Star Wars is rather controversial among nerds in these post-prequel days. There’s so much on which to be divisive. Were the prequels good or bad? How much does the expanded universe count? What about the expanded universe from before the prequels that the prequels contradicted? The question I intend to tackle today is, “Were the Special Editions polished versions of the originals, or were they completely worthless and insulting?” My answer is . . . both.
Let’s start with . . .
Argue with me all you want, but there are a number of things in the Special Edition that actually worked. I will concede that the movie would have been just fine untouched, but this is a list of things that I think added quality to an already quality movie.
WATCHING THE DAY END AS R2-D2 IS CAPTURED
So many people seem focused on the huge things that were added or changed (which I promise I’ll get to), but never mention the tiny things. This is a tiny thing, but kind of a big deal. First, when the camera pans down on on Artoo as he’s rolling through the rocky area, right before he’s captured by the jawas, the sky is a lot more purple than it was in the original version; it’s dusk. And it’s the same for the sky behind the Sandcrawler when the jawas take R2 there. Lastly, once Artoo and Threepio are reunited, it cuts to the exterior again, and just behind the mountains you see stars in the sky. Those stars are not there in the original version. Yes, I checked. I didn’t NEED to check, but I did anyway so I could say I did. These are all minor touches, but they help it feel more like the day has ended, and even that it’s been a long day for our two little heroes. Before, it was inconsistent (the scene in the rocks felt like mid-day, the scene outside the Sandcrawler looked like morning), and wasn’t something you’d notice, but fixing it helps the movie flow better.
THE EXTENDED STORMTROOPER SCENE BY THE ESCAPE POD
This is one of the scenes that was talked about a lot when the Special Editions were in the works, but didn’t come up much after a lot of people decided they hated them. I think the reason is because it does what they intended it to do–expanded a scene that felt too short originally. Before, it was a shot of a few stormtroopers (one on a dewback waaaaay in the background), then the quick conversation. “Someone was in the escape pod; the tracks go off in this direction.” “Look sir–droids!” That part’s so funny, it’s like he’s hoping for a cookie. So the Special Edition version has a shuttle taking off, more stormtroopers on the scene, and some more dewbacks moving around. I think it’s great, because it shows just that much more that the Empire really does care about getting those plans back. But the dewbacks? Well . . . I’ll mostly get to them at the appropriate time, with one exception. In the original version, you hear the dewback in the background roar, but it doesn’t move. In the new version, you see its mouth move. I think that’s a nice touch.
SHIPS LAUNCHING OUT OF MOS EISLEY
Another small touch, where the original just showed a city in the distance, the Special Edition actually had a couple ships gaining altitude. Mos Eisley was supposed to be a bustling space hub, a place where questionable characters and ne’er-do-wells congregate, everything always in constant motion. The original version felt more like a town in northeastern Missouri. The ships taking off in that distant shot were just the little touch of spice it needed to give you the right impression.
HAN BEING SCARED BY HUNDREDS OF STORMTROOPERS . . .
. . . instead of the four or five stormtroopers he was rushing after standing by an empty wall. That part was always confusing to me and other viewers of the movie, so since I’ve read the novels, let me fill you in. Han had managed to fool the troopers into thinking there were several well-armed adversaries after them. He was feeling smug about himself due to his success, right up until he turned that corner and found that the troopers had reached a dead end and decided to turn and face the onslaught . . . which turned out to be one man and a wookie. It works well in the novelization, but not so well in the movie. It makes much more sense to think that Han was capable of taking those troopers by himself, but being scared off by the hundreds he stumbled upon (after all, if Kyle Katarn can take on ten to fifteen at once by himself, Han can surely handle four or five).
THE MILLENNIUM FALCON LANDING ON YAVIN 4
This is another small thing that I think really worked. In the original edition, you had the Millennium Falcon fly overhead, then it cuts to the rebel guard using his speed gun (or whatever). The Special Edition puts the Falcon a little bit into that guard’s “aim,” and shows it landing by one of the temples, thus helping set up the next shot of them being greeted by the Rebel Leaders outside the temple.
LUKE AND BIGGS’S SCENE
I would argue that this short scene was the most valuable to the whole Special Edition. Biggs was Luke’s childhood best friend. He was a couple years older than Luke and was someone he looked up to, and there was even a scene written and filmed at the start of the movie where Biggs is back from The Academy and tells Luke that he and some of his classmates are joining the Rebellion. Adding that scene wouldn’t have worked because it dampens the impact of seeing him come out of the hut on his uncle’s farm for the first time. So in the original version, you have to really pay attention (or watch the movie multiple times like me) to catch that the two pilots in the trench on the Death Star with Luke are Wedge and Biggs, and that Biggs is a buddy from Tatooine. By putting this scene back in, we establish just enough that these two are friends and care for each other, so we can understand the significance of his death. You might even recognize Biggs’s name from earlier in the movie (“Yeah, that’s what you said when Biggs and Tank left”). And I love how OBVIOUS it is in that conversation that Biggs is going to die. “You can tell me those stories when we get back!”
