Greedo threatens Han Solo in ‘A New Hope’ (Lucasfilm)
In promoting Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams keeps re-iterating that his film is a return to the spirit of the original trilogy. But the original trilogy has not been “original” for some time. The Playlist has drawn our attention to a series of YouTube videos made by Marcelo Zuniga, which show every single change George Lucas has made to A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi over the years. (You can watch them all here.) These include not just the Special Edition CG overhauls, but changes made to the 2004 DVD and 2011 Blu-ray editions — and even some that were made while the films were still in theaters. Some of the tweaks are, admittedly, improvements, like the straightening of perspective on some matte paintings or sound and color corrections. Others, however, range from completely baffling to downright upsetting. Below are 15 changes made by George Lucas to his original Star Wars films that still drive us crazy.
15. The New Title Crawl (A New Hope)
Here’s an example of Lucas tinkering with Star Wars long before the phrase “special edition” acquired any Jedi-related baggage. When Star Wars opened in 1977, the opening crawl began with the words “It is a period of civil war.” But when the film was re-released in 1981, Lucas added the title “Episode IV: A New Hope” at the top. You almost have to admire the audacity: The original audience naturally assumed they were watching the beginning of the saga, and then Lucas threw the whole story into question with just five little words. (He made other tweaks, too, like capitalizing the word “Rebels” and altering the word spacing.) As Lucas’ changes go, this one is mostly inoffensive — but it’s a nagging, potent reminder that the director was willing to rewrite his own story and mess with fans’ memories, even before Return of the Jedi hit theaters.
Watch the first installment of Marcelo Zuniga’s video series, documenting the changes made to ‘A New Hope.’
14. Aunt Beru Cries Uncle (A New Hope)
In the original film, Luke Skywalker’s aunt gives him this droid-shopping instruction: “Tell Uncle if he gets a translator, be sure it speaks Bocce.” For the 2011 Blu-ray edition, this line was altered so that Aunt Beru says “Tell your uncle.” Why the change? Was there some big confusion about Luke’s relationship to Uncle Owen? Did legions of fan go through the entire movie thinking that Aunt Beru and Luke Skywalker had the same uncle?
13. R2-D2, Now With Improved Taste (The Empire Strikes Back)
Here’s a perfectly good joke that ended up being sacrificed to the Special Edition gods. Shortly after Luke and R2-D2 land on the swamp planet Dagobah, some kind of underwater creature snatches R2-D2, pulls him into the bog, then violently spits him out. “You’re lucky you don’t taste very good,” says a relieved Luke — until the 1997 Special Edition, when Luke’s line is substituted with the humorless “You were lucky to get out of there.”
12. Anakin’s Brow Wax (Return of the Jedi)
At the end of Return of the Jedi, we get our first shocking glimpse of Darth Vader beneath the mask (played by Sebastian Shaw). Without the helmet, he looks so broken, so vulnerable, so… eyebrow-less. Actually, Shaw did have eyebrows in the original version, but for the 2004 DVD release of Jedi, his facial hair was digitally erased. The idea was to maintain continuity with Revenge of the Sith, released the following year, in which Anakin’s face is badly burned on the volcanic planet Mustafar. But really, “How does Anakin still have eyebrows?” doesn’t seem like the kind of continuity question that would get fans up in arms. The result is an expensive, pointless bit of retroactive manscaping.
11. The Call of Obi-Wan (A New Hope)
For Ben Kenobi’s big entrance in A New Hope, he scares off some Sand People by putting a hood over his face, waving his arms, and uttering a strange, elephantine cry. Sound designer Ben Burtt’s original effect is haunting and memorable, but Lucas swapped it out with a higher-pitched noise for the 2004 DVD release, then again with another sound for the 2011 Blu-ray. According to DVD Active, the change was made because Ben was supposed to be imitating a Krayt dragon, but his original call sounded more like a Dewback. Never mind that we hear neither creature in the original versions of the films. And wouldn’t the Sand People also be inclined to run away from Dewbacks, since they tend to be carrying Stormtroopers?
