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Back in 1997, Lucasfilm theatrically re-released the original Star Wars trilogy in celebration of the first film’s 20th anniversary. The build up was massive, the anticipation huge, but when fans finally saw these remastered versions of their beloved films, there were noticeable… changes.
Changes both good – remixed audio, crisp visuals, enhanced effects work – and bad, or worse, downright ugly. There was a notable amount of CGI added to the films, there were entirely new scenes added while others significantly altered, and in some cases these changes impacted not only characterization, but the films’ own sense of continuity. Needless to say, the alterations enacted within the Special Editions created a rift between fans and creator – a dispute documented in an actual documentary, The People vs George Lucas.
The highly contentious Special Editions were soon followed by the also controversial prequel films, which later received a DVD then Blu-ray release as a six-film set containing (you guessed it) more changes to the original trilogy. The changes from 2004’s DVD and 2011’s Blu-ray release built upon the changes of the Special Editions, using CGI to achieve Lucas’s “ideal” vision for the Star Wars saga and better align the original trilogy with the prequels.
With rumors Disney is planning to release an unaltered version of the original Star Wars trilogy and the expectation that another Star Wars box set will arrive just in time for the holidays (and the release of The Force Awakens), now is a fitting time to revisit those infamous changes George Lucas made to a galaxy far, far away. Here are our rankings of 15 changes made to the original Star Wars trilogy – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
Now that we’ve looked at the good changes in the Part 1 and the bad changes in the Part 2, here is what you’ve waited for: the 5 Ugliest, Stupidest, Most Insulting Changes in the Star Wars Special Editions.
Ugly 1: Greedo Shoots First
By far the most hotly debated change to the original trilogy, the alterations made to this one scene over the years have been numerous. Originally the scene went as such: Greedo aims his pistol at Han while the two are seated in the cantina, but before Greedo can get a shot off, Han shoots him from under the table. It’s a dirty move, sure, but Han is a smuggler after all and his somewhat dubious morals are part of his charm.
In the Special Edition release, the scene changes to Greedo shooting first and inexplicably missing, followed by Han shooting him as he did originally. Lucas’ argument for the switch is two-fold: it was always his intention for Greedo to shoot first and Han was never meant to be such an underhanded character.
Han shot first! Original Star Wars Episode IV (1977).
Greedo shot first??? Star Wars Episode IV Special Edition (1997).
For the DVD release the scene was changed again, this time making it appear that both Greedo and Han shoot at almost the same time. Instead of Greedo flat out missing his shot, we’re expected to believe Han dodges it at the last minute, though there’s really no evidence of this in scene. In the Blu-ray release the scene was changed yet again, this time being shortened by several frames to make it appear more like their shots are simultaneous (and presumably make it harder for fans to continue nitpicking).
Obviously, the change doesn’t only fundamentally alter the dynamic of the scene but the characters within it. Greedo now appears as the most inept of hitmen, missing his target at only three feet, and Han now acts as if he needs more reason to shoot than having a gun aimed at him. The constant tinkering with this scene doesn’t fix anything, instead it only perpetuates an ongoing dispute between creator and fans.
Ugly 2: Jabba in ‘A New Hope’
Possibly the ugliest of Ugly changes made to the original Star Wars trilogy comes not long after the infamous “Han Shot First” debacle. It’s a scene Lucas had always intended to appear in his original cut of Star Wars, where the gangster Jabba the Hutt would personally visit Han Solo, demanding payment. The scene was filmed with actor Declan Mulholland as a stand-in for Jabba with the intention for a stop-motion creature (not so unlike the Rancor in Return of the Jedi) to be added in later. Yet the scene never came to fruition, mostly due to Lucas being unsatisfied with the stop motion effect, and the scene was scrapped.
That is, until the Special Editions. For the re-release the scene of Jabba confronting Han in Mos Eisley was included, only this time with a digitally created Jabba masking Mulholland. And the final result is downright ugly for a number of reasons. The CGI Jabba is atrocious, clashing with the worn look of A New Hope and looking quite different from how he later appears in Return of the Jedi. The scene is also redundant, since Han’s previous encounter with Greedo already sets up Han’s debt to Jabba and the bounty now on his head.
Adding insult to injury, the scene as it was originally blocked features Harrison Ford walking behind Mulholland. This proved a tricky element of the scene given that Jabba as we know him is a giant slug with a tail. To “fix” this, Han is now depicted as stepping on Jabba’s tail, but the final effect is appalling. The image of Han jitters as he moves up and over Jabba’s tail in an moment that’s clunky and terribly distracting. Later releases on both DVD and Blu-ray have thankfully improved on the original CGI Jabba, but the addition as a whole still looks awful and is completely unnecessary.
