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Special Edition VHS/Laserdisc Featurette Transcript

Italics indicate Laserdisc edit only. VHS edits notated.

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.

GEORGE LUCAS: The most obvious thing that has happened is we’ve gone back to the original negative, cleaned it up considerably, redone a lot of the optical effects: the wipes, the dissolves, and improved the quality of the film. Because it was deteriorating, and I think this one had deteriorated a lot more than anybody expected in 20 years. So you’re getting to see a brand new print that’s that’s very clean and is actually better than the original release.

RICK MCCALLUM: The actual original negative, it was so far gone that unless we actually did this at this time we were never going to have the film to be able to release ever again.

GEORGE LUCAS: I definitely did the movie on the seat in my pants. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I mean, I had some experience in animation, I knew how to make movies, and I knew that I was going to attempt to do something that had never been done before. I was very interested in creating a modern myth to replace what I’d seen had been occupied by the Western. The Western was a sort of a modern American mythology that helped explain the mores and the values and the way things worked in our society. And I started working on this and realized that I wanted to put it, it had to be, somewhere over the hill outside people’s known realm of awareness. And the only area we have now that’s like that is outer space.

MARK HAMILL: To try and do a multi-generational modern-day myth had not been done, as far as I knew.

HARRISON FORD: The script was unlike any I’d ever seen before.

CARRIE FISHER: When I first read the script, I read it I think out loud with a friend of mine, Miguel Ferrer, who’s an actor, and it was unbelievable. I mean it read almost as good as the movie was and we all wanted to play Han Solo and I think that was a big part of it. And when I went in to meet George, he was casting with Brian De Palma. Brian was casting the movie Carrie, so they were casting the same aged girls at the same time. So they were just herd hundreds of us in and I guess it was sort of paired down and I ended up doing a reading on camera with Harrison.

GEORGE LUCAS: I cast a film first of all trying to get the best actors possible. Second of all, given that criteria, I look for people who kind of in their own personality, in their own physical presence, embody what I envisioned the character to be. So I’m looking for actors who in their lives and what they are, you know, have some kind of resonance with the characters.

ANTHONY DANIELS: First thing I ever heard about this movie was from my agent, who said “There’s an American called George Lucas, he made a film called American Graffiti or something. Anyway he’s making this low budget sci-fi movie and he wants to see you. He does want to see you… well it’s for the part of the robot, but I do think you should go and see him.” And I said no, and I guess the rest is history.

CARRIE FISHER [VHS]: He’d borrowed from Wizard of Oz or Kurosawa films, he’s just steeped in film lore. So it just went through his pores and that’s how he imagines things. George has an extraordinarily visual imagination.

GEORGE LUCAS: The first one was done under extreme conditions is very low budget and it was very challenging to get it done in the time amount of time, considering we had to invent a lot of new technologies and do all kinds of things that had never been done before.

RICK MCCALLUM: Everything was new, all the technology had to be developed, there were very little resources, hardly any time whatsoever to to make the movie.

DENNIS MUREN: We didn’t even know if we could do the job and get it done in the time that we had to do it. We didn’t know if we could make it look real or not, if it was going to look like most of the other science fiction films that have been done that look pretty fake. So it was a problem of trying to come up with a look that could allow George’s vision to get on the screen and be executed for the amount of money and for the time that we had.

HARRISON FORD: What we had to deal with were the mechanical effects that were on the stage: closing doors, dropping doors, squeezing garbage pits, all kinds of things like that. And a lot of those sets were complicated. The thing I remember most clearly, was my first day in the Millennium Falcon. We went to shoot and it was a situation where we were under enormous tension, as is usually the case in the film. I said to him, “Okay, how do you fly this? How do you fly it? George, how do you fly it?” “boy, you, uh, you, you know, you, the you, see, all you, just fly it.”

ANTHONY DANIELS: Lots of things go wrong on a film set that has lots of special effects, robots included. Now things went wrong with my costume all the time. The head would not go on, the head wouldn’t come off, so it would take hours to get into this suit and then still in the middle of the scene, suddenly an arm grieblies fallen off or or one of these these headpieces like earrings had come off and we’d have to do the shot again. Even now if you look at the laser disc or the video and slow it right down you see you see things trickling down where Han Solo is about to kiss Princess Leia and I come and say “Excuse me, Captain” if you look very carefully an arm grieblie goes *sounds*. They kept it in because of course we do the sound later.

