Return of the Jedi: Special Edition (1997, Richard Marquand)

MosEisley-celebration

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? This is a look at the notable changes made to Return of the Jedi for its 1997 special edition. For research, I watched the film on a 2004 DVD, for which some additional alterations were made. My review of the original cut can be found here.

* The 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm logos have been updated.

* Although I’ve not seen it, the 2011 Blu-ray release altered the shot of C-3PO and R2-D2 approaching the entrance of Jabba’s palace – it’s much wider now, so the droids seem even more dwarfed by the door.

* Inside Jabba’s palace, the house band now performs a different song. Additionally, whereas there used to be three musicians – called Max Rebo, Droopy McCool and Sy Snootles, according to the internet – there are now loads of them. The most heavily featured new member is a CGI creation called Joh Yowza, who sings the lead vocals. The replacement song is high-tempo tosh called Jedi Rocks. The way it’s staged and filmed like a music video is horrendously out of place for the scene.

* Some new close-ups of dancing girl Oola were specifically mounted for the special edition (the same actress returned after 14 years).

* New cutaways of Boba Fett in Jabba’s palace establish his presence a bit more strongly. In one of them, he’s flirting with two of the dancers. The dog.

* There’s a new shot of Tatooine’s surface, which features a herd of banthas (woolly mammoth-type creatures also seen in Star Wars).

* The Sarlaac has been significantly changed. Rather than just a big hole in the ground, the creature now has a CGI beak and extra tentacles.

* The scene with an unmasked Darth Vader was untouched in 1997. For the DVD release seven years later, however, Anakin’s eyebrows were digital removed because the upcoming prequel, Revenge of the Sith, had the character being heavily burnt. His eyes have also been tinted to match those of Hayden Christensen, the actor who played the character in the prequel series.

* The Death Star blows up with that favourite effect of the special editions: an energy ring.

* As well as celebrations on Endor, the downfall of the Empire is marked by new CGI shots of people cheering and dancing on the planets Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo and Courascant. Whether the tone of the Tatooine image – a mass outpouring of civic jubilation – fits what we know of its seedy, crime-driven streets is another matter. The Naboo footage was only added in 2004, after the planet had been seen in the prequels. A Gungan shouts “Weesa free!” – is it meant to be Jar Jar Binks? The Courascant shots were tweaked in 2004 to take into account some design decisions from the prequel films.

* The distinctive Ewok music (“Jub jub!”) has been thoughtlessly ditched, which might be the most objectionable change in the whole trilogy (that doesn’t feature Han Solo not shooting first). In its place is a new panpipe-laced theme, written and recorded especially for this special edition. It’s pleasant enough but, vitally and sadly, is *not the Ewok celebration music*.

* In the versions of the film released from 2004 onwards, Anakin’s ghost is played by Hayden Christensen. It’s a bit nonsensical, this. Both Yoda and Ben look as they did when they died – whereas Anakin looks like he did when he became Darth Vader. It ties the film in more closely with the prequels, but it does rather undercut Anakin’s redemption within Return of the Jedi itself.

REVIEW: A mixed bag. The new Sarlaac is an improvement, while the celebrations on other planets help round off the trilogy’s story arc. But the tiresome song in Jabba’s palace, the loss of the Ewok music and the addition of Hayden Christensen mean a mark gets knocked off from the original cut’s score.

Nine delusions of grandeur out of 10

 

The Empire Strikes Back: Special Edition (1997, Irvin Kershner)

OneArm-ESB

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? The special edition of The Empire Strikes Back, which added computer effects and new footage to the original version, was released in cinemas in 1997. For this review, I watched the DVD that came out in 2004. As I’ve already discussed the 1980 cut of the movie, this is a list of the notable changes made in the 1990s and since…

* The 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm logos have been updated.

* During the early sequence where Luke is attacked and captured by the bear-like wampa, newly filmed inserts give us a better look at the creature. After Luke cuts off its arm – seriously, what is it with George Lucas’s obsession with dismemberment?! – we see the wampa writhing in pain. The 1997 footage cuts in seamlessly.

