Rewatching Star Wars

Hey Star Wars fans, I am travelling this week, but I’m still hoping to be able to cover the breaking Star Wars news whilst away. I thought it might be a good idea to republish some of the editorial that originally ran over on MGFN.co.uk. There are some theories in there, a number of Star Wars Insights and an experiment with the original version of Star Wars A New Hope. This is one of those republished posts. Enjoy

Thank you for reading,           

Marc


Have you ever heard someone say, “I hate the Special Editions! I wish they would just give us the original versions!”? Well, guess what, they don’t really want the original versions. The original version have some things that need to be fixed. With that in mind I’m going to re-watch the original edits of the films, the versions that were packaged with the DVDs a few years ago, and I plan to list the things that need to be repaired, replaced or removed. I will take an objective look at the positive additions made by the special editions and I will throw a few screen grabs in there too. 

This edition I will look at Star Wars. The original film has been busting blocks and knocking off socks since 25th May 1977 and I have to say I haven’t enjoyed a viewing of the is film so much in a long time. Even the poor quality of the presentation could dampen my sheer joy at revisiting this classic.

Before I start, let’s just say up front that the image and the sound will need to be addressed in all three movies to give us a reasonable presentation. What you may not realise when you ask for the originals, you’re asking for two channel audio, so there’s an immediate change right there! I’d want a decent Dolby TrueHD or DTS track with a cool surround mix. In addition to an up mix in the sound track, I would require a “clean print”. Every single frame is filled with grit and noisy film grain. There are also instances in each film where artefacts need to be removed. Matte lines and reduced opacity of solids need to be addressed, so you can see before we even start, you don’t really want the original versions of these films. Everything else from there on will be judged on a case by case basis.

Ok, here we go…

The first fifteen minutes of this movie are fine, there’s no need to change anything (except what’s detailed above) and then we get to the first of the “sore thumb” changes. 

In the original movie we get a group of Stormtroopers finding the escape pod and realising there were droids in there. In the distance there’s a Stormtrooper on a dewback. The scene is fine as it is, it services the narrative and the plot perfectly. The special edition version clumsily adds a bunch of really distracting, noisy clutter; more Stormtroopers, a ridiculously animated dewback, but two more disruptive elements are- The addition of a drop ship, didn’t the Empire already have a presence on Tatooine? That’s how I always read this scene, as local troops investigating. The second is a terrible shot of two troops walking directly toward camera, it’s an out of place shot that’s in a different style to the rest of the movie. 

Shortly after we get our first reasonable addition, the special editions added a more impressive sand crawler. With the film colour timed to match to new shot, it works better than the old model. Having said that, it’s not really needed but I do not object to it. Then we get the first dialogue change. Aunt Beru says “Tell Uncle, if he gets a translator…” In the special editions the choice was “Tell your Uncle, if he gets a translator…” Now I’m sure this was done purely to to the quality of the alternate take and not to change anything story based, but there are similar changes in later instalments where that is the case, otherwise I probably won’t mention these little audio curios again.

We make it to the twenty six minute mark before getting a shot that really needs to be changed. Luke’s land speeder always caught my attention, but this effect just doesn’t always cut it today. I’m certain the effect was done in camera at the time with a mirror being hung beneath one of the landspeeder props to cover the wheels. Later shots employ a film (maybe petroleum jelly) smeared over the lens to hide the wheels, but this seems simple to repair digitally, whilst keeping the original elements. In other words, there is no need for a CGI model insert thank you very much!

Obi-Wan saving Luke from the sand people has been repeatedly altered for no reason. This version is perfect. No need for CGI rocks or the alteration of Obi-Wan’s scream. There was also a change to Obi-Wan’s home, which I understand. The shot in the original version seems rushed, there’s no sign of life. The Special edition version does nothing for me so maybe a new take, somewhere between the two would help?

The next few repairs are mainly special effects driven. The lightsaber effect in Obi-Wan’s home needs to be revisited. I don’t remember the special edition version looking much better either. Then there’s a cut away of a Star Destoyer approaching the Death Star that looks washed out, a simple digital replacement to the same spec would do fine. Then there’s Mos Eisley Space Port. As Obi-Wan and Luke look down on the town it looks like a modest North African settlement. The special edition version adds something, not just in terms of the sprawl of the town, but space craft and other moving elements. A great improvement. 

