|An ad for Star Wars in 70mm at the |
Granada, Santa Barbara, September 1977.
Ever since the Star Wars Special Editions came out in 1997, people like me have been repeating the same tedious question: Will we ever see the original, 1977 version of the film again?
For many years, George Lucas was pretty insistent that the answer to that question was no. But then there were some encouraging signs. In 2006, the original theatrical cut of the film was released, somewhat half-heartedly, as a bonus feature on a DVD release of the film (see this post about the history of Star Wars on DVD). And although we were all insane with frustration that the 2011 complete Blu-ray release of the Star Wars films did not include the 1977 cut, Lucas did not seem to have finally closed the door on issuing the original (see the comments in that same post about the BD release.)
But since George Lucas has never given the fans the answer we want to hear to the above question, we have never needed to ask another – much geekier – question, which is this: What is the original 1977 version of the film anyway?
Sound differences between the 70mm, 35mm stereo and mono mixes of Star Wars
|See Threepio, about to say something about |
the tractor beam being coupled to the main reactor
... if you saw the mono version of Star Wars
Casual fans be warned: your eyes may be about to glaze over. But I'll keep it as simple as I can.
Star Wars was, visually speaking, more or less the same film from May 1977 until the April 1981 re-release, when the opening title crawl was changed to accommodate the subtitle 'Episode IV: A New Hope'. (I say more or less the same film, because there is some mystifying information to add on that point in a few paragraphs' time.)
However, the soundtrack of the film varied, even in 1977.
The way movies were projected could vary considerably back then, depending on whether you saw them at a big city cinema with the latest facilities or at your local, small auditorium (which might get their prints much later).
As we saw in this post, Star Wars was initially released on 32 screens that could show it with the best possible sound and picture. They were the auditoriums that had been equipped with 70mm projection systems and Dolby six-track surround sound. The giant 70mm film projectors gave superb picture quality, even with films like Star Wars which had been made on 35mm and 'blown up' to the larger format.
70mm would definitely have been the way to see Star Wars first time around, if you were lucky enough to live near to one of those screens. And yet George Lucas and his sound people had not finished with the movie.
Crowds at Mann's Chinese
Theater, the 'home of
Once the audio for the 70mm prints had been mixed, the sound team had to finalise the soundtrack for cinemas showing the film in 35mm with Dolby Stereo. And after that, it was time to refine another mix for the many cinemas who were having nothing to do with all this stereo business and still had 35mm projectors with monaural sound systems.
But all this was not just a matter of sound quality. The actual content of the film was slightly different, depending on which version you saw.
The mono mix of the film actually contained some lines of dialogue that were not in either of the stereo version. One of them is See-Threepio's line, aboard the Death Star: "The tractor beam is coupled to the main reactor in seven locations”. Another is a Death Star storm trooper ordering “Close the blast doors” before Han Solo the troops find themselves cut off. Aunt Beru sounds different between the two versions and is possibly voiced by a different actress. (Neither voice was that of Shelagh Fraser.)
|Did someone say to close the blast doors? |
More differences between the mono and
stereo mixes of Star Wars
There are also different distortions applied to the voices storm troopers and the Rebel pilots. And while the mono mix might have been the least impressive way to see the film at the time, it was reputedly the one Lucas was happiest with, because it had been refined over a longer period.
For a full list of the differences between the mono and stereo versions, take a look at The Starkiller’s Guide to the Mono Star Wars Sound Mix.
|The Story of Star Wars LP, |
though in stereo, had
much in common with
the mono mix
None of these three original audio mixes for Star Wars have been heard properly by a mass audience for a very long time. When the film came to video in 1985, Ben Burtt created a new sound mix. He did the same for the 1993 laserdisc release, on each occasion combining elements of all the previous mixes. The 'theatrical edition' of the film on the 2006 DVD release uses the laserdisc soundtrack – with no “Close the blast doors” and no tractor beam line.
So far, so complicated – but here comes the real puzzler.
Differences between 1977 prints of Star Wars
I said above that, visually, Star Wars was more or less the same film between 1977 and the 1981 re-issue. But the folks over at Originaltrilogy.com – people whose avid attention to detail leaves me looking positively relaxed about all this by comparison – have noticed that, even in 1977, there may have been some visual details that changed for no obvious reason.
Here – with appropriate credit, again, to Originaltrilogy.com – are two images from the film's end credits, from different 1977 prints.
|Baffling differences between 1977 prints of Star Wars as noted on Originaltrilogy.com|
Not a big change, certainly. It won't have altered the viewing experience very much. But... why?
Why would anybody have been tinkering with this stuff amid all the pressure and expense of releasing a major motion picture? You can read a discussion about it here. But you have to wonder how many other tiny differences might be picked up if someone had access to enough prints of the film and time enough to compare them shot by shot.
It's surprisingly hard to say what the original, 'definitive' version of Star Wars was. The one thing that's easy to assert, without fear of contradiction, that it's not any of the 'preferred' versions that Lucasfilm has been releasing on DVD and Blu-ray.
NOTE: Apart from the websites already mentioned above, I’d recommend visiting this page from the excellent website Saving Star Wars and this one at From Script to DVD.com.