But fans aren’t the only ones who want Lucas to release the original. Curators at the National Film Registry picked the 1977 version of Star Wars to preserve for history’s sake, but they still don’t have a copy in the registry. When they asked for a copy, Lucas refused, saying that he would no longer authorize the release of the original version. The Library of Congress does have a 35mm print of Star Wars, one that was filed in 1978 as part of the movie’s copyright deposit, but the registry, where films are meant to be preserved for history, is still without one.
And here’s the real plot twist. In 1988 George Lucas actually gave a speech before Congress about the importance of cinematic preservation. In the late 1980s, Ted Turner bought studios like MGM and began releasing colorized versions of classic movies. The directors of those movies weren’t happy, and a group of movie makers came together and argued before Congress that people had the right to their cultural heritage, in the form of original versions of classic films.
“People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society,” Lucas said in his speech. He went on:
Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with "fresher faces," or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor's lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new "original" negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.
There’s some irony when you compare that quote with the work of Harmy, the fan from the Czech Republic spending hundreds of hours slaving away at restoring Lucas’s original vision.
Some argue that here Lucas was railing against outsiders being able to alter a directors work, not against directors being able to update their own pieces. Which raises the question of who truly owns something like Star Wars—a huge cultural phenomenon—once it is unleashed. Lucas addresses that in his speech too. "American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history," he said.
And while it raises legal questions, Harmy doesn’t think that his work is in any way jeopardizing the value of Star Wars. “I’m convinced that 99% of people who download this already bought Star Wars 10 times over on DVD.”
When Disney bought LucasFilms in 2012, rumors were reignited over the possibility of a true original being released. “I’m really hoping that now that Disney has the rights that they will release the original versions in a proper restored quality, and then I can take all this stuff down and enjoy Star Wars as it’s meant to be,” Harmy told me. But that day may never come. In the meantime, fans will continue to hunt for original copies of the film, and recreate the 1977 movie’s magic.
An earlier version of this post misidentified the actor who originally voiced Boba Fett as Jeremy Bulloch. Bulloch was the actor who played Boba Fett, but the character was voiced by Jason Wingreen. We regret the error.