* The scene between Darth Vader and the Emperor was untouched in 1997. However, there were significant changes when the film was prepared for DVD release in 2004. The original performance of the Emperor (by extra Elaine Baker and voice actor Clive Revill) was replaced by newly shot footage of Ian McDiarmid, who played the character in every Star Wars film from Return of the Jedi onwards. Bringing this film in line with the others is a nice move. Lucas also took to opportunity to tweak the dialogue so the Emperor now specifies that he knows Luke is the son of Anakin Skywalker.

* Although not altered in 1997, when the Special Edition came out on DVD Boba Fett’s dialogue had been dubbed by Temuera Morrison (the actor who had recently played the man from whom Fett was cloned in Episode II).

* The lengthy sequence in and around Bespin’s Cloud City has had a picturesque overhaul. Existing exterior scenes have been graded to push a more sunset-time vibe; a few new simple CGI shots establish the Millennium Falcon coming in to land; and whenever the city is seen in the background of shots or through windows, it’s now busier, even more artful and tonally warmer. All the additions work really well: they open out the previously studio-bound city and, by being so summer-evening-y, provide a nice contrasting bookend with the Hoth sequence.

* There are new shots – one of real actors, one a CG cityscape – showing people reacting to Lando’s panicked Tannoy announcement on Bespin.

* In order to salve a plot hole, Darth Vader’s dialogue has been changed from “Bring my shuttle” to “Alert my star destroyer to prepare for my arrival”. We then see him boarding his shuttle and arriving on the mother ship (in footage stolen from Return of the Jedi). It’s not subtle, but it does tidy up the moment in the original cut where Vader appears on the ship rather suddenly. The new dialogue sounds awfully like someone doing an impression of James Earl Jones…

REVIEW: There are far fewer changes than there were in the special edition of Star Wars. And the big, noticeable alterations actually enhance what was already a pinnacle of popular culture. Childhood nostalgia is the only thing that stops me admitting that this version might be the better one.

Ten negative power couplings out of 10

Star Wars: Special Edition (1997, George Lucas)

sw_lgi_gallery07

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

WHICH VERSION? In 1997, writer/director/producer/corporate-bigwig/beard-wearer George Lucas returned to his masterpiece and rejigged it for a cinematic reissue. This new edit added some then-state-of-the-art special effects and features some never-before-seen footage. Irritatingly, this ‘special edition’ has since become the default version of the movie for home-video releases and TV screenings. Further minor tweaks were made for a 2004 DVD (that’s the version I watched for this write-up) and again for a 2011 Blu-ray box set. I’ve already reviewed the original film – so instead this is a discussion of the changes made in the 90s. It’s not a definitive list; just a look at the ones I spotted and thought interesting…

* The vintage 20th Century Fox logo has been updated, while a Lucasfilm logo has replaced its old text credit.

* The film has the subtitle ‘Episode IV – A New Hope’, which had actually been on the original too from a 1981 rerelease onwards.

* We get a few new establishing shots of Tatooine. They’re nice enough. R2-D2’s encounter with the Jawas has been colour-timed to make it seem more like dusk.

* The scene of Stormtroopers finding the crashed escape pod has had an overhaul. It’s longer now, with some newly filmed Stormtroopers and computer-generated dewbacks (we only had static models of these elephant-like creatures in the old version). They’ve been digitally added to some existing shots too.

* A nice model shot of the Jawas’ huge sandcrawler vehicle has been replaced by a CGI version, which is pleasant enough and more dynamic.

* Similarly, there’s a new establishing shot of Ben’s house, which is more detailed (and more digitally) than the old one. It tells us that his hideaway is on top of a hill and he has a nice view across the wastelands.

* Luke and Ben’s arrival at Mos Eisley is a lot more elaborate now. There’s new CGI footage of the city streets as their speeder drives into town. It’s crammed full of people and creatures and vehicles – some on newly shot film, some computer-generated. There’s even a bit of comedy. Great in theory, as it expands the city and brings it to life, but the additions stick out a mile – especially the cartoony shots of the speeder.

