Changes to Star Wars Re-Releases: Episode IV: A New Hope

As we all know, George Lucas got a lot of flak for adding new digital special effects to his original Star Wars trilogy; it was this criticism that led to his selling the rights of Star Wars to Disney. Honestly, I feel a bit on the fence about it. I’ll admit, part of my bias comes from the fact that as a child of the 90s, I grew up with the 1997 Special Edition of the movies as opposed to the original theatrical releases. As such, many of the changes didn’t bother me as much. Having seen a few scenes compared to the original theatrical release of Episode IV, I will say there were some changes I approved of more than with the others.

I will agree with everyone else in that what I did not like was changing the scene where Han Solo has his standoff with Greedo. In the original movie, Han just shot Greedo without giving him a chance to defend himself, then flipped a coin to the bartender just saying, “Sorry about the mess…”

A screenshot of an Episode IV re-release where Greedo shoots first.

A screenshot of an Episode IV re-release where Greedo shoots first.

In the Special Edition of the movie, and in subsequent re-releases, Greedo tries to shoot Han first. Han makes this impossible neck-breaking dodge with his head and then shoots Greedo. More than the clumsy animation of Han dodging his head, the scene change did fundamentally change Han’s character.

Lucas reportedly wanted to change the scene to make Han acting in self-defense, and thus make him a character children’s parents would have less of a problem with. Han Solo was supposed to be everyone’s favorite d#$@ with a heart of gold. Sure, he cold-bloodedly kills bounty hunters. Wouldn’t you do the same if you are accosted by one and you have a large price on your head? Part of Episode IV was chronicling this change in Han’s character from someone who shoots Greedo cold-bloodedly to someone who rescues Luke Skywalker during the Battle of Yavin (and on Hoth in the next movie) when he stood nothing to gain from it by doing so. Making it seem like he was a nice guy all along kind of defeats that. Besides, Revenge of the Sith shows its recently fallen hero slaughtering 5-year-old children.


Jabba as he appeared in the 1997 Special Edition. In the DVD and Blu-Ray releases of A New Hope, Jabba’s CG model looked significantly more detailed and much more like what he looked like in Return of the Jedi.

I also wasn’t so much of a fan of the Jabba the Hutt scene. In the original movie, Jabba existed only with a human stand-in. Lucas intended to replaced this person with an a slug-like character like what Jabba ultimately became, but couldn’t due to special effects limitations. Ultimately, this scene was deleted. In the Special Edition, the scene was put back in with the actor replaced by a CG Jabba the Hutt. I agree with other fans that Jabba would have been a much more mysterious character if you didn’t get to meet him until Return of the Jedi. In the 1997 re-release, Lucas also decided to appeal to Boba Fett fanboys by having Boba Fett standing in the scene for absolutely no reason.

However, there were changes I actually did support. For instance, Episode IV, as originally released, was absolutely rife with rotoscoping glitches with the lightsaber effects. When Luke was training with his lightsaber on board the Millennium Falcon, it looked white, despite being blue in an earlier scene. Furthermore, The Empire Strikes Back established that same lightsaber as being most definitely blue. It was actually not until the 2004 DVD release of the movie that Lucas finally got around to fixing them.

Finally, there were changes to the Battle of Yavin scene, as you can see in this side-by-side comparison.

Overall, I felt the changes made here were not that obtrusive. Shots here and there were changed to make the battle more fast-paced and exciting.

While there were changes made to this and the other two movies in the original Star Wars trilogy, I’m honestly not as bothered by them as other fans are. Again, I’ll admit it is very likely because I grew up with the 1997 Special Edition releases of the movie. Still, in cases with scenes like the Battle of Yavin, I feel like Lucas was actually completely legitimate in feeling like he was unable to really tell the story he wanted to back in 1977, but could with the advent of technology available to him 20 years later.

Stay tuned for similarly-themed rants on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.