Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why I Don't Mind The Star Wars Trilogy 1997 Special Editions

1997 was the 20th Anniversary of Star Wars and Lucasfilm had a novel idea for a celebration; re-releasing the Star Wars trilogy for theatrical release and updating them with some new scenes and special effects. In the case of Star Wars, it was the restoration of a lost encounter between Han Solo and Jabba The Hutt... and two seconds of additional footage between Han and Greedo that has been derided for years on end. In the case of Jedi, it was new music to accommodate a couple extra bits, including our first canonical look at the imperial planet of Coruscant, which was something only touched on in novels and computer games.

Up until '97, the only way I had seen Star Wars was on videocasette. My brother had two releases of the original trilogy; the CBS/FOX home video releases and the THX-enhanced home video releases from Lucasfilm from 1995, which not only included a new sound mix, but each tape had a conversion between George Lucas and noted film critic Leonard Maltin. The '95 home video release was also touted as the last time people would be able to purchase the original Star Wars Trilogy in its original form.

That turned out to be more true than anyone realized.

Some time later, it was announced that Lucasfilm would be releasing updated versions of the trilogy, with new special effects and even some new material added in for good measure. Not only that, but they would see release in theaters early '97. And they'd be shown a month apart; so January 97 saw Star Wars get re-released, then Empire in February, and finally Jedi in March.

For most moviegoers, it was a day in the theater watching old movies that have been spruced up to 1997 standards. But for myself and also for my older brother, it was an opportunity to do something we've never got to do: see Star Wars on the big screen.

My brother's a decade older than I am and back in the day, he never got to see Star Wars or Empire in theaters when they originally came out. It's possible he might've seen Jedi, but even he doesn't remember for sure. So, to be able to share in this first time moment, it's something special. Something that can't be explained or put into words, but it's that special feeling that makes the whole thing special.

I suppose "Special Edition" is appropriate.

It's one of the few things that we share common interests in and something of a time-honored tradition. Every Star Wars movie that has come out since - whether it'd be the Prequels, Sequels, the side films, even that Clone Wars animated movie - we'd make a point to check out either opening weekend or the weekend after. Hell, we do the same thing with all the Star Trek movies since V or VI.

The Special Editions get their flak from audiences and they certainly haven't aged well over the years. And it can be said that these were indirectly responsible for getting the ball rolling on these original films being altered time and time again whenever there is a new format being introduced or whatever the case may be.

But these movies were the one outlet that I was able to watch these movies on the big screen the way they were originally intended to be viewed. And when you're a younger fellow short on cash and unable to go to these conventions or special events where some folks would rent a small theatre house to show these films and something like this comes along, you tend to not be picky about how they're presented.

And at the time, I didn't mind the CG X-Wings (still don't care), I blinked on the Greedo shot, I cringe at the new dance number or the added scream of Luke falling down the chasm... but none of that really mattered. I'm watching Star Wars on the big screen for the first time. Look at all that extra real estate on the screen that usually gets cut off from the home releases. Seeing these films in theaters with a wide screen made all the difference in the world. I've seen these films countless times and yet... this felt new and fresh.

I still have the VHS releases stored away somewhere. I might even have a VCR somewhere that won't eat whatever tapes I stick into it. Maybe one of these days, I might give the Special Editions another shot. Probably not for old times sake since it won't be the same, but as a sign of respect for giving me a chance I never would've gotten otherwise.

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