Almost 20 years ago, George Lucas released his updated version of the original Star Wars trilogy. The Special Editions were highly anticipated by the fans and were well received initially. However, the first major divide in Star Wars fandom began to grow out of the reality that these newer cuts had completely replaced the original experience that fans had grown up with. There was no way to purchase the original cuts anymore. It wasn’t until 2006 that a poor quality transfer was made available as a bonus feature on the DVD release of the films. As home video began to improve in quality the original cuts of the trilogy continued to remain overlooked for the sake of presenting George Lucas’ final vision. Considering that his final vision has been altered several times since the release of the Special Editions in 1997, it’s easy to see why some fans hold animosity towards the scarcity of high quality versions of the original theatrical cuts.
Honor The Force recently spoke with Petr Harmáček who is better known by the name “Harmy”. This young man from the Czech Republic has taken it upon himself to rectify the aforementioned problem by self producing high definition versions of the original Star Wars trilogy in their theatrical forms. We were lucky enough to be able to pick his brain a little on whys and hows of his Despecialized Editions.
Honor The Force: Thanks for speaking with us today. Please tell us how fandom all began for you. What was your first experience with Star Wars and how has it impacted your life?
Harmy: I first saw Star Wars in the Czech TV premiere in the early 90s when I was about five and it impacted my life profoundly. It was all the rage among my peers and I. Since my country is a post-communist one, we were the first generation of Star Wars fans here. Also, because the original language was English and so were all the behind the scenes documentaries on the VHS releases; I wanted to learn English. To me it was the language of Star Wars and I later ended up studying English in college. My love for Star Wars is what led me to making the Despecialized Edition, which in turn led to me getting my current job at Nanotech's 4K Studios as a remastering artist for the Ultraflix streaming service.
Honor The Force: You have taken it upon yourself to restore and recreate the original theatrical editions in high definition. Why did you feel this needed to be done?
Harmy: The general answer is, that in 1997 a so called Special Edition of Star Wars came out with many alterations to both audio and video and everyone thought this would be just a fun alternate version, but George Lucas said: “This is my original vision. This is what I wanted and this will now be the only version available.” Then suddenly in 2004, a DVD came out with even more changes. So where was the ‘original vision’ from 1997? Then in 2011, the Blu-Ray came out with more changes. Still to this day, the original version has not been released in decent quality. There's no problem with altered versions existing, as many movies have director's cuts and such. But the real problem is the willful suppression of the original historically important version, which won seven academy awards and had most of it's Oscar-winning aspects altered in later iterations. There have been lectures with the ILM guys, who worked on the original effects and while they were talking about space-ship models, physical camera work and optical compositing, the screens behind them were showing 1997 CGI and that's just wrong.
Now, for me personally, there's more to it. As a kid, I really enjoyed watching various behind-the-scenes documentaries and the type I enjoyed the most were documentaries about how visual effects were made. At the time I was growing up, digital effects were already quite common, but I was completely fascinated by how they made these amazing old effects before they had CGI. At that point I only owned the Special Editions of Star Wars on VHS and I really wanted to see the original effects, so I was after the original versions even as a kid. Then, when I first started college, back in 2008, I first got into HD and I found the HDTV versions of the 2004 DVD Special Editions of Star Wars online and suddenly, watching Star Wars on Laserdisc-quality DVDs just wasn't good enough, and because I wanted to watch the original, I started looking for an HD version of that. There were fans before me, who took the special edition DVDs and then took some Laserdisc transfers and tried to blend these together to re-create the original cuts in higher quality, but I think I was the first to do it in high definition.
Honor The Force: The process of despecializing these films seems like a daunting task. Could you describe your sources and the methods that you have used in this despecialization?
Harmy: I took the HD special edition footage available through Blu-Ray and HDTV broadcasts and I replaced the changed parts with the best quality sources I could find. Where possible, I didn't replace whole shots, because the materials available for the unaltered original are of such poor quality that you can’t just put them inside an HD video and not make it look completely jarring, so where only smaller changes were made, I would replace only a small area of the image with the lower quality source.
