This article originally appeared on my first website, The Interplanetary Railroad, in early 1998 and was later submitted to the now defunct Montgomery's Movie Rants Page. I wrote it mostly for the fun of stirring up some controversy, since nearly everyone else thought the Special Editions were the greatest thing since plastic bubble wrap. I succeeded... a little. This article offended a few people, but not as many as I had hoped:( Well, you can read it anyway.
If you would like to read a different opinion on the subject, Rama sent me his response to this rant.
In January 1997, I bought tickets to one of the greatest movies ever made. I was hoping for seats at an evening showing, but I had to arrive at 8 in the morning. As it was, the line already stretched down the street, around the corner, down the street again, and clear around the back of a rather large block. People near the front of the line were still lying in sleeping bags; they had spent a freezing Utah winter night outside on pavement.
And we were all there to get tickets to a twenty-year-old movie that most of us had already seen dozens of times. Heck, I heard that the previous night the dedicated sleeping baggers had brought a generator and a VCR to watch Star Wars while waiting in line to buy tickets for it. Critics can argue all they like about whether George Lucas' Trilogy is a great epic (It is) or shallow escapism (It ain't) but if a classic is defined as a work of art that withstands the test of time, Star Wars qualifies.
Needless to say, watching this masterpiece on the big screen again after so many years was a kick. Epics like these were not meant to be watched on an 12" screen in a living room; they are properly experienced in a huge theater surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd and surroundsound speakers. Despite the fact that I could almost recite the dialogue from memory, I had forgotten how much emotional wallop and adrenaline this film weilds. The event strengthened my belief that more cinemas should be devoted to showing the older classics which until now have been imprisoned on video... but I digress.
Yet, while I rejoiced in viewing the Star Wars films in the setting for which they were made, the experience was far from perfect. George Lucas tragically decided to follow the philosophy of "If it ain't broke, fix it anyway." Although the movies retained most of their original power, they were now noticeably marred by some unnecessary and damaging changes. As a die-hard Star Warrior, I have decided to share my views on alterations to the great Trilogy that, contrary to what some have said, are not flawlessly integrated into the original footage, and do not improve the stories. Let's pray that the Special Editions do not foreshadow the quality of the upcoming Prequels.
Section A: The Screw-ups
Before I start, I'll admit now that many of my gripes are very nit-picky. The majority of the SWSE changes hurt the movies in only the slightest ways. However, the fact that the changes in general hurt more than they helped means that they failed in their purpose.
1. The Greedo-shoots-first scene doesn't work. Lucas wanted to clarify that Solo was not a cold-blooded murderer. I don't blame him, but the conversation with Greedo already made it obvious that Han was firing in self-defense; Having Greedo shoot first softens Han's rugged character. Besides, did Greedo shoot with his eyes closed? How did he miss by such a wide margin a target sitting three feet away from him?.
2. The new look of Mos Eisley makes "the wretched hive of scum and villainy" look like a fun place to take the family on a picnic.
2a. How about that shot of the huge CGI creature walking in front of Luke's landspeeder? The creature appears to be twenty feet from the camera, but the speeder behind it is only about ten feet away.
4. The original versions of the films helped create a feeling of ominous mystery around the character of Jabba the Hutt by not showing him until the last film. When we did get to see the humongous one himself he was surrounded by his foreboding pallace and multitudes of disgusting followers, all helping to establish that this vile gangster was not to be trifled with. However, the SE versions introduce the big dude slithering around in the open looking as unthreatening as possible. The suspense is shot. Now the Hutt looks like a harmless old lug who won't even get mad if you
step on his tail. The Jabba from ROTJ would have fed Han to the Rancor for that.
4a. Jabba's conversation with Han repeats half of the dialogue from the Greedo scene.
4b. Again, the CGI here is phony. Jim Henson's animatronic Jabba in ROTJ looks far better.
1. The new ice-creature sequence on Hoth dampens the suspense by showing too much of the Wampa. Great suspense films of the past have often proved that "less is more," and the original version of this scene used that skill with precision. By showing the arm completely hacked off, the scene feels less graceful and reminds me too much of the it's-only-a-flesh-wound scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
2. The Vader-steps-from-his-shuttle scene is too obviously an outtake from ROTJ. This was to me the most insulting change of all. Did Lucas forget that SW fans have seen each of these films dozens of times and practically have them memorized? Even if the shot had not been so recognizable, was it needed? Did Lucas think audiences were scratching their heads, unable to comprehend how Vader got from Cloud City to the Imperial ship? Don't worry, George. We can figure out these things for ourselves.
