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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 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. To highlight that point, I preface this list with a few examples of alterations that weren’t so excellent…

 

  • Greedo Shoots First. The most famous one and the one everyone seemingly objected to. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about it one way or the other, but if pushed I’ll put myself in the ‘Han Shoots First’ club. Redone again for the 2004 DVD release, with Greedo and Han shooting at almost the same time.


 

 

  • Jabba Crow-barred into A New Hope. A CGI version of Jabba the Hutt confronts Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon’s launch bay with new dialogue recorded in the Huttese language. The live action footage in the scene was from the original 1976 shoot though subsequently with Jabba animated in. This scene also includes Boba Fett. I never liked this. It seemed too forced, too much like an artificial imposition and less like a natural part of the story. And just sticking in Boba Fett for two seconds didn’t accomplish anything meaningful either. The whole sequence looks cumbersome and awkward.
  • In post-prequel revisions, lines spoken by Boba Fett are now in the voice of Temuera Morrison who portrayed Jango Fett and the Clone Troopers in Attack of the Clones. The voice was originally provided by Jason Wingreen. It’s evident why this alteration has been made, but somehow it doesn’t quite ring true.  Those lines of dialogue somehow sound phoney now.

 

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  • The CGI-ing of all Yoda in the prequels/TPM. Yoda was still in puppet territory for The Phantom Menace in 1999. For Episodes II and III he had advanced into CGI mode. In the most recent digital releases of the films, the Episode I Yoda has been retroactively made CGI. This understandably was done to ensure consistency between the three films. Which makes sense; but I don’t like it all. It looks illegitimate somehow. Thankfully there was no CGI refit for the older Yoda in Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedithat might’ve caused riots.
  • The CGI ing of elderly Anakin’s face in the final edit of ROTJ. As in on the Blu-Ray release. It looks weird and just feels uncomfortable. I’m totally happy with the insertion of Hayden Christensen’s ghost into the Endor celebration, that’s fine; but this restructuring of the dying Vader/Anakin’s face just comes across as very unorganic, very forced and awkward.

 

We all have our own opinions, of course; there may be many of you who love Yoda’s makeover or Greedo shooting first. Those are examples of Star Wars revisions not working so well (in my view); below are 10 of the better alterations made to the films over the years. This list centers on changes made for the 1997 cinematic re-releases, but includes changes made for the 2004 DVD box-set and the 2011 Blu-Ray collection…

 

Star Wars Revised: 10 of the Best Revisions…

1. 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.

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2. 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.

3. 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).

4. The addition of shots of Coruscant, Naboo and Tatooine to the ROTJ end celebrations was a mixed blessing, though it would seem necessary to the larger narrative as opposed to the solely Ewok/Endor celebration of the original film. But the key change that I wholly approved of was the original 1983 musical theme “Ewok Celebration” during this sequence being replaced with an entirely new John Williams composition, “Victory Celebration”, 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.

I argue with one of my friends over this issue; he prefers the original Ewok song, while I prefer the newer music.Some find the sequence silly, citing it as too childish a note to end the great saga on; I’ve always disagreed – I love the celebration sequence in the Ewok village. Vader’s cremation, Ewoks playing percussion on Stormtrooper helmets, Wicket dancing with Artoo, Luke seeing the ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda and the redeemed Anakin Skywalker to know that all is well. Given the despair-filled endings of Revenge of the Sith and Empire Strikes Back, surely the saga demands to be ended on a celebratory note?

5. 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.

6. 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, which adds a further level of resonance between ROTJ and ROTS. Such things might annoy Original Trilogy purists in this generation, but decades from now it would be confusing for future Star Wars watchers to see two different actors portraying such a key character in the series.

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7. 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 nicely 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 thought ROTS was awesome.

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8. 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.

9. A bigger, busier Mos Eisley Spaceport. 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.

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10. 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.

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These are 10 examples, in my opinion, of effective alterations made to the movies. 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?

Even as someone who doesn’t dislike those films as much as many others do, I can think of a few key changes I would make if I could. ‘The Phantom Menace: Special Edition’, anyone?

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