Changes in Star Wars re-releases
Changes in Star Wars re-releases vary from minor differences in color timing, audio mixing, and take choices to major insertions of new visual effects, additions of characters and dialogue, scene expansions, and replacement of original cast members with newer ones. Though changes were also made to the prequel trilogy, the original trilogy saw the most alteration. Dissatisfied with the original theatrical cuts of the original Star Wars film,[a] The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, creator George Lucas altered the films in a way that was not initially possible, primarily due to limitations of time, budget, and technology.
The first substantial changes were made in 1997 with the release of a Special Edition remaster in commemoration of the franchise's twentieth anniversary. These changes were largely made as visual effects tests for the forthcoming prequel trilogy. Additional notable changes were made when the original trilogy was released on DVD in 2004, in an attempt to create more consistency with the prequel trilogy after the release of Attack of the Clones and in anticipation of Revenge of the Sith. More changes were made to the films for their Blu-ray release in 2011 and their 4K Ultra HD release in 2019.
Although some critics felt that many smaller changes were improvements, innocuous, or understandable, many changes were received negatively by fans and critics. Most controversial are changes to the original film, including the decision to have Greedo shoot before Han Solo does, and the addition of a deleted scene featuring Jabba the Hutt using computer-generated imagery (CGI). Contentious changes to Return of the Jedi include replacing the song sung by a puppet Sy Snootles with a new song by a CGI Snootles, having Darth Vader yell "No!" as he kills the Emperor, and replacing Sebastian Shaw as the Force spirit of Anakin Skywalker with Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin in the prequel films.
- 1977: In May, Star Wars was theatrically released. Three different audio versions (a Dolby Stereo mix, a six-channel mix for 70 mm screenings, and a mono mix print) were created, with significant differences. Later that year, among others, a silent, English-subtitled Super 8 reel version of the film was released by Ken Films.
- 1980: In May, The Empire Strikes Back was theatrically released. After its initial opening, but before its wide release, George Lucas extended the end sequence. A 70 mm print of the film differed from the more widely distributed 35 mm print in takes of dialogue, visual and sound effects, shot choices, and transitions between shots; none of these changes appeared in later releases, with exception of one dialogue change.
- 1981: In April, Star Wars was re-released, with the addition of the subtitles "Episode IV" and "A New Hope".
- 1983: In May, Return of the Jedi was theatrically released.
- 1985: The original Star Wars film was re-released on VHS, LaserDisc, and Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) with an improved audio mix. The LaserDisc and CED sped the film up by 3% to fit onto a single disc.[b]
- 1993: The original trilogy was released on LaserDisc as "The Definitive Collection". With the exception of a new THX audio mix, scratch and dirt removal, and color balance changes, it matched the original theatrical releases.
- 1995: The original trilogy was re-released on VHS with THX audio, advertised as the final release of the theatrical versions.
George Lucas in 1997
- 1997: The "Special Edition" of the original trilogy was released theatrically from January through March for the 20th anniversary of Star Wars. This release featured the first significant changes, which were intended to prove that Industrial Light & Magic could effectively produce CGI visual effects for the prequel trilogy.[c]
- 1999: In May, Episode I – The Phantom Menace was theatrically released.
- 2001: In November, The Phantom Menace was released on DVD, which features a slightly extended cut from the theatrical release.
- 2002: In May, Episode II – Attack of the Clones was theatrically released. A version made for digital-projection theaters included a few special effects which were not ready for the initial wide release;[d] the DVD features the digital version with some extended lines of dialogue.
- 2004: In September, the original trilogy was released on DVD. Further significant alterations were made, including replacing Latin script text with Aurebesh.
- 2005: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was theatrically released. The DVD release features a minor editing change.[e]
- 2006: In September, Limited Edition DVDs of the 2004 versions of the original trilogy were re-issued; these contain the original unaltered versions on bonus discs. These match the 1993 LaserDisc release, but remove the subtitles Episode IV – A New Hope.[f]
- 2011: The original and prequel trilogy were released on Blu-ray. Alterations were made to all six films.
