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The first three Star Wars movies (we know them as episodes IV, V, and VI) were released in the years before CGI; special effects were all photographic, practical (models, puppets, stop-motion), or hand-drawn (e.g. rotoscope). Despite the limitations, the story telling and suspension of disbelief all worked (not just for me, but for the blockbusting lines of fans at the time). Nevertheless, when CGI became possible and practical, Lucas decided to rework these movies and re-release them with scenes added or modified to incorporate CGI creatures, robots, etc.. This question: Modifications to the Star Wars original trilogy provides examples of some of the alterations.

Personally, I prefer the movies in their original form, but only the reworked editions seem to be in "official" distribution - when broadcast on network TV, etc..

My question: Do the original versions of these movies (either original theatrical release or original home video releases, pre-CGI) exist in licensed distribution? Have they been completely withdrawn in favor of the CGI editions? Are we ever likely to encounter them in either official DVD catalogs or TV broadcasts?

  • Lucas has stated many times that the re-releases are all "as I intended them to be". With the advent of new technology, he was able to make changes to the movies that he wanted to make, but couldn't do when they were released. As noted in one answer below, a fellow going by the name Harmy has diligently restored much of the cinema releases using original reels and laserdisc releases. if you want the original 1977 "movie experience", you can join up with his facebook group and be informed on how and where to get his restoration project releases. – Johnny Bones Dec 11 '17 at 18:26
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There is probably not going to be an official release of the original unadulterated trilogy because, while Disney has bought the franchise and rights to use the universe and characters for new productions, they didn't actually "buy" the original movies. Fox still owns the rights to distribute those for a couple more years (and actually own Episode IV in perpetuity because Lucasfilm didn't own that one). Although, the new merger talks between Disney and Fox might fix that.

However, a rather industrious fan has been working on a hi-definition "despecialised" edition. By taking Blu-ray, HDTV broadcasts, Laserdisc, and even original film print scans as a source, they've been able to remove the additions made for the 1997 special edition (and from other releases). Unfortunately, there's a legal grey area on this unofficial release (because of the same distribution rights which are blocking Disney at the moment), and so it is not easy to get hold of.

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    Worth noting that Disney buying Fox means this problem goes away. (Not a done deal yet) – Joel Rondeau Dec 11 '17 at 3:56
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The unaltered cuts of the original Star Wars trilogy were released on DVD for a limited time in 2006, bundled with the 2004 special editions.

Why Hasn't Disney Released The Original Unaltered Star Wars Films?

He eventually relented and released the unaltered cuts on DVD for a limited time in 2006, bundled with the 2004 special editions. There are plenty of them available on sites like eBay if anyone wants them. The films didn't arrive on Blu-ray until 2011, a single year before he sold the franchise to Disney, meaning the unaltered cuts never officially arrived in high definition.

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George Lucas never wanted to spend the money on releasing them on DVD, however as he talks about it in an interview with Today:

Lucas talks as ‘Star Wars’ trilogy returns

AP: Why not release both the originals and special editions on DVD?

Lucas: The special edition, that’s the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it’s on VHS, if anybody wants it. ... I’m not going to spend the, we’re talking millions of dollars here, the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be. I’m the one who has to take responsibility for it. I’m the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they’re going to throw rocks at me, they’re going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished.

As for future plans, Kathleen Kennedy has stated that there are no immediate plans to release the original versions:

Star Wars: Lucasfilm Has No Plans to Restore Theatrical Cuts of Original Trilogy

Unfortunately, those still holding out hope for a restored HD release of the theatrical cuts of the original trilogy should probably prepare to get sad all over again. Movie Web reports that during a recent appearance on the Steele Wars Podcast, Kathleen Kennedy was asked about the possibility, and responded as follows:

“I wouldn’t touch those, are you kidding me? [laughs] Those will always remain his.”

  • Something I see as almost ironic is that some of the CGI work looks just plain bad. Specifically in episode IV, there are a couple of shots... one where a stormtrooper is riding some large creature, and I think in Mos Eisley, a large creature lumbers across the screen. In both cases, the CGI looks primitive, and neither adds anything to either the storytelling or the setting, they just seem like gratuitous insertions by a CGI studio overly proud of the work they were doing (for the time). – Anthony X Dec 12 '17 at 2:06
  • @AnthonyX While I agree that many of the shots have not aged well, I don't think they were gratuitous insertions in the sense you are talking about. I believe they're a mix of things that Lucas always disliked and wanted to change or fix, plus a bunch of technical "dry runs" for the kind of shots that would end-up in the prequels (ie. Lucas was essentially testing how well ILM could incorporate CGI effects into scenes that had already been filmed). – Steven Rands Dec 12 '17 at 16:49

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