MARK HAMILL: One of the things that impressed me on all the movies was the way George could take Scotch tape and popsicle sticks and and really make something out of it. When I went, I had visions of what it would look like to see the Death Star blow up, and they had the equivalent of say six ping pong tables in the parking lot somewhere in the valley with all the tchotchkes glued to the surface, all these models, I mean they cannibalized thousands of battleship kits, and just glued them all on and they were making passes on it with somebody just driving a Jeep, and of course that’s the footage of the TIE fighters flying past the surface.

RICK MCCALLUM: Everything was done with models and wires set against blue screen and one of the problems was that the essence of the storytelling had to be sacrificed for the limits of technology. George had very specific shots that he wanted to be able to achieve, but it was extremely difficult to do that with models on wires. So although for us in 1977 when we first saw it, it was still powerful, it was still big, he never got visually the dynamic shots that he actually wanted to get, so we’ve redone those.

GEORGE LUCAS: I’ve taken a lot of the special effects shots that weren’t really as good as I’d hoped they would be, because they were sort of prototype technology and I’ve been able to improve them and just add that little difference, and I’ve done it with a lot of the end battle shots.

DENNIS MUREN: We took some of the scenes where in the dogfight sequences that the ships were sort of skidding or jumping incorrectly and they looked a little mechanical in their motions, and we redid those with with computer graphic spaceships.

RICK MCCALLUM: It was impossible then with motion capture to actually get really quick pans, you know, they had to be separate shots, the models couldn’t slide directly over the head of a camera without seeing how that it was shaky and moving around. We’ve changed those shots and made those much more visually dynamic. They’re fun, they’re really, really great, and you know you can actually see them. They come straight over camera, they go underneath camera, we can pan with them, you can see the pilots inside of them, you can see their heads moving. That was a real challenge, but really, really a great deal of fun to do. And I think he feels so happy about that, because I’ve seen the original storyboards and they just couldn’t achieve it at that point and, you know, those are compromises that any filmmaker finds deeply, deeply depressing. And I think in spite of the huge phenomenal success that Star Wars had, I think one of the other great things about this whole process, in relationship not only to restoring it, but more importantly for George to get back to his original vision. It’s never happened in film before. I mean most re-releases of films are directors cuts and usually they’re about scenes that have been pulled out by the studio, the studios forced the director to take out, but these aren’t. This is only about an artist going back to do a film and make it in the way in which he originally envisioned it.

GEORGE LUCAS: Mos Eisley was one of the scenes that actually prompted this whole adventure of redoing the movie, because there were some scenes in there with the speeder that was obviously supposed to float across the landscape and in the Mos Eisley sequence coming up to the Cantina, we couldn’t, they never really accomplished that and all the best they could do was to put some Vaseline on the lens that kind of fudge out the wheels under the car. But it didn’t look like it was floating, it was sitting right on the ground, and there was this sort of orange blob underneath it that we jokingly called the “force” field.

RICK MCCALLUM: The speeder was one of the biggest cringe moments for George, every time he saw it and every time he’s seen it for the last 20 years he has just been “oh my God, I wish, I’d give anything to be able to fix that.”

GEORGE LUCAS: That combined with the fact that I wanted to have Mos Eisley to be more exotic and to be larger and have spaceships and more creatures running around and more like a real city is what really prompted a lot of this redo on the film.

RICK MCCALLUM: I mean it’s supposed to be a big spaceport and, again, the shot on location they had very little time, you couldn’t build the whole city; they shot on the island of Djerba, there was only two streets that they were able to get and redress, so you never get the feeling it’s a major you know area where all the villainy and scum of the world or the galaxy can come to and hide.

GEORGE LUCAS: So we designed a series of shots which show Mos Eisley in a much grander scale. We pull back and see the whole city. We see a lot more beasts of burden moving around in the city, more activity, and it just gives you a better sense of what what Mos Eisley is.

DAVE CARSON: One of the things we were concerned with right from the beginning was we certainly didn’t want it to suddenly look like a brand new different looking shot every time we dropped in one of the one of the redos or improved or new shot, so a broad category of the new work we’ve done is to take the original elements that were used to comprise the shots and recombine them now using mostly computer technology.

