Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash.
This post was inspired by the recent Retroist podcast on LaserDiscs.
A few years ago, I was browsing through the Twitter feed on my phone while waiting for the kettle to boil when I stumbled upon a news story about a community initiative to create a DVD version of the Theatrical Star Wars trilogy. I was momentarily surprised that this was news at all. Surely this has been available for ages now, I thought.
But a little bit of searching reminded me of the conundrum. When George Lucas re-released Star Wars in theatres in 1997, he monkeyed with them. He added scenes and lots of new computer imagery. And he made Greedo shoot first.
Of course, I knew all this, but I assumed that there must be a legit DVD version of the original, unaltered theatrical release available by now.
In fact, there was one version, included on a bonus disc in the limited edition DVD release of episodes IV to VI; but the quality is apparently disappointing because it was sourced from the 1993 LaserDisc release.
Upon reading the word LaserDisc, my mind wandered to the nostalgic realm of yesteryear when my friends and I would frequent the demo rooms at A&B Sound. There we would crank the subwoofer, cue up the T2 LaserDisc, and watch in bliss as Schwarzenegger blazed a trail through the Los Angeles viaduct system on his bad-ass Harley Davidson. LaserDiscs were a high-end luxury item that a kid like me could dream of, but never afford. Even if I could have scrounged up enough to buy a player, I’d quickly go broke from the cost of the discs – I recall that $100 per movie was pretty standard.
As my mind veered back to the present, it skidded over a slick patch, and a terribly wonderful idea was born.
That was like 25 years ago!, I thought to myself. I’ll bet I can pick up a LaserDisc player from Craigslist for almost nothing. And how hard could it be to find a LaserDisc copy of Star Wars?
What if… stay with me here…, I bought a LaserDisc player for the single purpose of playing the original theatrical release of Star Wars? It would be the new jewel of my home theatre – and I would be the envy of the neighbourhood. While all these other suckers were suffering through the lamely modified special editions, or adjusting the tracking on their degraded VHS copy of Star Wars, I would be enjoying the trilogy that started it all on LaserDisc!
The kettle was now boiled, so I poured it into the pot to start the steeping process. Then I resumed my planning for operation LaserDisc.
First stop, Craigslist, where I hoped to find a cheap player. I assumed I’d have to try eBay for the movies themselves. I typed in “LaserDisc” into the search field, pressed the “Search” button. To my amazement, the very first thing that came up was the Star Wars box set on LaserDisc! It was listed as part of a lot of LaserDiscs. Two boxes of them for $50.
The plan was only to get Star Wars. But $50 was well within my cost tolerance for a foolish impulse buy, so if they forced me to take the rest of the discs, then I wasn’t going to complain. I could have that LaserDisc collection that I had always wanted back in ’94.
The tea was finished steeping now, so I poured it into my mug, took a sip, and started plotting my journey to the pawn shop where the discs were being held.
When you are a parent of small children, you can’t just pick up and leave on a whim. You need to negotiate with your wife, first. Depending on the success of the negotiation you may end up with anywhere between zero and three travel companions. Best case scenario, is your wife has your back, and you can just walk out the door and seek your glory. The worst case scenario is that you have some obligation that you forgot about, and you can’t begin the mission at all. The other three possible outcomes are, in decreasing order of goodness are:
- You have three travel companions. Two half-lings and a wife.
- You have one travel companion.
- You have two travel companions.
It is worth noting that option 1, while being preferable to the other two, may involve a more rigorous preparation of rations, and thus it may take longer to get the wagons moving.
On this occasion, it would just be me and my almost-two-year-old apprentice, Apollo.
After finishing my Tea, I packed Apollo into his car seat, and we started off on our fateful journey.
We arrived at our destination about 40 minutes later. It was a small concrete building with barred windows on a fast and wide stretch of King George highway. There were no other cars in the parking lot, but there was a neon “Open” sign in the window, that gave me some assurance that I was in the right place.
Before getting out of the car, I took a quick glance around the neighbourhood, to assess whether there was any way I could pull this off without bringing Apollo in with me. The assortment of Tattoo parlours and questionable-looking passers-by, combined with the mild, but warm temperature forced my hand. Apollo would be joining me.
