997, when Lucasfilm first released altered “special editions” of the first trilogy, adding new or revised scenes, computer-generated effects and expanded worlds. Ever since, fans have clamored for high-definition releases of the unaltered movies. Lucas has resisted and has continued altering them, insisting he is fulfilling his vision for the films, which was technologically and financially impossible when they were first made — though he once called altering art “barbaric.”

So if you want to see the original “Star Wars” trilogy — as they were shown in theaters, a bit softer and grainier (and with Han Solo definitely shooting the bounty hunter Greedo first, not in self-defense, as he now does) — you’ll have to rely on some rebel fans like Robert Williams.

Williams, a Philadelphia-based computer programmer, is part of a group of five people called Team Negative One, one of a few “Star Wars” fan groups that, for more than a decade, have collected 35-millimeter prints of the first “Star Wars” movies and laboriously restored them in 4K. Known as Project 4K, the movies are titled by the years they were released: 4K774K80 and 4K83.

“Our goal was to find a way to make it look as good as the official releases,” Williams said.

The restorations are not authorized and come from film reels that were meant to be returned or destroyed after cinemas were done with them. While their legality is in question, fans and preservationists argue the public has a right to view art, including film, in its original form. Lucas, however, has reportedly said to fans: “Grow up. These are my movies, not yours.”

In February, Team Negative One announced the completion of the trilogy project, with a 4K version of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

I was 11 when Star Wars (retconned as A New Hope) was released and, for whatever reason didn’t see it for some time. (It’s odd, as we were living on an Air Force base in Germany at the time and my friends and I saw tons of movies at 50 cents a pop.) While I saw the trilogy well before the 1997 remasters, I never saw Star Wars without A New Hope in the opening credits.

That’s all by the way of saying that I’m generally agnostic on Lucas’ edits. As the artist, he had every right to tinker with his creations and express the purest form of his vision. At the same time, given the iconic status of the films, it seems obvious that preserving them in their original form for posterity is valuable.

It certainly hasn’t helped that Lucas has been such a tool about the whole thing. But, since he sold the rights to the franchise to Disney back in 2012, I don’t know that he still gets a vote.

Ultimately, I agree with Williams here:

The fans who restored the films aren’t rejecting Lucas’s creative vision, Williams said.

They’re not really upset that he made the changes, because some of them are pretty cool and actually make the films better,” Williams said. “They’re really upset that he didn’t also release the original version alongside it. Just put two discs in the box. We’d have been happy.”

I’m honestly shocked Disney hasn’t already done that, given that there are surely millions of folks who would shell out to own the originals.

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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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kylopod says:

    At the time of the 1997 Special Editions, I enjoyed being finally able to watch the films on the big screen–something I previously had either not done or been too young to remember. But I had mixed feelings about the changes. There were a few legitimate improvements, regarding moments in the originals where the effects didn’t hold up. But a lot of it felt unnecessary at best, and in many cases detracting from the film. I didn’t like that he replaced the original funky song in Jabba’s palace with a cringey muppet-rock sequence. I didn’t like “Greedo Shoots First.” As for the scene where Han meets with Jabba in the first film–I admit that at the time I enjoyed seeing the deleted footage (this was before the age of deleted scenes on DVDs), but I soon realized the scene itself falls flat–not just in terms of the special effects, but its purpose in the story: it even has Han repeat a line from the Greedo sequence (“Even I get boarded; you think I had a choice?”), which makes it understandable why Lucas left the scene out in the first place.

    Even stuff people don’t talk about felt off. I never liked how he modified the Death Star explosions; instead of having it disintegrate in all directions like in the original, he turned it into this horizontal wave that I guess is supposed to sort of resemble a nuclear explosion, but which I’ve always found less viscerally satisfying for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.

    And then there are the edits he’s made in the years since, like inserting Hayden Christensen into the final Force-ghost sequence at the end of Jedi. One change that has received less attention than the others, maybe because it came very late, is “Maclunkey.” Basically, shortly before he sold the property to Disney, he made a new edit to the Greedo sequence, where Greedo, just before being blasted away by Han, utters “Maclunkey”–a threatening Huttese word that gives Han the probable cause for shooting Greedo and calling it self-defense.

    When I first heard about this, I wondered if it was a joke. But no–go to the so-called “original” A New Hope on Disney+, and that’s the version of the scene you’ll see. Apart from Lucas’s dubious moral logic for modifying the 1977 scene in the first place, this latest change throws off the entire rhythm of the original scene or even any of the subsequent modifications before it.

    Since 1997, I have been consistently of the opinion that Lucas should have left well enough alone–even if 100% of the changes had been improvements, which was far from the case. I think any movie should be appreciated as a product of its time, flaws and all. Lucas’s compulsive need to keep going back and changing things–usually for the worse–has, I feel, partially robbed the original trilogy of that quality.

