When Disney bought Lucasfilm, it bought the rights to most of the Star Wars franchise. However, what Disney did not own were the distribution rights to the original trilogy, which were still owned by 20th Century Fox. And, even then, due to the deals George Lucas signed with the studio that produced the original six Star Wars films, the rights to A New Hope would be forever locked up with Fox.
However, now Disney owns Fox, so it can release the complete Star Wars collection. Unsurprsingly, Disney has already announced its plans to release a new Blu-Ray collection of the entire cinematic Star Wars franchise. Intriguingly, Disney also acquired the rights to the original cuts of Star Wars, pre-Special Edition, which have not seen a home media release since 2004. All of that could set the stage for Disney to release the fabled original editions in their uncut format.
The Original Cuts vs. Special Editions
The original cuts of Star Wars remain unavailable for public consumption in the current media landscape. When George Lucas re-released Star Wars back in the mid-90s, he made several alterations to the film that left many fans feeling sour. Lucas was unable to do everything he wanted on camera with the technology available to him in the 70s and 80s, but with computers, he went back to revise his original vision.
That's all well and good, but Lucas kept revising and tinkering with the Special Editions over the years, adding more and more that left fans feeling sour. Of course there are famous changes, such as making Greedo shoot first rather than Han, adding in a song and dance sequence into Jabba's palace, throwing CGI aliens in frame, which eclipse the actual events of the film.
While not every change was poorly received, many people would probably be less upset by the Special Edition if the original cuts were still available for purchase -- but no. Lucas not only argued that the Special Editions were the best way to see his films, but also refused to allow the original cuts to be released.
Several fan-edits exist that restore the original cuts to an HD quality, but this doesn't change the fact that Lucas refuses to release the original films as shown in theaters. This is despite other films that received special editions and re-edits (Blade Runner, ET, Kingdom of Heaven) often being re-released with every cut of the film available.
The Disney Re-Release
Star Wars has had several home media releases over the years. Disney's newly announced Blu-Ray release of the original franchise has been announced, but no special features have been officially revealed. Star Wars has had several physical releases over the years. For anyone who's already purchased one of several Star Wars home releases, there seems like little reason to purchase a new disc for non-completionists.
That means that special features could be Disney's best way to attract new potential buyers to the set.
New interviews and features can help restore interest in old DVD releases. Many Blu-Ray releases tout either fully restored versions of older films or even just new interviews. With an endlessly-beloved franchise like Star Wars, any number of new features might help draw attention to the new release, but the original cuts of Star Wars could transform this set from another unremarkable release into a must-buy event for Star Wars fans.
How Likely Is It?
One problematic aspect of restoring the original trilogy cuts is that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy reportedly doesn't see the restoration as a priority for her. For her, she would rather focus her resources on creating new content rather than return to the original cuts, insisting that the Special Edition cuts are, for the time being, the only canon worth considering.
However, priorities change. Fans are not privy to all the details going on behind the scenes. Furthermore, while Disney would likely shell out a great deal of money for an HD remaster, it's not an impossibly costly endeavor. Fans were able to create a restoration with the Despecialized Editions, and that was without the resources that a studio like Disney has lying around.
Ultimately, the original cuts of Star Wars would make any set that they're released in a must-buy item for Star Wars fans. If Disney wants to boost the numbers of its next set by a massive amount, the original theatrical cuts should be included as an extra. Since the fan-created Despecialized Editions already exist, Disney already has the perfect blueprint laid out for the project, and now it's just a matter of officially releasing it.