- 2015: The original and prequel films were released digitally to streaming services. They are identical to their Blu-ray release, except for changes to the opening logos and fanfares.[g] The U.S. Library of Congress made the original release of Star Wars available to watch in person.[h]
- 2019: The original and prequel films, along with The Force Awakens and Rogue One, were released in 4K resolution on Disney's streaming service, Disney+.[i][j] Color, compositing, and minor effects adjustments were made to all three films of the original trilogy.
The first film was released in 1977 under the title Star Wars. The subtitle Episode IV – A New Hope was retroactively added to the opening crawl in a subsequent release. Lucasfilm dates the addition to the theatrical re-release on April 10, 1981. This change was made to bring the original film in line with the titling of its sequel, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
Some scenes on Tatooine were modified for the 1997 Special Edition, most notably an alteration to the Greedo scene and the restoration of a deleted scene featuring Jabba the Hutt. Other modifications include new and modified shots of stormtroopers and dewbacks to have the creatures move using CGI,[k] a CGI replacement of the Jawa sandcrawler, a different sound effect for Obi-Wan Kenobi making a krayt dragon call to scare off the Tusken Raiders,[l] the addition of rocks in front of the cave R2-D2 hides in,[m] the replacement of an external shot of Obi-Wan's hut with a new angle showing Luke Skywalker's parked landspeeder, and color and continuity changes involving the binary sunset. The shadow of the landspeeder was redone in one shot, and creatures, robots, and ships were added to Mos Eisley, including elements created for the Shadows of the Empire multimedia campaign.[n] A shot of the Millennium Falcon fighting its way out of Mos Eisley was also added.
Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is cornered in the Mos Eisley cantina by the bounty hunter Greedo (Paul Blake), and Han shoots under the table to kill Greedo. The 1997 Special Edition release of the film alters the scene so that Greedo shoots first and misses (with Han's head digitally altered to move away from the laser blast). The scene was altered again for the 2004 DVD release of the film so that Han and Greedo shoot simultaneously; this was shortened by several frames for the 2011 Blu-ray. The scene was further modified for the 2019 4K Ultra HD release with the addition of a close-up shot of Greedo speaking (without subtitles),[o] the removal of a reverse shot of Greedo, and a re-rendering of the visual effects.[p]
George Lucas in 2015
According to Paul Blake, the scene was originally created as a result of Lucas having to cut a special-effects-heavy scene introducing Jabba the Hutt due to budget and schedule concerns. The original version of the Greedo scene is considered iconic, while the altered version is one of the most controversial changes to the film. Fans have coined the phrase "Han shot first" to protest the change, which according to Polygon alters Han's moral ambiguity and his fundamental character. Lucas has stated that he always intended for Greedo to shoot first. In 2015, a replica of an early script for Star Wars was discovered in the archives of the University of New Brunswick library. In the script, dated March 15, 1976, Han shoots first. Blake said in a 2016 interview: "Of course, it said it all in the original script, we played in the scene in English and at the end of the scene, it reads, 'Han shoots the alien.' It's all it says and that's what happened."
Jabba the Hutt
The original script for Star Wars included a scene between Jabba the Hutt (who was designed in concept art drawings similarly to his appearance in Return of the Jedi and often traveling on a sedan chair) and Han Solo, set in Mos Eisley's Docking Bay 94. The scene was filmed with Harrison Ford as Solo and Declan Mulholland, a large man, wearing a furry vest as a stand-in for Jabba. Lucas intended to replace Mulholland in post-production with a stop-motion character. Due to time limitations and budget constraints, the scene was cut. In the 1997 Special Edition, the scene was reinserted with a CGI Jabba replacing Mulholland. In the original footage, Ford walked too close to Mulholland; as a workaround, Han was digitally moved to appear as if he steps on Jabba's tail, causing the Hutt to squeal. Boba Fett was also added to the background of the scene, and seems to break the fourth wall.
