List of changes in Star Wars re-releases

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Changes to 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, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, creator George Lucas altered the films in an attempt to achieve the ideal versions that he could not initially due to limitations of time, budget, and technology.

The first significant changes were made in 1997 with the release of a Special Edition remaster in commemoration of the franchise's twentieth anniversary. These changes were intended to modernize the films and create consistency with the forthcoming prequel trilogy. Additional significant changes were made when the original trilogy was released on DVD in 2004, and such changes served to further create consistency with the prequel trilogy after the release of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and in anticipation of Revenge of the Sith.

Many changes met criticism and outrage from fans and critics, and many believed that Lucas degraded the original films with the additions. Most controversial is the decision to have Greedo shoot before Han Solo does, which sparked wide usage of the phrase "Han shot first". Other controversial changes include replacing the "Lapti Nek" performance by a puppet Sy Snootles with a longer "Jedi Rocks" performance by a CGI Snootles, having Darth Vader yell "No!" as he kills the Emperor, and replacing Sebastian Shaw as the Force ghost of Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader before his fall) with Hayden Christensen, who was cast to play Anakin in the prequel films. It was also felt that subsequent changes stripped the Star Wars film of the qualities for which it won Academy Awards. Despite the negative response to many significant changes, critics also felt that many smaller changes were improvements, innocuous, or understandable.


There will only be one [version of the films]. 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." The same thing happens with plays and earlier drafts of books. In essence, films never get finished, they get abandoned. At some point, you're dragged off the picture kicking and screaming while somebody says, "Okay, it's done." That isn't really the way it should work. Occasionally, [you can] go back and get your cut of the video out there, which I did on both American Graffiti and THX 1138; that's the place where it will live forever. So 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], and you'll be able to project it on a 20-foot-by-40-foot screen with perfect quality. I think it's the director's prerogative, not the studio's, to go back and reinvent a movie.
George Lucas[1]

The 1977 release of Star Wars was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress in 1989.[2] In 2014, the National Film Registry still did not have a copy of the 1977 film; George Lucas refused to submit a copy, stating that he no longer authorized the release of the theatrical version.[3] Lucasfilm offered the altered 1997 Special Edition release, but the Registry refused it as the first published version must be accepted.[4] The Library of Congress, however, received a 35mm print of the film, without the A New Hope subtitle and subsequent alterations, in 1978 as part of the film's copyright deposit.[3][5]

Star Wars release history[edit]

  • 1977 - Star Wars was theatrically released.[6]
  • 1980 - The Empire Strikes Back was theatrically released.[6] A 70mm print of the film differed from the more widely distributed 35mm print in takes of dialogue, visual and sound effects, shot choices, and transitions between shots.[7][8] None of these changes appeared in later releases, with exception of one dialogue change.[8]
  • 1983 - Return of the Jedi was theatrically released.[6]
  • 1985 - Star Wars, now subtitled A New Hope, was re-released onto VHS and released onto LaserDisc with an improved audio mix. The LaserDisc release, and the CED videodisc also released, sped the film up by three percent to fit the film onto a single disc. Some releases additionally had minor aspect ratio changes.[8]
  • 1993 - The original trilogy was released on LaserDisc as "The Definitive Collection". With exception of a THX audio mix, scratch and dirt removal, and color balance changes, it matched the original theatrical releases.[8]
  • 1995 - The original trilogy was offered on VHS in a "last chance to own the original" campaign before the films were taken off the market in January 1996 and an altered re-release released in 1997.[9][10]
  • 1997 - The Special Edition of the original trilogy was released theatrically and to home media for the twentieth anniversary of Star Wars. This release featured the first significant changes, intended to modernize the films and create consistency with the forthcoming prequel trilogy.[8] The original negatives were also digitally restored.
  • 1999 - Episode I – The Phantom Menace was theatrically released.[6]
  • 2002 - Episode II – Attack of the Clones was theatrically released.[6]
  • 2004 - The original trilogy was released on DVD. Further significant alterations were made.[8]
  • 2005 - Episode III – Revenge of the Sith was theatrically released.[6]
  • 2006 - A restored version of 2004 DVD edition was released. An unaltered version of the trilogy was included on bonus discs; it was same as the 1993 LaserDisc release and was of inferior quality to the restored version.[8]
  • 2011 - The original and prequel films were released for Blu-ray. Alterations were made to all films.[8]
  • 2015 - The original and prequel films were released digitally to streaming services. It is identical to the Blu-ray release, except for changes to the opening logos and fanfares.[8]

Significant changes[edit]

Title change to Star Wars[edit]

The first film was released in 1977 under the title Star Wars. The subtitles Episode IV and A New Hope were retroactively added to the opening crawl in a subsequent release.[11][12] Accounts differ as to when this change occurred. Some, including Lucasfilm, date the addition to a theatrical re-release on April 10, 1981,[8][11][12] while others place it much earlier at the re-release in July 1978.[13] This change was made to bring the original film in line with the titling of its sequel The Empire Strikes Back, which was released in 1980 with the subtitle Episode V.[8]

Han shot first[edit]

