Geeks Only, Please

No, seriously. The following post will affect your opinion of me, unless you truly share my geekery. Note that I said for “geeks” only, not nerds only, which in my book means people obsessed with sci-fi and pop technology rather than people who like science and math.

You’re still reading, aren’t you. Alright, fine. Have it your way. Over the weekend I discovered a new version of “Star Wars.” It is terrific. I watched it twice.

No, this isn’t just some new re-release from Lucasfilm with more random footag of Hayden Christensen spliced in. Quite the opposite.

This is a fan edit of the original Star Wars movie, done by a man named Adrian Sayce, who goes by the name of Adywan online.

Still reading, now that there are people with separate online personas involved? Okay, but just remember, no one forced you to do this.

 

Anyway, if you’re still reading at this point, I’m going to assume you’re a total Star Wars geek like me. So you remember when the special editions came out back in 97, and they were supposed to be “the movies the way George Lucas always intended,” only once you saw them you refused to believe that was how he intended them because you liked it better when you thought of George Lucas as a briliant artist painting on a canvas the size of the galaxy. You couldn’t believe how badly a lot of the new CGI footage stuck out against the 20-year old background. You cringed to discover that many of the infamous Star Wars mistakes and bloopers had been uncorrected, and yet for reasons that defy all sense of Han Solo’s character, millions of dollars were spent making it look like Greedo shot first. You saw the jawas falling off the ronto on the way into Mos Eisley and thought to yourself “now that must be the stupidest attempts at humor that could ever be forced into a Star Wars movie.” Remember, at this point you had never heard of an alien called Jar Jar Binks.

You found yourself disliking a lot of the changes, yearning for the old, unblemished versions. And yet this surprised you, because there were so many ways you had legitimately wanted to see the movies updated.

Fear not, my geeky bretheren. Adywan knows just how you feel. Only unlike us, he did something about it.

“Star Wars Revisited,” the Adywan edit, is a beautiful, epic thing. It is everything you ever loved about the original movie, none of the shenanigans you despised from the special editions–and definitely not from the 2004 DVD release. And yet, it makes the movies look like new. I mean it. Like the Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” it could be released now and still be a bit hit.

He’s rebuilt the sound track from scratch, restoring the fullness to the sound and yet retaining the original (and clearly superior) dialogue tracks from the 1977 mono mix whenever silly changes had been made. He’s dutifully gone through and replaced every lightsaber, every blaster bolt, and every explosion with newly rotoscoped graphics to match the prequel trilogy. He’s edited out or around every error, every sloppy cut, every flipped shot. And the colors, oh the colors. All re-adjusted, frame by frame, to make the brightest, sharpest, most beautiful version of Star Wars you’ve ever seen.

But that’s not all. Although he’s clipped out quite a few of the truly awkward additions from the Lucasfilm updates, the Adywan cut runs a full seven minutes longer. How? Because he’s also seamlessly, and brilliantly, inserted new footage into a number of key places. Naturally, almost all of these take place in space, but the effect is tremendous nonetheless. Watching it, I reacted precisely the way I’m sure Lucas hoped people would react to the special editions: every time you see something new, a chill runs down your spine and for a moment, and yet it takes you a split second to realize you’re seeing something that wasn’t previously part of the movie, because it just fits so well.

This is really the true genius of the edit. In spite of the enormous list of changes he made, the vast, vast majority are incredibly subtle. In some cases, this is because he’s intervening to fix things that no normal human being would ever have noticed were wrong (the storm trooper’s legs moved in the background? What stormtrooper in the background?) but more often, it’s because the updates are made with just enough of a light touch to avoid harshly slapping you in the face. The case in point can be seen below. This first clip is a segment of the Star Wars special edition, featuring the famous “cantina scene,” which for its time showcased an almost unprecedented array of exotic alien species. And yet, it looks dated now; it’s too obvious that these creatures are rubber masks. See for yourself, if you don’t remember (you will have to skip ahead to 6:26 if you just want to watch the cantina scene).

In Adywan’s, the differences are slight. And yet they truly bring the scene to life. The aliens blink, furrow their brows, and otherwise emote. Greedo in particular looks vastly improved, and the snivvian who sniffs at the stormtroopers at 8:36 is… well it’s just fantastic. It made me laugh out loud. Both times. Here’s Adywan’s take on approximately the same portion of the movie (Cantina starts at 3:45 if that’s all you want).

 

I cannot stress enough how striking this new version is, particularly if you’ve seen the original a few times and are just starting to notice how it shows its age in small ways. Armed only with a couple of commercially available editing programs, Adywan has, nearly single-handedly, outdone the entire crew at Lucasfilm and ILM in taking on the same project they pursued in the 90s: to make “Star Wars” feel young, fresh, and exciting again.

 

Okay, I bet there are like what, 4 people who made it all this way through the post? If you’re one of those few, chances are by now you’re itching to have a look at this for yourself. The easiest way is to watch it on youtube; it’s split into 13 parts and the first is here. But if you’re really feeling like a treat, you can download a full DVD version from a number of places, notably here.

If you loved Star Wars as much as I did, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t watch this. Maybe not now, but surely someday you’ll have a good excuse to– a long flight, perhaps. Download it, and keep it around for a rainy day or something. It is absolutely worth the time to anyone who was “serious” about Star Wars at any point in their lives. I may not agree with every single editing decision he made, but on balance I think I’m starting to view this as the definitive edition of the original movie.

Now, somebody tell me, is it oxymoronic if I end this post with </geekery>?

 

UPDATE: It occurs to me that people without youtube access might appreciate a few screenshots to compare. These are grabbed from around the web, so thanks to whoever put them together. It looks like most of them came from Adywan himself, actually.

UPDATE II: I should have mentioned, he’s hard at work on Empire Strikes Back Revisited as we speak…

 

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About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

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