THE ATTACK ON THE DEATH STAR
This one might be a little controversial, but to me the changes and additions to the dog fight above the surface of the death star were perfect. In fact, I remember sitting in the theater in 1997, watching the Special Edition, and actually being on the edge of my seat during this scene. Literally–on the edge. It could have been in large part due to the fact it was on the big screen, but after watching it again tonight, I’m still convinced that the changes were well thought-out and effective.
Star Wars fans often talk so much about how horrible the Special Editions were that eventually, one could become cynical and ask, “Come on, were they really that bad?” Of course the nature of this post is to say that they weren’t, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have their awful parts.
As I said earlier, the dewback that was in the original version being given a moving mouth when it roars was a good move. The rest of the dewbacks? Okay, maybe the ones walking when you see the shuttle take off, but why so many more? We get it! And this includes the dewback outside the cantina as Luke, Obi-Wan, Threepio, and Artoo are heading in (who, unlike the earlier one, was given mouth movements that were completely unnecessary), and the dewback the stormtrooper is falling off of as Threepio comments to Artoo, “I don’t like the look of this.” Why so many? This is a perfect example of how George Lucas completely misunderstood what made his movies good. If people are interested in something, while it may be tempting, it’s generally a bad idea to shove it in their face as much as possible. We didn’t need so many dewbacks. One or two extra was fine.
THE MOS EISLEY ENTRANCE
When Obi-Wan, Luke, and the droids enter into Mos Eisley in the original version, they cut through a couple of streets and then are stopped by Stormtroopers, leading into the famous “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” conversation. George Lucas often spoke of how he wanted Mos Eisley to be bigger and busier, so what they did was put in a bunch of fake-looking, dinosaur things blocking your view and slapstick robot humor. awesome. It’s not that, in the spirit of a Special Edition, the idea in general was a bad one, but they really made it irritating rather than enhancing. Which is actually a running theme in the Special Editions.
NO WOLFMAN?! SERIOUSLY?!
Ask any Star Wars fan to list of the first three aliens they think of when they think of the Cantina scene, not counting Walrus Dude that doesn’t like Luke, Chewbacca, or the band. I guarantee ONE of them will be the Wolf Man. He was in two shots–one straight on after taking a drink of something, and another being startled by a weird worm-alien. Before the Special Editions came out, they talked about how they added in some “new aliens” to this part of the movie. Like with everything else, Lucas was never happy with the way the scene turned out, despite being one of the most famous in cinema history, let alone sci-fi history. I say, “Fine; let’s add a few more things in and see what we get.” So what DO we get? The removal of one of the more memorable aliens and being replaced with a fake looking lizard thing smoking a pipe, and then some tusked-and-trunked thing being startled by the worm-alien. THAT’S IT! But the thing that gets me the most is they left the Wolf Man’s growl in. Why does a lizard thing growl like a hairy beast? I don’t know; maybe it’s one of the many middle fingers from Lucas to fans who care .
GREEDO SHOOTING FIRST/AT THE SAME TIME AS HAN
Ah, yes. The absolute most notorious of changes in all three Special Editions. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Nothing, so I’ll just say it again. Han shooting first was one of the most awesome moments of badassery that Han ever dishes out. He stayed cool, collected, and knew his adversary well enough to 1) keep him talking, and 2) that it was him or Greedo. If Greedo had shot first in the first place, this would not be the slightest of issues, but he didn’t. And with absolutely no justification whatsoever, a moment in which we were told, “Don’t mess with Han,” is changed to self-defense. Oh, and him moving his head to the side with really bad CGI. So after all the outrage, what does Lucasfilm do? They changed it to them shooting at the same time. For real? If you’re going to change it after changing it, why not change it to the way the fans prefer it? It’ll never make sense to me or anyone.
