Changes in Star Wars re-releases
Changes in Star Wars re-releases vary from minor differences in color timing, audio mixing, and take choices to major insertions of new visual effects, additions of characters and dialogue, scene expansions, and replacement of original cast members with newer ones. Though changes were also made to the prequel trilogy, the original trilogy saw the most alteration. Dissatisfied with the original theatrical cuts of the original Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, creator George Lucas altered the films in an attempt to achieve the ideal versions that he could not initially due to limitations of time, budget, and technology.
The first significant changes were made in 1997 with the release of a Special Edition remaster in commemoration of the franchise's twentieth anniversary. These changes were intended to modernize the films and create consistency with the forthcoming prequel trilogy. Additional notable changes were made when the original trilogy was released on DVD in 2004, in an attempt to create more consistency with the prequel trilogy after the release of Attack of the Clones and in anticipation of Revenge of the Sith. More changes were made to the films for their Blu-ray release in 2011.
Many changes met criticism and outrage from fans and critics, and many believed that Lucas degraded the original films with the additions. Most controversial is the decision to have Greedo shoot before Han Solo does, which sparked wide usage of the phrase "Han shot first". Other controversial changes include replacing the song sung by a puppet Sy Snootles with a new song by a CGI Snootles, having Darth Vader yell "No!" as he kills the Emperor, and replacing Sebastian Shaw as the Force spirit of Anakin Skywalker with Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin in the prequel films. It was also felt by critics that some of these changes stripped the films of the qualities for which they won awards. However, some also felt that many smaller changes were improvements, innocuous, or understandable.
In 1989, the original release of Star Wars was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress. In 2014, the Library still did not have a "working copy" (a copy available for public viewing) of the 1977 film; director George Lucas refused to submit the original, stating that he no longer authorized the release of the theatrical version. Lucasfilm offered the altered 1997 Special Edition release, but the Registry refused it as the first published version must be accepted. The Library, however, did possess a 35mm print of the original film (the version without A New Hope subtitle and subsequent alterations) in 1978 as part of the film's copyright deposit. A digital working copy was subsequently made of this.
Star Wars release history
- 1977: In May, Star Wars was theatrically released. In June, a mono mix print of the film was released, with significant changes in audio lines and special effects. Later that year, among others, a silent, English-subtitled Super 8 reel version of the film was released by Ken Films.
- 1980: The Empire Strikes Back was theatrically released. A 70mm print of the film differed from the more widely distributed 35mm print in takes of dialogue, visual and sound effects, shot choices, and transitions between shots. None of these changes appeared in later releases, with exception of one dialogue change.
- 1981: Star Wars is re-released, with the addition of subtitles "Episode IV" and "A New Hope".
- 1983: Return of the Jedi was theatrically released.
- 1985: Star Wars, now subtitled A New Hope, was re-released on VHS and in 1989 released on LaserDisc with an improved audio mix. The LaserDisc release, and the CED videodisc also released, sped the film up by three percent to fit the film onto a single disc. Some releases additionally had minor aspect ratio changes.
- 1993: The original trilogy was released on LaserDisc as "The Definitive Collection". With exception of a THX audio mix, scratch and dirt removal, and color balance changes, it matched the original theatrical releases.
- 1995: The original trilogy was offered on VHS in a "last chance to own the original" campaign before the films were taken off the market in January 1996 and an altered re-release released in 1997.
- 1997: The Special Edition of the original trilogy was released theatrically and to home media for the twentieth anniversary of Star Wars. This release featured the first significant changes, intended to modernize the films and create consistency with the forthcoming prequel trilogy. The original negatives were also digitally restored.
- 1999: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was theatrically released.
- 2001: The Phantom Menace was released on DVD, which features a slightly extended cut from the theatrical release.
- 2002: Episode II – Attack of the Clones was theatrically released. A version made for digital-projection theaters included a few special effects and extended lines of dialogue which were not ready for the initial wide release; the DVD features only the digital version.