Ugly 3: New Musical Scene in Jabba’s Palace
In Return of the Jedi, Jabba’s palace was another opportunity to put a vast array of unique and interesting aliens on display, much like Mos Eisley’s cantina. And also like the cantina, a gangster’s hangout deserves a house band. In the original release that was the Max Rebo Band and the number they performed was “Lapti Nek.”
Then came the Special Editions and in absolutely baffling decision, Lucas changed the short interlude into a full blown musical number. Now featuring a song called “Jedi Rocks,” the Max Rebo Band’s lead singer, Sy Snootles is a digital creature (though her practical puppet is still visible in a previous shot) and she is joined by the obnoxious and hairy, Joh Yowza.
To call the scene distracting would be an understatement. Visually, it’s incongruous with the dingy, smoky atmosphere of Jabba’s Palace, largely in part because of how badly the CGI aliens mesh with the real actors and sets. The new song also doesn’t fit with the mood of the setting, making the change feel all the more abrasive. Not since the infamous Holiday Special has there been such a regrettable mix of Star Wars and popular music.
(And here’s another sin worth calling out in this scene: extraneous Boba Fett sightings. Throughout the musical number the camera repeatedly cuts to the bounty hunter as he watches the performance and flirts with a few dancers. But other than to remind us that, “Hey, Boba Fett’s a character and he’s here,” nothing is gained from the cutaways. He made a similar appearance for appearance’s sake during Jabba’s added scene in Episode IV (see above). And we get it, Boba Fett looks cool in that Mandalorian armor, but how about actually giving him something cool to do other than strutting through the background and falling into Sarlacc pits. Guess we’ll have to wait for his solo film for any of that.)
Ugly 4: Blinking Ewoks
“Wicket, you blinked! Let’s take it again.”
Of the three original Star Wars films, Return of the Jedi receives the most fan backlash and that’s due in large part to one thing: the Ewoks. For the fans that embraced Episode V‘s darker, more mature themes, having the Rebellion rescued by cute and cuddly teddy bears was unthinkable. In the years since, some considered their introduction as the beginning of Star Wars‘ downfall, with the Ewoks leading the way for Gungans and pod races.
Surely, the Ewoks themselves aren’t all that bad, but thanks to another needless tweak found in the Blu-ray release, the Ewoks have gone from a little annoying but cute to downright creepy. Now the Ewoks blink with the help of CGI eyelids and the effect is… unsettling. Besides being unnecessary and the very definition of gratuitous, the work to enable each Ewok with a pair of blinking eyelids was likely tedious. And when money and artistic effort is wasted on giving eyelids to space bears, then you really are scraping the bottom of the barrel for substantial changes.
The original Star Wars trilogy has weathered more than any film’s fair share of post-release alterations, but the blinking Ewoks encapsulate perfectly how nitpicky these changes have become with each version. There are clearly changes that are more distracting and more egregious, but none are as unwarranted.
Ugly 5: Hayden Christensen in ‘Return of The Jedi’
Throughout this article we’ve covered changes both bad and good, changes that enhanced an existing effect and those that ruined them. But of all the changes made to the original Star Wars trilogy, not one is more hated, more reviled than Hayden Christensen appearing as a Force ghost in Return of the Jedi. (Even worse, there’s a rumor he’ll appear again in Episode VIII!)
The scene, as it originally existed, saw the blue apparitions of Yoda and Obi-Wan joined by a third – a redeemed Anakin Skywalker, now again a member of the Light, having been saved in his final moments by his son. The scene is poignant and full of closure as Anakin, not Darth Vader, is depicted as healed and whole – the very image of the father Luke (and Leia) would never know.
Then came the DVD release and that family moment was forever ruined. In order to better associate the character seen in this scene with the character audiences followed through Episodes I-III, Anakin’s previous actor, Sebastian Shaw (who still appears as a dying man inside Vader’s suit) was replaced with Christensen, the prequel trilogy’s Anakin. And if there ever was a change made to the original trilogy that stung Star Wars fans the worst, it’s this one.
“Who the hell are you??? Where’s my father?”. “I am your father”. “Noooooo!”
The change achieves little more than to remind viewers of Christensen’s universally panned performance, a true low point for the franchise. Not to mention bringing up more questions, like why does no other character revert to their younger self as a Force ghost? Wouldn’t Obi-Wan prefer to be young and fit as Ewan McGregor as opposed to an aged Alec Guinness? Bottom line, this is the absolute worst change made to the original Star Wars trilogy and the reasoning for it is flimsy at best.