Next month marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the original Star Wars in 1977. Unfortunately, this year also marks the 20th anniversary of the “Special Edition” trilogy release. Special edition is really a misnomer, because Lucas turned these into the definitive versions, as the original cuts of the films are no longer available to buy or stream and were never put out on Blu-ray. The print restoration and sound-enhancement for the trilogy was well-done and all three films look amazing now. If only Lucas and his team had stopped there. Sure, fixing some of the special effects shots was fine, but adding whole scenes and editing sequences changed the films almost universally for the worse. While some of the new footage was shot on location or in a studio, mostly the extensive use of CGI caused all of it to look dated virtually upon arrival. So what were the worst changes Lucas made to the three films? Let’s discuss.
First off, the Star Wars trilogy was a huge part of my childhood and single-handedly sparked my love for film. When I first heard that new footage was being added to the SW films, I, like most fans, was pumped. Who didn’t want to see the famous scene where Jabba confronts Han in Docking Bay 94? But then the films came out, and enthusiasm gradually turned to resentment. I won’t go as far as some of the fan boys that claim “Lucas ruined my childhood” (or was that about the prequels?), but it really pisses me off that if I want to see the films as I saw them in the theater, I have to watch a non Blu-ray version that lacks the picture restoration done for the special editions. I should be able to watch the films and just enjoy them, and not have to be irritated by some of the truly moronic changes Lucas made.
A New Hope – Mos Eisley
Mos Eisley is supposed to be a shady place, the bad part of town, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The special edition changes that vibe into a sprawling, cosmopolitan spaceport, where people stroll about casually doing errands and sipping their Starbucks lattes. Lucas complained about the “vaseline blob” under the landspeeder as it zooms into town, so he replaced it with a worse looking CGI entry, complete with fake looking scurrying womp rats, and a nonsense scene of a flying imperial droid being smacked down by a generically designed “loader droid”. It’s supposed to be humor, but it just sucks. Then the pan to the overhead shot of the city gives us an obviously CGI landscape with our first look at another boring addition: the Ronto. It’s bad enough that the Ronto lacks any design creativity, but they go and add it to six different scenes! Also, the Jawas already had a cool mode of transportation, the Sandcrawler, and were in no need of another way of getting around. We also get another added “comedic element” (Lucas’s own claim), with the speeder bike almost crashing into the Ronto, knocking the Jawas of its back. Ugh. Lucas once said that most sci-fi films make the mistake of spending too much screen time focused on sets and props, at the expense of storytelling. It’s absolutely true, and yet with most of the special edition added scenes, he violates this very principle.
Verdict: Mos Eisley was a perfect creation – sleepy yet seedy, with a timeless look that lent itself to the unexpected. The SE changes stripped that away and replaced it with a boring and unconvincing look and feel. Lucas’ infatuation with overusing CGI at the expense of effective storytelling was a portent of what would happen with the prequels.
DJ: Ronto’s in six different scenes? That’s just awful. The one that walks in front of the screen is completely unnecessary. I get a sense here that Lucas was like “um oh yeah can we get one more Ronto over here”, just doesn’t know how to edit himself. While I am looking at all the nonsense going on around the action, I don’t see the action or story.
The Empire Strikes Back – The Wampa Cave
Every filmmaker knows the trick that only partially revealing the monster can be a scarier experience than seeing the whole thing right away. Anyone who’s watched the bonus “making of” footage from Empire knows that for whatever reason the costume department couldn’t make a convincing looking Wampa, so they had to cut some scenes and only show quick glimpses of the creature. But in reality, that worked out best for the pacing and visual storytelling of the final film. One of my favorite scenes in the trilogy is when Luke is suspended from the ceiling of the Wampa cave with the lightsaber just out of reach. You hear the Wampa’s roars and its approach, yet he calms himself, draws on the Force and is able to pull the lightsaber to him and free himself. (I love this quieter, more Zen take on The Force, by the way, versus the casually used superhero Force powers that are depicted in the prequels). The addition of seeing the Wampa gnawing on a gristly bone, complete with a gratuitous line of drool, and then getting up, adds nothing to the story and even takes away the focus from seeing Luke successfully summon the Force to save himself.
Verdict: Empire was a perfect film, and it seems like they were grasping at straws to make something “special” about this edition of the film. It should not have been added, but the only good thing is that it’s one of the few changes that weren’t done with CGI.
