From The New York Times - August 16, 2010
By DAVE ITZKOFF
Though nearly 35 years of “Star Wars” fandom have yielded all kinds of memorabilia inspired by George Lucas’s outer-space epic, including light saber look-alikes and wearable reproductions of Princess Leia’s slave costume, one holy grail has lately eluded fans: a video version of the “Star Wars” films that takes the fullest advantage of their top-of-the-line home theater systems.
That’s a Death Star-size void that Lucasfilm plans to fill shortly. On Saturday, the studio announced that it will release all six live-action “Star Wars” features on Blu-ray DVD in fall 2011. A boxed set containing the Blu-ray versions of the movies, from 1977’s “Star Wars” through the final 2005 prequel, “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” will mark the first time the films have been offered in a high-definition home format, and will include documentary features and previously unseen footage.
Given Mr. Lucas’s exacting standards for film presentations (he founded the company THX) and Lucasfilm’s embrace of digital movie technology (digital projection was used for the theatrical release of all three “Star Wars” prequels, and the last two prequels were shot digitally), many fans expected that high-definition versions of the “Star Wars” features would soon follow.
But in a telephone interview, Mr. Lucas said he had been waiting to see if the Blu-ray format would be widely accepted by home viewers.
“We’ve been wanting to do it as soon as we possibly could, but we just wanted to do it when enough people would be able to buy it and see it,” Mr. Lucas said on Friday from the Star Wars Celebration V convention in Orlando, Fla.
When the original “Star Wars” movies were released on VHS in the early 1980s, Mr. Lucas said, sales were slow at first.
“We came out with ‘Star Wars’ right at the beginning of VHS,” he said, “and we sold 300,000 copies.” Within a few years, he added, “they were selling 1 million, 2 million, 10 million.”
“So we learned from that experience that if you’re too early in the marketplace, there’s just not enough demand for it,” he said.
In the case of Blu-ray, at least the potential for galactic-scale sales exists; a recent report by the tracking firm DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, said that nearly two million Blu-ray players were sold in the first half of 2010, an increase of 103 percent over last year, for a total of 19.4 million such devices in the United States.
Mr. Lucas said the versions of the first three “Star Wars” films — “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” — included in the Blu-ray boxed set will be the special-edition releases that were shown theatrically in 1997 and digitally restored for a 2004 standard-definition DVD boxed set.
Perhaps bracing for the reactions of fans who decried some of the changes made to the special-edition films — like, say, an exchange of gunfire between Han Solo and a certain green-skinned bounty hunter — Mr. Lucas said that to release the original versions of these films on Blu-ray was “kind of an oxymoron, because the quality of the original is not very good.”
“You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it, and you have to do that digitally,” he added. “It’s a very, very expensive process to do it. So when we did the transfer to digital, we only transferred really the upgraded version.”
And while some viewers might want the “Star Wars” Blu-ray release in time for this year’s Life Day — that is, the Wookiee holiday that roughly coincides with the start of the holiday shopping season — Mr. Lucas said a 2011 release was the earliest possible date. (The boxed set will be distributed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; Lucasfilm did not give pricing information or indicate if the films will also be sold individually.)
That, he said, resulted partly from continuing work on the additional Blu-ray features and partly from factors beyond his control.
“We’ve been working on them for quite a while,” Mr. Lucas said, “but still, there are pipelines. Unfortunately, the recent
releases get priority over what we call the classic versions of things.”
Below - A deleted scene from “Star Wars,” the first of the series’ live-action films, coming to Blu-ray.