— Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis Entertainment/Getty Images

The ones who were there 47 years ago remember it clearly: Han shot first. But in nearly every version of 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope that you can find today, Harrison Ford’s charming smuggler was a little slow to the trigger in his face-off against Greedo — one of the many changes that director George Lucas made to the three original Star Wars movies in their home video releases over the past four decades. Lucas has been criticized for his tendency to fiddle with his original Star Wars trilogy in these re-releases; adding scenes, changing pivotal moments, and punching up the practical effects with new digital innovations. The new versions have become so controversial that fans have launched whole projects to restore the original theatrical versions. But if Lucas had his way, no one would see those versions again.

“I’m a firm believer that the director, or the writer, or the filmmaker should have a right to have his movie be the way he wants it,” Lucas said at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, where he was being awarded with an honorary Palme d’Or. Lucas compared the process to Michaelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel, in which the artist spent years undoing and redoing his work until it fit his vision.

Lucas has long been a strong proponent of digital innovation; founding the VFX company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), which made huge leaps in visual effects like CGI — the kind seen in his prequel trilogy and in the “special edition” re-releases for his original trilogy. But as controversial as his use of CGI was in both trilogies, Lucas pointed out during his Cannes conversation that the original theatrical release of A New Hope never looked that great to begin with.

“We did release the original one on laserdisc and everybody got really mad,” Lucas said. “They said, ‘It looks terrible.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I know it did.’ That is what it looked like.”

Lucas has been retired for about a dozen years now, announcing in 2012 that he was refocusing his career to producing smaller, independent features. But he has kept his eyes on technological innovations — when asked his thoughts on AI, Lucas said that the use of the technology in filmmaking was “inevitable.” He said, “It’s like saying, ‘I don’t think these cars are going to work… let’s just stick with horses.’ You can say that, but that isn’t the way the world works.”

But worry not: we likely won’t get a new “special edition” of the original Star Wars trilogy made by AI — that’s as probable as a 4K restoration of the original theatrical cuts. But there’s one silver lining: those laserdisc versions of Star Wars: A New Hope are surprisingly cheap.

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