FAN EDIT REVIEW: The Star Wars Trilogy – Harmy’s Despecialized Editons

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Original Films Directed by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, and Richard Marquand, Written by George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, and Lawrence Kasdan
Fan Edit by Harmy
Category: Reconstruction

While most fan edits can usually be distilled down to the editor’s subjective goal for a film, there is a rapidly-growing facet of the community that involves the creation of reconstructions. These are edits which do not seek to create a wholly new version of the film, but rather to restore a previously unavailable version, using a number of different home video sources. While he was hardly the first, one can say this method of fan editing truly came into its own with Czech editor Harmy, and his excellent Star Wars Despecialized Editions.

First, a brief history lesson, courtesy of the first half of this very informative short documentary:

In case you can’t watch the video, in effect, everything that the original Star Wars film won Oscars for–the visual effects, the set and costume design, sound design–was significantly altered by George Lucas twenty years later to produce the Special Edition, a series of cuts that he felt lived up to his original vision for the trilogy. While the merits of these versions have been and continue to be endlessly debated by fans, the original versions are, at the time of this writing, MIA, in either original print form or on high definition (or acceptable standard definition, for that matter) video.

Enter Harmy, a Czech English teacher and video enthusiast, who sought to restore the original versions of the trilogy in the vein of an early effort by Revisited editor Adywan, by combining different video sources to bring the film back to its original state. Thus, the Despecialized Editions were born.

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The first versions of the edits, available in MKV form, concentrated on two major fronts: correcting the massive alterations to the color timings of the films, and of course, reversing the editorial and visual effects changes that Lucas has made over three successive variations of the Special Editions. Even in these lower-bitrate versions, made with upscales of the Laserdisc-derived 2006 DVD releases of the original trilogy, were quite a step above the official Blu-ray release of 2011 in fidelity to the first-released cuts.

In the years since, Harmy has kept up with changes in both video editing technology and newly-available preservations of the original films, updating each edit accordingly. For this review, I used v2.7 of Star Wars, v2.0 of Empire, and v2.5 of Jedi, in two forms: the full MKV files and a custom blu-ray set made by editor NJVC. While both versions contain the same multitude of audio and subtitle tracks, the blu-rays lower the bitrate slightly in order to fit every feature onto a disc. This doesn’t bother me much, considering I don’t sit close enough to my 40-inch TV to notice a difference, but pick accordingly to your tastes.

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Star Wars v2.7 is undoubtedly the centerpiece of Harmy’s set, considering how extensively the original film has been altered in 4 decades. In addition to the highest number of new visual effects, Star Wars suffered a heavily-skewed color palette, to the point that flesh tones begin to take on incredibly rosy complexions. The Despecialized Edition mercifully corrects this, using a well-preserved 35mm print as reference for correct theatrical color timing. The film is no longer forced to conform to the look of the prequels, appearing as it once did in 1977.

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Top: 2011 Bu-ray, Bottom: Despecialized v2.7

And of course, every successive VFX change is reversed–from things as huge as the original ILM Death Star battle to tweaks as small as restoring the orange blob of Vaseline under Luke’s desert speeder, nothing goes unnoticed by Harmy. Each original shot is returned through numerous different sources, depending on which is the highest quality version available; while most of the video is a color-corrected blu-ray rip, changes made to that master are reversed by taking from HD broadcasts of the 2004 DVDs or the 1997 Special Edition, and so on.

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When it becomes necessary to restore a shot that was only in the original version, fan-produced upscales of the 2006 DVDs are utilized, with elements taken from two noteworthy film preservations, Team Negative 1’s Silver Screen Edition and the 16mm Puggo Grande Edition. The video above explains the process in much better detail than I can in these paragraphs, but to over-summarize, the amount of work that went into creating these cuts prove that sometimes, the fans care more about something special than the creator.

