Changes in Star Wars re-releases

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"These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with "fresher faces", or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new "original" negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. (...) In the future, it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be "replaced" by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten."
George Lucas, 1988. Yes, really.
"Along time ago, in a galaxy why they are not as special..."

The Star Wars Trilogy, also referred to as the original trilogy by fans, is considered to be one of the greatest film trilogies of all time, consisting of Star Wars (later known as A New Hope since its 1981 reissue),  The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, but the later release of the prequels prompted George Lucas to make re-edited versions of the original three films, which resulted in a colossal amount of backlash from fans.

List of changes in Star Wars

"Han shot first"

The infamous "Han shot first" scene.

"Han shot first" is a phrase referring to a controversial change made to a scene in the original Star Wars, in which Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo (Paul Blake) in the Mos Eisley cantina.

Han Solo and Greedo both independently work for Jabba the Hutt, a crime lord based on the desert planet of Tatooine. Before the events of the film, Jabba puts a bounty on Han, a smuggler for Jabba, after Han jettisons some cargo to avoid capture by an Imperial search party. In the Mos Eisley Cantina, Greedo corners Han and forces him at gunpoint to sit down in a booth. Solo tells Greedo that he has the money to compensate Jabba, but Greedo demands the money for himself. Han says he doesn't have the money at the moment, quietly readying his own blaster under the table. Greedo tells him that Jabba has run out of patience with Han and that Greedo has been "waiting for a long time for this", referring to Han's capture. Han replies, "Yes, I'll bet you have." The scene's conclusion varies depending on the version of the film.

In the original 1977 theatrical release, Han pulls out his blaster and shoots Greedo in the chest, killing him instantly. As Han leaves the booth, he tosses a coin to the bartender and says "Sorry about the mess."

However, in the 1997 Special Edition re-release, a few frames were inserted in which Greedo shoots first at Han and misses before Han returns fire and kills Greedo.

When the Special Edition was released, the Star Wars fandom heavily criticized the revamped scene, considering it removed Han's moral ambiguity and diminished his plot arc by having him start as a regular guy instead of a roguish anti-hero. Lucas's claim that the original scene made Han look like "a cold-blooded killer" led to additional criticism that Lucas had drifted so far that he no longer even understood his own characters.

The scene was altered several times. In the 2004 version, they both fire at around the same time, in the 2011 version, it goes by as fast as the original and in the 2019 Disney+ version, Greedo says a word similar to "Maclunkey!" before firing.

Addition of computer-generated imagery

Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt in the 2004 DVD release of "A New Hope".

Various scenes in the original trilogy were re-made using CGI, or CGI simply used to add more background clutter to scenes. A substantial amount of these re-made scenes were heavily criticized by Star Wars fans; most notably the scene where Han Solo meets Jabba the Hutt at Mos Eisley Spaceport (especially the 1997 Special Edition version) in "A New Hope", and the entire "Jedi Rocks" musical sequence at Jabba's Palace in "Return of the Jedi".

Re-casting of actors

In some cases, actors from the prequels were inserted in the place of the originals. When Boba Fett speaks in the 2004 DVD re-release, he is voiced by Temuera Morrison (who played Jango Fett in Attack of the Clones) instead of the late Jason Wingreen, and when Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader's Force ghost appears to Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi, it is shown as a prequel-age Hayden Christensen rather than an older man (played by the late Sebastian Shaw, whose body is left intact; Christensen’s head was added from a costume test). Another example of this is in the hologram scene in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Palpatine (who was voiced by Clive Revill and physically portrayed by Marjorie Eaton wearing a mask) was re-cast as Ian McDiarmid. Many longtime fans feel that it is disrespectful to some of the now-dead actors who had their lines re-dubbed or their appearance removed.

Darth Vader's "No!"

In the 2011 Blu-Ray release of Return of the Jedi, a "No!" was added from Vader as the Emperor is torturing Luke to death, supposedly meant to parallel his infamously stupid reaction to being told Padmé had died in Revenge of the Sith. This did not exactly please fans.

Color "correction"

The 2004 DVDs received very poor color correction, a result of the effects team ordering it done in a pace of 30 days. Standouts include Darth Vader's lightsaber being pink instead of red, and pink blotches in the sky in some scenes. The 2011 Blu-rays, which received new color timing, became tinted in cyan and magenta. The color palette was finally corrected in the 2019 Disney+ releases.