- 2004: The original trilogy was released on DVD. Further significant alterations were made.
- 2005: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was theatrically released. The DVD release features a minor editing change.
- 2006: Another version of the 2004 DVD edition was released. An unaltered version of the trilogy was included on bonus discs; it was the same as the 1993 LaserDisc release and was of inferior quality to the restored version.
- 2011: The original and prequel films were released for Blu-ray. Alterations were made to all six films.
- 2015: The original and prequel films were released digitally to streaming services. It is identical to the Blu-ray release, except for changes to the opening logos and fanfares. The 20th Century Fox logo was removed from The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and the prequel films as a result of Disney's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm.
- 2019: The original and prequel films, along with The Force Awakens and Rogue One, were released in 4K resolution on The Walt Disney Company's streaming service, Disney+. The 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare were restored to the five films they had been removed from in 2015 as a result of Disney's acquisition of 21st Century Fox earlier in 2019. Changes were also made to A New Hope, including color corrections.
The first film was released in 1977 under the title Star Wars. The subtitle Episode IV – A New Hope was retroactively added to the opening crawl in a subsequent release. Accounts differ as to when this change occurred. Some, including Lucasfilm, date the addition to a theatrical re-release on April 10, 1981, while others place it much earlier at the re-release in July 1978. This change was made to bring the original film in line with the titling of its sequel The Empire Strikes Back, which was released in 1980 with the subtitle Episode V.
In Star Wars, Han Solo is cornered in the Mos Eisley cantina by the bounty hunter Greedo, and the confrontation ends with Han shooting under the table and killing Greedo. The circumstances of the shot vary between versions of the film. In the original 1977 theatrical release of the film, Han shoots Greedo, and Greedo dies. The 1997 Special Edition release of the film alters the scene so that Greedo shoots first and misses (with Han's head digitally altered to move away from the laser blast). The scene was altered again in the 2004 DVD release of the film so that Han and Greedo shoot simultaneously. The scene was further modified for the 2019 4K release on Disney+ with the addition of a close-up shot of Greedo speaking (without subtitles) and a re-rendering of the visual effects.
Lucas stated that he always intended for Greedo to have shot first. He felt that the idea of Han shooting first depicts him as "a cold-blooded killer". This decision sparked objections that it changed Han's moral ambiguity, fundamentally altered his established character, and diminished his transition from antihero to hero. It became one of the most controversial changes to the films.
Luke's lightsaber, which had appeared green in the training scene aboard the Millennium Falcon, was corrected to blue. Additionally, the effects during the duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader have been refined.
Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett
The original script for Star Wars included a scene between Jabba the Hutt (who was designed in concept art drawings similarly to his appearance in Return of the Jedi and often traveling on a sedan chair) and Han Solo, set in Mos Eisley's Dock 94. The scene was filmed with Harrison Ford playing Solo and Declan Mulholland, a large man, wearing a furry vest as a stand-in for Jabba. Lucas intended to replace Mulholland in post-production with a stop-motion character. Due to time limitations and budget constraints, the scene was cut. In the 1997 Special Edition, the scene was reinserted with a CGI Jabba replacing Mulholland. In the original scene, Ford walked too close to Mulholland; Han stepping on Jabba's tail and causing him to squeal was created as a workaround (with Han digitally moved vertically to account for Jabba's tail). Boba Fett was also added to the background of the scene.
The insertion of this scene into the film was criticized for being superfluous to the previous cantina scene with Greedo, slowing down the pacing, and failing to move the plot forward. The original 1997 CGI, having big Cheshire Cat-like eyes and a small head, was also described as "atrocious". Jabba's design was modified for the 2004 DVD release, making him more realistic and similar to his depiction in Return of the Jedi.