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Empire and Jedi, while containing their fair share of VFX alterations, were less butchered by Lucasfilm, with the changes limited more to the inclusion of previously deleted footage and alternate audio takes. The latter example further displays the collaborative nature of the Despecialized Editions, with Harmy enlisting the approved usage of another fan project: a recreation of the original theatrical mixes. Produced by Hairy_hen mainly using the 1993 Laserdisc mixes, the main audio options replicate the standard 35mm stereo and the 70mm six-track mixes that were originally heard in theaters, with the first film also including the mono mix. All are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, and while most certainly aren’t reference-material, hold up to the official releases quite well.

Each MKV file is quite massive, weighing in at an average of over 30 GBs, with bitrates approaching an average of 20 MBPS. The latest versions are still in 720p, but look stunningly beautiful in their original forms compared to the official releases, which are varyingly faded or glossed over with digital enhancements. The blu-ray set by NJVC doesn’t really handle the grain field as well, but as I mentioned before, unless you’re sitting right in front of the TV, this isn’t really something you will notice. Later versions of the MKVs are stated by Harmy to be in full 1080p resolution, owing to new elements pulled from Team Negative 1’s now finished Silver Screen Edition and a new set of prints being restored by an OriginalTrilogy Forum member known as Poita.

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But that’s not all! Both options include a selection of interesting and excellent features, many of which aren’t easily available anywhere else. On the MKV files, no less than twenty different audio options are available: in addition to the theatrical mixes, the original Laserdisc tracks are included in Dolby Digital form, along with a wide array of foreign dubs (my favorites are the German and Japanese tracks. So awesome and funny at the same time). There are also audio commentaries available from the Laserdiscs, DVDs, and Blu-rays, with Star Wars also presenting a rare official website podcast commentary by Pablo Hidalgo. Finally, each one provides an English Descriptive Audio track (so caring and thoughtful of the fans. If only Lucas could be the same).

In addition to the audio tracks, an equally-impressive selection of subtitles is collected from the Project Threepio effort, ranging from English to such overlooked languages as Thai and Navajo.

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The NJVC blu-ray set, available in several options, ups the ante in the extras field with several more commentaries such as Internet podcasts by Rebel Force Radio and Collider, and even Rifftrax by the MST3K crew themselves, along with a few more subtitle options. The bonus features discs include a collection of goodies from around the inter-webs, such as featurettes detailing the changes made to the films over the years, parody productions, documentaries, deleted scenes, trailers and TV spots, and even the excellent filmumentaries by Jamie Benning. All of the discs are finished with full motion menus which further push the official feel of this set.

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All in all, this is a great time to be a Star Wars fan. The dark years of the late 1980s have passed, as have the Lucas years, where Star Wars was kept under the stranglehold of a veritable Darth Vader, a man who has become everything about the Hollywood system he used to hate. Look at it now, with new, acclaimed films in theaters, TV series killing it on the small screen, and fan productions restoring to us our most treasured memories of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, things are finally looking up. So this Christmas, or Star Wars Day, or anytime you want, fire up the Despecialized Editions and enjoy yourself. You finally can again.

HOW TO GET IT:
Despite the crackdown on p2p file sharing going on these days, the Despecialized Editions are still easily and readily available in just about every corner of the web today, thanks in no small part to their popularity. If you are going through the official channels, visit this Harmy-approved guide, which will walk you through the different methods of obtaining the digital files, whether in the full MKV versions or lower-quality AVCHD files.

NJVC’s blu-ray set was briefly unavailable due to the creator pulling it from circulation–it appears that several unscrupulous individuals were selling the sets on Ebay. However, another fan has graciously and with NJVC’s support made them available again. All you need is a blu-ray burner and the discs, and you are good to go!

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FAN EDIT REVIEW: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Revisited

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Original Film Directed by Irvin Kershner, Written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Fan Edit by Adywan
Category: FanFix

The home video history of Star Wars and of the art of fan editing itself are heavily intertwined. Beginning in 2000 with Mike J. Nichols’ The Phantom Edit, the resultant “remix culture” that has surrounded George Lucas’ more controversial 21st Century fingerprints on his magnum opus has now ballooned into a complete community as extensive as cosplay culture. Needless to say, there are now tons of Star Wars fan edits out there, and are as varied as the selection at a Baskin-Robbins; you have Harmy’s Despecialized Edition restorations of the original unaltered trilogy, grindhouse mixes like The Man Behind the Mask”s War of the Stars, Christopher Nolan-style time-benders like Star Wars: Renascent, and you have your basic fanfixes, like The Phantom Edit.

