GEORGE GETS IT RIGHT
STAR WARS TRILOGY SPECIAL EDITION -
May the technically improved Force be with you …
Louise Keller pieces together the background to the
re-launch of George Lucas’ trilogy, from material in the
Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox project notes.
Celebrating twenty years of Star Wars, the Star Wars Trilogy
Special Edition are the films that George Lucas always envisioned
but lacked time, money and technology to achieve.
"A famous film maker once said that films are never
completed, they are only abandoned," Lucas says. "So
rather than live with my ‘abandoned’ movies, I decided
to go back and complete them." Lucas has not only completed
them, but has restored the visuals to their original
colour-suffused richness, taking advantage of new sound
technology for a visceral movie-theatre experience.
"So rather than live with
my ‘abandoned’ movies, I decided to go back and
complete them." - George Lucas
"I wanted to preserve the Trilogy so that it would
continue to be a viable piece of entertainment into the 21st
century," Lucas says. For Lucas, preparing the Star Wars
Trilogy Special Edition has been a labour of love. "Nothing
has previously been done on this scale," he says. "I
enjoyed the chance to re-work the movies and finish them the way
I originally envisioned them."
"Nothing has previously been
done on this scale" - George Lucas
Star Wars has become so ingrained in popular culture that
terms and phrases that would have sounded strange just two
decades ago are part of the everyday language: Wookiee, Death
Star and, of course, "May the Force be with you."
George Lucas’ epic space fantasy has always been something
special that lives by its own rules.
Star Wars had an immediate and powerful effect on Hollywood
when it was first released on May 25, 1977. It galvanised the
entire motion picture industry as it shattered box-office records
across the globe. The Trilogy continues to have significant
impact: a recent survey of college students indicated that Return
of the Jedi was their favourite film of all time; there are over
350 Star Wars web sites on the Internet (and the "Star
Tours" ride at Disneyland remains one of my personal
favourite attractions in Disneyland.)
"There were various things with
which I was never satisfied.." - George Lucas
How did it come about? "Several years ago, we began to
wonder what we were going to do for the anniversary," says
Lucas. "I suggested we try to release all three films as a
trilogy, one right after the other, and within a few weeks of
each other; this would allow audiences to experience them like
Saturday matinee serials, which they closely resemble. Because
I’ve always seen the three films as one epic story, this
seemed to be a very appropriate way of celebrating the twentieth
The realities of film making two decades ago, and the
limitations of technology at that time, were also important
factors in the decision to go ahead with the Special Edition. Two
decades later, and with the critical help of today’s
state-of-the art technology pioneered by Industrial Light &
Magic, Lucas is able to bring the films much closer to his
original vision. "This was my ulterior motive," says
Lucas of his decision to bring the films up to today’s
visual and aural standards.
"Spaceships are now heard going
over your head," -
Ben Burtt, sound designer
Before Lucas’ vision could be realised, an unexpected but
significant problem had to be addressed: the original Star Wars
negative, from which pristine 35 mm prints would be struck, was
in such bad condition that it would be impossible to use. The
once vibrant colours had faced by 10% to 15% overall and dirt
embedded in the six reels of the negative could produce scratches
and pit marks that would be exaggerated on the big screen.
Precautions had been taken. In 1977, the original Star Wars
negative was carefully stored in a subterranean vault in Kansas,
at an optimum temperature of 50 to 53 degrees. But due to
unforeseeable circumstances, such as a now-discontinued colour
stock that proved susceptible to fading, the film makers were
faced with the daunting challenge of first restoring the negative
before any changes could be made.
Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt, who supervised
the sound for the original film, took on the same duties for the
Special Edition. Burtt and his team also completely re-mixed the
surround sounds, adding new material to provide enhanced spatial
effects throughout the films. "Spaceships are now heard
going over your head," Burtt says. "We also added
really low frequencies that will shake you during explosion
scenes and spaceship pass-bys."
For the Special Edition, George Lucas was intent on creating a
state-of-the art, digitally remixed soundtrack. Although the
original trilogy was presented in stereo sound, motion picture
audio technology has since made significant improvements with the
introduction of digital sound and the THX program. "I wanted
everyone to re-experience the films with the added benefits of
today’s motion picture sound advances."
And it only took three years…..