How ‘Stars Wars’ Fans are Saving the Original Movies by Hunting Down Film Reels

Side-by-side comparison of a scene from Star Wars. Left image labeled "Blu-ray" shows Princess Leia in a white outfit with defined, slightly darker colors. Right image labeled "Restored From Original" depicts the same scene with softer, more natural tones. Stormtroopers are in the background.
The 2011 Blu-ray version of Episode IV: A New Hope, left, a 4K version made from the original film reel, right.

Fans of the original Star Wars movies are hunting down film reels that were never returned by theaters so they can restore the movies themselves without any of George Lucas’ controversial alterations.

A report by The New York Times on May 4 (Star Wars Day) details how passionate Star Wars fan groups are rebelling against Lucasfilm’s special editions of the original trilogy which contain edits such as Han Solo being shot at by the bounty hunter Greedo first, rather than the original in which anti-hero Han kills Greedo without being shot at.

And it’s not just these script changes that fans take issue with: Robert Williams, a computer programmer who lives in Philadelphia, is a member of a group called Team Negative One who wants to watch The Empire Strikes Back (1980) as it was when it was first released complete with original color and soft grain.

Williams has completed a 4K restoration of A New Hope (1977) and Return of the Jedi (1983) which involved hunting down the original film reels that weren’t returned to the studio (like they were supposed to be) and digitizing them.

He and his fellow members of Team Negative One scour eBay and collections for the original Technicolor release print, scan it at full 4K, clean it at 4K, and render it at 4K.

Williams and his friends don’t post their work in full on platforms but it is possible to download them on and the Original Trilogy forum. The movies are titled by the years they were released. (In the above video, 4K77 is Williams’ work).

“I wanted to show the film to my kids, and I wanted them to see the original version that I enjoyed at their age,” Willaims writes on The Star Wars Trilogy website about 4K77 (A New Hope). “Not the one with the already dated-looking CGI, over-saturated colors, and a strong magenta tint.”

‘Grow Up. These are My Movies, Not Yours’

George Lucas is less than impressed with the amateurs’ antics. In various comments and interviews, he has told them to “grow up”. In 1997, the year when the first “special edition” of the trilogy came out, he called the enhanced films the definitive versions.

“Even the 35 million tapes of Star Wars out there won’t last more than 30 or 40 years. A hundred years from now, the only version of the movie that anyone will remember will be the DVD version,” he said.

Two men are shown inside a spaceship cockpit. The older man, with white hair and a beard, wears a light brown robe. The younger man has brown hair and is dressed in a vest over a white shirt. Various lights and controls are visible in the background.
The 2011 Blu-ray version, top. Project 4K77, bottom.

In 2004, Lucas told The Associated Press: “It’s like this is the movie I wanted it to be, and I’m sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be.”

However, Williams says the rebel Star Wars fans are actually sanguine about most of Lucas’ changes.

“They’re not really upset that he made the changes, because some of them are pretty cool and actually make the films better,” Williams tells The Times. “They’re really upset that he didn’t also release the original version alongside it. Just put two discs in the box. We’d have been happy.”