Emerging in the late 2000s with several restorations, editor Adrian Sayce–better known as Adywan–soon established his own indelible mark upon the Star Wars fan editing nation with Star Wars Revisited, a massive reimagining of the modern state of the original trilogy. While seeing the merit in the concept of a Special Edition, Adywan set out to heavily alter Lucas’ re-edited versions, in an attempt to produce “what the Special Editions should have been.”

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Adywan’s Revisited version of Episode IV – A New Hope was released in 2009, and quickly became a popular edit with its intricately-crafted new visual effects, massive color regrading, and subtle fixes to stupid mistakes that Lucasfilm should have repaired long ago (Obi-Wan’s lightsaber changing to a dimly-lit pole comes to mind). After 7 years of hard work, his long-awaited followup, The Empire Strikes Back Revisited, is finally here, and it was so worth the wait.

As of this writing, it is only available as a 720p x264 file at a size of around seven gigabites, but even on this relatively shrimpy format the edit is simply stunning. Even a cursory scroll-through of the screenshots from the x264 version reveals a picture far superior to even the official Blu-rays. While liberties are taken with many elements in order to bring the film in line with Adywan’s vision of a functional director’s cut, ESB-R is second only to Harmy’s Despecialized Edition in fidelity to the original theatrical image.

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Even the majority of his changes seem to minimize the shock inherent to seeing an altered version of a movie so many remember so well. For example, Obi-Wan’s Force ghost on Hoth is no longer lacking the characteristic edge sparkle it and all the others possess, but Adywan keeps the brightness on it down low enough to not break the mirage-like effect that particular ghost was always meant to have. Many other changes, while substantially more noticeable, always make sense: the Battle of Hoth now contains more AT-STs to offset the out-of-place original occurrence of the vehicle; the swamps of Dagobah are a little more crawling with exotic creatures; the asteroid field is even more intense with an expansion of the field on the z axis. Every change is not forced or full of nonsense.

Like with A New Hope Revisited, the film has been through a complete color re-grading, although this time it seems less noticeable, no doubt due to how screwed up the previous film’s color palette was by Lucasfilm. In addition, various technical gaffes and limitations have been fixed, including all new starfields and smoothed out jump cuts. Lightsaber and blaster effects have all been completely rotoscoped by Adywan.

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Not every change is perfection, however; in what I believe will be his most controversial, Adywan has used CG to further animate the Yoda puppet’s mouth. In some scenes it works, in others it’s just distracting. Hey, at least it’s not a full CG Yoda, right?

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With ESB-R, Adywan has reclaimed his place at the top of the fan edit mountain. With picture and sound even better than the official blu-rays, and additions and fixes that, for the most part, greatly improve upon Lucas’ own hair-brained ideas, The Empire Strikes Back Revisited should be in everyone’s fan edit collection.

HOW TO GET IT:
Visit Adywan’s how-to-download page for details on getting the 8gb .mkv. DVD-5, DVD-9 and Blu-ray versions will be available sometime in the future.

 

Double Bill Drive-In: Star Wars Day 2017

Double Bill Drive-In

Welcome Jedi! Come on in Sith! Imperials, Rebels, and scruffy nerf-herders of all ages! Maestro’s Double Bill Drive-In is open for business on this most glorious of cinematic holidays, Star Wars Day!

Tonight, we bring to you the coup de grace of the Maestro’s Marathons Star Wars Day event! It is an epic tale of heroism and sacrifice, where one group of unlikely martyrs makes it possible for another, just as unlikely group of spunky misfits to save the day in the grandest way possible. We are of course talking about the original Star Wars, and its direct prequel, Rogue One!

Star Wars Day 2017

First, the trailers! Two spacy previews, just for you!

