Movies & TV / Columns

Why We Should Be Able to See Star Wars‘ Original Theatrical Cut

December 16, 2019 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope

George Lucas is a polarizing figure in pop culture. As creator of the Star Wars universe, millions owe him their thanks in creating such a layered and passion-inducing work. On the other hand, he’s left behind a mixture of head-scratching interviews that have many wondering how much of it was luck and the input of others that made the Star Wars franchise what it is today?

Let’s take a look at an interview Lucas did back in 1988. To set the scene, Lucas was speaking in front of Congress about the issue of colorizing black and white movies. The end result was the creation of the National Film Registry. While Lucas makes solid points about creators owning their work, he mentions some other points that seem to fly in the face of his own actions years earlier. Specifically, his tinkering with the original trilogy films. 

Check out this comments in full:

“My name is George Lucas. I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm Ltd., a multi-faceted entertainment corporation.

I am not here today as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation. I’ve come as a citizen of what I believe to be a great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and cultural heritage. It is not being protected.

The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg. American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined. If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.

A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain. American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.

There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.

I accuse the companies and groups, who say that American law is sufficient, of misleading the Congress and the People for their own economic self-interest.

I accuse the corporations, who oppose the moral rights of the artist, of being dishonest and insensitive to American cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the Nation.

The public’s interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests. And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work.

There are those who say American law is sufficient. That’s an outrage! It’s not sufficient! If it were sufficient, why would I be here? Why would John Houston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of “The Maltese Falcon?” Why are films cut up and butchered?

Attention should be paid to this question of our soul, and not simply to accounting procedures. Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.

I hope you have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race, and accord the proper protection for the creators of that art–as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities.”

His words about altering these works of art is interesting. While he is talking about the influence of outsiders, he himself is guilty of defacing his moves to suit his own personal tastes. They are his works, that’s true, but where’s the line when a piece of art or movie is finished and the artist lives with the finished product, as is? 

This ties to what J.J. Abrams is dealing with. In an interview with Now This News, Abrams talked about his desire to get the original theatrical versions of the original Star Wars trilogy released. When he approached Lucasfilm about it he was told that, “for reasons that I don’t quite understand, that that’s not necessarily possible, which is, you know, too bad, because that was the thing that I loved.”

“I guess it’s what George Lucas wanted, and that’s what he did, and so I respect that, although I also feel like there’s something about the original theatrical version that was, you know, for so many people, the thing they loved as it was. And so, you know, it would be great to have that available for a mainstream audience.”

Absolutely. While Lucas used his right to “tweak” his movies, the viewer has the right to alter their opinion of the movie. For me, these Special Editions diminished my view of them. I’m a borderline Star Wars fan. I like the original trilogy enough, I don’t place it on a pedestal. Its achievement with audiences and critics speaks for itself. The prequels left me cold and I chalk it up to they weren’t made for me. And that’s OK. If someone else likes them, good for them. I don’t hold it against anyone who likes something I don’t. Take it in and enjoy. As for these sequels, I’ve waited till they came out on a streaming service before seeing them and didn’t mind one bit. For the record, Solo and Rogue One were fun to me. But at this point, I can take the franchise or leave it. It’s fun to talk about but I’ll leave the judging to others more invested in the franchise.

Should we be able to get the original theatrical releases? Absolutely. For millions, that’s their version of Star Wars that they fell in love with and made them fans. 
What do you think?

article topics :

Star Wars, Steve Gustafson