Special Edition

A Star Wars Celebration

My twelfth birthday party was a Star Wars celebration. Just ten days before I turned the big “one-two” (March 24, 1997) the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi was released in movie theaters. So on the Sunday before my birthday, a handful of friends and I were dropped off at the local theater to see Episode VI/

While there are plenty of gripes to be had with the Star Wars Special Edition – George Lucas’ re-mastered/edited Original Trilogy – as a kid I really had no issue with them. At the time, what got me excited was seeing Star Wars on a big screen, plain and simple. Besides, the Original Trilogy Special Edition were not just another set of films. Oh no, they were the pinnacle of cinematic brilliance in my young mind, a new way of experiencing Star Wars in a shape and form I had never imagined possible. Coupled with the knowledge that Lucas was, at the time, working on a new Star Wars trilogy, the Special Edition was, in many respects, my first step into a fundamentally different way of being a Star Wars fan.

I am unable to remember every detail about my twelfth birthday. Today, twenty-two years removed, many of the details are a blur. I can recall which friends I went with, but I do not remember what we talked about as we sat and waited for Return of the Jedi to begin. I am sure our conversation was brilliantly nerdy and immaculately adolescent. I would expect nothing less from almost 12-year-old me. Likewise, my memory of watching the film on that Sunday afternoon is spotty, and I am just not able to bring forth the emotions/feelings I had as the movie played.

Except, that is not entirely true. While memories fade as time moves on, I CAN recall precisely how I felt at the end of the film. Etched into my mind is the sheer joy, hope, and wonder of seeing the various celebrations which took place across the Star Wars galaxy following the Battle of Endor. While the original cut of Return of the Jedi ONLY included the Rebels celebrating with the Ewoks after the battle, in this new Special Edition of the film George Lucas inserted brief shots of galactic citizens flooding streets and celebrating together. As I sat there watching these Star Wars celebrations unfolding on Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo, and Coruscant, I was left feeling dizzy with excitement. Even now, as I think of that moment in the theater, the memory is visceral, I am still dizzy and overwhelmed.

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But why? Why, after watching two hours of Return of the Jedi, would the end, and the inclusion of these celebrations, resonate with me so deeply? Honestly, the answer is so dang obvious that it is almost underwhelming: it’s because humans and aliens across the galaxy were coming together to celebrate the downfall of the Galactic Empire.

I always enjoyed the original celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi, where the Ewoks and Rebels are dancing/singing together (and Lando is awkwardly clapping along to the “Ewok beat”) following their victory at Endor. But this Star Wars celebration was always small scale and localized, it was JUST the participants from the battle who were rejoicing. In the Special Edition, what we end up seeing is the news of the Endor victory cascading across the galaxy: another Death Star destroyed, the Imperial fleet in tatters, and most importantly, the Emperor dead. On Coruscant, in the heart of the Imperial capital, fireworks were launched and statues torn down. On Naboo, Gungans danced and shouted “Wesa free!” Seeing these celebrations taking place on different planets expanded the impact of what the Rebellion had accomplished not for themselves, but for the galaxy writ-large. In that moment, as I sat transfixed by the sights and sounds of these Star Wars celebrations, I was transported across the vast expanse of the Star Wars galaxy and was given the chance to truly experience just how important the Rebel cause, and victory, was for average people. 

George Lucas gets a lot of flak for choices he made with the Special Edition but to this day I am incredibly grateful – as a Star Wars fan and a person – for the addition of these celebrations at the end of Return of the Jedi. On a day I was having a Star Wars celebration of my own, getting to witness the joy of individuals within Star Wars celebrating the defeat of the Empire was truly special. 

Jabba the (CGI) Hutt

When I first started this site, I asked people to send me topic ideas for posts. While I had a number of my own ideas, reaching out to my first followers was a way to get them involved and to help me think of new avenues to approach the Star Wars universe. One individual – the same person who asked me to discuss the Sith Rule of Two – suggested that I write a piece that would focus on some of the major changes George Lucas made in the 1997 Special Edition of the Original Trilogy. Long story short, I have never really had a chance to dive into this topic, at least not in any substantive way other than some references/allusions in various posts. 

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Han and ’04 Jabba have a little chat.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

With it being Hutt Week, I thought it’d be worth discussing one of the most obvious changes Lucas made in the Special Edition of A New Hope. The change came in the form of a scene where Han Solo is confronted by a CGI version of Jabba the Hutt in the docking bay of the Millenium Falcon. While this scene had originally been filmed with Harrison Ford speaking to a human actor who stood in for Jabba, it was ultimately left out of the movie’s theatrical release. Re-inserted after Solo has his confrontation with the bounty hunter Greedo, this scene basically boils down to Jabba and Han discussing the shipment Han had been transporting  for Jabba which the smuggler dumped. Han, the smooth-talker he is, works his way out of a potentially deadly situation by agreeing to pay Jabba a little extra (15%) on top of what he owes the crime lord. Satisfied with the arrangement, the Hutt warns the smuggler that if the money isn’t paid, there will be serious consequences.