The entrance to Mos Eisley demonstrates just how desolate a place Tatooine is. The special edition manages to undermine that by including more buildings and activity, but also drops in huge sweeping crane shots which were not a part of the initial films “language” and so serves to distract from the initial films intention. I’d prefer to stick with the original. The shots below show just how egregious these additions can be with the aforementioned crane shots, cartoonish droid interactions and deliberately mirrored shots (Stormtroopers) that cheapen the effect.

The Cantina

Now this is an area of the movie that I’m guessing inspired the make over to begin with. George was never completely happy with the effect of the cantina and many of the monsters in this scene look cheap and nasty, and inanimate. I can understand the drive to go back in and change things, but I do question the choices made. Here are a few problems.

In the special editions some of these creatures got swapped out completely. I wonder if they would have been better served by going back in and simply adding animated eyes to some of these creatures. Like the first alien in this selection. Replace the eyes like they did to Wicket in the Jedi BluRay edition and you have a totally new effect.

A couple of examples of the swap outs are below.

Han Solo V Greedo

This is perhaps the most contentious and hotly debated change in the entire original trilogy. Han Shooting Greedo.

This is almost a separate argument at this point but changing Han and Greedo’s scene here is a massive mistake. Having Han shoot first helps build this character. He is after all on the wrong side of the law, and he is cornered by a bounty hunter happy to kill him. He does what is arguably the only thing he can do and that’s beat the bounty hunter at his own game. I had no issue with it previously, I don’t now. Han Solo shot first and that’s how it should remain. It makes his arc a redemptive one and I like that.

The special editions added these little drone droids floating around the streets. They are distracting and pointless and should never have been added. These streets are suitably depressed. The denizens are down trodden and tatty, and the streets are quiet and dusty, it’s the perfect western icon.

I’ll keep this on the right side of a rant, as in brief. We do not now, nor did we ever need the Jabba The Hutt scene in docking bay 94. It was terrible from the start. Moving on.

One of the best parts of the time spent on Tatooine is the Millennium Falcon’s escape from docking bay 94. Now in the original version it’s great, but the special edition defiantly adds a little something to the ship rocketing away from the port. I’m not sure we need the over head shot of the ship lifting off, but I’d definitely like to see the original departure altered to match the special edition version, complete with the slight bank of the craft as it takes off. 

The next big issue is at 53minutes and its one of the more important scenes in the movie. It’s the destruction of Leia’s home planet, Alderaan. The scene really needs a little extra weight. The  original explosion, like the Death Star later on, is very cheap looking. Like a water balloon full of sparks. In the same way the Death Star gets a big explosion, Alderaan deserves a more impactful exit, and it gets it in the special edition. This one goes to the 1997 version I’m afraid.

Whilst Leia loses her home world our heroes are barreling through hyperspace to her rescue. During the journey Luke trains with his fathers lightsaber under Obi-Wan’s watchful gaze. This scene has been touched up repeatedly. There have been greener blades and bluer blades, but nothing has ever made the lightsabre look quite right. If we can build entire cartoonish towns on Tatooine I’m pretty sure we can get one decent lightsabre blade with a consistent colour. Whilst we’re at it could we get some decent bolts from the little training remote? The silly little blasts look like someone scratched them into the emulsion of the print, which may not be too far from the truth.

Ok here is something that has bugged me for, literally, decades! When Vader and Tarkin are discussing Leia’s fortitude on the Death Star, there is a moment where David Prowes’ gestures are out of sync with James Earl Jones’ dialogue. It baffles me that this has never been addressed. If you’ve ever seen the documentary about the making of Star Wars Episode I The Phanthom Menace you’ll be familiar with this concept: there is a scene that George Lucas and Ben Burtt are editing and they are planning to slip Captain Panaka out of sync in a scene to allow another character to complete a movement. I’m pretty sure that technique could be employed here to solve this frustrating sync problem. I’d gladly exchange a comedy Mos Eisley drone for this solution. 

Let’s talk about things that were removed due to shifting sensibilities. In this version there are a few shots of, well shots that have been altered. In 1977 it seems to have been more acceptable, in a kids movie to show people being shot and for those wounds to be aflame and smouldering. Well in 1997, that wasn’t so cool, apparently and those few flames have been removed in several cases. The TK-421 guy, and Where Are You Taking This Thing guy, both get more family friendly deaths in the special editions, but I say, in for a penny, in for a pound. Keep the gunshot wounds.

Whilst we are in the prison block; one addition that does make sense is the digital set extension to the cell block. It’s done neatly and discreetly. This edition looks like it houses apart half the amount of prisoners.