DJ: I agree Empire is perfect but I didn’t mind this as much. I like the Wampa stuff. Although I will say if it was never added it would not have changed my enjoyment of this scene, so my verdict would be unnecessary but not angered by it.
The Empire Strikes Back – “Bring My Shuttle”
Before the special editions came out, one of my all-time favorite Vader lines was the simple “bring my shuttle”, which he said on Cloud City after the lightsaber duel with Luke. It’s quintessential Vader: brief, specific, and completely badass. So you can imagine how angry I was when the line was changed to the needlessly expository: “Alert my Star Destroyer to prepare for my arrival.” Dwell on that one for a moment. There would never be a need for Vader to give multi-step instructions for a routine activity that happens all the time. If his minions didn’t know what the protocol was when he called for his shuttle he would just strangle them – literally. Then we are also subjected to seeing the Imperial Shuttle, which completely ruins the reveal of one of the only new iconic ships in Return of the Jedi. Sure, as fans we’ve seen the ship before, but think about the millions of young kids later that will watch the trilogy for the first time. One of the cool things is seeing the new ships/vehicles that are distinct to each film. It’s like if you showed an AT-AT in Mos Eisley, it would completely spoil the surprise of it in the Hoth battle in Empire. And finally, we get outtake footage from Jedi of Vader walking down the ramp with troopers lined-up ceremonially. Again, this ruins the reveal of this same scene in Jedi, but it is also rather stupid. Vader comes and goes from his Star Destroyer all the time, would they really waste time lining-up like it’s a state visit every time he returns? I think not.
Verdict: All of these changes were in some misguided thinking that it seemed like Vader inexplicably got from Cloud City to his Star Destroyer too quickly. We heard him ask for his shuttle and are smart enough to fill-in the rest. We don’t need to be shown every step of the process like it’s a documentary on Imperial travel protocol.
DJ: 100% agree, just a ridiculous micromanaged nit pick by Lucas. There is no need for this change and the new line sounds stupid and unnaturally forced. There is something to be said about overthinking.
So I originally was not as upset as everyone else, I loved how the films were cleaned up and how the space scenes were enhanced. That being said there is a lot of head scratching and stupid decisions made by the bearded one. I have finally come around on how bad some changes were. The most egregious one is Greedo shooting first, and neither one of us is going to go there, I believe there are web pages specifically created to debate that one.
Return of the Jedi – Sebastian Shaw, What have they done to you?
I combined two scenes into one for my tribute to the late Sebastian Shaw. Lucas decided that since canon will now show Anakin burned to a crisp in Revenge of the Sith that it was imperative to go back to ROTJ and CGI erase Anakin’s eyebrows when Luke takes off Vader’s helmet. If you quizzed me right now I couldn’t tell you who had eyebrows and who did not. It would have been funnier if maybe he drew some mad eyebrows on him like Uncle Leo did on Seinfeld, it would have been just as ridiculous. We should have a meme where we just erase eyebrows from different movie characters. If he is changing this tiny detail for continuity’s sake maybe fix the gaping hole of Leia remembering Padme. And like that wasn’t enough of an indignity to Mr. Shaw’s career the final scene of ROTJ has removed not only his eyebrows but all of him and he has been replaced by force ghost Hayden Christianson. What was the point of this? They didn’t remove Alec Guinness for Ewan McGregor or Yoda for shitty Phantom Menace CGI Yoda. I kinda liked the older grandfatherly happy Sebastian Shaw than the about to turn to the dark side pouty Anakin. Even before he turned, he wasn’t exactly the nicest, warmest guy. Also Luke wouldn’t even recognize him, why not stick Qui Gon in there as well or maybe a reformed Count Dooku? I feel here Lucas said, “What fan boys, you don’t like the prequels? Well guess what I will slip something into Jedi so you never forget them, I do movies for me, space nerds.”
Verdict: Yeah this still sucks and Sebastian Shaw got a raw deal (which is a great band name). I am surprised Lucas didn’t erase him from the scene with Luke and add Hayden in, what was stopping him there?
MG: Funny, I never knew about the edited eyebrows. Christ that is dumb! Lucas’ insistence on tying into his crappy prequels is insufferable. Not only are we subjected to the scene you describe, he also adds the all-CGI “galactic celebration” scenes, including the terribly rendered Naboo featuring the awful Gungans. Oh the humanity!
