Last Tuesday, January 31st, was the twentieth anniversary of the release of the Special Edition of Star War—ahh, I mean A New Hope. While the exact date I saw the thing is lost to history, this anniversary is doubly important to me, as it’s the twentieth anniversary of my own Star Wars fandom. Being a contrarian, I’ve always had a special appreciation of the fact that the thing that got me into Star Wars was seen at the time (and still by some) as controversial, even sacrilegious.
Can I appreciate the argument against Greedo shooting first? Sure. But if George Lucas hadn’t been nitpicky enough to want to make that round of changes—not the first round, but definitely the most high-profile—who knows if I’d ever have found an excuse to watch the original trilogy at all? Who knows if I’d have gone to college for Visual Effects, a decision to which I can trace almost everything about my life today? And of course, who knows if this blog would exist?
I did eventually learn how it felt on the other side of the fence, though—when Hayden Christensen was added to Return of the Jedi, it bugged me not so much for philosophical reasons, but because Hayden doesn’t seem to have any idea what’s going on in the take they used (the rumor is he didn’t realize what he was being filmed for) and it takes me out of the moment. I can’t stand the blu-ray version of Obi-Wan’s krayt call, and the less said about Vader’s “nooo!” in the blu-ray version of Jedi, the better.
So I get it—I can see both sides. For most of us hard-nosed fans, the Star Wars we happened to see first will always feel like the right one, but for every change I dislike, there’s a cleaned up matte line or an improved lightsaber or a preferable musical choice (I’m looking at you, Yub Nub) that balances the scales. Like it or not, “special editions” are a quintessential part of this franchise; the films have been mutable ever since “Episode IV” was first stapled onto the beginning of Star Wars in 1981. That brings some controversy with it, sure, but can’t controversy be fun too?
Which brings me to the subject of today’s piece—in honor of the Special Editions, I asked the others to make one reasonably superficial edit to The Force Awakens. Nothing that altered the story more than, say, changing who shoots first, and the more it felt like something Lucas himself would do, the better. Why TFA, you may ask? Well, the prequels have already had several changes of their own, and besides which, “re-edit the prequels” was too loaded of a conversation for what I wanted this to be. At the other end of the spectrum, Rogue One is too fresh, I think—we’re just now starting to get used to TFA, get comfortable with it, which makes this the perfect time to start messing with it. Enjoy!
David: When you’ve really enjoyed a movie, all changes to it are—by definition—unnecessary, if not pernicious. And I really enjoyed The Force Awakens: sure, I would have liked considerably better if it didn’t involve plans inside a runaway droid and a planet-busting superweapon, but that’s not the kind of change a special edition can effect on a movie. That’s why we have infuriating remakes!
So I’m going to presume that J.J. Abrams wakes up one morning in 2037 and decides to have the Bad Robot people create a new cut (I’m pretty sure this is not how things work, but I find the mental image of J.J. excitedly talking on the phone while wearing pajamas to be very amusing). The first change I can see happening is the kind of thing Lucas did when he added Boba Fett to ANH or Hayden Christensen to ROTJ: the dreaded change for the sake of continuity. I have no idea of the kind of new starships and vehicles that The Last Jedi and Episode IX are going to bring with them, but I’m sure we’ll have more than a few of those. In my fantasy scenario, these new ships would be inserted into the shots of the fleet in the Hosnian system (a shot that would need to be enlarged, perhaps with some reaction shots of horrified officers seeing from the bridge how the quintessence-hyper-laser obliterates everything). You could do the same to the Resistance base in D’Qar and to the Space Nuremberg Rally grounds in Starkiller Base. That way, the now-teenagers-then-adults of 2037 will be able to explain how three extra seconds of a Ñ-Wing or a TIE Midfielder ruined their childhood!
Mark: I wouldn’t mind seeing one of the planets spruced up to make it look a bit more alien and interesting, and on balance I’d go for the Resistance base on D’Qar. There are a few reasons for this, the main one being that all the planets in TFA really just look like places on Earth. I know JJ Abrams wanted to ape the look of the original trilogy, but my problem with this can be summed up by the fact that Jakku is basically Tatooine with its one interesting alien feature – its twin suns – removed. When I was a kid, what thrilled me about Tatooine wasn’t the empty desert landscape but that sunset, as I was a bit of an astronomy nut at the time and had always tried to imagine what a sunset would look like in a binary system.