  2. Matt says:


    Seriously that act was an incredibly important part of establishing the character as a rogue…

  3. Kathy says:

    I bought the DVD set of the “special editions” when it came out.

    I also still have the original trilogy in VHS (without the Ep IV A New Hope in the first movie), but no longer have VHS machine to play them in.

    As to Greedo, in a “hive of scum and villainy,” I think it’s reasonable self defense to shoot the guy holding a gun on you.

  4. Kylopod says:

    @Kathy: My parents have a DVD that includes both the special editions and the originals–and by that I mean the original originals. It’s often forgotten that 1997 wasn’t the first time he started modifying the films from how they appeared in their initial theatrical release. The very first change he made was in the 1980 VHS release of the first film, changing the opening crawl so that it was no longer called simply “Star Wars,” but “Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope.”

    Lucas still insists to this day that he always conceived of the 1977 film as the “fourth” chapter in a saga. But whatever the truth of the matter may be, that’s not how it was presented to audiences at the time. The title of that film was simply “Star Wars”–no episode number, no subtitle. The business with its being “Episode IV” and having the subtitle “A New Hope” was added the year Empire was released in theaters, and that’s where the mythology arose of the trilogy being a middle-point in a 9-episode saga.

    Unfortunately, even these “original” originals on my parents’ DVD aren’t so high-quality–they appear on only a fraction of the screen. And given the deterioration of VHS, high-quality versions of the original original trilogy are increasingly going to be a rarity, at least until restoration technology that escapes the clutches of Lucas or Disney comes around. Younger generations are going to watch what they’re told is something called the “original trilogy” that includes Han as a softie and Greedo saying “Maclunkey.”

  5. gVOR10 says:

    A tiny complaint. In the modified Star Wars I chuckle every time they do a scene inside the Millennium Falcon. They dubbed in background noise that sounds like the cabin of a modern jet airliner. It always reminds me of the shots in Airplane of the outside of the jet 707 where they dubbed in droning propeller noise. I haven’t studied the changes like @Kylopod:, but like Kylo Pod, I have yet to notice a change I thought was an improvement.

  6. Kathy says:


    I have yet to notice a change I thought was an improvement.

    Windows in the corridors of Bespin. It’s weird to set a large part of the plot in “Cloud City,” and get few views of any clouds at all.

  7. Kathy says:


    I can’t check now, but I’m fairly certain my VHS copy of the 1977 original Star Wars did not say Ep. IV. Still, Google tells me it was released for Rental only in 1982, and only later put for retail sale. So, who knows.

  8. Kingdaddy says:

    If I never saw anything Star Wars-related ever again, I could continue living happily.

  9. I’m honestly shocked Disney hasn’t already done that, given that there are surely millions of folks who would shell out to own the originals.

    This is truly the most amazing part of this entire story–the leaving of a lot of money on the table.

  10. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I assume that it was part of the purchase agreement that they couldn’t. There’s no other reason that makes sense.

    And I sort of assume that the last minute addition of “Maclunky” before the property was handed over was a deliberate choice made for purely spiteful reasons. There are no artistic reasons for it, or at least no remotely successful artistic reasons.

    It’s worth noting that George Lucas once tried to build low-income housing out of spite, when the wealthy township ILM was in wouldn’t let him expand the office.

  11. Gustopher says:

    @Kingdaddy: and yet you clicked through to comment. I hope you encounter Star Wars for the rest of your life and each encounter feels like a minor, yet noticeable, inclusion into your peace of mind. The mental equivalent of an insect walking across your hand.

    Not a biting insect, just a ladybug or something. Something you will try to pretend doesn’t really bother you, but it’s still there and it still does.

    I guess I can no longer say “I wish no particular harm to Kingdaddy,” but it’s an incredibly small harm.

  12. Gustopher says:

    Everyone mentions the changes to the story and the fraggle rock song, and the sad loss of hub-nub, but the biggest change Lucas made was to the entire color palette.

    The recent versions of ANH are so much darker, and have lost that 1970s color palette. I think it’s an attempt to make the movie look more modern, but it just makes me think of middle-aged man dying his hair to hide the grey while his face is still middle-aged. Who do you think you’re fooling, old man?

  13. Kingdaddy says:

    @Gustopher: I was speaking for myself. As a youngster (Princedaddytobe?), I thorough;y enjoyed the first two movies, and kinda enjoyed the third. The rest…Not so much. My family, who owned a SF&F bookstore, was caught up in Star Wars mania when the first movie was released. Now, there’s a lot of re-tracing the same tired ground (The Mandalorian and Andor excepted), and the rest feels like endlessly re-tracing the same ground, despite the suggested hugeness of the galaxy. But that’s just me talking. I do not presume to squash anyone else’s enjoyment.

    I’m a much bigger Star Trek fan. I admit, there’s a lot of sameness there, too. But…

    I liked how they played with the formula, such as in DS9.

