First of all, Han should always have shot first!
But while fan debate about The Original Trilogy will probably go on until the end of time, my position remains that some – even most – of the alterations that have been made to the Star Wars films over the years have been effective and have added to the overall quality of the films.
Looking through these various, numerous alterations and tweaks, it becomes evident that most of the more effective alterations are the relatively minor changes, aesthetic elements, etc, whereas the bigger, more conspicuous revisions tend not to work so well (inserting Jabba into A New Hope, having Vader yell “Nooooo!” when he saves Luke from the Emperor, etc).
But I generally prefer watching the altered versions of these films to watching the originals. And I still own all of the originals on VHS: so I always have the option.
We all have our own opinions, of course; and some people bash George Lucas for what is seen as excessive tinkering. But not me. I think Lucas was simply trying to make sure we had what he considered the best, most optimised version possible of these films: not just for now, but for future generations.
Anyway, here are 10 of the very best alterations made to the Star Wars: Original Trilogy – either for the 1997 Special Editions, the 2004 DVD releases or the 2011 Blu-Ray.
The additional dewbacks and search teams visible when the Stormtroopers are searching for the missing droids on Tatooine. An Imperial transport is also seen taking off in the background. Go back and watch the original version of a scene like this one now and you’ll find yourself racing back to the Special Edition.
I remember watching the A New Hope: Special Edition in the cinema and this relatively small enhancement excited me, along with the expansion of Mos Eisley, imparting fresh new life to a scene and setting I already knew so well.
It’s little changes like this that are the most effective, making the most positive difference.
Hayden Christensen’s appearing as Anakin’s ghost alongside Yoda and Obi Wan at the end of ROTJ. I know some people hate this particular revision, but I heartily defend it. It beautifully connects the original and prequel trilogies and particularly creates a stronger resonance between ROTS and ROTJ.
Post-prequels it it simply necessary, guys. Personally I also find it very poignant; but that’s speaking as someone who adores ROTS. For kids watching these films for the first time in the future, seeing Sebastian Shaw at the end won’t mean anything like as much as seeing the familiar face of the younger Anakin.
The insertion of Ian McDiarmid into the Vader/Emperor hologram scene in ESB. Not something that was done for the 1997 Special Edition cinema release, but for the later DVD alterations. It’s just necessary, as having a different actor/voice portray Palpatine in one of the six films is incongruous. McDiarmid actually recorded this scene during the filming of Revenge of the Sith.
Also, the original version of the Emperor in this scene looks so weird: I’m glad he’s gone.
The additional of shots of Coruscant, Naboo and Tatooine to the ROTJ end celebrations. While I loved the original celebration from the 1983 version, both sets of alterations (first the 1997 Special Edition and then the later DVD edition) to the ROTJ end sequence are big improvements.
While the original, smaller-scaled celebration limited to the Ewok village felt more intimate and character-centered (and worked nicely that way), the subsequent changes impart the victory celebration with much more context as a proper galaxy-wide event. And seeing Coruscant and Naboo in particular really help explicitly connect what’s happening in the Ewok village to what we’ve seen elsewhere in the saga. It’s all about giving the event its proper scope.
The other key change here that I wholly approved of was the entirely new John Williams composition, “Victory Celebration” replacing the old ‘Yub Nub’ song for the Special Edition. The old song, though it has its nostalgic charms, was just too cartoony; the replacement music is much more evocative, more bittersweet, and therefore more in-tune with the solemnity of Luke burning Vader/Anakin on the pyre and the poignancy of Anakin’s spirit being restored to The Force.
We now also get wonderful little details, like being able to hear Jar Jar’s voice (“Wesa free!”) in the crowd for the Theed sequence and the fact that you can now see the Jedi Temple in the background during the shots of Coruscant.
The colour correction for the lightsaber blades during the duel between Kenobi and Vader. It was annoying, watching the original Star Wars on VHS during the eighties, having to see those pale, lackluster lightsabers in the untouched original and feeling this aesthetic inconsistency between A New Hope and the two sequels therefore. The lightsabers subsequently have been made to look a lot better via various sequences of correction.
It would even help if they could speed up Alec Guinness’s and David Prowses’s movements somewhat too: but at least we’ve got better looking sabers now.
Bespin/Cloud City was given so much more life in the revised editions and it looks a lot better. Cloud City already looked breathtaking in the original version anyway, but the makeover is comprehensive, not just in the exterior panoramas but just as importantly in the interior scenes where the original white wall panels were replaced with windows to show more of Cloud City outside.
This was one of the major things I was really pleased about when I watched the ESB Special Edition in the cinema in 1997; it just makes Bespin feel that much more real.
Improved Wampa Ice Creature. It was only a few seconds of supplementation for the 1997 re-release of ESB, but it makes a difference. For years we were merely using our imaginations to fill in the blanks of what Luke’s Yeti-like assailant might’ve looked like; in 1997 we got to have the question definitively answered.
A bigger, busier Mos Eisley Spaceport. New creatures. New vehicles or ships. New background characters. Expanded vista and architecture. This version of Mos Eisley is far, far better than we originally had. It feels and looks much more like the bustling spaceport it is it meant to be. It actually feels a lot more like Mos Espa from The Phantom Menace: which makes perfect sense.
Family members of ILM employees wore costumes and walked around a blue-screen mat, their images were composited into the new scenes. It simply made the iconic location seem more active, more living, than in the original sequences.
The enhanced Sarlacc Pit, with its extra tentacles and CGI beak-like feature, as featured in the Return of the Jedi re-release. No longer did it look like a giant, dry vagina in the desert; and thus no longer did it seem like Boba Fett’s ignoble end is to be swallowed alive by said giant vagina (wonder what Freud would’ve had to say about that).
A new face in Jabba’s Palace. OK, this is a very minor one, but I personally love the inputting of a ‘Dug’ (as in Sebulba’s species) into Jabba’s Palace in the 2011 Blu-Ray of ROTJ; minor, trivial, but very cool. And, while it probably isn’t meant to be Sebulba, in my own head-canon it very much is.
These are 10 examples, in my opinion, of the most effective alterations made to the original Star Wars films: alterations that genuinely do enhance and improve this galaxy far far away and its vibrant life. Will there be any further alterations in years to come? Unlikely now that Uncle George has taken a back seat to other forces.
Though given all the constant bashing of the prequel trilogy, one wonders if some years from now there’ll be ‘revised editions’ of Episodes I to III? ‘The Phantom Menace: Special Edition’, anyone?