Star Wars: The Special Editions Twenty Years Later
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Star Wars: The Special Editions Twenty Years Later

An entire generation saw Star Wars for the first time in 1997, and a whole new love affair began

Star Wars: The Special Editions Twenty Years Later

It's difficult to believe that 2017 will mark the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Star Wars. It feels like one of those things that has just always been around. Star Wars has been so branded into the collective pop culture consciousness is the franchise that it seems impossible to meet someone who hasn't at least heard of it. Still, as a young child, I had only the vaguest idea of what Star Wars was. At six years old, my pop-culture awareness pretty much stopped at whatever was airing on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. Still, a few familiar images did come to mind: white armored soldiers, spaceships and laser swords

From the millenial perspective, it's difficult to explain what it was like seeing these films for the first time. In the eighties and nineties, Star Wars wasn't as ubiquitous as it is today. That's not to say that it had disappeared from the public conscious. In the years following the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, store shelves were still lined with merchandise. The toys eventually started to disappear from shelves. Outside of books and comics, there was little in the way of new Star Wars for fans to consume. Unless you count the Ewok cartoons and movies, which nobody does.

Then, starting in 1996, there was a small boom in the form of the multimedia event dubbed Shadows of the Empire, which featured a new "Power of the Force" toy line. Which was mostly reissued from older lines from the eighties. At the same time, a book and video game were released with same title. It was a modest success, but without a movie, it was merely a snack, rather than a Star Wars entree that fans truly craved. So it was that Shadows of the Empire came and went, but little did the public know that Star Wars was about to return, bigger than ever before.

It was announced that in 1997, to celebrate the the twentieth anniversary of the release of the original film, now retitled as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope -- further fueling excitement for the impending episodes one, two, and three -- would return to theatres in a run that would see each film released consecutively for three straight months, starting from January 31st and eventually ending with Return of the Jedi on March 14th. This re-release wasn't merely meant just for fans or those who grown up with Star Wars, it was meant to introduce an entirely new generation to these films who had only seen them of home video or never seen them at all. I fell into the latter camp.

When I first laid eyes on that magical poster in 1996, with its bold black space surrounding a golden plaque, I knew whatever it was I had to see it. Luckily for me, my dad was pretty much as big of a nerd as I would become, and so on January 31st, 1997, my dad took me to the theater, and my entire world changed. “Three reasons why they build movie theaters.” A tagline like that might sound like marketing hyperbole -- and honestly, it kind of was -- but I believe it's true that the movie theater really is the best place to watch Star Wars. It’s one of those few films that, when separated from the theater-going experience, loses a bit of the magic that makes so special.

The lights go down, the familiar 20th Century Fox logo appears parallel to the iconic fanfare. It fades out. A brief moment of silence. I'm blue letters, "A Long Time Ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." and... STAR WARS. Accompanied by a sudden burst of orchestra score. The opening to each and every Star Wars film is the same, and it remains almost unparalleled in its ability to incite excitement.

The funny thing about Star Wars is that, when you really look at it, there's nothing particularly original that even I hadn’t seen before. Playing like a cliff notes version of Joseph Campbell's "Heroes Journey," the film's structure is almost rudimentary in its plotting. The characters are archetypes we've seen before: the wide eyed youth, the rogue, the brave princess, the wise old sage. Yet somehow Star Wars makes it feel like the first time. Even as young as I was, I could recognize many of these tropes, but it didn't matter. I've always maintained the belief that stories are built on emotion. Even if you tell the same story a thousand times, as long as the emotional core is there, it doesn't matter. The Magic of Star Wars is that we don't just understand the characters, we feel them. With every line of dialogue and every piece a movement we completely understand why they do what they do. It feels real.

Best of all, my generation didn't have to wait three years in between films. All three movies released consecutively over the course of three months, with only a slight delay of Jedi due to the overwhelming box office success of The Empire Strikes Back, of course, for me at that time, a month might as well have been three years, so maybe it all evens out. But regardless, I knew I was experiencing something special. For me, and kids around my age, seeing Star Wars for the first time in the theatre was truly something special, it didn’t matter that we were essentially being shown a movie from the 1970’s, it appealed to us just as it must have appealed to those kids who saw it for the first time back then.

But then again[rebelmouse-proxy-image crop_info="%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//" expand=1], my generation wasn't really seeing the original Star Wars movies. These were the "Special Edition" versions, complete with added scenes and updated special effects.

These changes would become one of the most controversial decisions ever made by a filmmaker -- well, at least amongst nerds on the internet. There were many that were put off by the added special effects that seemed so juxtapose to the films 1970s a static. Looking back, what surprises me is that I don't actually remember any of those newly added effects. I don't think kids my age really cared. For us, the most memorable parts of Star Wars remained those scenes that had been iconic ever since they were first scene. The destruction of the death Star, Luke's revelation at the true identity of Darth Vader (SPOILERS! No really), and the climactic showdown on the Death Star. These are the scenes that stuck in my head. Years later when I re-watch the movies, I remember being jarred at the scene in A New Hope where Han Solo meets Jabba the Hutt, now rendered in hilariously outdated CGI. I realized that I didn't remember any of these new scenes. For all I rmember about seeing these films, the new additions had been eradicated from my memories.

Ultimately, I feel that these additions were completely unnecessary. There is a stereotype that young kids don't care about older films. But it is true that a lot of the older films have difficulty keeping audiences. But something about the Star Wars movies makes it a mortal. Like The Wizard of Oz or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Kids my age didn't even realize we were watching older films, and even if we did, we didn't care. I've always maintained that kids don't get enough credit for their appreciation of really good cinema. So many movies just throw out jumped for kids to consume. But Star Wars, amongst many others, is proof that if you put in the time and effort kids will notice it. And they will remember.

Part of writing this was a chance for me to really sit down and think why it is that these movies have resonated so much over the last 40 years. Is it the story telling? The technical achievements? The one thing I kept coming back to that really is a deep part of the formula I think is the emotional chord. Every great story has an emotional core. We may have seen this kind of story before, but what Star Wars did was make us feel it. You feel every action every line of dialogue. You understand these characters and you understand the events going on. This is different than merely being able to acknowledge what is happening in the movie. This is being able to feel what is happening in the movie to be able to understand it at some Basic level that helps us connect with the images on the screen in the way we would with a living person.

Looking back on it, even with all the unnecessary additions, I still hold this as one of the best movie-going experiences of my life. It's one of the reasons I became such a huge fan of cinema, and even to today, I find myself returning to these films again and again. The ultimate goal of all great art and entertainment is to make you feel a certain way. This is where the original Star Wars trilogy truly excelled. It’s almost impossible to say with certainty what movies will still be watched a hundred years from now, but if I had to put money on it, I’d definitely bet on Star Wars.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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