The insertion of this scene into the film was criticized for being superfluous to the previous cantina scene with Greedo, slowing down the pacing, and failing to move the plot forward. The 1997 CGI Jabba has been described as "atrocious", and was replaced for the 2004 DVD release, making the character more realistic and similar to his depiction in Return of the Jedi. On the audio commentary for this release, Lucas reflected that while he did not mind cutting the scene when he was not sure if he would make sequels, he subsequently wanted it to be included as it introduces a character important to Han's story arc.
Lightsaber visual effects
In the original version of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader's duel on the Death Star, Obi-Wan's saber appeared to "short out" when foreshortened toward the camera, a result of the in-camera effects failing to account for this viewing angle. A glow was added in 2004, and a fully finished blade was added to these shots in 2019. Also in the 2019 version, Obi-Wan's lightsaber was adjusted to appear consistently blue, and the flash effects of the lightsabers clashing was redone.
The Special Edition of A New Hope incorporated a deleted scene on Yavin 4, in which Luke is briefly reunited with his childhood friend Biggs Darklighter. This was felt by some to strengthen the relationship of the characters during the climactic Death Star attack run.[q]
A 180° turn of CGI X-wing fighters flying from Yavin 4 towards the Death Star was added to the 1997 Special Edition. Wired points out that this erroneously shows that the moon is "very clearly in range of the Death Star from the very beginning of the battle."
The Empire Strikes Back
Amongst other changes, close-up shots of the wampa on Hoth were inserted.[r] In the shot when the Millennium Falcon detaches from the Star Destroyer, Boba Fett's ship, the Slave I, was replaced with a version following the Falcon more closely.[s] New establishing shots were added to Cloud City, which create some inconsistencies with later shots. Another shot has a railing added to it, which does not reflect properly. New shots of Cloud City's citizens reacting to Lando Calrissian's evacuation orders are added.[t] In the 1997 Special Edition, the audio of Emperor Palpatine falling down the shaft in Return of the Jedi was played when Luke Skywalker falls down the chute; this was removed in later releases.
The Emperor's hologram
Clive Revill originally provided the Emperor's voice in The Empire Strikes Back, while actress Marjorie Eaton portrayed him physically, wearing a mask.[u] Ultimately the actress and voice actor were replaced by Ian McDiarmid, who portrayed the character in later films, for the 2004 DVD edition and subsequent releases.[v] The dialogue was changed with this alteration, making Vader seem to be unaware of Luke's paternity despite knowing his last name. Wired criticized the change, saying that Palpatine "looks more like he did 20 years before in the timeline than he does a year later in Return of the Jedi and again reminds you of poorer movies in the middle of this excellent one," and that the altered dialogue "reads as ignorant within the context of the rest of the film."
Boba Fett's voice
Boba Fett's dialogue in the film was originally recorded by Jason Wingreen. Subsequently, Attack of the Clones revealed Boba to be a clone of Jango Fett, played by Temuera Morrison. To reflect this, Morrison re-recorded Boba's lines for the 2004 DVD release of the film.[w]
Following the initial limited theatrical release, Lucas added three exterior shots to the denouement to clarify that Lando and Chewbacca are on the Falcon, not the Rebel frigate that Luke, Leia, and the droids are on. In the 1997 Special Edition, a line of Vader's dialogue was replaced and a shot of his shuttle landing in his Star Destroyer (using stock footage of the second Death Star from Return of the Jedi) was inserted into the sequence in which Luke uses the Force to contact Leia. Wired calls this "Yet another addition that answers a question no one had."
Return of the Jedi
In the Special Edition, an establishing shot of a bantha herd was inserted, and a CGI beak and extra tentacles were added to the sarlacc. The 2011 Blu-ray extended the front door of Jabba's palace, making the door appear three times longer from the outside than it does on the inside.
