Changes to Star Wars Re-Releases: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Moving along in our miniseries about the changes George Lucas made for the re-releases of the original trilogy, we now go onto Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

I think of the three, The Empire Strikes Back was changed the least from its original release. A notable scene was at the beginning when Luke Skywalker had to escape the wampa. In the original film, director Irvin Kershner wound up sort of creating a Jaws effect with the wampa, where you hear the monster roaring, but never see it except for a couple shots. The reason was actually for the same reason it happened in Jaws, and that was because the special effects crew was unable to create a monster they would have been satisfied with.

In the 1997 re-release, a CG wampa was created for the sequence. We see the wampa munching on the remains of Luke’s tauntaun, and then gets up to make its way toward Luke. In the meantime, Luke frees himself from having been hung upside down by the monster just before the monster gets to him. Luke slashes at the monster with his lightsaber and dismembers it. In the Special Edition release, we see the monster react in pain, which we didn’t in the original version.


The wampa as it appeared in the 1997 Special Edition and subsequent re-releases of The Empire Strikes Back.

Personally, I will agree with other fans and say I thought the wampa was a much more frightening creature in the 1981 release of the film. It was most likely due to the added mystery as a result of the wampa largely being unseen by the camera. Also, as we didn’t see the wampa actually advancing toward Luke, there is the added emergency of Luke needing to retrieve his lightsaber, which is lodged in the snow below him. We don’t know how close the monster is to Luke, and neither does Luke. All he knows is he needs to get himself free as soon as possible.

Later on in the film, Darth Vader has a conversation with Emperor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) via hologram. In the original 1981 release, Palpatine is played by an uncredited makeup artist with a chimpanzee’s eyes superimposed over her own. Clive Revill provided the voice. However, in Return of the Jedi as well as in the prequel trilogy, Palpatine was played by Ian McDiarmid.

The 2004 DVD release shows the Emperor being changed to maintain this continuity. I feel like the actor update was fine, but I wasn’t so much a fan of the updates to the dialogue, namely because it spoils the movie’s big giveaway (I will keep quiet about it as I have discovered to my horror there are people in America who in fact have not seen The Empire Strikes Back). Here is an Emperor comparison:

Finally, we get to Cloud City. We get plenty of new CG shots of the city itself. They neither add to nor detract from the movie’s story.

What was controversial, however, was updating Boba Fett’s voice. Boba Fett was originally voiced by Jason Wingreen with a Brooklyn accent. In the 2004 DVD release, Boba Fett’s voice was changed to that of Temuera Morrison, who played Jango Fett as well as every clone trooper in Episodes II and III. Some can argue that as a perfect clone of Jango, Boba Fett should sound exactly like his father. However, things like accents are more of a nurtured than nature thing.
Jason Wingreen’s voice:

Temuera Morrison re-record:

Within the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the stormtroopers who raided the Tantive IV in A New Hope were confirmed to be Jango Fett clones in the 2006 game Battlefront II. However, both in the game and in the movie, the stormtroopers all have American accents instead of Temuera Morrison’s New Zealand accent. It can be taken to prove that clones don’t have to sound like Jango Fett just because they are genetic copies of him.

If you ask me, that’s about as drastic as the changes got. There were minor ones here and there. For instance, when you first see the assembled Imperial fleet, you see an extra TIE Bomber flying away from a Star Destroyer. Other than that, once again you have legitimate special effects fixes like how the snowspeeder cockpits were semi-transparent in the 1981 release as a result of a blue screen error.

Stay tuned for Return of the Jedi!