10. Vader Says No (Return of the Jedi)
Remember when Darth Vader silently sacrifices his own life to save Luke Skywalker from the Emperor’s force lightning in Return of the Jedi? Did you ever wonder what Vader was thinking in that moment? Of course not — it’s extremely obvious. And yet, George Lucas decided he had to spell it out for us in the 2011 Blu-ray edition. Now, when Emperor Palpatine is trying to electrocute Luke, Vader looks at his son and says “No.” Then he looks at the Emperor and says it louder, for emphasis. (Watch the video below.) See, he doesn’t want Luke killed. Get it?
Watch Darth Vader’s climactic scene in the Blu-Ray edition of ‘Return of the Jedi.’
9. Put a Ring On It (A New Hope, Return of the Jedi)
The explosions of the Death Star and Alderaan were one of the most striking changes in the Special Edition movies, enhanced with brighter colors and expanding rings of matter. But one of the most exciting things about the original Star Wars films is that the groundbreaking special effects were being invented as the films were made. The newly-formed Industrial Light and Magic spent years building models, inventing cameras to shoot them, and occasionally blowing them up. So when the Death Star is destroyed (both times), the explosions look and feel real, because they were created using footage from actual explosions. (Note: ILM didn’t necessarily destroy their models. The Death Star explosion was superimposed.) Point being, when CGI wizards jacked up those explosions, they added visual drama at the price of authenticity.
8. Little Sarlacc Pit of Horrors (Return of the Jedi)
Says C-3PO of the sarlacc, the desert creature to whom Jabba the Hut attempts to feed the Rebels: “In his belly, you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.” In the original film, the most sinister thing about the sarlaac is that it’s mostly hidden from sight; we see only its mouth, a gaping pit lined with teeth, from which the occasional tentacle protrudes. For the Special Edition, the sarlaac is outfitted with CGI tentacles, a beak, and a tongue, which in combination resemble nothing more than Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. (Watch the comparison below.) Feed me, Boba Fett!
Watch a comparison between the two versions of the sarlaac pit.
7. Bye Bye Yub Nub (Return of the Jedi)
After the very emotional climax of Return of the Jedi, George Lucas treats us to a jubilant celebration on Endor, complete with a traditional Ewok celebration song. For those of us who grew up on the movies, those fuzzy creatures singing “Yub Nub” is the aural equivalent of running through sprinklers in the summer: a perfectly contained artifact of childhood bliss. Which is why it’s hard not to take it personally that Lucas excised the song entirely in the Jedi special edition. Instead, he uses underscoring while showing us a montage of celebrations across the galaxy. Which is nice and all, but — we don’t want to celebrate the Rebels’ victory on Naboo! We want to celebrate it with Luke, Han, Leia, and a bunch of singing Ewoks, dammit.
6. Boba Fett Down Under (The Empire Strikes Back)
Everyone’s favorite bounty hunter has only four lines of dialogue in Empire Strikes Back, but they were memorably uttered in a sinister growl by original voice actor Jason Wingreen. For the 2004 DVD release,Boba Fett was re-dubbed by New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison. Like Anakin’s eyebrows, this change was made for prequel continuity: Boba Fett was cloned from his “father” Jango Fett, who was played by Morrison in Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The new voice isn’t terrible, but making Boba Fett sound like Russell Crowe removes some of the mystique — and again, seems totally unnecessary.
5. Mos Eisley Makeover (A New Hope)
Obi-Wan describes the Mos Eisley spaceport to Luke as a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” As soon as they enter the Cantina, we see what he means: Suddenly, the audience is confronted with dozens of menacing-looking creatures from across the galaxy. George Lucas intended the Cantina scene to be a huge shock to the audience, a moment when the world of the film suddenly expands to the next level. Yet in the New Hope Special Edition, Lucas made the decision to populate Mos Eisley with a menagerie of CGI sight gags, including a grouchy droid and a Ronto that tosses Jawas off its back. Yes, it looks more like a bustling spaceport. But it takes away the impact of the Cantina entrance, and the new characters come off less like villainous scum than extras trying to get a laugh.