Biggs Darklighter on Yavin 4
During the production of Star Wars, scenes were filmed featuring Biggs Darklighter and his friendship with Luke Skywalker set on Tatooine and at the rebel base on Yavin 4 shortly before the attack on the Death Star. The scenes were cut because they were felt to disrupt the pacing of the film. In the original theatrical release, Biggs is only briefly mentioned as one of Luke's friends early in the movie, and he is seen briefly during the attack on the Death Star, in which he dies, and a relationship between Biggs and Luke is never stated. Despite this, Luke reacts strongly to Biggs' death. The 1997 Special Edition of the Star Wars film incorporated the previously deleted scene on Yavin 4. The loss of the scenes at Tatooine and Yavin 4 was felt to lessen the significance of Biggs' death, cast Luke's reaction to the death as overly strong, and make the framing of the death as a tragedy confusing. It was felt that the readdition of the Yavin 4 scene helped to rectify this issue.
The Empire Strikes Back
The Emperor's hologram
Clive Revill originally provided the Emperor's voice in The Empire Strikes Back, while actress Marjorie Eaton portrayed him physically, wearing a mask. Ultimately the actress and voice actor were replaced by Ian McDiarmid, who portrayed the character in later films, for the 2004 DVD edition and subsequent releases. The dialogue was changed somewhat with this alteration.
Boba Fett's voice
Boba Fett's dialogue in the film was originally recorded by Jason Wingreen. Subsequently, Attack of the Clones revealed Boba to be a clone of Jango Fett, played by Temuera Morrison. To reflect this, Morrison re-recorded Boba's lines for the 2004 DVD release of the film.
Return of the Jedi
Max Rebo Band
The scene in which Jabba the Hutt feeds the dancer Oola to the rancor opens with a performance by the Max Rebo Band and its lead singer Sy Snootles. In the original theatrical release, the song is "Lapti Nek", sung in the fictional language Huttese. The 1997 Special Edition changed the performance to the "less dated" song "Jedi Rocks". The puppet used for Snootles was also replaced with CGI in the Special Edition. This was made because, according to producer Rick McCallum, Lucas could not achieve the "large musical number" he envisioned because characters could not move in certain ways; Snootles could not open her mouth to lip sync correctly, and her eyes did not move. The Special Edition increased the size of the Max Rebo Band from three members to twelve.
A Polygon author wrote that the new material is "an overproduced intrusion that takes twice as long to add nothing" and distracts from the scene's intention: to establish the trapdoor leading to the rancor and Jabba's deadliness. The same writer stated that he thought "Lapti Nek" was a better song, describing the vocals of "Jedi Rocks" as difficult to listen to and having "the volume and vocal fry of a higher pitched Tina Turner but none of the soul". A Wired writer similarly states that the new song is a grating, "pointless Pointer Sisters rip-off" and that the additions crowded the scene with dead-on-arrival CGI. Den of Geek notes that the change negatively altered the tone of the scene and only "replaced one flawed effect with another", writing that "What was once a low-key yet appealing background moment in the movie's first act [has] grown into ... an in-your-face audio-visual spectacle".
Expansion of Oola's death scene
In the theatrical release of the film, Oola's death is filmed from outside the rancor pit: she falls into the pit, and her scream is heard from off-screen. In the 1997 Special Edition, extra shots were inserted depicting her in the pit, including shots where she looks up to the crowd, the pit door being raised, and a shot of her terror. The rancor and Oola as she screams remain off-screen.
Femi Taylor, who played Oola, impressed critics with her ability to reprise the role over a decade later without visible difference. James Whitbrook at io9 praised the additions to the scene, especially in comparison to the decision to bring the wampa on-screen in the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, writing that it teased the rancor well while still keeping the monster a surprise for Luke's later battle with it. Den of Geek UK, however, criticized the additions as unnecessary and felt that they made the audience familiar with the pit, lessening fear during Luke's scene in the pit.
Addition of Darth Vader's "No!"
