The best changes made to the Star Wars trilogy since its original release

Tom Butler
Senior Editor

George Lucas has a long and chequered history of tinkering with the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy since release.

“Films never get finished, they get abandoned” he once famously said, and he’s never managed to fully abandon his sci-fi trilogy yet. The first changes were made to ‘Star Wars’ just weeks after the film hit cinemas in 1977 when a new audio track was added featuring amended sound effects and alternate dialogue takes.

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Since then, Lucas’ itchy fingers have wreaked havoc with the original films, for better and worse, as these recent comparison videos demonstrate.

Some of the changes are subtle and enhancing, while others are incongruous and jarring. Here’s the best changes made to the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy since their release, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the infamous Special Edition re-releases in 1997.

As a counterpoint, here’s our list of the worst changes made to ‘Star Wars’

Title update

After the release of ‘Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Star Wars’ was re-released with the updated title of ‘Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope’ with the new moniker added to the opening crawl.

It all makes sense now the prequels have been released, but at the time it was revolutionary, adding to the film’s epic mythos.

Han Solo vs Stormtroopers

One of the funniest scenes in the original ‘Star Wars’ was improved in the 1997 Special Edition release. 

The updated version sees a gung ho Han Solo running into a hangar bay full of hundreds of Stormtroopers rather than a dead end, making his sheepish about turn even more hilarious.

Improved vehicles

One of the many reasons cited by George Lucas for rejigging the original trilogy in 1997 was the improved filmmaking technology now at his disposal. 

Many scenes featuring large vehicles or multiple ships were changed or enhanced with CGI, including this shot showing the Millennium Falcon escaping from Mos Eisley.

Wampa

Shooting Luke’s escape from the Wampa in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ was hampered at the time by malfunctioning animatronics and unimpressive creature design. 

For the 1997 Special Edition new shots of the beast were added in adding tension and drama to the formerly oblique sequence. 

Better Hoth

In ‘Star Wars’ many visual irregularities caused by compositing visual effects shots on top of each other remained hidden in the blackness of space, but the opening battle sequence of ‘Empire Strikes Back’ set on the mainly white snow planet Hoth proved to be a huge headache for the visual effects team at ILM. 

For the Special Edition release, many of the visual quirks like transparent cockpits and black outlines were fixed. It’s a subtle change, but one that proved worth it.

Cloud City

Another ‘Empire Strikes Back’ location that vastly benefitted from improved technology in 1997 was Bespin. Director Irvin Kershner was hugely unhappy with the scenes shot in the Cloud City as they were never really able to show the landscape from inside the buildings. 

For the Special Edition, Lucas replaced panels with windows, and added CGI vistas to give a much better sense of scale and setting for Lando’s betrayal.

Emperor updated

For the 2004 DVD release of ‘Empire Strikes Back’, Ian McDiarmid shot new scenes for Vader’s hologram meeting with Emperor Palpatine giving visual continuity to the evil Sith lord. 

Originally, the Emperor had been played by Elaine Baker (wife of makeup artist Rick Baker) in a mask and voiced by Clive Revill, which looked and sounded vastly different to the Emperor that we meet in ‘Return of the Jedi’.

Sarlaac

The original “all powerful” Sarlaac pit that threatened to digest Han and Luke “over a thousand years” was fairly uninspiring; it was basically a sand pit with a few teeth and a handful of limp tentacles. 

The Special Edition improved the Sarlaac by giving it a huge snapping beak and dexterous tentacles that threatened to tear Lando limb from limb.

To maintain balance in the Force, here’s our list of the WORST changes made to ‘Star Wars’ since release.

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Image credits: 20th Century Fox