3. Then there were pointless line changes:
3a. In Empire, when R2D2 was spat out by the water-creature, why was the interesting and descriptive line "You're lucky you don't taste very good," changed to the boring and cliche "You were lucky to get out of there"?
4. This one hurts. A lot. They just had to fiddle with the greatest scene in the trilogy, didn't they? Luke, having learned moments before of his not-so-proud parentage, sees only one way to avoid helping Vader tyranize the galaxy; kill himself. Calm and decisive, Luke jumps to apparent doom. Except, now... thanks to unneeded meddling, he screams. Look, we know that he's human and suffers the same fears as all of us, but what made the original scene so powerful was Luke's courage; when push came to shove, the naive farmboy from Tatooine proved that he would make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of justice. His newly added scream weakens that display of courage.
This was the least damaged of the three films. I have only a few complaints about this one:
1. The "Jedi Rocks" scene in Jabba's pallace is completely stupid. The only consolation is that it replaced the almost-as-bad Flashdance style scene in the original.
2. A new law of physics in the SWSE universe seemingly states "A beautiful ring of smoke will whiz outward from any extremely large explosion." Now, I loved the newly added firey ring in the explosion of Alderaan in ANH. Although it wasn't needed, it looked beautiful and did not harm the movie. The second ring around the explosion of the first Death Star looked cool again. However, by the time the second Death Star went kablooey at the end of ROTJ, those explosion rings were starting to feel a little cliche. Don't overdo it, George.
Section B: The Missed Oportunities
Not only did the Special Editions provide unnecessary and sometimes damaging changes, they left untouched some of the few (VERY few) things in the Trilogy that could
have used a little improvement:
1. Stepping from his X-Wing at the end of the first film, we can still hear Luke accidently yell "Carrie" instead of "Leia."
2. Couldn't they have improved the shot of Vader's ship leaving the Death Star's dock between two TIE fighters in such rigid formation that it's obvious the models are attached?
3. The Death Star trench sequence shots of the Vader's ship hot on the X-Wings' tails are intercut with shots of Vader's ship following nothing.
4. They could have removed some of the unfunny jokes from ROTJ:
4a. This film still uses two "burping" jokes within about fifteen minutes of eachother, one of which steals all the deserved dignity from the death of Boba Fett, the second coolest villian in the Trilogy behind the Dark Lord himself.
4b. What about the scene where Han tells C3PO to do a dozen things, and then says "Hurry up, we haven't got all day," before giving the droid a chance to do anything? That lame attempt at Three's Company-style humor should have hit the cutting room floor.
Section C: The Ones Done Right
OK, now it is time for me to give credit where credit is due. At least some of the changes in the Special Editions were actually worthwhile. Here are the ones I liked:
1. The new shots in the Death Star battle at the end of ANH were genuinely cool and improved the film.
2. It was nice to see the noticeable matte shadows removed from TESB.
3. Cloud City definitely looks better. The added details in the windows were nice, subtle touches.
3a. Now, when Lando uses the intercom to urge the city to evacuate, we see a crowd of people listening, giving the impression that he really is talking to the entire colony.
4. The new look of the Sarlac is more exciting.
5. I love the new ending of ROTJ. The shots of cities celebrating all over the galaxy helped further establish an epic feeling and John William's beautiful new background score is infinitely better than the Yub-yub ewok song.
There you have it. If Lucas had consulted me before making the Special Editions (yeah right), I would have told him to leave the classics exactly as they were, thank you very much. If he absolutely insisted on changing them, I would have fixed everything mentioned in section B, accepted all the changes in section C as well as two of the three explosion rings mentioned in the ROTJ section (doesn't matter which ones), and left the rest of the trilogy exactly as it was.
It was an absolute blast to see three of the greatest movies back on the big screen. However, in general I feel that the Special Editions are inferior. The original films from 1977, 1980, and 1983 are the "real" versions in my book.