Welcome to the new site for Star Wars Visual Comparisons. Here you are going to find overviews of all of the major releases of the Star Wars Special Edition and links to the exhaustive photo albums cataloging all of the changes.
The changes to the Star Wars Trilogy create a “Saga Edition” that requires all of the other pieces. But the original edits can & should stand alone. Here is my article on why they should #ReleaseTheOriginalTrilogy.
JOHN LITHGOW: [shots from Return of the Jedi] In 1977, George Lucas created Star Wars. When the Rebels battled the evil Empire, a new era of special effects was born.
JOHN LITHGOW: [crew riding to set in dune buggies] Today, George Lucas is at it again. He’s sending a film crew into the Arizona desert. Lucas wants to enhance some of the original effects in Star Wars with new digital technology. The goal is a special 20th anniversary edition of the Star Wars Trilogy. In this scene, enemy stormtroopers are hunting robots R2-D2 and C-3PO on the planet Tatooine. [film crew filming troopers] First the major action is filmed in master shots, called “background plates”. Playing stormtroopers are US Marines, tough enough to work in plastic suits in the 110 degree heat. [crew holding printed stormtrooper helment on a pole between two live action troopers] This stick represents a stormtrooper atop a dinosaur-like beast called a “dewback”, as yet nowhere to be seen. [crew using full-sized dewback footprint on a stick for reference] Of course, a beast as big as a dewback would have to leave dinosaur-sized footprints. [more shots of dune buggies] The process may start in the desert, but it will end in a computer hundreds of miles away.
DAVID TANAKA: I remember Star Wars came out when I was in elementary school. And one of the key things that I remember my friends talking about was this is a really cool creature. The point that would always be brought up would be that, “Wouldn’t it be great if we actually saw that move?” So when I first heard that we were restoring and adding effects to to the Tatooine dune sequence and one of the things that we were going to be doing was, um, making all these dewbacks move, it was kind of like “Okay, sure. Yeah, that would be great.”
GEORGE LUCAS: Whenever you do something that’s creative, and you end up having to rush through it and finish it before it’s really completed the way you’d hope it be, it bothers you. And so, there were a lot of things in Star Wars that bothered me a great deal because they weren’t completed properly, and I’ve always wanted to have them finished and on top of that, I had shot a scene with Jabba the Hutt which I’d cut out because I didn’t really need to have Jabba the Hutt in that movie if it were to be by itself. If I finished the other three movies, or the two movies, then it was relevant. But I didn’t know at that point that I was going to be able to finish all my movies. So all those reasons led to me wanting to complete Star Wars the way was originally intended, and the 20th anniversary gave me the opportunity to do that.
ANNOUNCER: In 1977, producer-director George Lucas created the Star Wars Trilogy and changed the way we looked at movies. Now 20 years later, using new digital technology, Lucas and his creative teams at Lucasfilm, THX, Skywalker Sound, and Industrial Light and Magic have completely restored, enhanced, and added to these classic movies to create the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition.
GEORGE LUCAS: The original inspiration for bringing the film out again was the fact that it was the 20th anniversary of the original release of the film. I had an ulterior motive that I’d been thinking about for a long time, actually ever since the films were finished, which is there were various things, especially in the original film, that I wasn’t satisfied with. Special effects shots that never really were finished, scenes that hadn’t, that I’d wanted to include that couldn’t have been included for some reason, mostly money and time, and I really wanted to fix the film and have it be completed.
The current version of the “Original” Star Wars Trilogy available is only the most recent version of the Special Edition. This version has shots that completely replace or obscure paintings, models, or effects that the original artists worked hard on a deadline using technology they were sometimes inventing to complete. While some of the Special Edition shots may look better, the original deserves to be preserved and available outside of fan restorations (which were used in the example images below, compared with the 19SE).
Below is a gallery of shots where the original work is just gone.
For almost 25 years, the fans have been handed one version at a time and told this is as good as it gets. Star Wars is one of the few movies treated like this. Most other movies with alternate cuts give you a choice of which version you want in the box. Blade Runner gave you five versions, even the theatrical cut that Ridley Scott hated. He knew it was important to give the fans options, even if he personally disliked some of them. The Apocalypse Now UHD set gives you three versions of the the movie, all in 4K. Even Lucas’ personal friends know that choices are important.
