Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

What Is The Star Wars 4k77 Project & Why Is It So Important To Some Fans?

"Star Wars" remains one of the most beloved and culturally significant names in modern pop culture, but unfortunately, its historical impact can be a tricky thing to revisit. Beginning with the release of the so-called "Special Editions" of the original trilogy back in 1997, George Lucas began a long process of altering and updating the theatrical cuts of the first three films — one that continued well into the 21st century as he continued tinkering with things. The changes ranged from new audio mixes to added CGI that replaced older practical effects, entirely new scenes like Han Solo meeting Jabba the Hutt in "A New Hope," and Hayden Christensen ultimately replacing Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker in the Force ghost scene at the end of "Return of the Jedi."

Overall, the changes Lucas made over the years were pretty controversial among die-hard fans. Some complaints involved character changes, like the infamous "Han shot first" debate, but the larger issue many fans had was the holistic erosion of the original cuts. Had Lucas kept the theatrical versions in circulation alongside his updated cuts, people may have been less upset. However, each of the new editions replaced the one prior. To this day, the theatrical cuts of the trilogy aren't commercially available, even after Disney purchased Lucasfilm. And so, some fans took matters into their own hands.

Fan campaigns like Project 4k77 have sought to restore something close to the theatrical cuts of the original Star Wars trilogy. And for now, they're the only way for people to know what it was really like to see "Star Wars" in 1977.

A brief history of Star Wars fan restorations

The history of Star Wars fan restorations began in earnest with the "Despecialized Edition" project from Petr Harmáček. Beginning in 2010, Harmáček undertook the tall task of creating new edits of the original trilogy using a variety of sources. While these versions were widely praised by other fans, some believed the project could be taken even further. Since then, additional efforts have been made to restore the original cuts using original 35mm film prints, color alteration, and other techniques.

At the moment, the most advanced instance of this is Project 4k77 — an effort begun in 2016 using original film print scans to create a version of the first "Star Wars" cut that would look serviceable on modern 4k screens. After 4k77 was completed, yielding a finished product that's pretty close to the genuine artifact, the group of fans known as Team Negative 1 began working on Project 4k83 and 4k80, restoring "Return of the Jedi" and "The Empire Strikes Back," respectively.

These projects have been celebrated for their historical significance. Many believe that regardless of how one feels about Lucas' changes, it's wrong not to have the original cuts available for historical and preservational purposes. Unfortunately, because the projects are fan-led and unsanctioned by Lucasfilm, their legality is in a constant state of limbo. The solution most fans still hope for is a proper release of the theatrical cuts from Disney itself.

Will Disney ever release the original theatrical Star Wars cuts?

It's been over a decade since Disney acquired Lucasfilm, and we seem to be no closer to getting official releases for the original trilogy's theatrical cuts. Like Lucas, Disney seems hesitant to put out multiple versions of the same movies. In a 2023 interview with Moody TV, "The Mandalorian" showrunner Jon Favreau expressed doubt that many people beyond a select few superfans would have any interest in revisiting the theatrical editions. And yet, we keep seeing new efforts to restore the original cuts, so there must be interest out there.

The historical preservation argument is probably the most convincing for casual fans. At the same time, it's hard to understand why Disney wouldn't want the extra content. Putting out the theatrical cuts as promotional Disney+ exclusives might be a great way to re-engage fans who've fallen off of the franchise in more recent years. For now, we can only cross our fingers that an official release of the original Star Wars cuts might one day arrive.