A group of dedicated die hard Star Wars fans spent four years restoring a 35mm cinema print of A New Hope back to its original glory…and they haven’t finished yet.
For many a Star Wars fan, their dream is to own their favourite film in high definition.
“But that’s already happened with the Star Wars Saga Bluray set!” I hear you cry.
That much is true but the original trilogy of films, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi that are contained within that set, don’t match the original versions released into cinemas back in the 1970’s and 80’s.
The Star Wars trilogy was first altered in the 1990’s with added CGI effects, restored deleted scenes and in the case of Return of the Jedi, a whole new musical number. It is these Special Editions that have been released on DVD.
With the advent of the Bluray releases, George Lucas added more tweaks and fixes to complete the film into what he considers to be the final complete version. Such tweaks this time even included CGI effects to make the Ewoks blink as the original costumes lacked this facility.
Despite this, the fans have still been asking for a high definition release of the original unaltered versions. George has responded by claiming these new tweaked versions are his vision and the originals in his mind, no longer exist. He even claims the original negatives no longer exist as they were used to create the Special Editions in 1990’s.
The fans weren’t pleased so they came up with their own solution. The most popular method was to digitise the Laserdisc releases as they were only way to officially watch the original trilogy in its unaltered state. These conversions were then converted into a DVD format and uploaded to the internet for fans to enjoy.
Another dedicated fan ,known as “Harmy”, took it upon himself to create the Despecialised Editions. Using the Bluray transfers as a source material, he overlaid up-scaled footage from the original films over the parts of the footage that now contained a new and unwanted enhancement.
Here is an excellent documentary that demonstrates his work and how he achieved it.
It is these Despecialised Editions that have become quite well known in Star Wars circles as the best way to watch the original trilogy in in purest form in 720P high definition.
Then in the middle of Janurary 2016, a version of Star Wars hit the internet as released by a group calling themselves “Team Negative1”. Here was a project that had taken four years of hard work. A project I was aware of but had completely forgotten about, assuming it would never get finished.
Frustrated by the lack of a decent source of original trilogy video, one fan managed to buy Star Wars A New Hope from eBay one 35mm reel at a time until they had a complete version of the film. In fact they ended up with two complete sets!
One copy was an English print but very faded because the film is now over thirty years old. The other was a Spanish print known as a ‘LPP Print’. This kind of print uses a material that was classed as “low fade” so it would last for a longer time. The quality was exceptional for a print of this age.
They built their own digital film scanner using projector hardware, digital cameras and a VCR motor to make a homebrew telecine, a machine to transfer the film into a digital medium.
Then the hard work really began. Having transferred over 170,000 frames into the computer, “Team Negative1” then had to start on a major dust and dirt clean-up. Some of this was automated but the majority was done by hand for every single frame of the film, remember there’s twenty four frames a second!
The resulting footage was also de-flickered and stabilized. Every scene was colour corrected and where needed some shots were replaced from the English Eastman print which had faded to red but with better picture quality.
The following video clip, released by “Team Negative1”, brilliantly details the hard work that goes into restoring just one small shot from the film.
Another video shows the difference between the raw scan from the print and the final version after all their cleanup work.
Finally, here is how the Team Negative1 release stands up against the official bluray releases. You have to remember two things when watching this video. Firstly, the bluray is made from the original camera negatives and will look sharper, especially as the film has gone through a professional clean up process as well.
Secondly, if you watched the Harmy despecialised video above, you’ll remember how he talks about the strange colour palette changes made to the official bluray releases. This is in evidence here at the very beginning of the clip as Luke turns his back to the camera. If you pause the video, you’ll notice that his Stormtrooper outfit is almost a light shade of pink. This is due to the red levels in the picture have been pushed up too much.
I highly recommenced the Silver Screen edition by “Team Negative1”. I haven’t watched it all the way through but have sat and watched some of my favourite sequences. In my opinion it really achieves it goal of recreating the original Star Wars film many fans saw in the summer of 1977.
“Team Negative1” also note that this is only the first preliminary release to demonstrate their hard work. A further revision will be released later this year which will contain further fixes and tweaks.
Now if only I could get my kids to love the film like I do!