The following are partial lists of changes in Star Wars re-releases. The commercial success of Star Wars has given George Lucas the opportunity to tinker with his original trilogy, now called Episode IV A New Hope, Episode V The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI Return of the Jedi. In a September 2004 MSNBC article, Lucas points out that the original films were “25 or 30 percent” of what he intended.
Many changes were motivated by the vast improvements in CGI technology and other production techniques that occurred in the two decades after the original trilogy was produced. Other changes improved the cohesiveness among the films, and eliminated continuity errors between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy.
Changes to Star Wars films after the theatrical release aren’t always limited to the original trilogy. In the release of The Phantom Menace DVD, two deleted portions were either partially or completely restored.
The original, unaltered theatrical editions were released (as bonus material) on DVD on September 12, 2006. In 2011, the latest modifications to Episodes I-VI were released on Blu-ray.
The earliest edits to the original film occurred between the initial release in May and the wider release later in 1977. The edits are minor, but noticeable. They consist of four changes. All of these changes were made before the foreign language prints were made later in 1977 and well before the last good interpositive was struck in 1985. These four shots run exactly the same length. All of them exist in the earliest bootleg video tapes and in the English 16 mm print. The original three effects shots exist in many home video English language versions released during the 80’s. None of these shots are found in the Definitive Edition, Faces Edition, or 2006 bonus discs, nor are they in any of the known extant 35 mm prints, or Technicolor prints.
When the Millennium Falcon is being chased after taking off from Mos Eisley, the effects shot where the Star Destroyer is shooting at the Falcon was changed. The early version has different explosions and different flashes and looks less finished.
When the heroes arrive on Yavin 4, the outdoor composited shot with the matte painting of the temple is recomposited and is not synced the same. It also has an artifact in the image.
When the fighters take off from Yavin 4, there is an extra cloud and the shot is not synced the same. It also has an artifact in the image.
The scrolling end credits are completely redone with the spacing, both vertical and horizontal, altered, and a glitch in composition at the beginning has been removed.
The film was originally released with 35mm Dolby Stereo and 70mm 6-track audio. Since these were both mastered from the same mix stems, there is little to no difference between them in terms of content. Both feature 4 main audio channels with the 6-track having at least one LFE, channel. A mono mix was produced in June 1977 for exhibition in cinemas with no Dolby Stereo or Surround support, which did contain the following changes in content from the other versions. The majority of foreign language versions use a stereo mix with many, but not all of the mono effects alterations.
As Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan, and the droids approach the Cantina in the mono sound version, a Cantina musical cue can be heard.
C-3PO’s line “Use the comlink? Oh my! I forgot, I turned it off.” is from an alternate take.
As the stormtroopers chase Han and Chewbacca, one now says “Close the blast doors!” before the Rebels narrowly run through.
When R2-D2 shows the schematics of the Death Star’s tractor beam, C-3PO now speaks over the scene, the line being “The tractor beam is coupled to the main reactor in seven locations. A power loss at one of the terminals will allow the ship to leave.”. The sound effects for the schematics being displayed have also been changed.
The line “Blast it, Biggs, where are you?” from the original stereo sound version was changed to “Blast it, Wedge, where are you?” to fix continuity.
Aunt Beru’s lines are alternate takes (possibly even a different actress).
When Luke and Obi-Wan discover the wrecked sandcrawler, R2-D2 beeps.
The stormtrooper who interrogates Luke and the others as they enter Mos Eisley’s lines are timed earlier.
During the search of Mos Eisley for the droids, the stormtrooper’s lines have been changed from “Alright, check this side of the street. The door’s locked. Move on to the next one.” to “Alright, check that side of the street. It’s secure. Move on to the next one.”
More growls are added to Chewbacca that were not present in the stereo and surround mixes.
A different explosion sound is heard when the Tantive IV’s reactor is destroyed.
A different alarm sound is used as the rebel soldiers aboard the Tantive IV prepare for battle.
Computer sounds are heard when Luke fires up the Millennium Falcon’s targeting system.
A short beep can be heard when the Death Star’s superlaser system is booted up to fire at Alderaan.
A different, lower frequency sound effect is used for Alderaan’s explosion.
The speech over the X-Wing’s radios have less garble and static, and some lines are from alternate takes.
Different, louder sound effects are used for the opening of the X-Wing’s s-foils.
The line, “We have an emergency alert in Detention Block AA-23” was changed to “Governer Tarkin, we have an emergency alert in Detention Block AA-23”, possibly read by a different voice actor.
Luke groans when he gets dragged by the Dianoga into the trash compactor’s murky waters for a second time.
When R2-D2 falls over after being shot by the Jawas, the thud when he hits the ground is different.
The pipe creaks when it is being bent by the trash compactor walls.
The line “What good will it do us if he gets himself killed?” spoken by Luke is from an alternate take.
