For the past 18 years, fandom has suffered the constant whining about the changes made to Eps IV-VI and a demand that somebody somewhere “change them back.”
To make a long story shorter, when I first heard rumors about possible changes being made to the films, circa 1994, I was apprehensive and skeptical. It seemed to make as much sense as putting a brighter smile on the Mona Lisa or a bikini on Goya’s Maja. As with the Billy Joel song, I loved them just the way they are.
A year later in 1995, they released the films on video in their pre-Special Edition condition “one last time.” They were not kidding: aside from a 2006 bonus disc with the DVD set (which was really a reissue of the 1993 laserdisc) shortly thereafter there was an announcement the movies would be re-released in 1997 and there would be some renovating. Even then I realized this was in many ways a dress rehearsal for the release of new movies and to help pump up the masses for more Star Wars. I started taking a different tack: this was a great opportunity to see the films on the big screen again and in the best condition they could be screened at the time.
For all of the controversy, it seems to have been forgotten what the Special Editions accomplished and how genuinely excited people were to see them. For younger fans who had only seen Star Wars on t.v. in an era before big ol’ flat screens and fancy home theater systems, this was a chance to experience Star Wars the way they’d only heard or read about. Defying expectations, the Special Editions racked up $250 million at the box office. Outside of fandom and Planet Professional Geek, nobody really cared about the changes. In fact after I saw ANH Special Edition with my parents, I had to point out what was different…they hadn’t noticed. Still the world was pumped for Star Wars and the hype that led to TPM’s release really started back then. I even remember how anxious fans were to find the right screening of “Independence Day” in July 1996 just to catch the first trailer for the Special Editions.
You’d never know this though from the vocal cadre of anti-Special Edition types who are still unhappy about what was altered, especially the cantina showdown between Han and Greedo. They’re still unhappy that Hayden Christensen got put in the ROTJ DVD in 2004 and got mad at the blinking Ewoks and Vader crying “nooooo” in ROTJ with the Blu-Rays. Every now and then, someone looking for a little clickbait will run a rumor that a reissued “unaltered” OT (have you noticed nobody ever complains about changes since made to the prequels?) is about to happen, lately with the digital edition of the saga. Of course the rumors are always wrong.
Ever since Lucasfilm was sold to Disney, those clamoring for the holy grail (it’s practically a religion to these people) of ronto-free Star Wars have clung to the hope that somehow corporate suits will do things their way now that Lucas is no longer in the picture. I think this is a total waste of time and energy because I really, really doubt such a reissue will ever happen. Here’s why:
There’s not enough money in it for Disney to merit the time and expense it would take to basically remaster a really ancient print of ANH that may not be in great condition. Especially since I don’t think the general public cares. I’m not even sure if it can be done because while the O-OT fanboys want the Star Wars of their memories, they want it in 2015 spankin’ new condition. Good luck with that. I heard a lot of complaints about the 2006 bonus disc because it wasn’t buffed up enough. No, Disney is going to spend its resources to make new Star Wars that it owns, which gets to my next point…
Fox owns ANH in perpetuity, and Fox and Disney hate each other. There’s a reason why ANH is the only Star Wars movie not being offered through Disney Anywhere Movies service (though it is available on all other streaming platforms). Each time ANH is released, Disney has to work with Fox and give it a cut of the pie. Like hell Disney is going to spend a lot of money and time on something Fox owns when it can make another spinoff instead. Even if Disney is dying to release a pre-SE version of Eps IV-VI, it can’t up and do so without involving Fox or without Lucas’s permission. Which gets to my next point…
You’re crazy if you believe George Lucas sold the rights to his films without protecting his rights as an artist. Disney can do what it wants with its own films but Mr. Artist’s Rights isn’t likely to have given Disney carte blanche to do what it wishes with the existing Star Wars films.
The current cuts of Eps IV-VI flow better with Eps I-III. At first I wasn’t sure why they’d want to put Hayden in ROTJ, but now it makes total sense especially since that’s who most people are going to associate as Anakin. And Vader wasn’t all of that old at his death anyway. Who can’t love Jar Jar or whomever saying “Weesa free” in the Naboo sequence at the end of ROTJ now?
Admit it, a lot of what was done was for the better. The picture’s great, the matte lines are gone, and some things add more meat to the films. If you ask me, they should throw in Luke making the lightsaber in ROTJ. That’s a very cool scene. And I was never part of the Han Shot First brigade. I take the Harrison Ford position: “I don’t know and I don’t care.” Somebody make that as a t-shirt.
For anyone who really wants it, the laserdiscs are still floating around, the 2006 DVD release with the bonus disc is still floating around, and it’s all up on YouTube. Nobody’s really stopping anyone from seeing them or owning them.
It’s never settled on which “unaltered” version should be used. The ’93 laserdisc cuts? 1981 re-release? 1979 re-release? How’s anyone else supposed to figure that out?