    There were more science fiction stories, and less pewpew science fantasy in Star Trek. Again, that’s just personal taste talking.

    There were more stories about challenging issues. See, for example, the aftermath of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, and both societies trying to come to grips with it.

    I like the motif of the Star Trek universe, a collective effort on the part of the Federation to build a better society (and often coming short) more than the Anointed One savior narrative of Star Wars.

    And I have other reasons, too, all matters of personal taste. I love sushi, too, but I don’t expect everyone to like it.

    I’ve enjoyed Stars, from the original series through a l0t of the good content in the extended universe to even some of the video games. I have a fond memory of sitting in the front row of a packed theater when the first movie premiered, and sitting agape as the Star Destroyer cralwd across the screen. I’m just done with it, until some really novel twist on it comes around. But again, that’s just me.

  14. King says:

    Oh, and it would be a great service to fans, and to movie buffs in general, to see the original versions of the movies. Just like the original episodes of Star Trek, without the CGI effects in the remastered versions, it’s great to see what originally the makers accomplished, with limited budgets and a great deal of passion, before they became pop cultural juggernauts.

  15. Kylopod says:

    @Kingdaddy: I think many of us are in the same boat. I’ve tended to view everything post-Original Trilogy as an abomination. Haven’t seen most of the Disney+ shows; I’m open to the idea that there’s some good stuff there. But I’m mainly talking about the prequels and the Disney trilogy. And for people from our generation and older, it can be hard to get our head around the fact that the prequels are stuff a lot of grownups today remember with nostalgia from when they were kids–and the Disney films are soon to follow (people who were 10 when Force Awakens came out are now in college).

    Some years back I saw a very funny blog post; unfortunately I lost the link (it’s only in the web archive now). The gist of it was that in order to be a true Star Wars fan, you have to hate Star Wars, and if someone comes to you claiming to be a Star Wars fan and then they mention all the SW movies they love, you know they’re an impostor.

    Honestly, the Star Wars fan community has probably got more potential Annie Wilkses than any other nerd community around. (“Greedo didn’t shoot cockadoodie first!”) And putting aside the problems with ROTJ, as I was growing up I became increasingly aware Lucas was starting to lose the plot with the non-Star Wars stuff he was involved in, like Willow (which I liked) and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (which I didn’t).

  16. Jeremy says:

    @Kathy: If we used waiting for someone to shoot a weapon at us from three feet away as our standard for self-defense, everyone in history attempting to defend themselves would have died. Someone pointing a gun at you and announcing his plans to kill you is morally and legally good enough cause to shoot pretty much everywhere.

  17. Grumpy realist says:

    I managed to drag my father and one of his cronies to see Star Wars at the original release and the two of them had a BALL. My father told me afterwards it reminded him of every single war movie he had seen in the 40s.

    Star Wars is the prime example as to why directors should be banned from the tinker, tinker, tinker after the first release. Star Wars itself wouldn’t have been successful in the first place had it not been the heroic editing job done by Lucas’s first wife. Then Lucas got his mitts on it again and turned the whole thing into a mess.

    I have no interest in watching the botched abortion that Lucas has made of the film. And yes, Han shot first.

  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, I feel that the prequel trilogy is full of interesting stuff, along with the stuff that doesn’t work, and cringe.

    I feel both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi have amazing stories and characters, and well worth watching and rewatching, in spite of certain moments of dumbness. Episode 9 was a big, big letdown, though not without some (at least two) really good moments.

    I realize I’m in a minority with my love of The Last Jedi, but to me it honors the idea that one’s childhood heroes can quite easily have flaws – flaws that were there all along – and that expecting them to right all wrongs and fix everything will lead to unforseen (perhaps) but predictable evils. Also, the Dark Side is not inherently evil. Such wisdom in that film.

  19. Dennis Collins says:

    I can tell you exactly why you didn’t see Star Wars on an Air Force base in Germany. I was in the AF then, and SW was a HUGE deal. People came back from the States raving on about it. But the AF theaters would never show movies until they were no longer “first run”. Meaning several months after release, and then they were discounted. But SW was such a huge hit that it stayed in first run status and the military theaters wouldn’t show it. I think it was at least a year or maybe two before they did so. I simply HAD to see it, and refused to see Kreig Der Stern with German dubbing, so I went to London to see it in a fancy theater in the middle of a weekday afternoon. The expensive seats were on the front row of the balcony so the screen was centered at eye level and nothing in the way. Like an iMax theater today. When the music hit and “Star Wars” scrolled across the screen it was the most incredible movie experience of my life.

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Dennis Collins: That makes sense. I saw “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in the AAFES theater in Kaiserslautern, which came out the same year, but don’t know that I saw any of the other big box office hits of 1977 in real time. Maybe “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” and “The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.” I definitely saw “Grease” and “Superman,” the top-grossing films of 1978, in real time.


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