.: Special Edition Changes
Here you will find a definitive catalogue of every alteration the Special Editions introduced, but first a brief intro that is necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of this study, and also some of it's findings.
Most if not all fans are aware that shots throughout the films have been altered since their original release; some alterations are large, like brand new shots, while others are small, like wire-removal, with a range in between the two extremes. If you are more astute, you probably know that the list of changes is somewhat extensive. But do you really know just how much the films have been changed? Likely not. I say this because until contributors to this site scientifically and systematically examined the alterations, the full extent was not known to anyone. I don't know how much you would estimate each film has been changed...maybe 120 altered shots for the original Star Wars? Some may think that a high-ball estimate. The actual figure is more than twice that.
Our efforts to catalogue each alteration are ongoing and not fully complete, but here is an indication of how much the original film, Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope, has changed just in 1997 and 2004 according to our current state of identification:
-There are 200 shots which feature "invisible" or minor alternations, often re-doing optical wipes and re-compositing elements to remove matte lines, but also small things like making the Dianoga (trash compactor) monster blink and replacing a background throughout the cell-block battle.
-There are 23 shots which feature minor enhancements, like an enhanced matte painting or adding a ronto beast or floating droid to Mos Eisley.
-There are 37 shots which feature heavy alterations in which all or nearly all of the original shot has been replaced. Examples include a lot of the re-done X-wing shots in the trench run, or the replaced shot of Ben's hut.
-Finally, there are 17 completely new shots that were never represented in the original edit; a little under half of these comprise the new Jabba the hutt scene; other examples include new shots in Mos Eisley, new shots in the Dewback search, or the new Biggs scene.
In total, this gives us 277 altered shots, just to the original Star Wars. The 2004 version modified 9 existing shots (mainly the replaced Jabba CG model) and altered 109 shots (mainly the re-composited sabers in the duel and a background in the cell-block shootout). The 2011 Blu-ray has added a few more which have not yet been counted (current appraisal is an additional 30 shots, bringing the total to a whopping 307 , but this is not yet a final count).
This is why it is hard to agree with those who say the Special Edition is no big deal--if it wasn't Lucas wouldn't have spent so many years changing the films, and when you actually break it down you see how much work has gone into altering the shots; this list doesn't even count the numerous audio changes. So, while the film is essentially the same in terms of it's story, etc., the Special Edition in no way represents the look or experience of watching the original version. That experience forms a large part of the enjoyment, and historical importance, of the film.
277 altered shots, over three dozen of which have been nearly or totally redone and a dozen and a half more which have been added to the edit, in addition to 223 additional changes...these are not minor things. That's a heck of a lot--more retroactive computer-inserted changes than any movie in history, quite likely. This is why it is important to restore, or at least present in high quality, the original theatrical versions of the films. The Special Edition simply is no substitute. The majority of the Oscar-winning, pioneering visual effects are no longer present, for example. Not just some--well over 50%.
In order to comprehend the importance of the original versions, it is therefore necessary to understand how compromised the original version of the films have become. I hope this catalogue also is interesting to see. It is interesting to see how much vintage films have been so heavily altered by modern technology, and none of this would normally be a real problem (just a unique, if slightly bizarre, experiment), but unfortunately the suppression of the original versions has turned this into an unnecessary tragedy.
Before I present the complete list, I wish to also present the abbreviated list offered by Starwars.com in 2006. For those curious of the major visual changes, this incomplete list may offer easier navigating. In 2006, the official site launched a feature called "what has changed", which attempted to catalogue changes that were made in 1997 and 2004 to the films, using before and after pics. There were many examples it missed and some errors, but nonetheless was a useful resource, which sadly was taken down (along with a lot of other content) when the site was downgraded for the Clone Wars feature film in 2008. Fortunately, Drew Stewart re-uploaded them. I stress again that this list in very incomplete. SW.com A New Hope Changes SW.com Empire Changes SW.com Jedi Changes
Now, onto the complete list of changes to the original trilogy
Work-in-progress: 2011 Blu-ray Changes
Special thanks to Drew Stewart for his hard work at posting these!
I also compiled a spreadsheet which grouped the changes in categories (and includes a few shots possibly missed in the above list). I have so far only done this for Star Wars, and have not included Blu-ray changes. The basic findings of this study were mentioned in the beginning of this page. Level 1 changes were invisible or very minor alterations (200). Level 2 changes had more substantial elements inserted to the shots but were still relatively minor or moderate in nature (23). Level 3 changes were instances where a shot from the original version had been totally or nearly re-done (37). Level 4 changes were brand new shots that were never represented by any material in the original edit (17).
One final note: in speaking about how much the films have visually changed, I have not counted the very different colour-timing the films received in 2004. If I did, we could say that literally every single shot no longer resembled it's original version. Sometimes older films have a few liberties taken with them to make them look a bit slicker, especially on Blu-ray. The original trilogy DVD and Blu-rays go far, far beyond any other example. Contrast is increased (and often times dulled), while scenes have received entire new tints, and in other scenes the saturation levels have been manipulated, while the black levels have been crushed throughout (which erases some of the once-impressive starfields). This was a deliberate new look. So, the content changes listed are actually the tip of the iceberg. See this video here for a good comparison of some examples.