For the sake of being entirely on the same page, you can FOLLOW THIS LINK and go watch the scene for yourself.

Now, when the Special Edition of A New Hope was released in 1997, I really didn’t think much of this scene featuring a CGI Jabba, at least not in any critical way. I was in 6th grade at the time and the chance to see the films on the big screen was a treat, an experience I had never had before. Besides, this scene involving Jabba speaking with Han was completely new, something that was not in the previous version of A New Hope I had grown up watching. In every sense of the word, this scene and these remastered films were truly “Special” to my younger self, and because of that youthful sentiment, I will always have a place in my heart for them.

However, while the Special Edition were a formative part of my childhood experience of Star Wars, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that today I believe they are flawless. In my opinion, they aren’t. While I can and do appreciate that George Lucas wanted to “reinvent” his films using graphic/visual effects unavailable to him when he first released the movies, and while some of these changes are truly magnificent, this hardly means that I believe everything that was added/changed was executed to perfection…which brings me back to our CGI crime lord.

 Jabba’s CGI variant in the ’97 Special Edition of A New Hope isn’t just poor, it’s atrocious. As a kid, I probably knew this and didn’t really care, but now that I am older, it is clear as day that Jabba looks ABSOLUTELY. FLIPPING. AWWWWWFUL. One need only look at the CGI ’97 Jabba next to the original Jabba from Return of the Jedi to see just how starkly different the two look. Oh wait, I put the images next to one another for you, so here they are…

Side-By-Side
Original Jabba (left); ’97 Jabba (right)

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope & Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

…like I said, awwwwwwwful. To be fair, there ARE similarities between the two, but the differences are so great it really makes you wonder – why was George Lucas okay with such a poor rendering of Jabba? Then again, I think this is a slightly unfair question. While I might not personally like this CGI variation of Jabba today, Lucas obviously saw value in the way the Hutt looked and was fine with it. However, before this turn into a full-fledged debate about who “owns” a piece of art – creator or consumer – it is worth noting that at some point after 1997, Lucas decided the CGI Jabba needed a tune-up. 

Actually, tune-up might not be the appropriate term. When A New Hope was released for the first time on DVD in 2004 (another Special Edition), Jabba the Hutt was completely recreated using CGI. The monstrosity from seven years before was completely erased from the Star Wars canon. This updated version of the Hutt was not only far superior in quality than its 1997 predecessor, much closer in likeness to the original Jabba in Return of the Jedi, but it also has a closer resemblance to the CGI Jabba that appears in The Phantom Menace. As you might be aware, this ’04 Jabba is also the one you will find in A New Hope to this day. While I do think this version remains imperfect – it has some odd, cartoonesque expressions – it’s at least a rendition that I can accept and actually believe to be the infamous crime lord. That ’97 version, not so much. My youthful self may not have cared about the way Jabba looked, but the adult me would have a hard time watching A New Hope if that eye sore still appeared on screen.

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Jabba at the Boonta Eve Classic.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Any way, for what it is worth, I do really like the CGI version of Jabba in The Phantom Menace. I’ve always enjoyed his brief appearance as the host of the Boonta Eve Classic, feeling that it was an appropriate way of fitting him into the Prequel Trilogy. Besides, as an added bonus, The Phantom Menace also gave us ANOTHER Hutt on the big screen, something I was definitely not expecting when I saw it the movie for the first time. Hmmmm, who knows, perhaps I will discuss this mystery Hutt in another post.

But I digress. I am curious to hear what you think about Jabba the CGI Hutt. I would enjoy knowing what YOU think about the ’97 and 2004 depictions of the notorious gangster, as well as other changes made in the (numerous) Special Editions. Leave a comment below (and don’t be afraid to disagree with me if you still enjoy the ’97 Jabba)!


Check out these other Hutt Week posts:

The Imperial Talker Presents: Hutt Week

Hutts: Galactic Gangsters

Hutt Week: “Cute” Jabba the Hutt Merchandise (by Jenmarie from Anakin and His Angel)

Why Ziro’s  My Hero (by Andrew – @AndrewinBelfast)

A Man in Debt to a Hutt (by Michael Miller)

Hutt Haiku Poems

The Hutts of Mataou

Hutt Profile: Gardulla

Heir to a Criminal Empire

Hutt Week: A Conclusion