DAVE CARSON: We actually shot some new Stormtroopers and had a new background made that showed them in a larger room and basically combined the new Stormtroopers and the new environment and digitally slipped it in behind the original Harrison Ford.

GEORGE LUCAS: When you’re creating a world, part of what you do is whimsy, and part of what you do is for plot movement, and part you do just for your own personal interest and psychological eccentricities. I think dewbacks were put there out of whimsy. I wanted to give a kind of random real world feel to everything, so I wanted to do some things that weren’t predictable like having Stormtroopers ride on dewbacks. In the original movie, in order to get dewbacks and things into the movie, we built a large rubber mannequin really that we were able to move around from set to set. He had a big stick in his head that somebody could sit alongside and move the head back and forth and that was about as much movement as I could get out of it, and I always wanted them to have movement and walk around and be part of the population of the film.

GEORGE LUCAS: I’ve added the Jabba the Hutt scene with Han Solo, which was a scene that had been cut out due to time and money constraints, and once I finished the third film I really wanted to go back and put that back in there because it was sort of relevant to what happens to Han Solo at the end of the movie, and I really wanted to be able to connect the first film with the third film the way it was meant to be. The scene was originally shot with an actor playing Jabba the Hutt to stand in for whatever creature we designed. Originally, I thought Jabba the Hutt would be kind of a furry character like Chewbacca, but as we went on and I redesigned him for Return of the Jedi, he obviously became a large slug and a very different kind of character, so we had to figure out a way of fitting that design into the original scene.

JOE LETTERI: The ultimate goal is to make it look like Jabba was on the set talking to Harrison Ford and we just photographed it. The plan was for us to remove this actor and replace him with Jabba. He had to be physically in that space where this actor was.

STEVE WILLIAMS: This project here was about five shots, took about a year to do. We take the picture of some of the stuff we found, we used some of the off-the-shelf software to build a three-dimensional wireframe mesh, then the next process is actually paint the creature and with the painting of the creature it also involves the actual texture of the surface of the characters.

RICK MCCALLUM: We got to a certain point where everything was set, but there was one problem: Han Solo walks around Jabba.

STEVE WILLIAMS: We had to somehow shift Han. It would have been a literally impossible for him to walk behind the Jabba character because of the tail, so George had the idea “so why don’t you have them step on his tail?”

BEN BURTT: Jabba speaks Huttese, and that’s a language that had been established in the original Star Wars by the bounty hunter, Greedo. The sound of Jabba, of course you have a computer-generated character. He’s supposed to be a big fat ugly slimy slug. A lot of the sound of him moving was just a lot of muddy towels in the bottom of a trash can. Stick your arms down in it and squish them and roll around in there get some sound that way and try to time it to the sound on the screen.

RICK MCCALLUM: The whole company is based on the philosophy that sound is 50 of the experience, and one of the things that I’m most proud of is the work that both Gary and Ben have done in the remastering of the soundtrack. Because the original mix was so complex, so good but there was no technology to actually hear it and one of the things that George has spent an enormous amount of money trying to develop is THX System.

BEN BURTT: The advantage of the sound being presented digitally is that not only you have discrete channels, you have five channels of sound and they’re separate from one another. In the old days, the stereo was really an artificial recreation called the matrix, where the sound on the left and the right and the center were derived from one signal and it was kind of artificially spread around the room. But now we can have discrete channels of sound so you get greater separation. The music sounds better, the ambiences are more spatial, things are more exact sounding. You also can reproduce low frequencies much more effectively, so you can get a subwoofer, a rumble that’s much more effective, it can vibrate your chair and so we’ve gone through and added low end in the spaceship pass-bys and explosions, and Vader uses the Force and has a rumble and we’ve made you hear that rumble now.

GEORGE LUCAS [VHS]: At some point, a famous filmmaker said “films are never completed, they’re only abandoned.” Rather than living with my abandoned movie I really wanted to go back and complete it.

ANNOUNCER [VHS]: Now sit back and get ready to experience George Lucas’s definitive vision with the first installment of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition.

ANNOUNCER [VHS]: For the Trilogy’s second installment, The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas supervised the addition of brand-new footage, as well as an enhanced look for many of the film’s key scenes and locations.