Sigh . . . honestly, they should have gotten ten minutes into fleshing this idea out and just abandoned it. Shall we count the problems with it? Let us. 1) Jabba should not be mobile, it ruins the effect in Return of the Jedi; 2) CGI Jabba, whether it’s the one from the theatrical release or the one for the DVD release to match “Jabba” from The Phantom Menace, looks awful. Like ReBoot awful; 3) The scene stops the movie dead in its tracks; 4) We don’t need to see Jabba this early in the story. There’s a near-mysticism surrounding him in how he’s only talked about and never seen until the last movie, and now we get to see this fake thing that Han’s not looking in the eyes; 5) like I just said, Han isn’t looking him in the eyes; 6) Han walks behind him and then calls Jabba a human being! When the position of the actors and the dialogue in the scene all work against the final product, it’s probably a good idea to give it some second thought. I mean, does “fate” have to put up a huge sign that says “Hey Special Edition Makers! Skip This One!”? And never mind that this is the one and ONLY time the phrase “human being” is used anywhere in the Star Wars series; 7) Just like we didn’t need to see Jabba yet, seeing Boba Fett adds nothing. If you wanted to establish his presence in relation to Han earlier than Empire, there are a few different ways of doing it. This was pointless.
THE LITTLE PROBE DROID WITH THE STORMTROOPERS
The scene where they comically don’t bother with a locked door, that just happens to contain the droids they’re looking for. What good does this do but add something distracting and fake-looking into a minor scene? I hate it. I can’t elaborate more; I just hate it.
THE ADDED SOUNDS AND DIALOGUE
Which ones? These ones:
1) The stormtroopers after searching the Millennium Falcon saying, “There’s no one here.”
2) A different sound from the dianoga coming from the trash compactor that scares Chewbacca.
3) One of the stormtroopers saying, “Close the blast doors!” right before a different stormtrooper says, “Open the blast doors! Open the blast doors!”
4) Video game sounds from the digital displays in the Millennium Falcon’s turrets after they escape the Death Star.
What’s wrong with them? This:
1) Yeah, we get it. We got it when the Imperial officer told Vader that no one was on board. Thanks for making sure, though.
2) Why? What was wrong with the original sound? Explain this to me. The original sound was more terrifying, too. This one just makes it sound weird, not scary.
3) Get it?! Because he said, “Close the blast doors!” and then regretted it! Comedic gold.
4) They’re not playing Pac-Man. This is an example of how nothing was ever seen to be missing, but “fixed” anyway. I imagine a couple guys sitting in a board room with the door locked, passing a joint back and forth, then one of them came up with that idea as the other one came up with the idea to add a floating robot with the stormtroopers in the streets of Mos Eisley. “It’s GENIUS!” Drugs should not be allowed in sessions like that. Take that lesson home, kids.
THE EXPLOSION RINGS
There are two of them. The one for Alderaan and the one for the Death Star. Before I saw the Special Edition, I was hoping one thing they would fix was how fake the destruction of Alderaan always looked. It’s a planet, and it pops like a balloon. I was expecting more detail in how the planet comes apart, maybe even a quick shot of the “millions of voices crying out in terror.” You can’t fix Carrie Fisher’s stale reaction to it, so you gotta add in something. So what do we get? A shockwave. Huh? Sure, it looks cool (to a 12-year-old), but it doesn’t make any sense. And then they go and put one in the Death Star explosion. THAT, my friends, is overkill. THAT is the moment you notice that they have no idea what they’re doing. “Hey, another explosion . . . it needs a ring, too, right? Right?”
And then after all of that, we come to a few things that were honestly wastes of money. They were not good; they did not enhance the move at all or expand the story. Yet they were not bad; they did not change some iconic moment to appease Lucas’s decaying brain. They were just . . . useless.
THE SOUND OBI-WAN USED TO SCARE OFF THE SANDPEOPLE
There’s not going to be a good way to compare the two sounds, but they’re very different. The original version started with some kind of whistle and ended on the same sound as the dewback roar. The Special Edition version was . . . different. You know what I think it sounds like? It kind of reminded me of that lizard Obi-Wan rode in Episode III. There are several possibilities with that. One, I could be dead wrong, and I’m not looking up anything on that movie if I don’t have to. Two, they could have based the sound of the lizard off of the sound in the Special Edition to tie the two trilogies together a little more. Or three, they might not have changed it in the theatrical Special Edition, but changed it after Episode III was made. I’m actually kind of betting on #1.
THE SHOT OF OBI-WAN’S HOUSE
The original version was a ground shot behind Luke’s speeder. The Special Edition was a more distant shot in all CG. It really neither adds nor subtracts anything from the movie . . . so whatever.
WATCHING THE MILLENNIUM FALCON TAKE OFF UNDER FIRE
This is another one where you can take it or leave it, it doesn’t matter. But it’s a fairly well-done shot and does extend the tension of the stormtroopers trying to stop it from taking off, so I give it a heartfelt “meh.” I am truly not offended.