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Are the ‘Star Wars’ Original Theatrical Releases Finally Arriving on DVD and Blu-ray?

Star Wars Original Theatrical Release DVD
Lucasfilm

It’s the holy grail for ‘Star Wars‘ fans: the original theatrical releases of ‘A New Hope,’ ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return of the Jedi’ on DVD and Blu-ray. Right now, if you want to watch the theatrical versions of the original trilogy – without all the crap from the 1997 special editions – you have to own one of the original VHS copies, or find a bootleg rip of the 1985 Laserdisc. But, with ‘Star Wars: Episode 7‘ headed to theaters from their new home at Disney, could the original theatrical releases finally be commercially available for the first time in over 20 years?

Short answer: Possible, but don’t get your hopes up.

The latest rehash of a popular rumor comes from Bleeding Cool, who claim to have gotten their hands on an internal Disney marketing e-mail, which discusses an upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release of the ‘Star Wars’ original theatrical cuts. There are no additional details (like what would be included on the new box set or when it would be released), but it’s a rumor that’s sure to get ‘Star Wars’ fans excited again.

The problem is, there are many hurdles to this actually happening.

First, just because Disney bought Lucasfilm (back in October, 2012 for $4.05 billion), that doesn’t mean they immediately have the rights to the original trilogy. Fox retains theatrical and home video distribution rights to ‘Empire’ and ‘Jedi’ through 2020 and the rights to ‘A New Hope,’ well, forever.

Why can’t Fox just release the theatrical versions themselves? Well, because now Disney owns the rights to the movies. So, Fox owns the distribution rights to the movies, but can’t distribute them because they don’t own the movies themselves (minus ‘A New Hope,’ which they fully financed). Disney owns the movies, but can’t release them because they don’t own distribution rights. So, even if Disney wanted to release the original theatrical versions of the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy on DVD or Blu-ray next year, they would need to work out a deal with Fox.

Now, this kind of deal is not completely out of the question. A good example is the James Bond box set, which was released by Fox, but includes movies from MGM and Sony Pictures. If it’s financially lucrative for all parties and it makes sense to get a deal done, it could happen. No matter what, Disney will have to work out some sort of deal for any future box set, so they might as well work on one now, cut Fox some of the proceeds from ‘Empire’ and ‘Jedi’ and use the massive anticipation for the original trilogy to help promote ‘Star Wars: Episode 7.’

Will that actually happen? George Lucas himself, who hated the original theatrical trilogy so much he famously once said it “doesn’t exist anymore,” could do everything in his power (however limited it is at this point) to prevent a release while he’s alive. (The good news is that Lucas was just exaggerating: there are still 35mm print masters and the original negatives were not destroyed.)

So, until we get any official announcement from Disney and Fox on a home video agreement, it’s probably best to assume this isn’t happening anytime soon, and, if it does, it’s a welcome surprise.

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