GEORGE LUCAS: Once I started to redo the first film, it became such a good experience that I said “well, gee we should go back and finish the other two films too.”

IRVIN KERSHNER: I had a long talk with George and he said we’re going to put in the snow monster that you never had, so you’re going to see a few seconds of the snow monster that knocks Mark off the Taun Taun.

GEORGE LUCAS [VHS]: One of the problems I had is one of the sequences with the Wampa ice monster…

GEORGE LUCAS: The monster that was developed originally didn’t work, so I had to jettison that monster and I had Phil Tippett create a little tiny hand puppet which we were able to use in two shots, it was just a head, and we just did it at the last minute to stick it in. But the rest of the sequence was sort of cut around the monster where you hear it but you don’t see it. And there’s a certain creative way of doing that, I mean you can do it where you don’t see the monster, and some people would say that’s more artistic than actually showing it, but in this particular case, I really wanted to see the monster and I felt it would add more tension to the scene and make it more interesting. So we were able to do that; I was able to go back, create a better version of the monster and shoot the scene and all the the cutaways to the monster and add them into the scene, which I think makes that ice scene make more sense than it did before.

GEORGE LUCAS: The snow battle was a challenge when we did it because nobody had ever done blue screen matting on a white surface, usually you do it on dark surfaces.

DAVE CARSON: We used optical technology, of course, to do all that compositing and a telltale sign that something’s been optically composited is a black line around it. When you have a sequence that takes place in outer space against stars, it’s easy to reach a point where those black lines don’t show up. But when you have a sequence that takes place against snow in the daylight, every hint of that that black matte line becomes very visible. And so, the first time through doing the snow battle here 17 years ago, a lot of effort went into finding ways to minimize that black line. One of the ways was to not print all of the elements at their full opacity. Consequently, when you see the snow battle on film, you may notice that part of the scenery is visible through the cockpit and it was a constant trade-off of how transparent can we make the cockpit; at what point is the black line more objectionable than the transparency?

GEORGE LUCAS: So going back and looking at it we realized that we really needed to re-matte the entire sequence, which is over 100 shots.

DAVE CARSON: So there was an opportunity to go back into those shots, use the computer technology, and eliminate all the transparency, but also not have any matte lines.

GEORGE LUCAS: The other issue was going into Cloud City. Cloud City was a very difficult thing to design and create originally as a floating city in the clouds. Some of the matte work there wasn’t very good and when they built the set it’s very confined, it’s a very small set, it doesn’t look out onto anything. It’s a very claustrophobic kind of set and that always bothered me; I wanted to be more open, see more of the city. So what we’ve done is we’ve added to the approach of the city, similar to what we did with Mos Eisley in Star Wars. I mean, there’s many more shots coming up to the city, you get to see more of the city, you get to see more speeders and those sorts of things. And at the same time, when they land and they start walking through the city, now they walk through and there’s large windows, you can see out and see more of the city and it just it opens it up and makes it much larger.

DENNIS MUREN: When we started discovering what we could do with digital technology and really controlling it and it working for us instead of us responding to its quirkiness, has just changed the industry and changed special effects and a lot of the work that you’d see in Star Wars that was done then and very difficult to do can literally be done on a home PC and has been done on home PC’s for television shows and they look better than the stuff we did back then.

GEORGE LUCAS: To be able to pull back and see these grand visions of balconies and the city beyond and all that kind of stuff, to do that before was almost impossible and now we can do it, we’re doing it. We have moving shots, we have all kinds of things that they just weren’t able to do before, just was not possible up until a few years ago.

ANNOUNCER [VHS]: Now sit back and get ready to experience George Lucas’s definitive vision of The Empire Strikes Back, the second installment of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition.

ANNOUNCER [VHS]: For the Trilogy’s third installment, Return of the Jedi, Lucas supervised the addition of an elaborate new musical sequence, as well as improvements for one of the film’s key creatures, and the inclusion of brand-new footage and music for the film’s ending.

GEORGE LUCAS: In Jedi, we’ve made several changes. When they go out to the Sarlacc pit, before there was just a couple of tentacles and there was kind of a funny mouth with a few spikes sticking out of it, there wasn’t anything alive about the whole thing. And so what we’ve managed to do is create a kind of a beak that comes out and attacks him and more tentacles and it just looks much more realistic and much more threatening, which I think helps that scene considerably.