Lucasfilm tried to give us a choice once, but they did it using the least effort possible. In the mid-2000’s, Lucasfilm saw that the fan community was distributing preservations of 1993’s The Definitive Collection LaserDisc online, the last home video master made of the theatrical cuts (which was also used in the “THX” release from 1995). In order to curb what they considered to be piracy and not preservation, Lucasfilm decided to cut those fans off by releasing the 2006 “Limited Edition” DVD. Unfortunately, instead of doing a modernized release of the films, they took the exact same 1993 home video master and burned it to DVD retaining the 4:3 format of the LaserDisc. (I will give them credit for scanning the original theatrical crawl for Star Wars, although they tried their best to make it look as bad as the rest of the LaserDisc).
But this did set a precedent. Lucasfilm gave us a choice in the past with a bonus disc release. They have the capacity to release the originals. They have before, they can again…even if it’s just to have a leg to stand on against the distribution of modern fan preservations.
These fan preservations can fill the holes, but it’s shameful they have to exist at all. In order to watch the original version of Star Wars legally, you need to find the “Limited Edition” DVD in a second-hand store or on eBay, and that only gives you the non-anamorphic rip of the 1993 Laserdisc. If you want to see it in HD, you have to find a legally-grey fan recreation that utilizes the Blu-ray and undoes each change individually. If you want to see it in 4K, you have to find and download a 90 GB file that is an illegally scanned fourth-generation theatrical-run print that is probably not in a format you can just play on your TV. Anyone should be able to walk into their local store or load up their favorite digital store or streaming service and have the choice of what version to watch.
An ultimate release of the Original Trilogy should be about one thing: preservation. These are historical artifacts and should be treated as such. Yes, even the Special Edition is an historical artifact. If someone grew up on that (extremely flawed) version & prefers it, by all means they should be able to watch it as what it should have always been: the bonus disc.
The most obvious changes to the 4K Master is the Greedo scene, per usual. In the previous study, we only compared the actual Special Edition-created two-shot. The 4K version has modified the previous and the following shot, which we’ll get into.
So now, immediately after Han’s “Yes, I bet you have” threat, we have a new shot of Greedo shouting an unsubtitled threat of what is now known as “maclunkey”, which may or may not mean “This will be the end of you” based on dialog Sebulba threatens Anakin with in The Phantom Menace. Since that is a long phrase for a shot lasting only 17 frames, there is no translation given. This new shot features a crop of Greedo from the previous shot of him threatening Han, with a replacement background behind him so that the same patron doesn’t cross twice in a row.
The two-shot starts at the same frame as it did in 97SE and 04SE. However, instead of Han firing two frames after Greedo (HD Branch, down from 8 in 97SE), he now fires at the same frame. Han’s firing animation is the same as before, Greedo’s is the same as the HD Branch but with recomposited smoke and new effects as the blast hits the wall.
Greedo is hit and explodes without having an insert frame of the dummy, confusing the issue of where the explosion is coming from, especially since the dummy explosion now lasts only 12 frames instead of 29, now just half a second.
As you can see previously, no matter who shot when or how long the two-shot lasted, we had a over a second of Greedo exploding and the smoke wiping across the screen. A breath before the body falls onto the table in the following shot.
Looking at the stack, you might think to yourself that this is great, the scene doesn’t focus on the dummy explosion anymore. The issue lies in the fact that the dummy explosion now only lasts half a second, which barely separates these two shots:
The quick cut to the explosion make it look like it’s functioning as a transition between these shots, which subconsciously breaks the 30-degree rule, where the shot has changed but not enough that it doesn’t look jarring.
Even with the addition of “maclunkey” the sequence lasts 5 fewer frames than 97SE/04SE.
The Disney+ version of A New Hope is 0.25 seconds longer than the Blu-ray, but 0.21 seconds shorter than the DVD.
Han now waits 27 frames before firing after saying “Yes, I bet you have”. This is up from 12 in 97SE/04SE, 4 in 04SE, and 1 in the original shot (which is the entirety of the original shot).
Han’s shadow of his hand moves in the wide shot again, something that was present in the 97SE but fixed in the HD Branch.
Thanks to Tristan Riddell for helping me identify the 30-degree rule.