Everyone knows that the original three films in the Star Wars franchise—in their original, unaltered states—are way better than any series entry made since then. But while you can still enjoy the early-day antics of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie, you can't watch the original originals.
Beginning in 1997, George Lucas and his production company Lucasfilm started tinkering with the original trilogy, adding more advanced sound effects, CGI, and even altering minor plot details to incorporate newer characters and/or actors who showed up in the prequels (like replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen at the end of Return of the Jedi). Though the edits were intended to improve the quality and cohesiveness of the movie-watching experience, most fans were enraged by even the slightest deviation from the Academy Award-winning originals.
On internet forums, these dedicated fans have joined forces to pool their guerilla tactics—like VHS tapes, old DVDs, and 35mm print scans using photography and animation software—to try to re-create, scene by scene, the original theatrical release of Star Wars.
This act of retro-editing a film back to its roots is referred to as "despecializing," and the most prolific practitioner of the art, at least in the Star Wars universe, is a Czech man named Petr Harmáček, better known as "Harmy" to his legion of online followers. After writing his thesis on the cultural impact of the original Star Wars trilogy, Harmáček embarked on a quest to make the unaltered films available for viewing for those who missed the original theatrical release.
"If both versions were available in the same quality I would probably enjoy watching the special edition once in a while," Harmy told The Atlantic. "It’s not about George Lucas not being able to do these special editions. If people like the special editing, they can continue watching those. As long as both versions are available."
But they're not. And George Lucas has made it very clear he doesn't want them to be. When the National Film Registry requested a copy of the original theatrical release for preservation, Lucas said no. When pressed on the matter by the AP in 2004, Lucas didn't budge:
To me, the special edition ones are the films I wanted to make. Anybody that makes films knows the film is never finished. It’s abandoned or it’s ripped out of your hands, and it’s thrown into the marketplace, never finished ... This is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be. I’m the one who has to take responsibility for it. I’m the one who has to have everybody throw rocks at me all the time, so at least if they’re going to throw rocks at me, they’re going to throw rocks at me for something I love rather than something I think is not very good, or at least something I think is not finished.
Harmy clearly disagrees. Since 2010, he has worked tirelessly to revert the first film to its original glory, creating multiple despecialized versions. On the Facebook page dedicated to the project, Harmy writes, "The main goal is to get as close as possible to the original versions of the films as seen in cinemas on opening day, while maintaining high picture and audio quality."
Above, you can watch a video that compares the Blu-Ray Disc video, two different despecialized versions, and a negative that was used as a resource. Check it out!