* In the cantina scene, one of the strange creatures seen in the montage of customers – a wolfman – has been replaced by a new frog-headed hipster alien who’s wearing a beret and smoking a pipe.

* In Han Solo’s confrontation with Greedo, Han no longer simply kills the guy rather than deal with him. He now shoots only in self-defence, after Greedo takes a shot at him. At point-blank range. And misses. This is a justifiably ridiculed, infamously unpopular change, which undermines Han’s entire character arc for the film. It’s like painting in eyebrows on the Mona Lisa or dubbing a new bassline onto a Beatles song.

* The Stormtroopers searching Mos Eisley now have little floating devices following them around (cameras, I guess?).

* An entire unused scene from the 1976 shoot has been added in. Han returns to the Millennium Falcon to find Jabba the Hutt and his cronies waiting for him, and has to use his silky charisma to buy more time before he has to pay off his debt. Jabba is a computer-generated character and is pretty corny-looking (he was even worse in the 1997 cinema version, but the DVD I watched carried out some repair work). The raw footage featured actor Declan Mulholland playing Jabba, but George Lucas claims he shot the scene that way only as a guide. The notion, he says, was that Mulholland would be replaced in post-production, probably by a stop-motion puppet. Well, that’s clearly bullshit. Not only was Mullholland is full costume, but Harrison Ford walks behind and in front of him and even touches his chest at one point – not things you’d get an actor to do in 1976 if the intention is to matte in a special effect. (Han also calls him a ‘wonderful human being’ in the dialogue, though admittedly he’s being sarcastic.) The whole thing is awful. On a story level, it adds little and slows down the momentum. It robs the viewer of first seeing the Millennium Falcon through Luke’s eyes. And the clash of 1970s film and 1990s technology is nothing but distracting. The worst moment comes when, in the original shot, Harrison Ford walks behind Jabba. When later designed for Return of the Jedi, Jabba was given a huge tail – so how can Han avoid it? The solution – to have Han walk up and over it, and for Jabba to grimace in pain – is a pathetic idea and looks absolutely terrible. On the plus side, although not part of the original shoot, Boba Fett has been digitally added to the scene. Nice touch.

* There’s a new shot of the Millennium Falcon taking off.

* When Dantooine explodes, it does so mainly with a focused arc of energy for some reason. The Death Star does the same later on.

* The Death Star hanger now looks more like it does in Return of the Jedi.

* The gag of Han turning a corner on the Death Star and bumping into six Stormtroopers has been altered: he now finds dozens of them.

* There are some new CG shots of the Falcon approaching Yavin.

* The Aztec-style temple on Yavin 4 now looks a lot more weatherworn.

* In the original cut, Luke goes from maudlin about Ben’s death to excited about the upcoming battle very quickly. Now we can see why: a deleted scene of him bumping into old pal Biggs Darklighter has been slotted in. (Biggs’s other deleted scenes from the shooting script haven’t been used – it seems the footage hasn’t survived in good enough quality.)

* We get new computer-generated shots of X-Wings taking off from Yavin 4, then shots of them approaching the Death Star have been replaced by CG versions with significantly more craft. A few CGI shots have been slipped into the main battle montage too. As a surgical bit of editing, it works really well: the geography of the dogfight is a bit clearer and none of the urgency is lost.

* James Earl Jones is now credited for playing the voice of Darth Vader. It’s astonishing to realise he wasn’t listed originally.

REVIEW: First and foremost, it’s really enjoyable to see a good quality copy of Star Wars. Little restoration work was done to the 2006 DVD release of the original cut, allegedly because Lucasfilm felt guilt-tripped into releasing it. So it’s smashing to see the movie shining and gleaming and popping through the TV screen. Most of the alterations in this version are good in theory and liveable-with in practice, but the two big changes to the Mos Eisley sequence – Han and Greedo, Han and Jabba – damage the film significantly. Let’s knock a mark off because of that.

Nine explosion rings out of 10