The scene in which Jabba feeds the dancer Oola to his rancor opens with a performance by the Max Rebo Band and its lead singer, Sy Snootles. In the original theatrical release, the song is "Lapti Nek", sung in the fictional language Huttese. The Special Edition changed the performance to the new song "Jedi Rocks", which mostly received negative criticism.[x] The puppet used for Snootles was also replaced with CGI. According to Special Edition producer Rick McCallum, this change was made because Lucas could not originally achieve the "large musical number" he envisioned because characters could not move in certain ways; Snootles could not open her mouth to lip sync correctly, and her eyes did not move. The Special Edition increased the size of the Max Rebo Band from three members to twelve. Additional footage was filmed of Boba Fett flirting with one of the dancers.
In the theatrical release of the film, Oola's death is filmed from outside the rancor pit: she falls into the pit, and her scream is heard from off-screen. In the 1997 Special Edition, extra shots were inserted depicting her in the pit, including shots where she looks up to the crowd, the pit door being raised, and a shot of her terror. The rancor and Oola as she screams remain off-screen. Femi Taylor, who played Oola, impressed critics with her ability to reprise the role over a decade later without visible difference.[y] James Whitbrook at io9 praised the additions to the scene, writing that it teased the rancor well while still keeping the monster a surprise for Luke's later battle with it. Conversely, Den of Geek UK criticized the additions as unnecessary and felt that they made the audience familiar with the pit, weakening Luke's scene.
Climax on the second Death Star
At the climax of the film, the Emperor tortures Luke with Force lightning, prompting Darth Vader to throw the Emperor down a chasm. In the theatrical release and earlier home video releases, Vader watches and acts in silence. The 2011 Blu-ray release adds Vader muttering "No" and then yelling a drawn-out "No!", creating a parallel with his apparently identical cry at the end of Revenge of the Sith. This addition was described as unnecessary at best and being clumsy, sounding terrible, and seeming to mock the scene in the prequel at worst. A Polygon writer said it "takes what was once emotional and makes it laughable," further arguing that the addition displays a distrust in an audience's ability to interpret Vader's emotions.
In the scene where Anakin Skywalker is unmasked, the 2004 DVD release digitally removed his eyebrows to reflect Anakin burning on Mustafar at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Actor Sebastian Shaw's brown eyes were also digitally changed to blue to match Hayden Christensen's eye color.
The film ends with a scene of the Rebel Alliance and a village of Ewoks on Endor celebrating the death of the Emperor and victory over the Empire. The original theatrical release of the film featured the song "Ewok Celebration", also known as "Yub Nub", playing over the celebration. The 1997 Special Edition release of the film replaced "Ewok Celebration" with score composed by John Williams titled "Victory Celebration", and the scene was lengthened to include shots of celebration on the planets Coruscant, Bespin, and Tatooine. The 2004 DVD release further added a shot set on Naboo, in which a Gungan is given a line of dialogue, and added the Senate building and Jedi Temple to Coruscant.
Anakin's Force ghost
At the end of the film, Darth Vader is redeemed by killing the Emperor to save Luke Skywalker's life, then dies of his injuries shortly after, and appears to Luke as Anakin Skywalker alongside the Force spirits of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the 1983 theatrical release, Sebastian Shaw plays this Force ghost in addition to an unmasked Vader. Hayden Christensen later played Anakin in the prequel trilogy films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. To reflect this, the 2004 DVD release of Return of the Jedi replaced Shaw's appearance as the Force ghost with Christensen, which was considered controversial by some. The Digital Bits notes that the 2019 4K restoration made it more obvious where Anakin's head was replaced.
The Phantom Menace
The extended podrace includes a longer introduction of the racers and the second lap of the race, both of which Screen Rant says do not contribute to the story, and potentially negatively affect the film's pacing. Additionally, Watto cheering for Anakin's rival Sebulba was removed for home media releases.
