Can you believe the original Star Wars trilogy has had forty years of re-editing? The first-ever videotape release came out on the 27th of March 1982. From there, George Lucas has gifted us a variety of editions from VHS to DVD, each slightly tweaked.
Interestingly, the first release of Star Wars on video was only available to rent. For this reason, the video is classified as a valuable VHS tape that sells for a few hundred pounds on eBay. However, this edition of Star Wars does have a few changes from the theatrical release. First, the name has been changed to “Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope” – a sign to keen fans that prequel films were in the making. Second, a few of the character's lines were lost to the poor sound quality of VHS and the video was cropped to match the 4:3 television screen ratio.
The Scandalous Golden BoxsetBy 1990, Lucasfilm’s released the trilogy as a boxset to buy. Seven years later, the studio brought out the twenty-year special edition, which stirred the Star Wars community. George Lucas spent millions digitally remastering the films. So, to earn a little more of the money back, Lucasfilm released the remastered versions in the cinemas before selling the stunning golden boxsets.
However, George Lucas did more than digitally enhance the films, and fans were unhappy about it. In a New Hope, Lucas replaced painted backdrops with digital imagery; he added more Stormtroopers and aliens in scenes; bigger explosions; and new scenes, including Luke Skywalker and Biggs. And that's not forgetting the biggest scandal of all – Greedo shooting Hans Solo first! A change that completely alters the character traits of Solo, from a rough-tough, dangerous man to one who shoots in self-defence.
Whilst in Return Of The Jedi, a sneak peek into the prequel’s world is shown at the end of the film, replacing the Ewok’s ‘Yub Nub’ song. An amazing teaser for those looking forward to the prequels but a travesty for others who loved the singing Ewoks celebrating the Empire's defeat.
The Half Completed Film?
Unfortunately, this was not the end to the changes. By 2004, fans were in despair because Lucas released a DVD with even more tweaking – Greedo and Hans now shoot at the same time, and other scenes were slightly adapted using the new advancements in CGI. Many fans longed for the 1977 theatrical release to become available to buy (or at least watch). But Lucas refused. He told the press these newer editions were how he wanted the movies to be, and he felt sorry for those who fell in love with a “half-completed film”.
Star Wars Changes Film HistoryThe legacy of the original Star Wars films has introduced a new debate in film studies. Sure, networks have censored films for television, and countries have edited movies to suit their regulations. But, never has a film’s theatrical release been erased from history and replaced with remastered versions favoured more by the director.
Many fans and film archivists criticise George Lucas’s choice to withhold the theatrical releases. Lucas even refused the National Film Registry from preserving the theatrical release for history. A problem that has become evident in recent years. For example, documentary series like Mark Kermode’s “Secrets of Cinema” cite the 1997 special edition to show how good the CGI was in 1977. Yes, Star Wars advanced CGI further than any other film in the seventies, but it wasn’t twenty years ahead of the industry!
So, where does the line between director and audience ownership lie? Does a fan have the right to own the version they enjoyed seeing more?
After watching Lucas withhold anyone from owning the theatrical release of Star Wars, the answer seems to be no. Instead, it seems the director is in control of what the fans can see. Directors can tweak the visual appearance, change characters’ motifs, and alter lines and scenes. Consequently, Lucas has produced multiple parallel worlds within Star Wars. Even online chats have formed to debate which versions are the right ones. Is it Hans shot first, Greedo and Hans shot simultaneously, or Hans killed Greedo in self-defence? It is up to you to decide.
Maclunkey!Funnily enough, the original Star Wars trilogy is still changing today. The most recent change released on Disney+ has probably the most baffling, funny and definitely unnecessary change. Greedo now exclaims, “Maclunkey!” before Hans shoots him. A word that has confused many fans, especially because Disney did not translate "maclunkey" in the subtitles.
Although, if I can say so, the oddness of this really unneeded tweak makes me like Star Wars a little more. Here’s to forty more years of ridiculous tweaking!