Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Not fooling us, Disney, on that Star Wars digital release

The impending release this week of the Star Wars movies on digital download should be a cause for celebration. I should kneel next to my Ewok brothers and sisters to sing "Yub Nub."

However, I'm not buying this one. Not this time.

Like many fans, I've purchased my share of Star Wars sets. I had the original CBS/Fox VHS release when I was a kid. Then the 1995 THX remastered set and its Leonard Maltin introductions. The 1997 VHS special editions. The first-run DVDs. The Blu-ray box set. The only home video release--excepting LaserDisc--I really missed out on is the DVD release featuring the theatrical versions as "special features."

That was the wrong edition to skip.

Needless to say, I love Star Wars.

For a long time, I collected everything about the galaxy far, far away. I could, at one point, boast that I had each and every toy and vehicle in the revamped Kenner "Power of the Force" collection with its musclebound Luke Skywalker and "buff" Princess Leia. At one point, I could also say I'd read every expanded universe novel and comic book ever released.

I can't say that anymore. I'm married, I have bills to pay, and I figured I'd better read other things than Star Wars books. It may sound like I'm bitter or have lost my love for the holy trilogy, but that's far from the case. I still quote the movies incessantly. Evil sports teams--mostly the New England Patriots--are always the "Empire." I read every tidbit of news I can about the new movie coming out in December (while engaging in the quixotic quest of avoiding "really big" spoilers). You'll find a lot of Star Wars references in my novels. I even wrote one that's nothing but a complete, meta-meta love letter to the Star Wars universe.

Still, the news that all the movies will get a digital release this week makes me uneasy. How many times are we going to extort money out of fans without giving many of them what they really want? Why can't people who've already purchased the Blu-ray set get the digital sets at a reduced cost? (I know the answer, it's green, and Disney swims in it.) Why not give the fans something they've wanted for a long time--the original, unaltered original Star Wars trilogy?

I know there are some rights things to work out (20th Century Fox owns the rights to the original movie while Disney owns the others...but not Empire or Jedi for a few more years, as I understand it). I've heard excuses like the "originals were destroyed to strike new prints for the special editions." Even if that's the case, it didn't stop some dude named Harmy from cobbling together an excellent cut of the original without any crappy CGI bells and whistles. If that guy can do it, surely the army of people at Disney and Lucasfilm can do it, color correct it, touch up the video a bit, and enhance the sound.

Surely they can get rid of that CGI Jabba scene and make sure Han fries Greedo. They can get rid of those annoying CGI scenes that "expand" Mos Eisley while looking like they're from a different movie (and a dated CGI one at that). They can restore Cloud City to its purely 80s form and get rid of the awful Ian McDiarmid emperor and the silly dialogue tweaks that ensued. They can mind-wipe the out-of-place dance number in Jabba's Palace and restore "Yub Nub." Harmy did it. So can they.

I didn't always hate the special editions. In fact, I loved them when they came out because I was a teenager and I got to see Star Wars on the big screen! I saw them a bunch of times in the theater, especially when they hit our dollar cinema in Richmond, Indiana. Let's just say my father and I went through a lot of Tootsie Rolls while watching them, okay? Over the years, though, the additions really started to feel out of place. That cutting-edge CGI started to look out of place; animations were stiff and things looked too "shiny" for Star Wars and its "used up" vibe.

For Christmas, my brothers-in-law said they wished they could find the "original" Star Wars movies. I went and found them on the internet. I don't usually pirate stuff, but I didn't feel bad about this. Harmy's "Despecialized" versions are fantastic even though they exist in a legally gray area. However, since Disney/Lucas won't release those untouched classics, you have to wade "into the gray" to find them. I waded into the gray and made copies for my brothers-in-law and my brother.

They told me "I won Christmas" this year and for years to come.

That's why this "digital release" is such a disappointment. My brothers-in-law would gladly pay money for the restored, original masterpieces. The problem is, they can't because they're not available. Creators certainly have rights, and George Lucas can do whatever he wants with the movies he created. It's just that... these aren't just movies to a lot of people. They're reminders of simpler, more innocent times, and people want to share them with their children and nieces and nephews. They want them to see the world as they once did, even if that world is a little rough around the edges.

Perhaps someday, fans will get their wish. It just won't be Friday, when Star Wars goes digital for the bargain price of $100 (or $90, apparently, on Vudu).