In the original version of The Phantom Menace, a puppet was used to portray Yoda except for two scenes near the end of the film. This was changed for the 2011 Blu-ray release, with the puppet being replaced with a CGI model, similar to those used for the film's sequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Attack of the Clones
A few special effects which were not ready for the initial wide release were completed for release in digital-projection theaters.[d] The DVD features the digital version with some extended lines of dialogue. The 2011 Blu-ray features a small editing change to the Coruscant speeder chase, adds a voiceover to Anakin's vision of Shmi, and changes the order of shots depicting Count Dooku's escape.
Revenge of the Sith
The theatrical release had a diagonal wipe from Obi-Wan leaving Mustafar to Anakin using his hand to crawl from the lava. The DVD changed this to a direct cut, which was reverted on the 2011 Blu-ray. The latter release also has additional clone trooper dialogue as they land on Utapau, and added moss to the treehouse on Kashyyyk. The version released on Disney+ has the reprise of "The Throne Room" music from A New Hope in the end credits removed, making the end credits shorter.
One writer has noted that the first Star Wars won the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, and believed the Special Edition changes to the sound mixing, sound effects, and visual effects were felt to have "stripped the film of every aspect that it had won its Academy Awards for". Asked why he was opposed to releasing the original versions of the films alongside the modified versions, Lucas stated: "To me, [the original movie] doesn't really exist anymore. ... I'm sorry you saw half a completed film and fell in love with it. But I want it to be the way I want it to be."
Lance Ulanoff of Mashable, who in 2015 viewed the original theatrical print of Star Wars submitted to the Library of Congress, notes merit to Lucas' belief that technology did not allow him to achieve his vision, citing a visible marquee around Leia's ship "so jarring that it temporarily pulls me out of the film" because the original print is "lack[ing] the seamless quality [he has] come to expect from sci-fi and fantasy". Despite this Ulanoff "hate[s] each and every one" of the later added CGI effects and describes positively his ability to view the original print.
Dave Tach, writing for Polygon, noted minor changes, such as adding windows to Cloud City on Bespin, adding sparks to Jango Fett's jetpack, or replacing the original Emperor hologram with McDiarmid, as innocuous ones that "angered, to a close approximation, nobody" because "there was a solid logic behind those amendments".
In 2019, Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm since the 2012 acquisition of the company by Disney, stated that she would not make alterations to Lucas's original trilogy, because "those will always remain his." While promoting The Rise of Skywalker, director J. J. Abrams expressed his hopes that the original versions of the trilogy would be officially released, but said that the powers that be had told him "that that's not necessarily possible".[z] Abrams also affirmed his decision not to retroactively release alternate versions of the films he directed, saying, "I feel like [when] you're done with a thing, ... that's what it is." Contrarily, multiple media outlets have called for The Rise of Skywalker to be altered to show the Force spirits during the film's climax, instead of a mostly blank screen.
In addition to a number of extant continuity errors throughout the films, a CGI character omission in The Phantom Menace has never been corrected—despite special effects supervisor John Knoll calling attention to it in the film's 2001 DVD commentary. Screen Rant says this "highlights how George Lucas' motivations for tweaking the Star Wars movies are more about improving and updating than removing imperfections."
- Later titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
- Some releases additionally had minor aspect ratio changes.
- Some state that the changes were intended to modernize the films and create consistency with the prequel trilogy.
- These include the addition of sparks to Jango Fett's jetpack just before he is beheaded by Mace Windu and Anakin Skywalker using his mechanical hand to take Padmé's hand during the wedding scene.
- This was reversed for the 2011 Blu-ray.
- According to Empire, "the quality of the transfer is laughably bad, with a non-anamorphic letterboxed 4:3 aspect ratio creating huge black bars on all sides of the film, if watched on a widescreen TV."
- The 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare were removed from The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and the prequel films as a result of Disney's 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm.
