Thursday, December 17, 2015
The definitive Star Wars remaster came from fans, is super illegal
George Lucas's remastering the original Star Wars trilogy has gone down as perhaps the most controversial decision in film history. Even without discussing the merits of the changes made (many of which stand out like a sore thumb or detract from the original meaning), Lucas's permanent alterations to the films' negatives effectively erased the original versions of some of the most successful films in history. It'll be difficult to get that back... legally.
Film restoration hobbyist Petr Harmy has assembled a "Despecialized" version of the film, using elements taken from Blu-rays, DVDs, television broadcasts, production stills, original film copies, and other fan remasters to create a high-definition version of the film as it was projected in 1977. Often these changes make the film look objectively worse – Lucas at one point smeared Vaseline on the lens to disguise part of a shot – but it accurately represents the original release of Star Wars.
Of course, that edition brazenly violates copyright law and is illegal to obtain. This puts cultural history and the law at a crossroads. Matthew Yglesias at Vox does a good job explaining the ramifications of this, even if his explanation veers into political bluster a bit. As the video above also explains, the Library of Congress never received an archival copy of the original film, so it's up to renegade fans/heroes/criminals like Harmy to get as close as possible.