A New Hope: Jabba’s Debut
So originally there was a scene with Jabba in Mos Eisley at Docking Bay 94, it was shot and an Irish actor stood in for Jabba, Lucas wasn’t clear what Jabba would be or look like. The scene is in one of those old Star Wars documentaries, and it’s pretty funny and the dialogue is ridiculous. So here comes Lucas in 1997 to restore this scene. Why? Because CGI, baby! The Jabba he creates is awful. There is an issue with the way Harrison Ford walks, it would end up that he ends up walking on his tail, so Lucas made that a part of it and its a travesty. Jabba is supposed to be a badass, what a joke. If Salacious Crumb stepped on his tail he would be Rancor dinner, but Han, not even a threat. This Jabba doesn’t fit the Jabba I know and love. In 2011 Lucas decides to redo CGI Jabba with another one. Although it’s better looking, it still has the dialogue and the stepping-on-the-tail nonsense. Also, this ruins Jabba’s reveal in Jedi, and the Jabba stuff is the best part of ROTJ. To top it off Boba Fett is added in as well, just standing there, no real reason, just chilling with the Hutt. Then before the scene ends, Boba just turns and looks right into the camera, like he is breaking the 4th wall, and wants to say “Hi fan boys catch me in Empire Strikes Back with my new Australian accent”. This also spoils Boba’s reveal in Empire and don’t tell me he was a cartoon in the Holiday Special, no one who saw Empire really remembered that.
Verdict: Shouldn’t be there, ruins the pacing of the film, just gets in the way and isn’t very good, save it for a deleted scene but keep it out of this film. It’s my least favorite addition by far and does not further the story, Greedo already fills in the blanks.
MG: Originally I thought it would be cool to add this scene back in, but it’s 50 shades of bad. Harrison Ford’s acting is really weak. As you said, it ruins the mystery and build-up of Jabba, which is enhanced in Empire with Han being scared of his “deathmark”. It really blows that Boba Fett is shown here, because he’s supposed to be the best bounty hunter in the galaxy. He wouldn’t be doing routine security detail for Jabba – he’d be out collecting bounties from the highest bidder.
Return of the Jedi: “Jedi Rocks”
Jabba’s Palace is this scary, shady, dark place where bounty hunters and scoundrels and villains hang out. Jabba has slave girls, and also what appears to be a house band enslaved called the Max Rebo Band composed of keyboarding legend and self-proclaimed band leader Max Rebo, space oboe player Droopy McCool and the smooth singing voice of Sy Snootles. Sy is belting out the classic Lapti Nek. It’s a sleazy song that seems to fit right in. The song ends when Oola, one of Jabba’s slave girls gets dumped(literally) into the Rancor’s quarters. You even get a cool shot of Boba Fett just chilling. But Lucas decided, yeah, that just didn’t work for him and for the special editions he needed to change it up, make it bigger, more spectacular. So he adds six more band members to Max’s band, including Twi’lek and Rodian back-up singers. He adds another singer, bluesman, Joh Yowza to duet with Sy. He makes Sy completely CGI, so she is ogling the camera and puckering her lips and moving completely unnaturally. Lapti Nek is changed to a song called Jedi Rocks; yes you heard that right, Jedi Rocks, what does this title even mean? This song is more up-tempo and fun, not what you expect in Jabba’s palace, this band does not look enslaved but actually hired. When Joh sings out loud you can see his uvula. This time when Oola gets dumped by the trap door, I believe Sy says uh oh in a comical voice. Then you actually see Oola down below, taking some of the mystery away that the original scene had. Again Lucas feeling like he has to show more. Lastly and also just as horrible, Boba Fett hitting on Lyn Me the beautiful Twilek girl. Boba Fett wasn’t cool enough now we have to show him into the ladies. The changes to this whole scene completely change the tone. He tries to make Jabba’s Palace cutesy and upbeat among all the filth.
Verdict: This addition and change are an atrocity, no need to change anything here, I cringe every time I see it, and it makes ROTJ, which was already the third of three, even worse. Find me someone that loves this change.
MG: I’d call this scene the Disneyfying of Jabba’s Palace, but I don’t even think Disney would have done this had they bought Lucasfilm earlier. The CGI on this just gets worse as each year passes. You captured everything bad with this scene, but it also is a huge pace killer. Please, Disney, put out the original cut of the films, just with a cleaned-up print and sound. I’d pay $100 per Blu-ray for it, and I bet a lot of other fans would. Please save us! Save the rebellion, save the dream!