Not-So-Special Qualities

  1. The main criticism towards these changes is that while the original Star Wars won some Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score. By altering the sound mixing and the sound and visual effects in the Special Editions, the changes are essentially stripping the film of every aspect that it had won its Academy Awards for. George Lucas has always said that the original trilogy films were just 30% of what he originally intended and the theatrical releases were just "unfinished movies", but some still feel that he should leave the original versions for preservation purposes even though he has every right to modify his own creation.
    • Ironically, the CGI makes the Special Editions more outdated than the original cuts.
  2. On the topic of preservation, there hasn't been many re-releases of the original cuts after the special editions released due to Lucas seeing these Special Editions as the definitive versions. Most other special edition DVD and Blu-ray releases of films at least still give you the option to watch the original cut.
    1. Even before these special editions were released, the oldest home video releases of Star Wars have gotten minor changes from the theatrical versions. No matter how old the release you've managed to track down is, it won't be exactly the way the film was in theaters.
    2. The 2004 special editions of the original trilogy got limited re-releases in 2006 that included the original versions of the films, but these versions were just copied from the 1995 laserdisc releases (apart from restoring A New Hope's original title crawl) without updating the image and sound quality for 2006 standards and were in a non-anamorphic format, meaning the film would appear both letterboxed and pillarboxed on a modern TV.
      1. It doesn't make sense why the image and sound quality wasn't remastered considering the fact that George Lucas founded THX, which develops high-fidelity audio and visual reproduction standards. These were some of the few Lucasfilm releases that weren't certified by THX back when the company certified home video releases.
  3. Adding the initial cut scene of Star Wars of Jabba the Hutt talking with Han Solo was rather unnecessary because the absence of the former until the last film of the original trilogy helped make his character look mysterious; not helping is that Jabba even looks green whereas he is beige in his first actual appearance and Boba Fett's cameo here doesn't make too much sense. It also interrupts the flow of the film as well.
    • On top of that, much of what Jabba said was already explained in the better-paced Greedo scene.
  4. By altering the scene of The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader communicates with the Emperor through the hologram and altering its original dialogue, it is unexplained why Darth Vader didn't realize that Luke Skywalker was his son if they shared the same, rare last name. In the original film, Palpatine informed him about Luke's identity, but here, it seems like Palpatine had to confirm Vader something so obvious. Granted, a Marvel comic book was later written to explain this inconsistency by revealing that Vader already knew his parentage towards Luke and was playing the fool with his master, but you shouldn't have to go outside of a film and rely on ancillary material for it to make sense.
    • Also, while Ian McDiarmid's insertion into the scene provides more continuity with the prequels, his appearance is radically different from the one he had in Return of the Jedi, causing some confusion as to why Palpatine looked older in the following film if only one year passed in-universe.
  5. The 1997 Special Editions added the Emperor's scream while he falls to his initial defeat during Return of the Jedi to the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke jumps to commit suicide to avoid joining Darth Vader, which is nonsensical, as Ian McDiarmid and Mark Hamill do not sound the same; what doesn't help is that it basically retcons it from Luke attempting to commit suicide to... Luke falling because he slipped.
  6. The song at Jabba's palace was changed from "Lapti Nek" to "Jedi Rocks", which was criticized due to its crazy and raunchy nature, though this may help to emphasize how Jabba's palace can at first look quiet until Jabba gets angry.
  7. Darth Vader yelling "No!" before defeating Palpatine during the Battle of Endor sounds silly and possibly ruins the emotional moment.
  8. Sebastian Shaw was digitally replaced by Hayden Christensen as Anakin's Force ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi; some feel that it is disrespectful towards Shaw, with others speculating why this was done if Luke never met Anakin when he was younger and thus should not be able to recognize him.
  9. The prequels didn't have Special Editions, but they still added some unnecessary changes, like changing the puppet Yoda from The Phantom Menace to a CGI Yoda.
  10. Some changes could have been made to correct some minor errors, but they were never implanted. For example, in The Phantom Menace, Sebulba disappears from his podracer for a while during the pod race, and this was even acknowledged by the special effects supervisor John Knoll.

