Sign In

25 Years of the Special Edition

Author
Time
 (Edited)

Well, 25 years ago today the special edition of Star Wars was released in theaters. The special editions have now been around for a quarter century. Did you go to the theater? (I was not yet born) (That’s probably been discussed before I’m sure, but this thread is specifically about the 25 years thing)

Also of note, in this NY Times article from 25 years ago today, it reads,
“But the temptation will be to use effects because they can be used, to revel in technique rather than story. Mr. Lucas’s films have mostly avoided that temptation, but is it possible that with the tinkering in this ‘‘Special Edition,’’ he may have been slightly lured by the dark side of the Force (and its marketing potential)?”

Hmmm…

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll kiss three bucks goodbye!

Author
Time

I remember…

In 1994 there was a magazine called Science Fiction Universe and the first issue had a cover story stating that the next Star Wars trilogy was only three years away.

Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but the 1995 Faces/THX vhs of the OT was literally advertised as “The Original Version, One Last Time.” For whatever reason, I don’t think I’d put it together that it meant George would be making changes to the films.

In November of 1996 I saw Star Trek: First Contact on opening night (with vfx by John Knoll!) while my mom took my sister to see Jingle All The Way, which of course co-starred Jake Lloyd not long before he would be cast as a young Anakin.

When we met up in the parking lot afterwards, they mentioned that they saw a preview in front of Jingle All The Way announcing that the Star Wars movies were going to be released in theaters again starting in January.

This was news to me.

I also vaguely remember them saying something about there being new special effects, and at some point in January I very clearly remember seeing an ad on tv with the “praxis shockwave” added to the Death Star explosion.

Anyway, I remember my mom taking me to see ANH on opening weekend. Maybe one or two of my friends was with me. I somehow didn’t notice the change to the Han/Greedo scene until almost a year later watching it on letterboxed vhs. The newly added Jabba scene kinda overshadowed it anyway. I always loved how funny and goofy and cartoony this cg Jabba looked and kinda missed it when the model was redone for the dvd in 2004.

My mom took me to see Empire a week or so after it opened in late February. It was during the week, so it was a much different experience than the huge crowd for ANH.

The thing that still sticks out in my memory about RotJ, which I saw with some friends on opening weekend in mid March, was how LOUD Luke’s lightsaber was. I was eleven (closer to twelve) and had seen the movies multiple times either on USA Network or on vhs, so pretty much all of the changes were noticeable to me. The new piece of music John Williams wrote for the ending felt much more epic and went along well with the sweeping new Galactic Celebration montage.

Of course, in the years since I’ve come to appreciate and mainly prefer the original versions that much more, maybe because they’ve been suppressed by the very man who created them.

As cool as it was for me as a kid growing up in the 90’s to see these three films I’d known as classics for the very first time on the big screen with updated technology, I think George would’ve done better to leave well enough alone and not change a thing.

But in November of ‘98, as I watched that first teaser for TPM and saw the newer Lucasfilm logo and cg dewbacks and rontos, I got the feeling deep down that the Special Edition was going to be considered the “official” version of the OT going forward.

Still, I never would’ve imagined that George would not only make further revisions (if only logical to make the OT of a piece with the prequels) but also take such a disdainful view of the unaltered versions. The enthusiasm and ingenuity demonstrated by the community on these forums is what brought me here in the first place and I am grateful to have found fellow fans who care about preserving the legacy of this franchise.

Author
Time

It’s weird, looking back. I grew up with the Special Editions. I have fond memories of watching them on VHS as a kid. At the time, I wasn’t thinking in the long term or wondering about what would happen to the older versions. The Special Editions were just a neat novelty, and they hadn’t started to look dated yet.

In hindsight, I can still appreciate them in an “experimental tech demo” sort of way, since that’s basically what they were. With those versions from 1997, you can tell that a lot of time, effort, and resources were put into them, especially for ANH. But they should’ve just remained as a neat alternate version put together for the 20th anniversary. The versions that came after are Frankenstein edits, with changes that are a lot more phoned in. But the main issue with those later releases is that they removed the “special edition” label and abandoned any pretense of being alternate versions.

It is weird to think that the Special Editions have now been around longer than the OT was in 1997. The novelty of the mid 90’s CGI has definitely worn off.

Author
Time
 (Edited)

We only have HD versions of the 97 Star Wars and Empire due to fan preservations. Not just the original but the 1997 cuts only exist on laserdisc.

Lucasfilm is only interested in the current version that would be the 2020 4K cut. Its funny how the 20th anniversary Special Edition is also not available on blu-ray.

Its ditto on theatrical Phantom Menace without cgi Yoda, it exists on laserdisc and fans did a 35mm preservation because Lucasfilm can’t be bothered to release the theatrical.

THX 1138 and American Graffiti are also probably a lost cause until some fan restores them. I’ve written Lucasfilm off, They are only interested in Disney Star Wars not in catalog releases of Lucas movies.

Author
Time

25 years of this limbo, oh well.

Author
Time
 (Edited)

I saw them in theaters. I didn’t know the significance of the Special Editions at the time – that the original films from that point forward would be unavailable. I thought they were just a weird alternate edit of the trilogy that would eventually make its way as bonus features onto future home video releases of the trilogy – a moneymaker, because you can charge more for six films than three. DVD was the next big thing in 1997, I figured it was just going to be a cash grab and nothing more. Everyone would be re-buying Star Wars in a couple years on the new format, and they knew it, that’s all. That’s what I thought was the meaning of the “one last time” Faces home video advertisements. Get it one last time… on VHS.

It just didn’t seem… even remotely plausible that things would turn out the way they did, especially given the quality of the edits. And it still didn’t seem plausible for the next decade as they still failed to make a new home video release of the original movies. There must be a plan, I thought. Nobody would actually throw away these beloved classic films.

Shows what I knew then. I’m definitely more cynical now, and see how filmmakers can often be the worst parents of their own creations – first bringing them to life, and then proceeding to destroy them. Although thankfully none are as bad as Lucas.

And people are still clinging to those same Star Wars home video releases they had back in 1997, keeping their VHS and Laserdisc players in repair decades after both formats were effectively dead. I would certainly never have guessed that. That so many would watch some of their favorite movies on the big screen in anticipation of a new home video release, and then never buy them on home video ever again.

Project Threepio (Star Wars OOT subtitles)