In the middle of TFA you have two consecutive foresty planets with old stone castles/bases – Takodana and D’Qar – and it gets a bit visually repetitive. I wouldn’t change Takodana, as I have a soft spot for the Lake District and I think it’s more effective if Rey is overawed by something as simple and everyday as trees, rather than some crazy alien world like Felucia.
So that leaves D’Qar. Let’s make its ring system clearly visible from the ground, throw some moons in there, or maybe even make it a twin planet and have its neighbour looming in the sky. And let’s have some strange flying creatures circling and calling in the sky above, and some ancient giant stone statues looming out of the trees. Just background things, but enough to clearly separate it from Takodana and remind us that this is the Star Wars galaxy. I’m not sure Abrams is the kind to go back and change his work, and I doubt he’d ever be interested in making the film look any less like the original trilogy, but you never know – maybe, in years to come, he’ll see the light.
Mike: Last Monday, I discussed the recurring complaint that TFA was too low on preexisting alien species. I broke down the numbers and found that in terms of both the total volume of species and the ratio of new ones to old ones, it was actually pretty close to Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace—what I’d call the ideal mold for a Star Wars film—while Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the two most recent films, were unusually high on old species and low on new ones.
So with that being said, what would I change in TFA? I’d add a few preexisting species.
Not because it wasn’t fine as is—it was. Maz’s castle, of all places, was a novel enough location that I have no problem with it being chock full of aliens we’d never seen before. Where I’d like to see more familiar ones is in the Resistance. Bringing back Ackbar and Nien Nunb was great, but they were representative of huge swings to the Rebel Alliance from their respective species, and seeing a couple more Mon Cals and Sullustans still kicking around instead of quite so many background humans would have been great—and reasonably simple from an effects standpoint, at least compared to making every alien a brand-new design.
Of course, the species I’d most like to see is only quasi-established, but in true Special Edition fashion, let’s pretend it’s ten or twenty years down the line and further movies have fleshed out the canon a bit more—as well-known spies, I think Bothans would be among the first to suspect the First Order was up to something, and thus they’d fit the Resistance mold perfectly. It appears that Story Group are being cautious about using Bothans in the supplemental material until filmmakers have a chance to define their canon appearance, but assuming it happens sooner or later I’d be all about going back sticking a few into TFA—or, hell, even into Jedi.
Sarah: I’m generally not a huge fan of changing a film after its release. Call me a purist but I’ve always preferred the version of the film that gets released first, for better or for worse, as usually post-release changes tend to get into nitpick territory or just come across as unnecessary and weird (seriously, how does Greedo shoot Han at point blank range and miss??). However, I am not against changes on principle; the addition of the Biggs and Luke scene on Yavin 4 added some emotional depth to the Death Star battle, and I will maintain to my dying day that at least one of Padmé’s Rebellion scenes should be added back into Revenge of the Sith.
And I think there are a few ways in which TFA in particular could be tweaked. Mainly, it comes down to better explaining some of the backstory. There is a deleted scene between General Leia and Korr Sella that takes place presumably somewhere in the first third of the movie. Leia is sending Korr Sella to Hosnian Prime to ask for help from the Senate. In only a few lines we learn that the Resistance is not nominally supported by the Republic, that many don’t see the First Order as a threat, and that the senators dismiss Leia’s concerns as paranoia (thus making her somewhat of a pariah). Thirty seconds and we get a succinct explanation of just what the heck is going on in the galaxy and the relationship between the Republic, Resistance, and First Order.
I believe the scene ended up being cut in order to preserve Leia’s entrance on Takodana after the First Order assault, and I certainly can’t fault that. But maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing to add that scene back in to give greater clarity to TFA’s worldbuilding, which is desperately needed. Or heck, we’ve already seen Rogue One resurrect Peter Cushing via CGI; it’s not impossible to think that maybe in a few years they’ll shoot a short extra scene or two to add that context back in. It could be an addition to one of the briefing scenes on D’Qar, or a reworked version of the deleted scene with Leia and Korr Sella. It’s highly unlikely I’m sure; filming an entire scene using mo-cap is quite a different beast than adding in some background CGI, changing a voiceover, or inserting Hayden Christensen. But hey, Star Wars has always been about pushing the technological boundary, right?