Special Qualities

  1. Some of these changes actually help the original and prequel trilogies to flow better and maintain some continuity, some like:
    • Jabba's appearance in the originally deleted scene of Star Wars in all post-2004 releases look more closely to his appearance in the last film of the original trilogy, even if not exactly.
    • Replacing Marjorie Eaton and Clive Revill as the Emperor with Ian McDiarmid, the actor who played him in the next films, in his hologram cameo.
    • Although some fans preferred Jason Wingreen's voice-over Temuera Morrison's for Boba Fett, this makes sense given the revelation in Attack of the Clones that Boba is Jango Fett's clone. It also allowed Morrison to later appear in-person as Boba in The Mandalorian.
    • Removing Sebastian Shaw's eyebrows and digitally painting his eyes blue make sense as Hayden Christensen, the actor who played Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, has blue eyes and his lack of eyebrows was necessary because Anakin was burned alive at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
    • The inclusion of Naboo and Coruscant during the celebration scenes after Palpatine is first killed and the appearance of the Gungans. It should be noted that George actually planned to feature other planets celebrating Palpatine's fallback during the development of the original film, but was unable to do so because of budget constraints.
    • Despite multiple complaints about removing Sebastian Shaw as Anakin's Force ghost and replacing him with Hayden Christensen at the end, this totally makes sense as like Obi-Wan Kenobi said, Anakin metaphorically died when he became Darth Vader, and because he died as a Jedi, he stopped being a Sith upon killing the Emperor and thus should appear how he looked back before his descent into villainy.
    • While adding shots of the Wampa in The Empire Strikes Back can ruin the Jaws-like suspense of the scene, there is also value in seeing the Wampa on-screen. Director Irvin Kershner also confirmed that it was more in line with how he originally envisaged the scene before problems with the Wampa costume forced them to cut it down to what appeared in the theatrical version.
  2. Some of the new creatures at Tatooine and new shots of Cloud City make more enriched the settings.
  3. The "Han shot first" mess has spawned many parodies and Internet memes as of today to the point it was even referenced in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
  4. Even George Lucas himself recognized that adding the Emperor's scream in the scene of The Empire Strikes Back where Luke tries to commit suicide in the 1997 Special Editions was really a mistake and removed it in the 2004 Special Editions.
  5. Femi Taylor impressed many critics by reprising her role as Oola in the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi despite having passed almost a decade since the release of the film without visible references. How the scene also teased the rancor before Oola gets devoured by it offscreen helps to generate tension on what is on the pit until we discover it when Luke falls into the pit, despite that some say that this weakens Luke's scene by familiarizing with the pit.
  6. The Sarlacc was given a beak and tentacles whereas he was just a hole with teeth in the original, in which he barely seemed to be alive, which gave George Lucas a reasonable reason to modify the creature.
  7. Some fans liked some of the new songs, especially "Victory Celebration", because it really has the vibe of conclusion and victory in contrast to "Yub Nub", which many fans deem a perfect ending song for what was originally intended to be the final installment of the Star Wars saga.
  8. Both Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams have expressed interest in releasing the original, unaltered versions of the Star Wars original trilogy films to preserve them.
  9. J.J. Abrams has stated that he doesn't have any plans to make Special Editions of neither The Force Awakens or The Rise of Skywalker.

Fan editing

As a direct response, some edits, like Harmy's Despecialized Editions, have countered by undoing all the damage Lucas brought to these films, while some, like Adywan's "Star Wars Revisited" edits, improved upon the changes and removed some of the controversial changes.

