The True Vision

Returnofthejedi

I’d like to ring in 2015 with another post about my favorite movie series, which is of course Star Wars.  Last year, I defended the prequels.  Much of the criticism they endured was unfair and largely the result of misplaced fan expectations.  Today’s post is going to focus on the original three movies, and why I believe the Special Edition is the best adaptation of them.  To clarify, I am referring to the Special Edition rereleased in theaters in 1997, which is the first time I ever saw Star Wars.  I have seen the original 1977-1983 versions, and that’s what I’ll largely be comparing them to.  I am not referring to the DVD (2004) or Blu-Ray (2011) releases of the movies, where George Lucas and the team made further changes.

Let’s break it down movie by movie, starting with A New Hope.  The biggest improvement made was the addition of Han Solo’s initial confrontation with Jabba the Hutt over his debt.  This scene was deleted from the original film due to time and budget constraints, and featured a human actor playing Jabba.  In the new version, Jabba is added in using CGI, featuring the appearance fans are familiar with from Return of the Jedi.  In my opinion, this scene helps to flesh out Solo’s character, and foreshadows the events of Jedi, which makes the overall storytelling better.  He also steps on Jabba’s tail, which elicits a chuckle in an otherwise serious scene.

The original Han/Jabba deleted scene, with an actor playing Jabba.

The original Han/Jabba deleted scene, with an actor playing Jabba.

hanjabba

The new version in the Special Edition of A New Hope, with Jabba digitally inserted.

 

 

The other major changes involved the Mos Eisley and Yavin Four scenes.  In the former scene, more details were added to make the spaceport seem more like a bustling hive of activity (or scum and villainy, as the case may be :), which establishes the setting better.  There is one shot in particular where the camera pulls back, and viewers see a panoramic view of Mos Eisley, which I think adds even more to the experience.

This panoramic shot of Mos Eisley was added in the Special Edition.

This panoramic shot of Mos Eisley was added in the Special Edition.

There are two key changes when the protagonists arrive on Yavin Four near the end of the movie.  First, we actually see the Millennium Falcon land on the planet, which I think is interesting even if it is brief and doesn’t add much to the plot.  Then we get a scene between Luke Skywalker and childhood friend Biggs Darklighter right before the attack on the Death Star.  I like this scene because it helps the audience get to know Luke a little better, and sheds more light on his life before the events of the movie.  Also, it gives the audience a reason to care about Biggs and establishes why his subsequent death during the attack impacts Luke so much.

Luke & Biggs's reunion, reinserted into the Special Edition

Luke & Biggs’s reunion, reinserted into the Special Edition.

No, I’m not going to talk about Han/Greedo shooting first.  It’s a stupid debate and I don’t care.

There were fewer notable changes in The Empire Strikes Back.  Probably the most significant one was additional footage of the wampa being added in showing him eating his prey.  Not really much impact on the plot, but also helps to establish the setting.  The Battle of Hoth scene was also cleaned up significantly, eliminating matte lines and making it run just a little smoother.  There were a few other minor changes, but the Special Edition version of this movie is largely identical to the original.

The wampa

The wampa

Return of the Jedi, like A New Hope, received a comparatively extensive facelift.  Jedi’s overhaul, however, mostly had to do with the music.  Two pieces used for the Special Edition have much more energy and are better than those used in the original movie.  The musical scene in Jabba’s palace originally featured the piece “Lapti Nek” and had much less action.  The Special Edition replaced this song with “Jedi Rocks,” and the Max Rebo Band singers are replaced with CGI versions, which are much more expressive and interesting than the puppets originally used.  Fun fact: Oola, the green Twi’lek dancer that entertains Jabba, was played by the same actress in both the original version and the Special Edition, 14 years later.

The music in the celebration scene at the end is also different.  In this case, the two songs aren’t as directly comparable.  The first one has more of a tribal Ewok feel and is interesting, but I still believe the second retains the tribal feel while more fully showing off the extent of John Williams’s composing prowess.

The CGI sarlacc pit monster is also much more imposing in the Special Edition, with tentacles and a large mouth added for greater dramatic effect.

star_wars_sarlacc_by_seekerarmada-d5lwd25

So while the changes made in the Special Edition aren’t radical, plot-altering devices, I believe they do a better job of articulating George Lucas’s original vision for the movies.  The Special Edition movies just feel like a finished product, more so than the original films.  Many fans would argue that Lucas became overly meddlesome with his creations when he continued to make changes in the DVD and Blu-Ray versions, which is up for debate.  A good-sized portion of the Star Wars fan community tends to be oversensitive to these changes and throw temper tantrums over minor “problems” (see Han/Greedo debate above).  Whichever version you like, the original movies stand as a shining example of good filmmaking.

 

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2 thoughts on “The True Vision

  1. I do enjoy these kinds of nerdy micro-examinations of the ways directors can now change movies long after release. And I agree that the first two Star Wars movies released were great from the start. But to me the “Triumph of the Teddy Bears” movie first showed Lucas’ growing difficulty in deciding exactly what audience he wanted to talk to. It has some of the best AND worst stuff in the whole series, a highly inconsistent tone.

    Unfortunately by the time the second trilogy was made it was clear to me and many others that George Lucas, never as comfortable directing as he was producing and mentoring new technology, had basically lost touch with how to tell stories. As great as they look, the performances range from so-so to atrocious, and specifying the force to be some sort of spirit bugs (midichlorians) was an unforgivable mistake. Screenwriting 101 – Never define God.

    The fan expectation that you refer to was “good movies”. They were instead BIG MOVIES, not good ones. For the next three I’ll definitely read the reviews before spending any money, otherwise I’ll wait for TV.

    I miss the old days, when filmmakers had to let go of a work once it was released. If Da Vinci had gotten to repeatedly go back to his paintings to make changes, it wouldn’t have improved them. They would just have been different.

    • See, I think the midi-chorians thing is something that people frequently misunderstand, and is one of those supposed “controversies” that SW fans get way too passionate about. The midi-chlorians aren’t the Force, but rather what gives one Force sensitivity. I don’t see that as inconsistent at all. Of course, I largely disagree about the new trilogy, even if it did have its weaknesses. I do encourage you to check my post on them out.

      Thanks for reading!

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