I have just seen the definitive version of Star Wars.
And it wasn’t created by George Lucas or anyone at ILM. It was made by one fan.
For years I have been reading about the variety of “fan-edits” of the six Star Wars movies that have been floating around the internet. Last month I finally got ahold of the famous Phantom Edit of Star Wars: Episode I, which I wrote about last week.
I was so blown away by the high quality of that edit that I decided to check out some of the other fan-edits that are out there. I am eager to watch the Phantom Editor’s take on Episode II (and I’ll certainly write about that here once I see it), but after perusing various sites such as fanedit.org and originaltrilogy.com, it became clear that people were very excited about a fellow called Adywan’s special edition re-edit of Star Wars: Episode IV, titled Star Wars: Revisited. I decided to track it down and take a look.
Let me say again: Wow.
This one fan has produced an astounding re-edit of Star Wars that is, in my mind, by far the best presentation this film has ever received on any home video format.
Before I go into detail about what Adywan has done, let me give you a brief history of the many versions of Star Wars. Even in the earliest years of its existence, George Lucas had a habit of fiddling around with it (adding in the Episode IV: A New Hope subtitle, for instance, or the brief scene on the Death Star where Chewie growls at the little black droid). In 1995, Lucas returned the original three Star Wars films to the big-screen with the Special Editions. In addition to giving a whole new generation of folks (like me) a chance to enjoy the Star Wars films on the big screen, these versions contained a number of CGI enhancements. Some of these changes were very cool (particularly many of the snazzy new space-ship shots, like the Millennium Falcon blasting out of Mos Eisley and some action-packed additions to the Death Star battle). Some were controversial (the re-insertion of a scene between Han Solo and Jabba the Hut; the many new creatures added into the background of Mos Eisley). Some were down-right stupid (Greedo shooting at Han and somehow missing at point-blank range, before Han shoots and kills him). In 2004, the Star Wars Original Trilogy was finally released to DVD. Sadly, it was a mess. There were additional changes to the film that were not for the better (the Han-Greedo scene was further mucked with, with Han and Greedo now shooting at one another practically simultaneously), and all sorts of other things in the film just were, well, wrong. In the opening crawl, the “Star Wars” title seemed to recede into the background at warp speed, way faster than in any of the other films. There was some bizarre color-correction that resulted in shots where the lightsabers seemed to be the wrong color (with Luke’s blue saber looking green, and Vader’s red saber looking pink). There were some instances where bits of dialogue had been replaced with alternative takes, and where John Williams’ score had mysteriously vanished. (I am focusing on the changes made to A New Hope — I could rant on for days about the annoying changes made to Empire and Jedi…!) Now, I am not a fan who is resistant to new versions of Star Wars! I have been (and continue to be) excited about changes made to the films to correct errors and to enhance the visual effects. It is when the changes seem foolish or careless that I get upset.
Which brings me (at last) to Star Wars: Revisited. What Adywan has done is as follows: he has taken the 2004 DVD version of A New Hope and a) corrected many of the problems of that version, bringing the visuals, the color-timing, and the audio in-line with the original version of the film while maintaining the high-quality of the DVD image, b) preserved the best of the changes made by Lucas and ILM for the 1995 Special Editions and the 2004 DVDs, while removing the foolish ones, and c) added in a whole host of new changes of his own, things that he (and many fans) had been HOPING to see in the Special Editions or the 2004 DVDs.
The result is nothing short of MAGNIFICENT.
I could go on for DAYS trying to list all of the changes that he has made. Literally almost every scene has been tweaked in some way. (For an exhaustive list, click here.) And I wouldn’t want to spoil all of the fun surprises that Adywan has added in. But let me note some of my favorite things:
The opening crawl has been fixed and Star Wars now recedes into the background at the proper speed.
You can see a wrecked Battle Droid in the Jawa transport with R2-D2 & C-3PO!
Threepio’s line “there’ll be no escape for the Princess this time” has been changed to “there’ll be no escape this time.” This fixes a large continuity problem, since when R2 plays the “help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi” hologram, Threepio has no idea who she is, and is unclear who the special passengers on the Blockade Runner were.