Related edits to other films

The infamous edit in the 2002 re-release of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Note that the policemen are carrying walkie-talkies instead of shotguns.
The original 1982 scene, for comparison.
  • In 2002, Steven Spielberg edited E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, with the most infamous change being the replacement of the shotguns the police carried with walkie-talkies, which is basically censorship. This was mocked in the South Park episode "Free Hat". Unlike Lucas, who continued to edit his movies until Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, Spielberg later regretted his changes and told fans to watch the original versions instead. Every home video release since then only uses the original version (complete with the opening logo).
  • George Lucas also altered his first feature film, THX 1138, in the 2000s. Controversy erupted, but on a smaller scale since THX 1138 is not as well known as Star Wars.
  • Not even American Graffiti could escape editing. In 1978, to piggyback on the success of Star Wars and the then-upcoming release of the sequel, More American Graffiti, the film was re-released with a few additional scenes, and the soundtrack was remixed in Dolby Stereo. In 1998, Lucas also altered it by adding a digital sunset sky to the intro. Luckily, this was the only change.
  • Night of the Living Dead was re-edited by producer and co-writer John A. Russo into a "30th Anniversary Edition" without George A. Romero's involvement whatsoever. The changes included newly shot scenes, new sound effects, removal of some scenes and even stripping away all of the grain. Ain't It Cool News webmaster Harry Knowles threatened to ban anyone who defended this version as he saw it as a butchering of one of his favorite films.
  • Apocalypse Now was re-edited into a longer cut called Apocalypse Now Redux by director Francis Ford Coppola for its DVD release. The actual changes were less contentious since they were just restoring footage that was deleted from the theatrical version, but it did lead to some controversy about it being the only version released on DVD.
  • In 2020, The Godfather Part III was re-released as The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, which improves many of the flaws of the original film.
  • The Indiana Jones trilogy almost got this, but thankfully it did not happen. The only change that happened was the removal of an obvious glass glare when Indy was falling into a pit of snakes.
  • Blade Runner was re-edited many times until director Ridley Scott's Final Cut was released in 2007 as part of the film's 25th anniversary. Unlike other examples, this was praised by the fans and is seen as the definitive version (though the new green-tinted color grading is seen as horrible). The films were also packaged with the original versions, which also helped.
  • Not even The Lion King could escape editing. In 2002, the film was re-released in IMAX, with the sound being enhanced and the film having additional changes such as the completely re-done animation for the crocodiles featured in "I Just Can't Wait to Be King", and a new song called "The Morning Report" which replaces the pouncing lesson scene. Luckily, the latter scene is featured in the 2003 DVD and all later releases.
  • In the 1980s, several films were colorized, mostly under the supervision of media mogul Ted Turner. This attracted huge controversy, even from George Lucas (whose quote against colorization is at the beginning of this article), because it takes away the charm of the original versions.
  • In the late 2000s and early 2010s, several older films were converted to 3D, such as the first two Toy Story films in 2009, Titanic in 2012, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, also in 2012, and even The Wizard of Oz (which became the oldest film to get converted into 3D) in 2013. Animated film conversions (especially CGI ones) aren't really problematic because they can be re-rendered with a second camera, but conversions of live-action films can produce disastrous results, such as Clash of the Titans.
  • Spider-Man 3 was re-released in 2017 by Sony in the form of an "Editor's Cut", which featured unused music from Christopher Young, alternate edits of scenes, a restructured story, and scenes both added and removed throughout. As a result, the Editor's Cut was two minutes shorter than the theatrical cut.
  • In 2003, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released an extended cut of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly which contained almost every scene featured in the original Italian release, with Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach brought in to record their lines, as well as Simon Prescott to dub over Lee Van Cleef, who died in 1989. Eastwood and Wallach noticeably sounded older than they did before, as Eastwood was 72 and Wallach was 86. The reinstatement of a scene where Tuco recruits his brothers in a cave after Blondie terminates their partnership, which director Sergio Leone had cut after the film's first showing in Italy, was particularly controversial. In addition, a new sound mix was created in which all the gunshots and cannon blasts were replaced with new sound effects. This sound mix is often criticized for being jarring.
  • In re-releases of the early Pixar movies (except A Bug's Life, The Incredibles and Ratatouille), the classic opening Walt Disney logo with the CGI castle and its fanfare have been removed in favor of the current one, which takes away the history of the Walt Disney logo and the company. A similar thing has been done with classic Disney movies, in which the old Walt Disney logo has been replaced with the modern one.
  • Some major studios tend to plaster their old logos with newer ones in the newer prints of classic movies. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros. are extremely guilty of this. For starters, MGM often puts the 1986-2008 logo in front of most classic films from United Artists, Orion, etc. WB, on the other hand, haphazardly plasters its old "Big '//" logo that was used between 1973 and 1984 (when the 1948 shield was revived).
    • The 2003 DVD release of Alien replaces the 1979 20th Century Fox logo with the one from the 1980's, which is odd because it wasn't the current logo at the time of the DVD's release. This change was reverted in later home video releases.
  • Jurassic Park was re-released in 3D in 2012, and it features the 100th Anniversary version for the Universal logo, as well as minor changes such as digitally removing a wire from the frill of a dilophosaurus, as well as the safety cable, plant pot and set dressing from the scene where the T-rex flips over the explorer in the road attack, and some additions such as adding rain to the T-rex attack to give it depth. The color grading of the film was also re-done and the grain was removed, though the color grading isn't really great, as it feels like the sun is setting (mainly due to the orange-ish color scheme).
  • On that subject, many 4K re-releases of older films go through the process of removing film grain and changing the color scheme to look more like a modern film (by giving it an orange or teal color). While the concept of removing film grain isn't a bad thing and gives the film an appearance that doesn't stand out horribly on a modern TV, messing around with the grain structure usually results in its own issues (e.g. some characters appearing "waxy"), which are far more distracting than the grain itself. Not only that, adding an orange or teal color messes up the original color grade of an old film and can even look distracting at times.
  • Though an OVA series and only the first episode. Seiji Okuda edited Dream Hunter Rem in its special edition release on December 5 in the same year which the original was released on June 10, 1985. This edition removes the hentai scenes, changes the OVA's story such as the antagonist Daimaou who's role changed from being a perverted generic tentacle demon that pleasures women and consumes their energy in their dreams to a tyrant that consumes people's lives in their dreams to conquer the real world and the dream world, Rem's screaming and grunting during the first fight were toned down, the animation was improved and the ending theme of the original was moved as an insert song for the fight where Daimaou transforms into a dragon since the OVA is extended in this version. This was due to the popularity it got in Japan during its time in the '80s and '90s.

There will only be one. And it won't be what I would call the 'rough cut', it'll be the 'final cut.' The other one will be some sort of interesting artifact that people will look at and say, 'There was an earlier draft of this.'...What ends up being important in my mind is what the DVD version is going to look like, because that's what everybody is going to remember. The other versions will disappear. Even the 35 million tapes of Star Wars out there won't last more than 30 or 40 years. A hundred years from now, the only version of the movie that anyone will remember will be the DVD version [of the Special Edition]. - George Lucas, "An Expanded Universe", American Cinematographer magazine, February 1997

Video (and playlist)


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