 

First feature of the night!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Movie Poster

The galaxy is facing the darkest of times. The Galactic Empire sees, rules, and punishes all with an iron fist. Only a small and underequipped Rebellion stands in its way of total domination. But the Rebellion may soon be stardust, for the Empire is on the cusp of activating its ultimate weapon, the planet-destroying Death Star. Leading a motley band of soldiers, guardians, and turncoats, Jyn Erso must steal the plans to this Death Star and transmit them to the Rebellion–and they may end up dead anyway…

Sit back and enjoy Gareth Edwards’ wildly successful prequel to the original Star Wars, and the first in Disney’s ‘Anthology’ series of Star Wars films!

Intermission: three more trailers!

And now, our second feature!

Star Wars Movie Poster

The original film that started it all. The Death Star still looms large over the galaxy, and all seems lost, when a young farmboy named Luke Skywalker finds the droids that carry the plans that Jyn and her friends fought so hard to steal, and sets forth with old Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, smuggler Han Solo, and the plucky Princess Leia to restore justice to all.

We’ve prepared a special treat for you all: you will be viewing the original theatrical version of this classic film, as it was seen the world over in 1977! Painstakingly restored by the passion and toil of fans, Star Wars is back, and better than ever!

“Star Wars is among the greatest of all films ever made, and Star Wars Day is a wonderful new way to celebrate its influence the world over. And on this 40th Anniversary, you now get to see the whole first chapter of this epic story. You get to see the sacrifice of lowly boots on the ground; you get to see the beginning of a messianic destiny. You get to see Jyn Erso and her band of rebel spies set the stage for Luke Skywalker’s journey to heroism. You get to see it all. And better yet, we’ve presented to you the original theatrical version of Star Wars, free from the decades of unnecessary fiddling by George Lucas and his band of digital Imperials. You’d be surprised just how much better Gareth Edwards’ larger-than-life cinematography blends together with the pure, un-pixelated look of George Lucas’ groundbreaking vision. So, from the bottom of my Jedi heart, enjoy!”
– The Movie Maestro, Theater Owner

And that’s a wrap, folks! Please remember to clean up your trash, and May the Force Be With You!

 

 

Maestro’s Marathons: Star Wars Day 2017

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Rejoice, fellow denizens of that galaxy far, far away! Star Wars Day is once again upon us!

A now-recognized official fandom day by Twentieth Century Fox, Star Wars Day originally began as little more than a pun, “May the 4th be with you.” As these things tend to, it quickly spiralled out of control, becoming a day when Jedi and Sith, Rebels and Imperials alike celebrate perhaps the greatest cinematic saga of all time. This year, however, holds special significance, as it is the 40th anniversary of the original Star Wars film, and of the saga itself!

And so, in anticipation of this glorious day, I’ve prepared a special marathon for you all, revolving around the original 1977 film and its era in keeping with the 40th anniversary. Keep in mind, many of these suggested viewings are fan edits and preservations, so it will take some online hunting to acquire them. But don’t be discouraged, as it isn’t that hard of a feat to accomplish. After all, if Luke could blow up the Death Star…

Star Wars Begins: A Filmumentary by Jamie Benning
Beginning the marathon (pun intended) is one of Jamie Benning’s excellent ‘filmumentaries.’ What is a filmumentary? According to Benning himself, it is a format in which a “viewer can watch a film whilst additional material appears on screen including: deleted scenes, alternate takes, on set audio, text facts and information, audio commentary from cast and crew etc.” Far from being a rehash of previous Star Wars documentaries, Star Wars Begins includes such rare material as bloopers, an alternate opening crawl style, previously unreleased on-set video, in all a truly unique experience in behind-the-scenes archives, playing very much like a branching video commentary to the film.

How to get it: Simply visit Jamie Benning’s channel on Vimeo and watch away!