4. Jabba the Extraneous (A New Hope)
Jabba the Hutt made his screen debut in Return of the Jedi, but Lucas had intended for him to show up in the first film. A brief scene between Han Solo and Jabba was filmed with a stand-in actor, who was supposed to be overdubbed and replaced with a stop-motion character in post-production. But time and money ran short, and the scene was cut…until the Special Edition, when Lucas re-inserted the Jabba scene, replacing the stand-in with an atrocious CGI Hutt. The character design was improved for the 2004 DVD release, so Jabba doesn’t look quite as cartoonish as he did in theaters — but the moment when Han “steps on his tail” and Jabba squeals (a workaround created because Harrison Ford walked too close to Jabba’s stand-in) is still embarrassing for everyone. Furthermore, this scene adds nothing to the movie: All of Jabba’s exposition, and some of Han’s dialogue, was inserted into the earlier scene with the bounty hunter Greedo in the Cantina. And don’t worry — we’ll get to Greedo in a moment.
3. Ghost Dad (Return of the Jedi)
One of the most emotionally satisfying moments of the Star Wars trilogy is the appearance of the “Force ghosts” at the end of Return of the Jedi: Luke’s mentors Obi-Wan and Yoda stand side-by-side with Anakin Skywalker, who has become in the afterlife a Jedi once more. It was a virtual slap in the face, then, when audiences saw the Special Edition scene, in which Sebastian Shaw — who played Luke’s dying father, sans Darth Vader mask — is replaced by Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin in the prequels. Instead of the redemption of a broken man, we now get a broken man turned back into an impetuous teenager. Would Luke even recognize this smirking young dude as his father? Furthermore, if posthumous Anakin gets to go through a magical de-aging process, how come afterlife Obi-Wan and Yoda look the same? If Lucas was so concerned about continuity, shouldn’t he have replaced Alec Guinness with Ewan McGregor (who played Obi-Wan in the prequels), or at the very least, with a digital image from Bridge on the River Kwai? It doesn’t make sense. Like we’ll tell our grandchildren, everything made more sense before the Special Editions came along.
Hayden Christensen makes an unwanted cameo in 'Return of the Jedi’ (Lucasfilm)
2. Somebody Has to Shoot First (A New Hope)
What more is there to say about the decision to have Greedo fire the first shot at Han Solo? Lucas worried that Han shooting first made him look like a “cold-blooded killer,” but Han’s whole story arc is about redemption. (“I wonder if he really cares about anything or anybody,” Princess Leia wonders aloud. And then Han helps Luke blow up the Death Star and proves that he does.) In other words, it’s okay if he starts out as a bad guy. Preferable, even. But the worst part of this edit, honestly, is how bad it looks. To dodge Greedo’s bullet, Han’s head shifts digitally to the side, in a motion that no human head could ever actually achieve. It must have eventually bothered Lucas, too, because he had the effect re-edited for both the 2004 DVD and 2011 Blu-Ray release. In each subsequent version, the bullets are fired closer together, yet there’s still no doubt that Greedo is the instigator.
1. The Band That Should be Banned (Return of the Jedi)
Given its reliance on puppets and costumed creatures, Return of the Jedi veers perilously close to being goofy children’s entertainment. But Jabba’s palace is the antithesis of all things cute, a sleazy den of depravity where the slimy despot rules with an iron fist. His house band — a jazz-rock trio fronted by a tired-looking female alien, Sy Snootles — fits right in. They look like they’re prisoners, forced to play at Jabba’s whim. But for the Special Edition, the scraggly Max Rebo Band becomes the center of an entire floor show, featuring a furry insectoid rapper, a trio of back-up singers, and a painfully energetic Sy Snootles. There’s a terrible new song, too, with the terrible title “Jedi Rocks.” Over the course of 90 seconds, the computer-animated band completely wrecks the atmosphere of Jabba’s palace, ruining the potent scene in which a dancer is thrown to the Rancor, and taking the wind out of one of the trilogy’s best villains. More than any of the other Special Edition changes, this one takes a perfectly good scene and bashes it over the head with CGI until it’s unrecognizable. To watch the band perform “Jedi Rocks” (below) is to truly know the power of the Dark Side.
The Max Rebo Band performs ‘Jedi Rocks’ from the ‘Return of the Jedi’ Special Edition. For the original song ‘Lapti Nek,’ go here.