- In 1989, the original release of Star Wars was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. In 2014, it still did not have a "working copy" (a copy available for public viewing) of the 1977 film; George Lucas refused to submit the original, stating that he no longer authorized the release of the theatrical version. Lucasfilm offered the 1997 Special Edition release, but the Registry refused it as the first published version must be accepted. The Library subsequently used a 35 mm print of the original version of the film (which had been submitted in 1978 as part of the film's copyright deposit) to make a digital working copy.
- They, along with The Rise of Skywalker, were released on Ultra HD Blu-ray on March 31, 2020.
- The 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare were restored to the five films they had been removed from in 2015 as a result of Disney's acquisition of 21st Century Fox earlier in 2019.
- A Wired article criticizes this addition, saying, "in a movie that has focused almost every scene on the droids, it's not necessary to have shots that don't feature them, particularly medium shots of people wandering aimlessly." The article further notes that "the dewback model was rebuilt for the prequels, and the test model was left front-and-center in a classic film."
- Yahoo! says "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." Wire notes that the latter sound "hilariously sounds like someone shouting into an empty bathroom."
- Wired notes that "There is no visible way for R2 to have gotten into this cave to hide from the Tusken Raiders."
- The computer-generated Imperial landing craft was created for the 1997 release of the film, but first appeared in Shadows of the Empire media.
- The close-up is composed of cropped footage used a few seconds before. The dialogue, transcribed by fans as "maclunkey", is also spoken in The Phantom Menace, where the apparently Huttese phrase is subtitled "This will be the end of you."
- The change was made by Lucas before the 2012 sale of his company to Disney.
- Wired writes, "The one interesting part of the [full version of the cut scene] was how Red Leader mentioned flying with Luke's father, a possible tie to the prequels ... cut out by having a technician walk across the screen and hiding the cut dialog with a time jump. Unfortunately, this is done poorly, as the missing time is reflected by R2's literal jump by several feet in his rise to the X-wing."
- Wired states that this "is one of the rare changes I'm sure the filmmakers intended when they first shot the movie, but when they couldn't get the creatures to look right, they edited the scene to depend on tension of the unknown. Now the tension is different."
- According to Wired, the change "makes it so that Fett is so close it looks like Han could just look out the window and see him."
- According to Wired, "The frantic pace of our heroes trying to escape is now interrupted by shots of characters we've never seen and will never see again."
- This was stated in 2013 to be make-up artist Rick Baker's wife wearing a mask he crafted, with chimpanzee eyes superimposed over hers. However, it was later clarified by Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo to be Eaton in the film (previously believed to have only appeared in a test), wearing a mask crafted by Phil Tippett.
- Filmed during the production of Revenge of the Sith
- Wired criticizes the change, writing, "This might make sense if it wasn't for the fact that accents aren't genetic. Jango died 25 years earlier, it's highly unlikely Boba would still sound exactly like his father, even if they were genetically identical." Fett was later reprised by Morrison for the post-Return of the Jedi live-action series The Mandalorian.
- A Polygon author wrote that the new material is "an overproduced intrusion that takes twice as long to add nothing" and distracts from the scene's intention: to establish the trapdoor leading to the rancor and Jabba's deadliness. The same writer stated that he thought "Lapti Nek" was a better song, describing the vocals of "Jedi Rocks" as difficult to listen to and having "the volume and vocal fry of a higher pitched Tina Turner but none of the soul". A Wired writer similarly states that the new song is a grating, "pointless Pointer Sisters rip-off" and that the additions crowded the scene with unsatisfactory CGI. Den of Geek notes that the change negatively altered the tone of the scene and only "replaced one flawed effect with another", writing that "What was once a low-key yet appealing background moment in the movie's first act [has] grown into ... an in-your-face audio-visual spectacle".
- Wired notes that "they put a different eyeshadow color on her, so she's not exactly seamless."
- He further said that when making The Force Awakens, he had gotten into a disagreement about the dialogue between Vader and the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back before realizing that different versions of the film were being referred to; he cited the Despecialized Editions of the films, while the other party had recalled the reworded dialogue.
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