“Having had the good fortune of scrutinizing every scanned pixel of every 4K frame of many near-pristine original run prints, I find the most curious and distressing part of all of this to be this simple, undeniable fact: Every single frame of the Blu-Ray version of Star Wars is incorrect. There is not a single frame which is properly representative of any publicly-screened, theatrical run print. The range of deviation runs from “sort of close,” to “unforgivable.” This doesn’t bother some people, which I also find curious and distressing.” – film composer and visual effects technician Mike Verta, Aug 9, 2015.
There’s a fantastic long-form article over at MovieMezzanine by Corey Atad on painstaking digital fan restorations of the original Star Wars theatrical prints. The article mainly celebrates the valiant work of enthusiastic, learn as you go along amateurs, going by the group name Team Negative1, and The Silver Screen Edition. Tucked within the article, is detail on the work of an insider in the industry, Mike Verta, with the exciting news that what he is working on could *just* possibly be the basis for a 4k restoration of the theatrical cut at some point in the future – a tangled web of legal snares being the main obstacle to any public release.
Mike Verta started out as a film and television composer, with an interest in visual effects as a hobby. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles in 1990, he began working in VFX professionally, later opening his own post-production company. He cites Star Wars as a defining moment for him at 5 years old – musically! He knew he wanted to write music for the movies (VFX interest came later).
Mike has been working on his restoration for 15 years (hey, the guy has to make a living in-between!) and says he began the work because “I felt deeply compelled to make sure the original version existed, somewhere, in the best possible form. Of course I want people to see it, and will do everything in my power to make that happen.” (Quote from theforce.net)
Mike treads a finer line than most fans – as an industry insider, he’s had access and assistance most fans can only dream of, but only on the understanding that the fruits of his labours are not for public consumption in completed form. However, nobody could have guessed George Lucas would sell LucasFilm to Disney, and retire. From Corey Atad’s updated article, when Mike Verta reached out to him for an intriguing update:
“I’ve been told explicitly by The Powers That Be that the hammer will fall if I put it online.” Don’t let that sound like a setback, though. Verta is preparing a presentation for executives at Disney and Fox. “I’ve heard many conflicting reports from inside the walls over the years, and ultimately decided the only thing to do is invite the executives to a screening and make the pitch,” he says. “So those plans are in the works.” The plan is to make the presentation later this year.
Mike Verta would ideally like either having his completed restoration released, or used as a guide-track to “supervise a new restoration from whatever’s left of the original materials” – ideally with him in charge of the process.
With regard to the Special Editions, here’s what he said in back and forth discussions on theForce.net forum:
“In terms of (Dennis) Muren, the bulk of the animations and textures/lighting were done in software called Electric Image supervised by John Knoll, and John himself would tell you today that absolutely the look of those additions is already dated and sub-par; they were just great efforts at the dawn of an emerging technology – which itself has the capacity to blind people. And don’t forget, the dictum behind those additions was that it was an excuse to test out things to see what was possible for the prequels, all while getting Fox to pay for it. So Lucas was looking deliberately to test things for the future, moreso than fixing the past. Remember, there never was any compelling reason, sales-wise or brand-wise to do the SE. Nobody was clamoring for it. George has not been waking from fevered dreams for nearly 40 years over the fact that R2 wasn’t hiding behind rocks he couldn’t have maneuvered around. And there are rolls and rolls of press photos of Hamill and Fisher lip-locked in an embrace, so you can forget the official narrative that the whole thing was planned out beforehand, etc. I’d take no shortage of things he says with a grain of revisionist, retcon salt. His entire empire and all the cultural value in Star Wars had been built before a frame of CG was ever added.”
Mike has a Vimeo page of demonstrations of his restoration work on several scenes in the film that is well worth a look. Here are a couple below, including the original shot of Ben Kenobi’s house, the approach to Mos Eisley, and the “vaselined” Speeder shot through the spaceport streets.