Anyone watching last night’s NCAA Championship—a sporting event sandwiched between visions of Mad Max: Fury Road’s post-apocalyptic wasteland—probably caught the announcement that the Star Wars films would be making their debut on Digital HD. And not in the far future, either: Friday. That means the usual digital retailers—iTunes, Amazon, XBox, Playstation, etc.
Big deal? Kind of. As digital becomes the preferred platform for many viewers, major releases like this will help establish the standards for the form. So how does the Star Wars series stack up to previous incarnations? Based on the press release, not that well. Most likely the movies will look and sound state-of-the-art, but those who enjoy bonus features should probably stick to the Blu-ray box set released in 2011. Lucasfilm’s Kathleen Kennedy boasts, “We’ve created some very special bonus material which delves into the Saga’s rich history, including new and never-before-released conversations between legendary Star Wars artists—the masters who helped George bring his iconic universe to life.” This translates to a few new features per film, joined by some far-from-exhaustive “legacy content” from previous home-video releases. An argument could be made that Blu-ray still has a place in the home-video world.
Then there’s this old matter: These are the tinkered-with Special Editions loathed by many (usually graying) fans. (Though surely even younger fans who only know the Special Edition versions can sense the awfulness of Return Of The Jedi’s “Jedi Rock” musical number.) Whether or not the original theatrical cuts will ever see the light of day again on this or any other medium—apart from the un-remastered, non-anamorphic versions released as DVD bonus features a while back—remains to be seen. As Deadline points out, Disney now owns the Star Wars films, but the home-video rights remain with Fox until 2020—and, for the original 1977 film, in perpetuity. Then there’s the matter of Lucas’ wishes. Sure, he doesn’t own the movies anymore, but his opinion probably still counts for something. On the other hand, the market tends to rise to meet demand, and given that some fans have taken to making their own “despecialized editions,” the demand is clearly there. Then again, Star Wars fans will probably buy this version and any future versions. Silly Star Wars fans. (Oh, and if anyone is playing Topps’ Star Wars Card Trader app, I need more trading partners. My username is kphipps3000.)