There is an awesome new series of special effects shots that introduce the Death Star (showing it in orbit of a planet — very cool) that includes the Imperial March! (True Star Wars fans know that this classic bad-guy theme has always been missing from A New Hope, since John Williams didn’t write it until he was scoring Empire!) Also, in the scene on the Death Star that follows, when Tarkin is discussing the Emperor’s dissolution of the Senate, William’s Emperor theme (which was used a lot in Return of the Jedi and the Prequel Trilogy) plays softly in the background.
While a lot of the new creature effects added into the Mos Eisley sequence for the Special Editions have been preserved, they have been trimmed to cut out the juvenile humor (such as one droid punching another, or a Jawa falling off one of the large creatures).
When Obi-Wan slices off the arm of the creature menacing Luke in the Cantina (that’d be Ponda Baba. Yes, I am a Star Wars geek), we see in the next shot that the arm actually looks cauterized (the way light-saber wounds look in all the other films) as opposed to bloody.
The moment where Han is surprised by Greedo was ruined in the 2004 DVDs because Greedo’s subtitles appear on screen too early, BEFORE Han sees Greedo. This has been fixed. Also, during the scene between Han and Greedo, Adywan has added some subtle facial articulation to Greedo’s face (his eyes blink, his mouth moves more), bringing the rubber mask to life.
HAN SHOOTS FIRST!!!
The effects shot of Alderaan being destroyed has been beautifully re-done, making this a much more powerful moment.
I don’t know how he did it, but somehow Adywan has totally re-worked the Vader/Obi-Wan duel to be both longer and much more fast-paced and intense. In a really clever touch, he also added in music from Revenge of the Sith, specifically John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” track that played behind the Anakin/Obi-Wan duel in that film. The combination really elevates this scene, and connects the Original Trilogy to the Prequel Trilogy in a powerful way. (He also used CGI to subtly touch up the moment when Vader actually strikes down Obi-Wan — we now see Vader’s saber burn through Obi-Wan’s cloak. Very cool.)
The battle between the Falcon and the Tie Fighters after they escape from the Death Star has been greatly enhanced, so that it no longer seems as if the Falcon is sitting still while the Tie Fighters buzz around it.
When Han and Leia and then Han and Luke chat in the Falcon’s cockpit after the fight, the hyperspace effect has been added in to the cock-pit windows. It was always ridiculous that there were un-moving stars in the cockpit during that scene, when they’re supposed to be racing to the rebel base!
The graphics of the Death Star used during the rebels’ briefing have been nicely enhanced, and when Leia and the rebel leaders monitor the Death Star battle in their base, the huge circular panel that they gather around has been enhanced with a beautiful 3-D hologram of the Death Star and all the fighters.
Oh my lord the final Death Star battle has been tremendously enhanced. There are a variety of entirely new shots that are just amazing — particularly a stunning shot of the fleet of TIE fighters engaging the rebel X-Wings (scored to the Imperial March, which has once again been inserted here). There are a TON of tweaks to this whole sequence. Almost every shot has had a lot of extra ships and explosions added in to the background, making the battle seem a whole lot more visceral and chaotic. The big red planet Yavin has been added in to the background of many of the shots, emphasizing the Death Star’s increasing proximity to the Rebel Base. When the X-Wings are being chased down the trench by Vader and his TIE fighters, you can now see the TIEs chasing behind the X-Wings in many of the shots. (In all of the many versions of Star Wars, this has never been the case. You’d always see a shot of the X-Wings and then cut to a shot of the TIE fighters.)
Chewie gets a medal at the end! He’s no longer excluded!!
Wow, I listed more of the changes than I’d thought I would — but this should indicate how excited I was by all of the changes and updates!! (And believe me when I say that there are literally hundreds of other changes, both large and small, that I have not mentioned at all.) With only one or two tiny exceptions, all of the changes are amazingly seamless. The new CGI enhancements are incredibly professional, ILM-quality work. If you had never seen the film before, there is absolutely no way that you’d know that ANY of the many changes and additions were not done by Lucas’ team.
This is the version of Star Wars that I have always wanted to see. I can’t wait to see it again. And until and unless Lucas and his team step up to the plate, I truly believe that this will be the version of A New Hope that I’ll be watching from now on. Amazing.