Because I was thinking mythologically — should he be a cowboy, should he be John Wayne? And I said, ‘Yeah, he should be John Wayne.’ And when you’re John Wayne, you don’t shoot people [first] — you let them have the first shot.
George Lucas in 2015[14]

In the Star Wars film, Han Solo is cornered in the Mos Eisley Cantina by the bounty hunter Greedo, and the confrontation ends with Han shooting under the table and killing Greedo. The circumstances of the shot varies between versions of the film. In the original 1977 theatrical release of the film, Han shoots Greedo, and Greedo does not shoot at all.[5] The 1997 Special Edition release of the film alters the scene so that Greedo shoots first and misses, and the scene is altered again the 2004 DVD release of the film so that Han and Greedo shoot simultaneously.[3]

Lucas stated that he always intended for Greedo to have shot first.[15] He felt that the idea of Han shooting first depicts him as "a cold-blooded killer".[15][14] This decision sparked objections that it changed Han's moral ambiguity, fundamentally altered his established character,[16] and diminished his transition from antihero to hero; it became one of the most controversial changes to the films.

Max Rebo Band[edit]

The scene in Return of Jedi in which Jabba the Hutt feeds the dancer Oola to the rancor opens with performance by the Max Rebo Band and its lead singer Sy Snootles. In the original theatrical release, the song is "Lapti Nek", sung for 45 seconds in the fictional language Huttese. The 1997 Special Edition changed the performance to the "less dated" song "Jedi Rocks", which runs nearly 2 minutes.[17]

Owen Good of Polygon, though he understood the desire to update the song, described the "Jedi Rocks" performance as "an overproduced intrusion that takes twice as long to add nothing" and felt that it distracted from the intention of the scene: to establish the trapdoor leading to the rancor and Jabba's deadliness. He also felt that "Lapti Nek" was an overall better song and described the vocal performance in "Jedi Rocks" as difficult to listen to or understand and as having "the volume and vocal fry of a higher pitched Tina Turner but none of the soul".[16] Brian Raftery of Wired wrote that replacing "Lapti Nek", which he praised as a track, was "one of Lucas' most salaciously dumb choices" and described "Jedi Rocks" as a Pointer Sisters "rip-off" and a "soul-free strutter, which is so grating that you can almost hear a tone-deaf Lucas beard-smirking approvingly in the background".[18] Ryan Lambie of Den of Geek! similar noted that change negatively altered the tone of the scene and only "replaced one flawed effect with another", writing: "What was once a low-key yet appealing background moment in the movie’s first act had grown into a literal show-stopper—an in-your-face audio-visual spectacle that literally overshadowed the original hand-made effects".

The puppet used for Sy Snootles was also replaced with CGI in the Special Edition. This was made because, according to producer Rick McCallum, Lucas could not achieve the "large musical number" he envisioned because characters could not move in certain ways, Sy Snootles could not open her mouth to lip sync correctly, and her eyes did not move. Lambie criticized this decision because it removed almost all evidence of puppeteer Timothy D. Rose's work in the film.[19] The 1997 Special Edition also increased the size of the Max Rebo Band from three members to twelve.[17] While Good wrote that this change was inconsequential,[16] Ratery felt that the additions made the scene "overstuffed" and described the CGI as dead on arrival.[18]

Addition of Darth Vader's "No!" in Return of the Jedi[edit]

At the climax of Return of the Jedi, the Emperor tortures Luke with Force lightning, prompting Darth Vader to throw the Emperor down a chasm and kill him. In the theatrical release and earlier home video releases, Darth Vader watches and acts in silence.[20] The 2011 Blu-ray release adds Darth Vader yelling a drawn out "No", creating a parallel with his similar cry at the end of Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. This addition was described as unnecessary[16][20] and awful sounding,[8] and it was said to "[take] what was once emotional and [make] it laughable" and even ruin the film's climax.[16] It was also felt that the addition displayed a distrust in an audience's ability to interpret Vader's emotions.[16][20] The symmetry created by the parallel was described as "clumsy" and was felt to mock the scene in the prequel.[8][20]

Victory celebration in Return of the Jedi[edit]

Return of the Jedi 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.[8][18] The 1997 Special Edition release of the film replaced "Ewok Celebration" with score composed by John Williams titled "Victory Celebration",[8] and the scene was lengthened to include shots of celebration on the planets Coruscant,[8][21] Bespin, and Tatooine.[22] The 2004 DVD release further added a shot set on Naboo, in which a Gungan is given a line of dialogue.[8]

Consistency between original and prequel trilogies[edit]

The original theatrical release of Star Wars showed Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker (above). The 2004 DVD release of the film replaced him with Hayden Christensen (below), who was cast in the role for the prequel trilogy.