Star Wars: Puggo Grande


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Once you’ve finished expanding your behind-the-scenes knowledge, it’s time for sheer entertainment! But since this is a special Star Wars day, we have to do something different. My recommendation is the Puggo Grande, a homemade preservation of two 16mm prints of the original Star Wars film. “Puggo,” already well known in Star Wars fandom circles for his preservations of two 8mm condensed prints, was able to acquire two 16mm prints, an American print most likely struck for educational purposes, and a Swedish print which he used for the audio and several shots during the Trench run, which were too damaged to recover from the American print. Scratchy and dirty, this version is nonetheless extremely charming to watch, and includes some little key differences in audio from most commonly available versions. I like to imagine myself in a grindhouse theater, or a library screening room whenever I watch it. Pure, cinematic magic.

How to get it: This one is a little tougher, as it is only available as a DVD disc image, meaning you will have to burn it to a disc. To find it, you will have to search through downloads, mostly torrent sites.

Decision Time! Let’s inject a little variety into the proceedings. Once Puggo Grande reels off the projector (cheesy, ain’t I?), pick any one of the other main saga Star Wars films. My pick:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
I’m going with The Force Awakens, due to its narrative and spiritual similarities to A New Hope, and because, well, Rey is just about one of the best things to happen to Star Wars in ages. It also works as a great metric to see just how much has changed since 1977. Other than this one, I would usually go for either Empire or Jedi, but hey, I won’t diss the prequels today. There’s plenty of room for even them on Star Wars Day, plus, now that I think of it, Revenge of the Sith might be another good choice. The birth of Vader leading into the first introduction of Vader….Gah, I can’t decide! You could even really change it up by remembering that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is hitting theaters soon, and throwing in the first Guardians. Sure, it isn’t Star Wars, but it comes pretty close to being the Marvel remix of it, so why not?

How to get it: Uh…own them.

Decision time again! Your choices are:

The Star Wars Holiday Special
Image result for star wars holiday specialReleased on primetime television during the Christmas season of 1978, the Star Wars Holiday Special is quite the anomaly, seeming more an excuse to broadcast Bea Arthur and Art Carney skits than to advance the world of Star Wars. However, being the first “official” spinoff and hailing from the early era of the franchise, it makes sense to see what all the hubbub’s about. Just be warned; it’s as zany a Star Wars experience as you’ll ever find, with half of the cast appearing high as a kite, loads of reused visual effects shots, a plotline that more follows Chewbacca’s weird (and frankly creepy) family, and Carrie Fisher singing. Yes, she sings. No, it isn’t wonderful. Come to think of it, this one would be a hell of a basis for a drinking game. Note to self….

How to get it: It’s actually available on YouTube!

or

Star Wars: Droids


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If the Holiday Special is too crazy for your blood, then I suggest you try out a few episodes of the Droids animated series from 1985. Acting as a loose prequel to A New Hope, Droids depicts the early adventures of C-3P0 and R2-D2, that most lovable robotic duo of the galaxy, as they navigate the treacherous new Empire, and serve several different masters. Some noteworthy episodes to consider include “A Race to the Finish,” which features Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett, and the Roon arc of episodes that finishes the series.

How to get it: The entire 15-episode run is readily available on YouTube.

Double Feature:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story / Star Wars
Star Wars Day 2017


Close out Star Wars Day 2017 with a truly epic double feature: Rogue One, and the original 1977 version of Star Wars! Click here to check it out in full.

How to get it: For Rogue One, go out and buy it!
If you don’t own or wish to use a VHS copy of Star Wars to view the original version (since it is unavailable officially on DVD or Blu-ray), I would suggest tracking down either Harmy’s Despecialized Edition, an HD reconstruction of the original theatrical version, or Team Negative-1’s Silver Screen Edition, a preservation of a real, 35mm print of the original cut. The Silver Screen Edition will be the harder one to acquire, as it is only available as a disc image that one must burn to a BD. Harmy’s Despecialized is available in several different packages; refer to this guide to acquire one.

And that would be a wrap! Now, of course, these are only suggestions, feel free to mix and match or go against the grain. Even if you cannot acquire some of the fan preservations here such as Puggo Grande or the Despecialized Edition, that’s okay. Star Wars even at its lowest point is still Star Wars. So enjoy the day, and May the Force Be With You!