I unbuckled him, and lifted him out of the seat, then carried him to the door, which was locked. After ringing the door bell, we were buzzed in.
A guy behind the counter asked if he could help me and told him I was there for the Star Wars LaserDisc.
He pulled out two cardboard boxes from the back room and placed them on the counter. I asked if he would be willing to sell just the Star Wars, but he said he couldn’t. I didn’t protest much. I just pulled out my wallet and paid.
The trek back to the car was a multi-trip affair, holding Apollo in one arm and a box of LaserDiscs in the other. The two boxes fit nicely in the back of the car. Sometimes that “hatch-back” comes in handy.
And so the first act of our adventure was complete. We had secured our treasure. Now we just needed to acquire the player.
Sitting in the parking lot of the Pawn shop, I browsed through the Craigslist ads to see if there were any listings on my way home. There was one that was conveniently located in Cloverdale, about half way to home. The ad said he had seven laser disc players, and a whole bunch of movies. All I needed was one player. Perhaps he would be willing to do me a solid and break up the band for me.
“Which one do you want?”, he asked.
“Which one is the best?”, I replied.
“It depends”, he said. “One or two of them may not work – I don’t remember.”
I asked him to send me the model numbers so I could do a little bit of research. He sent me the list and I went to work trying to figure out which one would be best. Unfortunately, LaserDisc largely pre-dates the internet so finding specs on these models was difficult.
After a rather unfruitful ten minute rapid-fire Google session, I decided to just drive there and see what he had.
When we arrived at the guy’s house, he came out and met us.
“Let me show you what I have”, he said.
He opened the door to a storage room adjacent to the house. Inside there were boxes stacked floor to ceiling, and a smattering of electronics.
“Hold on”, he said as he forged a path through the stacks.
I followed him to the back of the room where he had two towers of LaserDisc players. Some of the units looked like they cater more to Karaoke, as they had microphone inputs, volume knobs, and Japanese writing on them. Others were more familiar (Pioneer) and looked like they were more appropriate for movie watching.
“Can you give me any indication of which one is the best one?”, I asked. I knew we had been over this ground earlier by text, but I thought that it was worth a shot to try again, now that we were face to face. Perhaps his body language would provide that extra bit of insight that would help me to decide.
He hummed and hawed a little.
“It’s really hard to say”, he said. “It has been so long since I’ve had them hooked up. I just can’t remember which ones work and which ones don’t”.
“I’ll tell you what”, he said. “Why don’t I just give you the whole lot for, say, $100?”
“Is that just the players, or for all the movies too?”.
I think he had been asking $250 for the lot in the ad – and he mentioned there were hundreds of movies and karaoke discs.
“The movies too”, he replied.
I thought about it for a moment. My gut said, hell yes! I want it all!. But my sober, responsible, self-aware inner adult wondered if this was, for lack of a better word, hoarding. I thought about the original, minimal vision that I had constructed for this project only 3 hours earlier, waiting for my tea to steep. “One LaserDisc player, and one box set… That’s it. That’s all I need”, I had told myself.
“Sounds good! I’ll take it all”. My hoarding inner child won the argument decisively.
Apollo sat patiently in his rear-facing car seat as cardboard boxes began to grow around him. Unfortunately the car reached maximum capacity prematurely, so we had to unload some of it and strategize ways to pack it in more efficiently. LaserDiscs abhor a vacuum, and we did their bidding by filling every possible space in that car. You’d be lucky to fit a baseball card in that car by the time were were done.
You’ll be relieved to know that I didn’t pile anything on top of Apollo. Beside, behind, underneath, but not on top. Though it did cross my mind.
“Don’t look at me, I’m hideous!”
That’s the first thing I said to my wife when I arrived home with a weighed-down car, bursting at the seams with obsolete analog media.
I had returned from the sanctum sanctorum with the ultimate boon: LaserDiscs with the original theatrical release of Star Wars, and a laser disc player.. And a few hundred other discs, and six more players.
Surely one of them must work, right? Right??
Stay tuned for the next instalment, where I test each player, disqualifying the ones that emitted bad smells and demonic sounds to settle on the one that almost worked perfectly. Then got it repaired for twice the cost of the entire rest of this adventure. And then bought two copies of Rocky III on eBay.
Photo of me, by my wife.