January 31st marks the twentieth anniversary of the Star Wars Special Edition release, and the past two decades have been a bumpy road for Star Wars fans.
Star Wars fans knew the special editions were coming for a couple of years before they hit in 1997. Two years before the release, Lucasfilm released the trilogy on VHS one last time in a special THX boxed set with a message from George Lucas saying that it would be the last time to own the unaltered Original Trilogy:
But that hasn’t stopped people from spending the last two decades crying about the Special Editions (or Superior Editions) and making false and unverifiable claims that the unaltered Original Trilogy will be released on every new home video format that emerges.
Something a lot of people don’t talk about when looking back on the Special Editions was how mythical such a release was back in 1997. Back then DVD was barely being introduced in Japan and we really only had VHS and Laserdisc.
Before the Star Wars Special Editions, the idea of an extended or altered version of a big movie was something that resided almost exclusively in the high-end realm of Laserdiscs. Fans did whisper about the four-hour cut of Dune and alternate versions of other movies, but on Laserdisc they actually got special editions. James Cameron’s extended versions of Aliens, The Abyss, and T2 were legendary and in the time before Lucas enhanced Star Wars they weren’t as easily viewed as they are today.
That’s why when word came out that Lucas would be going back and enhancing the effects in Star Wars, and restoring old scenes, it was exciting. Not only would we get new extended versions of the Trilogy, but we’d also get them on the big screen where they belong.
And it wasn’t even the first time Lucas had tinkered with the movies. He’s actually been changing things since the second A New Hope hit theaters in 1977. The funny thing is, most of the people who cry about the Special Editions really haven’t seen the original theatrical release of A New Hope; they just remember the 1993 VHS release and that’s what they consider to be the “original”. There’s a very well maintained list of changes to all of the Star Wars releases over the years on Wikipedia.
Much like with the first Prequel two years later, those fans who had no problem with the Superior Editions would have to spend the next two decades hearing people crying about how George Lucas raped their childhood. In 2017 people like to deny that anyone ever said that, as it’s not politically correct these days, but it’s true. People even made music videos to that effect.
So with today being the 20th anniversary of the Special Edition release of A New Hope, it also means that there are people who have been crying on the internet about digital improvements to what is basically a kids movie for two decades.