"Star Wars" on DVD, Again...For the First Time

"Star Wars" on DVD, Again...For the First Time
Star Wars fan Philip Wise has purchased a home-video copy of
George Lucas' seminal sci-fi film six times--"seven, including the Beta edition"--and he's not done yet. Because Lucas isn't done yet.

Repeatedly released in various formats during the past 29 years, the 1977 theatrical version of Lucas' Star Wars will be issued on home video again, but for the first time on DVD, on Sept. 12, LucasFilm announced Thursday.

The theatrical versions of 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's Return of the Jedi, Star Wars' companion movies from the original trilogy, also will make their DVD debuts on that date.

Thus far, only Lucas' recut and digitally repopulated "special edition" versions of the three trailblazing films have been available on DVD. Having taken the keeper of the Force at his word when he said the special editions were his final word on the movies, Wise, the Webmaster of the leading Star Wars fan site, TheForce.net, called Thursday's announcement a "big surprise."

The films' original cuts will be sold separately in "attractively priced" two-disc sets that will include the movies' respective special-edition versions which, in true Lucasonian fashion, have been issued on DVD multiple times in recent years. According to Lucasfilm, "attractively priced" works out to $29.95 per package.

"Over the years, a truly countless number of fans have told us they would love to see and own the original versions that they remember experiencing in theaters," Lucasfilm and LucasArts executive Jim Ward said in a statement.

Wise agrees that Jedi followers have been vocal about wanting the original Star Wars movies, in their original forms, on DVD.

"[The fans were telling Lucas,] 'You've been taking our money for 30 years, so why not take it again, because this time we want you to take it,'" says Wise.

Indeed, Lucas has taken in quite a bit of money from the completist fan. Last year, Forbes estimated that Lucas' Star Wars empire has generated more than $20 billion in sales, no small chunk of which is likely due to home video.

Made at the right time, at the dawn of the VCR, Star Wars has been released and rereleased so many times in so many different formats and versions that a StarWars.com history of the franchise on home video runs more than 3,000 words, beginning with the 1977 release of clips from the original movie on Super 8 film, and ending in 2002, before the special editions of Star Wars, Empire and Jedi were issued in a four-DVD box set in 2004, and then issued again in a three-DVD box set in 2005.

To date, the complete, theatrical version of Star Wars has been available in box sets, in non-box sets, on fullscreen VHS, on widescreen VHS, on THX-mastered VHS, on Beta, on a couple of early laser disc formats, and on the more traditional laser disc format (where it was issued first in fullscreen, natch, and later in widescreen, natch).

"When are people going to wake up to the fact that they've got six copies of the same thing lying around?" asks Tony Gentile, a software/Internet developer who has argued for the advent of the perpetual license, aka the right to enjoy Star Wars or any other movie in any existing or future format with just one purchase, on his blog, buzzhit!

For the record, Gentile does not blame Lucas for "making a living and delivering what he honestly believes what people want"; he blames consumers for not realizing "they're getting the raw end of the deal."

Gentile, who owns the original trilogy on VHS (special-edition version), says he doesn't believe the latest Star Wars DVD release will be the last Star Wars DVD release.

"Eventually, [there will be] hi-def," Gentile says, "then there's going to be something after hi-def, and then something after that...So, where does it end?"

Officially, the upcoming Star Wars DVD sale will end Dec. 31--that's when the limited-edition releases are to be pulled from stores. But unofficially, Wise expects one, maybe two more DVD packages in the coming years, including a six-pack that would include all of the franchise's big-screen movies. And, dedicated as ever, he expects himself to buy Star Wars "two or three more times."

Asked how Lucas foresaw the future of Star Wars on DVD (and whatever format comes after DVD), a Lucasfilm spokesman said Thursday, "You're going to have to wait and see what the future holds."

Here's guessing said future comes with at least one all-new new commentary track.