The heavy echo from Luke and Leia’s speech at the chasm is absent.
The blaster sound is different when Leia fires it at the stormtroopers.
Luke’s line, “So, you got your reward and you’re just leaving, then?” is a different take.
Porkins’ scream when he is hit is cut out.
When Tiree’s Y-wing explodes, there is an additional explosion sound. This also appears in the 6-track mix.
Sound effects for Red Leader’s damaged X-wing engine were added before his crash.
The voices announcing the progress of the Death Star’s journey to Yavin 4 is different.
For the 1981 re-release, the line “Episode IV: A NEW HOPE” was added to the opening crawl. While this is the most noticeable alteration, the entire opening crawl was redone. A new starfield was used, one that was made and used in The Empire Strikes Back, the “Star Wars” title is also from The Empire Strikes Back, but it fades out before the crawl starts. The crawl was reformatted for the music to stay in synchronization and the word “rebel” in “rebel spies” is capitalized, which was not capitalized in the original 1977 crawl. The Tantive IV and Star Destroyer were recomposited with finer border, removing some prominent black lines. More subtly, the lasers and engine glows were adjusted to fit and the moons are in different positions relative to the planet.
The Empire Strikes Back
The 70mm version of the film was slightly different from the 35mm version that was more widely seen. It is understood that when the movie was considered “finished,” the elements were turned over to the lab and sound facilities so the desired 70mm print order could be prepared. The filmmakers, however, decided to make a few, albeit subtle, changes that, considering the expense and time involved in re-striking and and/or re-sounding 70mm prints, were reflected only in the film’s 35mm prints. A couple of these differences can be found on the Ken Films Super 8 version of the film. An in theater recording of the audio exists (made by the same person who made a recording of the 70 mm showing of Star Wars) while only the first 4 minutes of video exist thanks to a CBS outlet. Some of the audio differences are likely because the in theater records captured the discreet left and right channels where the 35 mm release and subsequent home video used the matrixed Dolby Stereo track.
70 mm Visual Differences
Shots of Leia, Han, etc., observing Luke in the Bacta Chamber are not present.
The Emperor’s hologram does not fade in at the start of his conversation with Vader.*
Millennium Falcon sensor dish is not visible with Luke on weather vane. The position of the vane is also different on the background.*
The frigate footage at the end consists of less shots than the 35mm version. *
The exterior shot over which Lando says “When we find Jabba the Hutt and that bounty hunter, we’ll contact you.” is not in the 70mm version, instead when Luke says (voice over), “Good luck, Lando” the scene cuts directly to inside the rebel cruiser where Luke says, “I’ll meet you at the rendezvous point on Tatooine.”
* 8mm Ken Films Print
70 mm Audio Differences
When Luke runs out of the wampa cave, there is a sound of his lightsaber deactivating even though it stays lit onscreen, this error later reappeared in the Special Edition.
Different laserfire can be heard during the snow battle, the sound used for TIE fighters instead of X-wings.
When R2 is being loaded into Luke’s X-wing, C-3PO says the word “and” before saying “do take good care of yourself.” The 2004 DVD really cranks up the quiet “and”.
Yoda says the word “Run!” before “Yes. A Jedi’s strength flows from the force.” The following lines “But beware the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side of the force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight” are also much louder and clearer.
The Imperial fleet establishing shot after the scene of Luke’s failure at the cave has a different TIE fighter sound effect. (Can also be heard on the foreign GOUT-tracks, SE versions have the music as originally composed for the scene)
While C-3PO is on Chewie’s back when they enter the carbon freezing chamber, the line “Now remember, Chewbacca, you have a responsibility to me, so don’t do anything foolish” is louder and heard more clearly.
In Cloud City, after C-3PO says “That sounds like an R2 unit in there. I wonder if it…” he says “Hello?” only once instead of twice.
Lando’s line at the end, “Luke, we’re ready for takeoff.” is a different take. (The same take can be heard in the Special Edition).
The line “When we find Jabba the Hutt and that bounty hunter, we’ll contact you.” is not present.
Lando’s line “Princess, we’ll find Han. I promise.” is a different take.
In the final scene, there is no tracked music from “Yoda and the Force”.
35 mm Mono Audio Differences
In addition to the differences between the 35 mm Dolby Stereo and 70 mm 6 track audio, there was also a separate mono mix that had a few changes. It was found on a 16 mm print but likely was also distributed on 35 mm prints.
In the asteroid field, after C-3PO says “Oh, this is suicide”, the line “There’s no where to go” was added.
In Cloud City, after C-3PO says “That sounds like an R2 unit in there. I wonder if it…” he says “Hello?” only once instead of twice.
While C-3PO is on Chewie’s back when they enter the carbon freezing chamber, the line “Oh dear, what now?” is added to the beginning of C-3PO’s dialog.
When Darth Vader falls off the carbon freeze platform he grunts instead of saying “Argh”.
