Before I rip into the Special Editions and tell you why they sucked, let me give credit where credit is due and mention the few things they did right.
1) They brought a beloved classic back to the big screen. I think more great movies deserve to be rescreened in theaters for audiences who have never seen them that way.
2) The new cityscapes for Cloud City were nice, and some obvious mistakes were corrected, like the blur effect under Luke’s Landspeeder and the smudge on the emporer’s face.
3) Lucas effectively introduced the entire concept of the “Special Edition”. Previously, a classic film may have gotten a restoration treatment for a revival, but nothing on the scale of the Star Wars SE. The concept of the “Deleted Scene” we owe entirely to Lucas. The Star Wars SE was released in theaters, not DVD, and yet the entire industry of the Special Edition DVD was pretty much born out of this event. Essentially, Lucas started a revolution of taking old films and sprucing them up for a new (DVD) release by demonstrating how profits could be made from it. Because of this, many many films that were on the verge of complete deterioration were rescued. This may wind up as being George’s last great contribution to movies before he goes completely insane.
So that’s what I like about the Special Editions. Now for the bad. The primary error in the Special Editions is a misunderstanding of what Star Wars fandom is all about. We don’t prefer the “originals” and wince at the new changes because we are freaky purists who can’t stand change. For most of us in our teens, twenties and thirties, Star Wars is about childhood. It’s about a seminal film experience that we had in our childhood. The more Lucas changes the movie, for better or worse, the more he distances me from that childhood memory. Take the Yub Yub song for example, when the Ewoks are dancing and using Stormtrooper helmets as drums. It’s a silly song. It’s a stupid song. But damn it, it’s the Yub Yub song! Why the fuck would you want to change it? Are you insane?
And so the problem, generally, with the most of the special edition changes is that they take something that was good, that was fine, that carried a warm memory and change it for no reason. Again, like I mentioned in my previous Star Wars entry, if Lucas kept the originals available, I’d have a whole new attitude about any changes he wanted to make. I’d be much more interested and receptive. It would ultimately be my choice whether or not to accept the changes.
Beyond this general critique, there are plenty of specific things that bug me about the SEs. Many choices that are out and out stupid, and in some cases so idiotic as to be totally baffling.
Number One of course is Greedo firing first. This angers me so much I can’t talk about it anymore. If I ever meet Lucas, I won’t be able to thank him for Star Wars. I’ll have to immediately start smacking him in the face for GFF until his bodyguards remove me.
Number Two is the frequency with which Lucas felt he had to spice up a static background by throwing some shit in there. Be it a landscape, a starfield, a quiet room, you’ll just notice an excess of new moons and starships and droids that weren’t there before. At best, these additions are merely pointless. At worst, they can interfere with the mood and the story. The Tatooine landscape is supposed to be stark and lunar. The constant attempts to make all the shots more “busy” make the environment feel less alien. At the beginning of Empire, when the imperial fleet is introduced, the music swells just as the camera cuts to Vader, looking out of the bridge of his flagship. He stares out into the inky blackness of unbroken space, as if searching every star for his son. Except he’s not looking at the inky blackness of space anymore. He’s staring at a fat Star Destroyer, and a new moon or planet of some kind sitting in the middle distance. Thanks Lucas.
3) The Sarlaac (the creature who digests you for 1,000 years) used to be much scarier when it was just this anus in the ground. There’s something just primordially scary about a hole in the ground. Add a few jagged teeth in the sand and a couple of ropey tentacles to grab your feet and pull you in and the look is complete. Turning the Sarlaac into some kind of lame bird’s beak is, well, lame.
4) The deleted scene from Empire where Vader is shown getting on his shuttle after his tussle with Luke on Cloud City, and then later disembarking on the Star Destroyer is worse than useless. It seriously interrupts the tight pacing of the ending. Vader’s gruff, angry line: “Bring my shuttle” is perfect. He’s lost his son again and is obviously choked with emotion. The replacement, the casually spoken “Tell the Star Destroyer to prepare for my arrival.” is terrible. Why would Vader, at this moment, care at all about the pomp and formality of his entourage on the Star Destroyer?
5) The replacement of the Yub Yub song and also the song in Jabba’s Palace. Thank God they didn’t touch the cantina song.
6) CG Jabba of course.
That’s all I can think of right now. I’m sure if I popped in a tape and watched them (which I won’t) I’d remember a dozen more. Strangely, the one thing I wished Lucas would have fixed for the special editions is the one thing he didn’t. Those black boxes around the Tie Fighters. They’re still there.