I finally got around to downloading all of the Harmy's Despecialized versions of the original Star Wars trilogy this afternoon. I first read about these a while ago, and downloaded A New Hope earlier this year (though I haven't watched it yet; that'll change tonight). It's a lengthy process -- you have to download the movies first (they're about 17, 20 and 10 gigabytes, respectively) before transcoding them into a useful file format (I used Handbrake, a very helpful Mac app).
For the uninitiated, the Harmy's Despecliazed versions of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are basically the original theatrical cuts of those films in high definition. I skimmed through each today, and they're all Blu-Ray quality, which is amazing once you learn about the process by which they were put together. The reason they're a big deal is because you can't get the theatrical cuts in high-quality DVD or Blu-Ray just by searching for them on Amazon or in iTunes: The versions that exist in the real world have all been edited, significantly and poorly, by George Lucas since their original releases.
Harmy's own description of the Despecialized editions is simple:
This is a reconstruction of the 1977 theatrical version of STAR WARS. The original shots were painstakingly restored using various sources (listed below) and the film received an extensive shot by shot colour correction based on a fade free 1977 I.B. Technicolor Print.
But in fact, it's a miracle that anyone went through the effort to make this happen. The video sources are extensive for each film, and everything had to be color-corrected to make it work as one movie in itself. On top of that, the older source video had to be upscaled for high quality playback on big screens. Here's an example of how different each of the sources looked from one another. It's phenomenal that these exist.
This short documentary details the process of building the Despecialized Edition, which I recommend watching if you're into this idea but unsure of whether it's worth the time it takes to download all this stuff. There's also a decent Polygon article about them.
My first plan was to burn these each to DVD, print out artwork for each and house them in empty DVD cases (which I may still do at some point), but for now I decided to go the route of iTunes Home Sharing instead. So I just popped those bad boys into iTunes, tacked on the original movie poster artwork for each (Hope, Empire, Return), and they're all already ready to roll on my Apple TV.
While I was at it, I downloaded Blu-Ray rips of the prequel trilogy for good measure, so I don't have to turn on my Xbox 360 at all in the near future to watch my DVD copies. This is all aided by a very fast Internet connection on my end, but those were each around 2 GB and already in MP4 format, so that only added about 20 minutes in total to the overall project. In total it took about 2.5 to 3 hours to get all six movies ready to go.
Now we're about to start our re-watch of the full saga. I think we're going to go in Machete Order (so The Phantom Menace is really only here for the sake of posterity; maybe we'll throw it in as a joke or drinking game if we're ahead of schedule on the re-watching calendar), and I'm timing this with some cushion to get us right up to our Force Awakens premiere showing as our re-watch ends.
It's a great time to be a Star Wars fan. If you're also prepping to do a re-watch before Episode VII comes out, I highly recommend making this an afternoon project of your own.