I simply love the snarky exchanges between Han and Leia. Just thought I’d mention that…

I always thought there should be a delay between Luke entering the garbage compactor and Han following. Luke claims to have tested the door by blasting it but he hadn’t had chance yet. That sort of thing could have been addressed. But instead they made the monster blink.

This is one of the few silent scenes in Star Wars, perhaps to build tension.

Head bop trooper needs that sound effect that was added to the special editions…

R2-D2 and his third leg. Famously Robert Watts directed some third unit stuff for this film, like Artoo switching between two and three leg modes. Unfortunately it fails to go smoothly, that could be tidied up with a digital R2. It’s these discreet additions that would truly help perfect Star Wars, not dinosaurs in the Tatooine streets or a comedy robots swatting smaller comedy robots!

Lucas did a nice bit of world building by adding Aurabesh on the tractor beam control in the special editions. Another brief note about the tractor beam scene: more could be made of Obi-Wan using the Force to distract the Stormtroopers standing guard.

We don’t need a hanger full of Stormtrooper though. Less is often more, especially with the Han scene. The comedy of this moment isn’t the amount of troops Han runs into, but more in the fact that he gave chase in the first place and that the troops ran from him AND that they had time to realise, “hang on a second, he is just one guy, what are we running?” Less is more here I think.

Another dialogue change here. I have a memory from childhood of seeing a version of the movie on TV that had the “Close the blast doors!” line in as Han and Chewy approach the blast doors in question. The scene always included the “Open the blast doors.” line so it seems natural to include that. My DVD version was missing that line.

Lightsabre fx again. You can see here just how limiting the 1970’s effects were when it came to rotoscoping the lightsabers. Here we see Obi-Wan’s lightsaber without the coloured blade. In a moment we see Vader’s sober without any effects at all.

Obi Wan death could be improved. I still get chills though. 

It says a lot that the Falcon fighting the TIE fighters as it escapes the Death Star didn’t get a single complaint from me. The scene is awesome and a testament to the film makers, their preparation for the scene and the ingenuity of the special effects artists.

Shouldn’t the Falcon be in hyperspace?

I like the new Yavin approach and landing shots better and I also prefer the new temple effects in the special editions. I’m pretty sure its just a mew matte painting, but it looks a lot better than the original. Lets take a look at a few comparison shots:

I do not like the added Biggs footage in the spec eds, that is not needed.

The X-Wing and Y-Wing’s departure is pretty awesome in the special editions so I’d like to see them in my version as is their Death Star approach.

The pace of the dog fight is greatly improved by the freedom afforded to to fx guys by using CGI. Some model shots in the original version, seems slow and clumsy even though Lucas uses rapid cuts to improve the pace in a similar way to the Falcon escape earlier, the newer acrobatics in the special editions helped improve this scene.

In the trench run there are some composite issues. X-Wings can’t be seen past the TIES in the same shot etc. This could be easily resolved with the use of CGI ships.

The final Death Star explosion is better in the special editions but could be further improved upon.

The remaining ships returning to Yavin is better in the special editions. Its improved by the edition of one shot.

The closing ceremony is a disaster in the original with obvious matte paintings in the foreground that look like cardboard cut outs. Watching it again now it seems hard to believe that they got away with it when the film was released. This is, after all the huge climax of the film, the final moments, and the foreground is filled with fake soldiers. As I understand it the shot was added to increase the sale of the element that was initially shot, without having to do pick ups. Thankfully, with the advent of CGI, Lucas was able to revisit his ending and give it the scope it deserved. In face I’m surprised he was as restrained as this. Compare the two shots below. 

I haven’t enjoyed watching this film so much in years. It truly is a modernn classic, a wonderful and simple story of good versus evil, told with joy and awe. It amazes me just how much bile gets thrown at George Lucas, when he gave us something so amazing, so enjoyable and so inspiring. The simple fact is those who would complain about the special editions, and those demanding the original versions are ignoring one simple fact: the special editions made more improvements to these films than it did damage. Sure the cartoonish elements on Tatooine are over the top, but a lot of these changes enhance the film and they should remain. I doubt I will ever get what I want from a Star Wars release, because what I want is totally subjective. I would be happy to get the version of Star Wars that was pre-special edition, but had been remastered for image and audio quality, but that means I’m not asking for the originals, I’m asking for a do over. And that’s the difference.

Thanks for reading,

Marc