If it ain’t broke, break it! That seems to be the motto George Lucas adopted in the 1990s as he was gearing up to return to the seminal universe of ‘Star Wars’ one of the most influential movie series of all time. In the late 70s and early 80s, the first three movies rocked the movie-going world and influenced a generation, many of whom are still devoted followers to this day. As fans knew, the three movies produced were the fourth, fifth and sixth chapters in a larger untold epic, with many assuming that the first, second, third, seventh, eighth and ninth would remain a mystery, until Lucas announced plans to actually produce movies for them.Photo credit: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com
Special effects had improved by, ahem, light years by this point and Lucas, like a kid in a candy store, planned to exploit that to the fullest in the new films, but as a warm up, he decided to do the unthinkable– go back and improve the beloved original movies.
It made sense in a lot of ways. There was nothing wrong with going back and cleaning up the originals to give them a sharper look or remastering the sound to take advantage of the more advanced equipment then being used in theaters. And tweaking a few other things here and there should have been fine, if it helped the narrative flow better.
It was a doubly great idea to get the originals back in theaters. It was a lovely treat for fans who’d grown up with them, but who’d by and large experienced them on TV and VHS, to get to see the sweeping space epic on the big screen again. And for those who had somehow never seen them, it made sense to reach those potential fans before the new movies came out.
Unfortunately, remastering and making small adjustments wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg of what Lucas unleashed on his holy trinity. He went apes*** cluttering the screen with wacky, bumbling robots and shambling behemoths, added for no real reason than to say “Hey, look what I made!” The older effects might have seemed quaint, but then to have vintage creatures created with makeup and prosthetics suddenly side-by-side with CGI images that looked like they’d stumbled over from the latest video game made for a jarring viewing experience.
And then Greedo shot first.You’ll buy the Special Editions and you’ll like it!!! (It could have been worse. At least Ja Jar wasn’t in them.)
In what has become the rallying point behind which purists have come to demonize the “Special Editions,” an early seen in the first movie, ‘A New Hope’ was altered so that cutthroat scoundrel Han Solo did not simply cap Greedo, a bounty hunter sent to bring him to gangster Jabba the Hutt. He did so out of SELF DEFENSE when the scene was redone so that Greedo tried to sneakily assassinate him.
Too far, Lucas. Too far.
While the ‘Special Editions’ aren’t blasphemous as the subsequent prequels, that are the object of hatred by purists simply because Lucas decreed that these were now THE versions of the original movies. The older, un-retouched versions were gone for good, so if you wanted the first trilogy on a modern format (DVD and Blu-ray), then the ‘Special Editions’ were the only ones available.
One enterprising fan, Marcelo Zuniga, actually compiled a series of videos that walk a viewer through the changes between the two versions, both minor and major. These videos show the same scenes, either side-by-side or before and after, with explanation of the alterations that were made.
You can watch them below:
Honestly, some of the changes are actually quite nice! Some of the longer, more detailed establishing shots give a greater sense of sweeping grandeur.
But most of it is… this:
“Daddy! Daddy! Look what I did!!!”
On one hand, it’s hard to get mad because you know Lucas thought he was just The Shizz and that he was legitimately making his movies better and that fans would love these cutting edge changes. On the other hand, MY F***ING CAR!!!
There is (a new) hope, now that Disney owns the rights to Lucasfilm LTD, that they may make the original versions available on newer high def technology. In the meantime, enjoy that extended musical number in ‘Jedi’ and just be glad it’s not in a karaoke singalong edition.