Scott Hocking wistfully remembers the Original Star Wars Trilogy that was, before George Lucas's meddling.
If you’re old enough to remember lining up to see Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi at the cinema back in 1977, 1980 and 1983, respectively, chances are you’re still regretting ever having opened and played with the action figures, or sticking the original one sheet posters on your bedroom wall with sticky tape or blu-tack. You’re also likely to be lamenting that you can no longer see the versions of the original trilogy as you remember them from way back when, due to George Lucas’s persistent need to tamper with and improve the films in the decades since their very first cinema release
Unless you own the US Laserdiscs (and an LD player) or picked up the Limited Edition DVDs back in 2006 (which featured the original versions as bonus features in non-anamorphic 4:3 ratio), the only way to watch episodes IV–VI at home is via the Special Editions on DVD or Blu-ray, complete with CGI enhancements and annoying additions that link them to Lucas’s prequels.
It’s somewhat disconcerting that today’s generation of viewers have only ever experienced the SE versions. However, with rumours now circulating that the original unaltered trilogy is being prepped for a remastered Blu-ray release to coincide with the arrival of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, they might finally have the opportunity to see what once was.
But not if George Lucas still has any say in it. “The special edition, that's the one I wanted out there. The other movie, it's on VHS, if anybody wants it. I'm not going to spend — we're talking millions of dollars here – the money and the time to refurbish that, because to me, it doesn't really exist anymore.”
Lucas has revised the original trilogy three times in the last 18 years. The first was in 1997, when the Special Editions were prepped for the trilogy’s re-release in cinemas and on VHS. The changes were mostly cosmetic, to take advantage of the digital technology he didn’t have at his disposal back in the ‘70s and ‘80s – visible matte lines were removed, digital ships replaced models, and shockwaves were added to the exploding Death Star and Alderaan. But more significant additions like Greedo shooting first and a new song by Sy Snootles in Jabba’s palace continue to infuriate old school fans.
Further changes followed for the trilogy’s DVD debut in 2004 to ensure continuity with the prequels, including the Emperor’s hologram being replaced by Palpatine actor Ian McDiarmid (it was originally Elaine Baker, wife of makeup master Rick Baker, in a mask with the voice of Clive Revill), Boba Fett with a Kiwi accent, and actor Sebastian Shaw swapped for Hayden Christensen as Anakin’s ghost. Moreover, when the films returned on Blu-ray in 2011, Lucas inflicted further alterations that were entirely superficial – and some that were just plain dire, like Vader’s howl of “Noooooo” as he throws the Emperor to his death at the end of Jedi.
Now that Lucas is presumably finally satisfied that Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi reflect his original grand vision, it’s unlikely they’ll be altered again. But never say never. At the very least, the constant revisions and re-releases of the original trilogy have ensured that diehard Star Wars fans can be content with owning all possible permutations of the films. After all, they’re the only ones with any chance of recognising the innumerable audio and visual differences that distinguish each and every version.