GEORGE LUCAS: In the Jabba the Hutt scene there was a little musical number which we never really had the time to shoot. When we were doing it, the production was running behind, everybody was racing, we managed to catch a couple of shots of the band and we put a little bit of music in it. But it was meant originally to be a big musical number, which I thought would be funny in the middle of a Star Wars film. Also some of the puppets that we used were very static in how they could move.

RICK MCCALLUM: The state-of-the-art animatronics had only reached a certain level. Sy Snootles couldn’t really open her mouth, she couldn’t lip sync properly, her eyes didn’t move. It was a very complex creature to develop and all the rest of the creatures, they move but they kind of only moved, you know they were very laborious and they didn’t have any rhythm.

RICK MCCALLUM [VHS]: I think this gave us the opportunity to actually open that up.

DAVE CARSON: So it was an opportunity for us to introduce a couple of computer graphic versions of two of the characters that appear in the film. By making them computer graphics were able to get them to get up and sing and dance a little more than they were able to first time around. It’s a matter of really sculpting the characters in the computer similarly to how you would out of clay. In fact, the computer graphic characters, we approach them a lot the way you would approach an animated drawing character, but they really are much more like puppets. We constantly find that we run into the limitations that you would typically encounter in building a puppet; they won’t bend right or their their mass isn’t right, just the kind of things that puppeteers have been fighting for years. It’s as if we build these puppets, but then we turn them over to traditional animators to create the performance. So it’s kind of a hybrid.

RICK MCCALLUM: We’ve added one new character that they didn’t have the time to actually develop on the third film, a Yazzum, and he acts as a counterpoint to Sy and they have a little duet and now it’s just a fun musical number.

GEORGE LUCAS: I think it adds more of the the atmosphere and the quality that I was looking for originally in the in the Jabba sequence.

RICK MCCALLUM: You actually can see that Jabba’s Palace was a really fun place to be if you were slime and scum.

JOHN WILLIAMS: My involvement with Star Wars began actually with Steven Spielberg, who was, in the 70’s when these films were made and still is, a very close friend of George Lucas’s. And I had done two or three scores for Steven Spielberg before I met George Lucas, Jaws being the principal one among them. And I really think it was that that George Lucas when he was making Star Wars asked his friend Steven Spielberg “who should write the music, where would we find a composer?”

JOHN WILLIAMS: Music for the film is very non-futuristic, the films themselves showed us characters we hadn’t seen before and planets unimagined and so on. But the music was in, this is actually George Lucas’s conception, a very good one, the music should be emotionally familiar. Music that would put us in touch with very familiar and remembered emotions, which for me as a musician translated into kind of the use of a 19th century operatic idiom if you like Wagner and this sort of thing.

JOHN WILLIAMS: George has changed the lengths in some of these films for the reissue because of his improved animatics and so on and it required some some changes in the music, mostly additions and subtractions of a small sort. The only thing I had to re-record for this new Trilogy was a a short end finale for the third, Return of the Jedi, the very very end of the film where George created a new scene of celebrating and he had some ideas for for new music there and gave me a film without any sound, but with the tempo, with the Ewoks sort of dancing and reacting and reveling in their success.

DENNIS MUREN: There’s been some attempts we’ve been making just to see how far we can push sort of the “digital backlot” idea, that we can do more and more work with synthetic sets and synthetic crowds and stuff like that. We’re refining the technology to make characters and creatures look more realistic than they have before. It’s been sort of a testing ground for all that, getting ready for the the prequels.

GEORGE LUCAS: The digital technology frees you up, especially in a fantasy film like this, in ways that are basically overwhelming. I mean you just you could think of things, you can write things, but it’s very hard to make that literal and make it real and digital technology is the thing that’s going to allow that whole medium which is science fiction and fantasy and film to flourish as it never has before.

ANNOUNCER: Now, thanks to digital technology, George Lucas has been able to restore and enhance his classic Trilogy and present it as he is always meant it to be: The Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition.

ANNOUNCER [VHS]: Now sit back and get ready to experience George Lucas’s definitive vision of Return of the Jedi, the third installment of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition.


Published by doubleofive

Curator of Star Wars Visual Comparisons, webmaster for Star Wars Revisited, former co-host of Standard Orbit podcast, all around nerd.

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