One of the first reactions yesterday across the Internet was rejoicing about the Disney/Lucasfilm deal because fans immediately assumed that Disney would make all their dreams come true of a Blu-ray release for the unaltered original 1977 version of “A New Hope.”
Well, don’t hold your breath.
Home video rights are a tricky thing, and in this case, fans can be forgiven for their immediate assumption. After all, Disney bought Lucasfilm, right? The problem is that there are existent deals in place concerning the first six films and the “Clone Wars” television series that aren’t going to suddenly change just because of this sale. Those obligations are going to be playing themselves out for several years to come.
In the case of the “Star Wars” movies, the earliest Disney would have a chance to release anything would be in the year 2020, and even then, they aren’t going to have the rights to “A New Hope,” which remain with Fox permanently. Now, sure, companies can work out deals to release movies that other studios made. The new James Bond box set, for example, is a Fox release even though MGM is the studio that has made those movies and Sony is currently releasing the new titles. And the Alfred Hitchcock box that just came out from Universal features several Paramount and MGM titles as well. It’s certainly not unheard of, and I’m sure Disney would love to work it out.
But what fans have to accept at some point is that George Lucas very simply does not want to release the 1977 version of the film. Not now. Not ever. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it because all the grumbling in the world won’t change that. I sat behind Lucas at a screening of the 1977 film at the Egyptian theater once, and as he realized that the print they were showing was the original unaltered version and not a special edition, he began to sink lower and lower in his chair, his discomfort visible. He was in physical agony by the end of the screening, and he spoke afterwards about how hard it is for him to look at that version of the film. He has said several times that the original cut doesn’t exist anymore, and while that’s not technically correct, he’s the one who would have to deliver the elements to any company preparing a new Blu-ray version. If he won’t give them the original 1977 cut, there’s no Blu-ray that can be done. Disney can’t just whip one up out of thin air.
We may well see that original version again at some point, but it will be in one of two cases. First, Lucas may change his mind someday. Maybe he’ll finally see the historical value in doing it, or maybe he’ll finally decide to reach out to fans and give them what they want. The second scenario is, of course, that after his death, we may finally see someone put the unaltered version out. But until he’s ready to do it, no business deal on Earth is going to force his hand. What I find most fascinating about all this is how fans are already getting hung up on ephemera like whether or not the 20th Century Fox fanfare will be on the front of the new films (it will not) and whether they finally get the Blu-ray they want (not yet), instead of talking about what could be one of the best creative moments for the series, this infusion of fresh voices and perspectives into a universe that is already larger and more richly imagined than almost any other fantasy universe on film.
I would honestly advise anyone who is an active fan to let go of the past and start looking forward instead. And if you’re already sick of the series, then those new films aren’t for you, and there’s no real reason to spend any time or energy griping about them. “Star Wars” woke up a sense of wonder in me at the age of seven, and I saw it do the same to my kids when we shared the six films together. I’m baffled by how many Veruca Salts there are out there who claim to be fans but who basically spend all their time and energy complaining about every choice made after a certain point. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
Then again, if you’d asked me Monday about the likelihood of seeing a new “Star Wars” film this decade, I would have said it was impossible, so I guess anything can happen. The important thing now is that “Star Wars” is once again alive and active and something we can treat with anticipation instead of just something on a shelf, and speaking as a fan for 35 years now, that is a great feeling.
“Star Wars Episode 7” is tentatively scheduled for 2015.