At the climax of the film, the Emperor tortures Luke with Force lightning, prompting Darth Vader to throw the Emperor down a chasm and kill him. In the theatrical release and earlier home video releases, Darth Vader watches and acts in silence. The 2011 Blu-ray release adds Darth Vader muttering "No" and then yelling a drawn-out "No!", creating a parallel with his similar cry at the end of Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. This addition was described as unnecessary and sounding terrible, and a Polygon author said it "takes what was once emotional and make it laughable". The author also felt that the addition displayed a distrust in an audience's ability to interpret Vader's emotions. The symmetry created by the parallel was described as "clumsy" and was felt to mock the scene in the prequel.
In the scene where Anakin Skywalker is unmasked, the 2004 DVD release digitally removed his eyebrows to reflect Anakin burning on Mustafar at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Actor Sebastian Shaw's brown eyes were also digitally changed to blue to match Hayden Christensen's eye color.
The film ends with a scene of the Rebel Alliance and a village of Ewoks on Endor celebrating the death of the Emperor and victory over the Empire. The original theatrical release of the film featured the song "Ewok Celebration", also known as "Yub Nub", playing over the celebration. The 1997 Special Edition release of the film replaced "Ewok Celebration" with score composed by John Williams titled "Victory Celebration", and the scene was lengthened to include shots of celebration on the planets Coruscant, Bespin, and Tatooine. The 2004 DVD release further added a shot set on Naboo, in which a Gungan is given a line of dialogue.
Anakin's Force ghost
At the end of the film, Darth Vader is redeemed by killing the Emperor to save Luke Skywalker's life, then dies of his injuries shortly after, and appears to Luke as Anakin Skywalker alongside the Force spirits of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the 1983 theatrical release, Sebastian Shaw plays this Force ghost in addition to an unmasked Vader. Hayden Christensen later played Anakin in the prequel trilogy films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. To reflect this, the 2004 DVD release of Return of the Jedi replaced Shaw's appearance as the Force ghost with Christensen, which was considered controversial by some.
The Phantom Menace
For the theatrical release of The Phantom Menace, a puppet was used to portray Yoda in most of his scenes. This was changed for the 2011 Blu-ray release, with the puppet being replaced with a CGI-model, similar to those used for the film's sequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
One writer claimed that the first Star Wars won the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, and the Special Edition changes to the sound mixing, sound effects, and visual effects were felt to have "stripped the film of every aspect that it had won its Academy Awards for".
Lance Ulanoff of Mashable, who in 2015 viewed the original theatrical print of Star Wars submitted to the Library of Congress, notes merit to Lucas' belief that technology did not allow him to achieve his vision, citing a visible marquee around Leia's ship "so jarring that it temporarily pulls me out of the film", because the original print is "lack[ing] the seamless quality [he has] come to expect from sci-fi and fantasy". Despite this, he "hate[s] each and every one" of the later added CGI effects and describes positively his ability to view the original print.
Dave Tach, writing for Polygon, noted minor changes, such as adding windows to Cloud City on Bespin, adding sparks to Jango Fett's jetpack, or replacing the original Emperor hologram with McDiarmid, as innocuous ones that "angered, to a close approximation, nobody" because "there was a solid logic behind those amendments". In late 2019, Screen Rant's Leon Miller published a list of five changes that he thinks should be kept, as well as five he feels should be reversed.
- This was reversed for the 2011 Blu-ray.
- The dialogue is also spoken in The Phantom Menace, where it is subtitled "This will be the end of you."
- The change was made by Lucas before the 2012 sale of his company to Disney.
- This version appears on the cover of the Expanded Universe novel The Hutt Gambit (1997).
- This was stated in 2013 to be make-up artist Rick Baker's wife wearing a mask he crafted, with chimpanzee eyes superimposed over hers. However, it was later clarified by Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo to be Eaton in the film (previously believed to have only appeared in a test), wearing a mask crafted by Phil Tippett.
- Filmed during the production of Revenge of the Sith
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