In The Empire Strikes Back, the Emperor appears via hologram.[23] In the original theatrical 1980 release, he was portrayed by a woman under heavy makeup and voiced by Clive Revill. The Emperor was later played by Ian McDiarmid in Return of the Jedi, and McDiarmid reprised the role for the prequel trilogy.[23][24] To reflect this, the 2004 DVD release of the film replaced the woman with McDiarmid and new dialogue was written.[23]

Boba Fett's dialogue in The Empire Strikes Back was originally recorded by Jason Wingreen.[3][25] Subsequently, Episode II – Attack of the Clones revealed Boba to be a clone of Jango Fett, played by Temuera Morrison.[26] To reflect this, Morrison re-recorded Boba's lines for the 2004 DVD release of the film.[3][23][25]

In a scene of Return of the Jedi where Darth Vader is unmasked, the 2004 DVD release digitally removed his eyebrows to reflect Anakin burning on Mustafar at the end of Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.[23]

At the end of Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader is redeemed killing the Emperor to save Luke Skywalker's life, dies of his injuries shortly after, and appears to Luke as Anakin Skywalker alongside the Force ghosts of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the 1983 theatrical release, Sebastian Shaw plays this Force ghost in addition to an unmasked Vader. Later, Hayden Christensen was cast as Anakin in the prequel trilogy films Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Episode III – 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.[23]


The first Star Wars won the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, Best Original Score, and 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".[4]

Michael Matessino 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, noting that a visible marquee around Leia's ship is "so jarring that it temporarily pulls me out of the film" because it is "lack[ing] the seamless quality [he has] come to expect from sci-fi and fantasy". Despite this, he "hate[s] each and every one" of the later added CGI effects and describes positively his ability to view the original print despite "Lucas's meddling".[5]

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".[16]


  1. ^ Magid, Ron (February 1997). "An Expanded Universe". American Society of Cinematographers. p. 4. Retrieved August 24, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 19, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Eveleth, Rose (August 27, 2014). "The Star Wars George Lucas Doesn't Want You To See". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 17, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b Abramo, Donya (February 23, 2017). "Unaltered Star Wars theatrical cuts rumored to be released: Why it’s culturally important". Hypable. Retrieved May 19, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c Unaloff, Lance (December 17, 2015). "The search for the 'Star Wars' George Lucas doesn't want you to see". Mashable. Retrieved May 19, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "George Lucas". Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  7. ^ Matessino, Michael (January–February 1997). "70mm Variations Strike Back". Film Score Monthly. Vol. 2 no. 1. p. 15. Retrieved May 19, 2017. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Kirby, Ben (January 31, 2017). "Who Shot First? The Complete List Of Star Wars Changes". Empire. Retrieved May 19, 2017. 
  9. ^ Daly, Steve (September 15, 1995). "Video Review: 'The Star Wars Trilogy'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  10. ^ Fitzpatrick, Eileen; Goldstein, Seth (July 1, 1997). "Video at 'Miracle' Price; Last Shot for 'Star Wars'". Billboard. p. 107. Retrieved July 19, 2017 – via Google Books. 
  11. ^ a b "Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope". Lucasfilm. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  12. ^ a b "30 pieces of trivia about Star Wars". BBC. May 23, 2007. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  13. ^ Marcus, Hearn (2005). The Cinema of George Lucas. New York: Harry N. Abrams. p. 124. ISBN 0810949687. OCLC 56405075. 
  14. ^ a b Stuever, Hank (December 5, 2015). "George Lucas: To feel the true force of ‘Star Wars,’ he had to learn to let it go". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 17, 2017. 
  15. ^ a b Block, Alex Ben (February 9, 2012). "5 Questions With George Lucas: Controversial 'Star Wars' Changes, SOPA and 'Indiana Jones 5'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 17, 2017. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Polo, Susana; Hall, Charlie; Good, Owen; Tach, Dave (December 17, 2015). "The Worst Things in Star Wars". Polygon. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  17. ^ a b "Max Rebo Band: Behind the Scenes". Lucasfilm. Archived from the original on December 15, 2006. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  18. ^ a b c Raftery, Brian (December 21, 2015). "The 9 Best Songs Ever Played in a Star Wars Movie". Wired. Retrieved July 19, 2017. 
  19. ^ Lambie, Ryan (January 22, 2016). "Star Wars: the changing face of Sy Snootles & the Rebo band". Den of Geek!. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  20. ^ a b c d Popolo, Meredith (September 16, 2011). "Top 10 Worst Changes Made to Star Wars". PC Magazine. Retrieved May 19, 2017. 
  21. ^ King, Darryn (December 12, 2016). "The Star Wars Saga’s Secret Weapon: A Visual Effects Nerd with a Big Story to Tell". Vanity Fair. Retrieved July 20, 2017. 
  22. ^ Clark, Mark (2015). Star Wars FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Trilogy That Changed the Movies. Milwaukee, WI: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. ISBN 148036018X. OCLC 907104091. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f Hyde, Douglas (September 23, 2004). "Five major changes in the 'Star Wars' DVD". CNN. Retrieved May 18, 2017. 
  24. ^ "Palpatine". Lucasfilm. Archived from the original on December 1, 2006. Retrieved May 18, 2017. 
  25. ^ a b Romano, Nick (January 2, 2016). "Jason Wingreen dead: All in the Family, Star Wars actor was 95". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 18, 2017. 
  26. ^ "Fett, Jango". Lucasfilm. Archived from the original on December 16, 2008. Retrieved May 18, 2017. 

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