Audio Changes: 1997 and 2004
There, are, however, many audio alterations in the film, many taken from the various sound mixes of the past. The 1997 Special Edition was the first 5.1 channel mix Star Wars had. Most theatres played it in Dolby Digital, although there were DTS and SDDS mixes made as well. The Dolby Digital mix was released on Laserdisc in 1997 and is currently the best 5.1 source for the film (see the editorial Can't Even Get the Special Edition Right). The sound was totally re-mixed in 2004 for the DVD release, where a few new additions and alterations were also made. Of course, the 2011 Blu-ray added more, which have not yet been included here.
1997 Audio Changes:
-For an unexplained reason, Han's last line to Greedo ("Yes, I'll bet you have") has had the "Yes" edited out, though you can still see his mouth forming the word. This was restored for the 2004 mix.
-"Whizing" sound effects have been added to the asteroids that pass by when the Falcon comes out of hyperspace at Alderaan. These initially appeared in the 1993 mix.
-C-3P0 describes how to disarm the tractor beam while R2-D2 shows blueprints on the monitor. This line originally appeared in the mono mix of 1977, which was never released on home video.
-The extra sound effects added during the 1993 mix in the cellblock control room shootout (the "broken glass" sounds) are not present.
-As Han and Chewie are being chased through the Death Star, a stormtrooper yells "close the blast doors." This was originally in the 1977 mono mix as well.
-Computer sound effects are present when Luke and Han power up the gun-pods during the Falcon's escape from the Death Star. These were originally in the mono mix.
-Before Red Leader dies, the line "he's on your tail" was added.
Empire Strikes Back
-When Luke runs out of the wampa cave, the sound of his lightsaber deactivating is heard
-Before Rogue 2 is hit, Luke can now be heard saying "This is it!" (prior, you could still see him saying it but there was no audio)
-In the asteroid field, C-3P0 says "there's nowhere to go" after he says "This is suicide"
-"You're lucky you don't taste very good" was changed to an alternate take of "you were lucky to get out of there". The original line was an improvisation by Hamill while the new line is what was scripted.
-While Luke is running with Yoda on his back, Yoda says "Yes, run"
-Extra traffic sound effects have been added to Cloud City (such as when the train car passes under the landing platform)
-The trooper who shoots C3P0 has been redubbed, and C3P0 says "hello" twice now.
-C3P0s complaining as they are led into the carbon freezing chamber ("...don't do anything foolish") has been mixed so as to be clearly audible (in the original mix, the chamber sound effects drowned him out).
-Luke grunts when Vader pushes him down the stairs
-Lando says "attention" twice over the P.A. during his announcement.
-Music has been restored after the Slave 1 flies away.
-Luke screams in his fall from the platform into the air duct during his Vader duel. Fans have surmised that this was the Emperor's scream from Return of the Jedi reused, although this has never been officially verified. The scream was removed again for the 2004 mix.
-Vader's "bring my shuttle" is replaced with an alternate "Alert my stardestroyer to prepare for my arrival." Lucasfilm claims that this line is, in fact, James Earl Jones and was originally recorded for Star Wars, but many refuse to believe this (aside from not sounding like him and not being in the script, it's unclear where in the film it would have fit).
Return of the Jedi
-Jabba's palace band has had their song "Lapti Nek" replaced by a new song called "Jedi Rocks" for the extended musical sequence.
-As Han is reaching to Lando in the Sarlac pit his line "it's alright, trust me" is replaced with an alternate "it's alright, I can see a lot better."
-The "Yub Nub" musical piece had been replaced with an alternate.
2004 Audio Changes:
-When R2 hits the switch to open the escape pod door, a beeping sound has been added.
-C-3P0 says "we've stopped" before he tells R2-D2 to wake up on the sandcrawler.
-Ben's "Krayyt dragon call" has been replaced with a higher-pitched wail which sounds very similar to the Boga from Revenge of the Sith. As the 2004 mix was made during early post-production on Episode III, it is probably an earlier version of that sound.
-Han's "I'll bet you have" is now the original "Yes, I'll bet you have."
-After the stormtroopers search the captured Falcon, one says "there's no one here" as they pause in the doorway before leaving.
-A sound effect has been added to the stormtrooper who hits his head on the door entering the control room.
-When Luke and Leia are trapped on the Death Star chasm, the echo effect to the dialogue is more naturalistic. The gunshot sound effect of a .44 magnum is also now a standard blaster.
-"He's on your tail" is removed.
-The music in the battle of Yavin sequence has had it's left and right surround channels accidentally flipped in many shots. In other shots, the music has been dialed down very low or made inaudible, such as the swell during the very first dive bomb. Lucasfilm has claimed this is a deliberate artistic choice.
Empire Strikes Back
-Jason Wingreen's iconic Boba Fett voice has been re-dubbed by Temurra Morrison, who played Jango Fett in Episode II.
-Luke igniting his lightsaber when he first approaches Vader now has the sound effect from Return of the Jedi mixed in.
-Luke's scream during his fall has been removed.
Return of the Jedi
-I am not aware of any strict audio changes for Return of the Jedi, other than in the new material. The most notable new audio is Jar Jar Binks exclaiming "Wesa free" during a new shot of Naboo at the end.