New Report Alleges The Government Can’t Even Get A Copy Of The Original Version Of Star Wars
George Lucas has been molesting his original Star Wars movies with CGI nonsense since 1997 while simultaneously disavowing the edits that grossed him millions back in the day. Sucky, but lightsaber-wielding nerds aggravated by this nonsense such as myself have long taken solace in what we perceived to be a tiny loophole in George’s quest to stamp out his “first drafts”: The National Film Registry. Established in 1988, the NFR annually selects twenty-five “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” movies to induct and preserve for the rest of history, so after we vaporize each other in the final nuclear war there’ll be some big movie vault for our aliens overlords to discover proving we were an intelligent and artful race. One of the NFR’s first draft picks in ’89? Star Wars.
Ostensibly, the NFR chose Star Wars that year, Lucasfilm sent them a copy, and it’s been sitting there ever since, government property a la the Ark in Raiders. So even though George might digitally scribble The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to the point of no return, even though he might be able to completely block the commercial availability of previous non-“Special Edition” trilogy releases, at least Uncle Sam has retained an untouched copy of the first film. At some point in the future, cinema restoration people could use that government copy of Star Wars to create a another home video release of what audiences first saw May 25, 1977. At least we could have one regular Star Wars movie some time before the apocalypse…right?
Yeah, about that: Preservation website SaveStarWars.com recently investigated the National Film Registry situation at Washington, D.C.’s Library of Congress, and they’re reporting that the NFR never received the copy of Star Wars they requested in 1989. Apparently Lucasfilm ignored the NFR until 1997…the year the “Special Edition” of Star Wars was completed. When George told the gub’ment that’s what he planned on sending them, they balked. Quoth Reference Librarian of Congress Zoran Sinobad:
“While both Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) are on the National Film Registry, the Library has not yet acquired new prints of either one. When the request was made for Star Wars, Lucasfilm offered us the Special Edition version. The offer was declined as this was obviously not the version that had been selected for the Registry. We have not yet requested a print of The Empire Strikes Back, [which was] added to the Registry late last year.”
Our leaders may have been fucking up the economy and starting unnecessary wars for the past decade, but hey, at least they’ve been trying to do the right thing when it comes to Luke Skywalker.
So there you have it—more Lucas allegedly being Lucas. But what of the separate copyright prints that exist for Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi? A 35mm print of every film in this country has to be sent to the Library of Congress to officially be copyrighted (or had to be sent—I don’t know if they still put movies on 35mm). So yes, the LoC is sitting on at least one set of original original Star Wars films from the years of their release that could prove a total failsafe. Unfortunately, according to Zoran, the copyright version of Empire now boasts “extreme color fading” and there is “no report” on the condition of Return of the Jedi (which one assumes could mean it has turned to finite dust by now).
Of course, the very notion that anyone but George Lucas/Lucasfilm will ever control the ultimate fate of Star Wars is laughable. I’m sure it’s written in blood somewhere that public domain doesn’t exist in Obi Wan’s dojo and that no other entity can ever even consider purchasing the rights to those movies. Related tidbit: The aforelinked report throws out a claim that Lucasfilm’s contract with Fox RE: Star Wars has some foreboding clause which demands versions of the pre-’97 trilogy must be “hunted up and destroyed.”
This sounds like fabricated fanboy fear-mongering, but who knows. It seemed just as crazy thirty years ago that a relatively unknown filmmaker would give up his studio paycheck in favor of merchandising rights for the characters in his cheap little space movie everyone and their uncle thought would bomb. Today, Darth Vader’s face is on every household item imaginable and George Lucas is so goddamn rich he can just blatantly fuck with the government (allegedly).
Private collectors, it looks like the future of unaltered Star Wars may be up to you. Don’t let your moms clean out your basements!