As longtime fans are well aware, the “Star Wars” films as we know them from the 2011 Blu-ray release are different in several small but noticeable ways from the 1977-83 releases – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. And even “Episode I” is different from its 1999 release. Sometimes George Lucas made changes because technology had caught up with the vision in his head; sometimes he just changed his mind.
Here’s a look at the five best and first worst changes in the “Star Wars” movie re-releases from 1997 (theatrical and VHS Special Edition), 2004 (DVD) and 2011 (Blu-ray).
THE 5 BEST CHANGES
1. The galaxy-wide celebration (“Return of the Jedi” Special Edition and DVD) – John Williams’ “Ewok Celebration” (colloquially known as “Yub Nub”) is a fine ending for “Jedi” as a film, but his beautiful “Victory Celebration” is a perfect capper for the six-film saga. First introduced in the 1997 Special Edition with glimpses of Cloud City, Tatooine and Coruscant, the sequence was improved further in 2004 with a celebration on Naboo. It lasts longer than the “Phantom Menace” and “A New Hope” celebrations, culminates with the spine-tingling moment of Anakin in his true visage joining the Force and generally lets a viewer bask in the hope that liberty and peace can return to the galaxy now that the Emperor and Vader have been vanquished.
2. The improved Yoda (“The Phantom Menace” Blu-ray) – The 1999 puppet Yoda didn’t look at all like the 1980 version, so much so that it made me kind of sad. But the digital Yoda – first seen in Episodes II and III – is one of the most realistic CGI characters in all of the prequels. I have no problem believing he’s the same Yoda as in “Empire” and “Jedi.”
3. The nighttime lighting in the Land of the Jawas (“A New Hope” Special Edition … and Blu-ray?) – In 1977, it seemed like it was always daytime on Tatooine, but the changing of the lighting when Artoo is stalked by Jawas adds a foreboding mood. Likewise, the scene where Luke tells Threepio they’ll have to wait until morning to search for Artoo has more of a nighttime feel now; I’m not sure if this is due to changes, or if Blu-ray picture quality is just that much better.
4. Opening up Cloud City (“The Empire Strikes Back” Special Edition) – In the original version, one might wonder why Cloud City features so many white hallways and doesn’t take advantage of the naturally gorgeous scenery. Through some judicious removal of blank walls and addition of windows here and there – including one moment when Leia, Lando and Chewie run along a balcony instead of through a hall – the city breathes more.
5. New X-wing shots in the Battle of Yavin (“A New Hope” Special Edition) – There wasn’t anything majorly wrong with the original version, but the closer shots of the X-wings launching from Yavin 4 and the looser formation heading toward the Death Star make the sequence more dynamic.
THE 5 WORST CHANGES
1. Greedo shoots first (“A New Hope” Special Edition) – Lucas’ idea was that he didn’t want kids to think Han would shoot an enemy in cold blood. In addition to the weakening of Han’s moral arc, the scene doesn’t work from a technical perspective. For one, they shoot simultaneously, so Han still does shoot pre-emptively — it’s just that we now know he guessed right about Greedo’s intentions. For another, the animators forgot to put damage into the wall where Greedo’s laser bolt strikes.
2. “Jedi Rocks” (“Return of the Jedi” Special Edition) – The original song in Jabba’s throne room, “Lapti Nek,” feels like something that would be played for Jabba – something alien and obnoxious, yet catchy as heck. “Jedi Rocks” is an out-of-place party tune, musically and visually — particularly when Sy Snootles’ lips move toward the camera like a shot from a 3-D movie. This music-video-esque interlude includes the galaxy’s scariest bounty hunter flirting with a dancer, something I and my friends used to call “The Destruction of Boba Fett’s Character.” That’s hyperbole, but it’s still out of character.
3. Artoo hiding behind the rocks (“A New Hope” Blu-ray) – No one ever had any problem with the original version, but if Lucas’ concern was that Artoo wasn’t hidden enough, he should’ve added more shadows to the cave. By adding rocks, we now wonder how Artoo got back there in the first place, and how he gets out.
4. The Sarlacc’s beak (“Return of the Jedi” Special Edition) – It doesn’t make the Sarlacc scarier (the concept of being swallowed whole and digested over 1,000 years is scarier than immediate death), it doesn’t make sense (it’s a beak inside a mouth, rather than leading to a mouth), and it looks like a digital add-on.
5. Boba Fett sounds like Jango Fett (“The Empire Strikes Back” DVD) – It makes some sense that Boba, being a clone, would sound the same as Jango and the clone troopers. But one could argue that since Boba has traveled the galaxy and encountered many different accents, he wouldn’t necessarily retain his original accent. Alternately, it’s plausible that his vocal chords got injured, perhaps from minimal use. Ultimately, there’s just not a strong enough reason to overdub Jason Wingreen’s iconic performance.
What are your favorite and least favorite changes to the “Star Wars” films through the years? Share your thoughts below.