Alternate Audio sources
In addition to the differences in the 70 mm edit, There is an 8 mm shorter edit of the film and the audio from The Story of The Empire Strikes Back LP that contained the following differences.
Luke: “Echo Three to Echo Seven. Han ‘ole buddy, do you read me?” -Different take. *, **
Luke – “I don’t pick up any life readings” – Different take *, **
Han – “I’m coming back” – Different take instead of the more widely heard “I’m going back” *, **
Rogue 2: “Captain Solo, do you copy?” -Different take *
Leia: “They’re getting closer.” -Different take *
Han: “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” -Different take *
Obi-Wan’s lines are not as ‘echoed’.*
The Cloud Car Pilots have alternate dialogue – “Any aggressive move will not be tolerated!” “Permission granted to land on platform 3-2-7. Any deviation from…” “Thank you!”-Han cuts off comlink.*
After Lando tells Han, “Yeah, I’m responsible these days. It’s the price of success.” The 8mm continues “And you know what, Han, you were right all along. It’s over-rated.” as C-3PO talks with the other protocol droid.*
More crowd noise as people flee Cloud City.*
* 8mm Ken Films Print
** The Story of The Empire Strikes Back LP
Return of the Jedi
Return of the Jedi was left unaltered. It did feature 70 mm 6 track, Dolby Stereo, and a mono mix, but there are no discernible differences. The Dolby Stereo mix was featured on all home video releases.
TV broadcasts and VHS/Betamax/CED editions
The mono mix was used for a 1980s UK ITV broadcast. There were also some minor changes made to a few 1980’s pan and scanned TV broadcasts such as squeezing in the second Tusken Raider while looking through Luke’s macrobinoculars.
The original releases of A New Hope on VHS, Betamax, and RCA’s CED featured the Dolby Stereo mix, identical to that heard on the 35mm theatrical prints. Playing the mix through a home Dolby Pro-logic decoder authentically recreates the original 4-channel surround experience. This mix did not contain the line uttered by C-3PO “The tractor beam is coupled to the main reactor in seven locations. A power loss at one of the terminals will allow the ship to leave.” This line was only present in the original mono mix. For the 1985 VHS/laserdisc releases, Ben Burtt supervised the creation of a new, digitally remastered audio track. CBS/FOX worked with the new multi-channel mix and made a new Dolby Stereo compliant downmix for home video.
Due to technical and cost limitations, the CED editions of A New Hope are presented time-compressed (sped up by 3%) from its original 121-minute length to 118 minutes to fit one double-sided two-hour disc.
In the UK and throughout Europe widescreen VHS versions of the original three films were released in 1991. An advertisement before the films started explained how widescreen showed more of the picture. They were re-released in 1994 with different artwork and released a third time as THX versions in 1995.
The VHS reissue in 1995, which was the last available release of the Pre-Special Edition trilogy prior to the 2006 DVD release, utilized THX digital remastering to enhance the picture and sound quality on all three films.
Due to technical limitations, most pan-and-scan versions of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back are presented time-compressed (sped up by 2% for Star Wars and 4% for Empire Strikes Back) from their respective 121- and 125-minute lengths to fit one double-sided two-hour LaserDisc. Letterbox versions of the original theatrical releases of the original three films have also been released.
The initial 1989 North American widescreen release of A New Hope suffered from a shrinking aspect ratio. The master that was used was the Japanese subtitled LaserDisc, in which the image appeared higher on the screen to allow for subtitles. For the North American release, it was shifted down, and a black bar was put up to cover the unused parts. However, as the film progresses, the image creeps up on the screen moving underneath the top bar, causing the image to become increasingly wider. By the time the film reaches the Battle of Yavin scenes, the image has widened from 2.35:1 to 2.55:1. This problem was fixed in the 1992 reissue of the disc. The original shrinking LaserDisc has the CBS/Fox logo on it, while the fixed edition has the newer Fox Video logo on the jacket. C-3PO’s line about the tractor beam can be heard on this LaserDisc and the three original 1977 effects shots can be seen.
In 1993, the Star Wars Trilogy: The Definitive Collection box set was released based on the interpositives struck in 1985. This version featured the original trilogy on nine CAV discs, widescreen transfers, THX remastering, audio commentary tracks, assorted bonus features, a copy of the hardcover book George Lucas: The Creative Impulse, and for A New Hope, a new surround-sound audio mix. This mix, digitally remastered by Ben Burtt and Gary Summers, was supposedly a mix of the best elements of all three original mixes. However, it is primarily a fold-down of the 6-track 70mm mix, with some mono mix elements and additional elements “dialled in.” An interview with Dave Schnuelle, printed in a 1993 issue of Widescreen Review magazine, corroborates these observations. Additionally, the transfer was somewhat sub-par, with scan lines often disappearing and colors being incorrectly switched.