Wow! Has it been 20 years already since we all went back to that galaxy far, far away? Only seems like yesterday that I was a wide eyed 19 year old ready to see a movie I’d seen a 1000 times. But this was something different then my past viewings as most of those were on TV or VHS, this time it was in a theatre. I did see Return of The Jedi in theatres when I was 6, as that was the first movie I remember seeing in a cinema. When the trailer for these special editions came out to say they were exciting was an understatment. That trailer was cut so well with the X-Wing flying through the television screen and glimpses of the new footage throughout it my mind was blown. So when January 31st 1997 came, I along with my brother and friends were first in line to buy tickets to the first show. This was way before online and select your seat so we waited an hour and forty five minutes to see a movie I’d seen a 1000 times.
Then the lights dimmed and the movie began with that wonderful tagline and that blast of Star Wars leading into the opening crawl. Excitement running through the theatre, it was an electric event that ushered in the begining of the second age of Star Wars. After the film we talked for days about the new footage and went back for several viewings but the energy didn’t stop as just weeks later we’d get to do it all over again.
February 21st 1997 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back hits and the enthusiasim seems like it’s doubled since the Star Wars opening, as most fans pick this one as there favourite of the original films. Seeing that epic battle on Hoth on the big screen was mind blowing as I’d only experienced ESB on the small screen. Of course seeing the escape from cloud city, the astoroid field chase, and Vader vs Luke I left the theatre in a daze of awesome. Several viewings of ESB was the warm up to the first movie I’d ever seen in the cinema.
Return of The Jedi was scheduled to open on March 7th 1997 but due to the success of the previous two films it opened on March 14th 1997. So for the third time in as many weeks the excitement returned again. Several viewings later and the trilogy was over but the force was back in pop culture as the rumblings of a new movie began.
Now how do these editions hold up today? here are my thoughts on these three pictures. First up is Star Wars which seems to have the most visual additions and the most talked about scene of the three films. With additions mostly to the tatooine scenes like the dewbacks in the desert, Ronto’s in mos eisley, and the meeting of Han Solo and Jabba the hutt. The meeting of Jabba could use a new touch up like the addition of digital Yoda to TPM. Now comes the big scene of who shot first Han or Greedo? In my opinion this scene didn’t need to exist as it just looks so weird. The head jerk is just rough and it takes away from the character of Han Solo as a bad ass. The addition of more ships to the Death Star attack are a welcome addition and the blast ring from the destruction of the Death Star is fine. Overall some solid visual additions to the film that maybe didn’t need to be but it is Lucas’s vision after all.
The Empire Strikes Back special edition is actually the version I perfer as the visual additions I think add more to the film. I like how Cloud City you get to see more of the actual city. Bespin is a cool place so the fact that we get to see more even if it’s only for a few seconds is nice. With the theatrical release of ESB special edition the only questionable scene was Luke yelling as he fell down the shaft after the Vader reveal. This was corrected when the flims were first released on DVD in 2005. ESB is solid as always.
Finally Return of The Jedi has one of the most head scratching scenes in the special edition trilogy. That being a dance number in Jabba’s palace which really seems out of place. I like the addition of new Star Wars music but this scene happens right before Oola is dropped into the Rancor pit. The beak added to the sarlacc pit is ok, not really a deal breaker, but again why the addition. ROTJ is the one that is the strangest for me just because of that dance number. Most of the rest of the film is the same as the one I saw when I was 6 and great.
These 3 special editions are important in the history of Star Wars as this was the test to see if future movies could be made. Lucas tested the ILM technology he helped create to see if it could do what he imagined in his head. From this Lucas went on to the Prequel trilogy and ILM is now the premiere visual effects company in the world.
So happy 20th anniversary to these films and if you haven’t watched these versions in a while, why not give them a spin in the old dvd player? Yes I said dvd, as the blu ray versions are a different edition then the special editions. I’ll save the blu ray versions for another day.