Most of the unaltered footage was sourced from the 2006 non-anamorphic DVDs, I also used some TV broadcast captures, which I got online through some people at originaltrilogy.com. For the latest versions of Despecialized, I got some film-print scans of certain scenes from other Star Wars preservation enthusiasts, who bought some reels off ebay and scanned them on a home-built scanner. I then used various techniques to clean those up, from doing some automated cleanup in a free command-line-based program called Avisynth, which I had a lot of help with, to doing meticulous manual cleanup of dirt and scratches in After Effects. Some of the reels were also severely pink-faded, so I had to pull out the original colors.
Honor The Force: The original films were drastically changed with the 1997 Special Editions. What were your personal thoughts, both positive and negative, on the changes?
Harmy: The changes I personally hate the most are those made on the 2004 DVD and 2011 BD releases, that try to tie the movies in with the prequel trilogy, because while I think they're bad movies, I'm not angry at all about the prequels, because I can simply choose to not watch them, like so many other movies I don't like. But I do want to watch the original trilogy without being reminded of who's supposed to be behind the mask of the most iconic villain of all time, according to the prequels. Like I mentioned before, there's absolutely nothing inherently wrong with a spruced up alternate version of a movie and some of the changes do actually add to the experience, like the touched up effects and extended sets and so on, but the original should be available alongside it and as a choice and as a testament to the state of the art at the time of its release. So while I can see how some of the changes can be considered positive, I try to remove them all in Despecialized.
I actually recently posted this on my Facebook page: "Many people ask: Why do you remove even the good changes? Why not do a version that has the best of both worlds? Well, the big problem with that is that for a thousand people, there would be a thousand versions. Everyone has their favorite changes and someone's favorite change may be someone else's most hated. If you want a version that mixes the original with the Special Edition changes that you like, you'll have to make it yourself. You may think 'I could never do that, I know nothing about video editing.' Well let me tell you a story: A long time ago on originaltrilogy.com, a famous fan-editor called Adywan created a DVD reconstruction of the theatrical version of the Empire Strikes Back and there was this fan, who kept badgering him to do this reconstruction in HD and he was told, 'if you want it so bad, why don’t you do it yourself?' But he knew nothing about video editing and yet he tried anyway. And the result? The Despecialized Editions.”
Honor The Force: Fan reaction has been extremely positive in regards to your Despecialized Editions. How does it feel that your work has pleased so many?
Harmy: When I first started, I was making this version mainly for myself and I decided to share it with a few friends at originaltrilogy.com but then it sort of exploded and became much bigger than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams. I, of course, feel extremely honored by the positive reaction this has received and in turn, the amazing feedback I was getting is what kept me going and trying to improve things further. I've heard so many great stories: "I used Despecialized to introduce my kids to Star Wars and they loved it." "I showed Despecialized to my dad and he had tears in his eyes." "Despecialized renewed my love for Star Wars." and it always makes me happier than I could say.
Honor The Force: For those that aren't aware of how to obtain a copy of your Despecialized Editions, which method is the best?
Harmy: If you go to the about section of my Facebook page, you'll find a link to a step-by-step guide on how to obtain the Despecialized Editions. The main rule is that the Despecialized Edition must never be bought or sold and in order to get it you must own the official version on Blu-Ray or Digital HD to compensate the copyright owner. This is, of course, an honor-based system but in my experience, most people who download my version already own every official version imaginable.
Harmy, thanks for your time today and for your dedications to restoring the films in their original glory. We appreciate fans who use their passion to create the unthinkable, and you have our vote to lead Lucasfilm in how to properly produce the versions that many fans have been waiting for.
Check out the video below to see how Harmy Despecialized the Original Trilogy.
To connect with Harmy or for more info about the Despecialized Editions visit the links below:
Star Wars Trilogy Despecialized Editions on Facebook
Harmy Despecialized on YouTube