Star Wars, Episode IV:
A New Hope (1977, 1997)

Like someone polishing the family jewels, Lucas has pulled the triptych off the shelf for a refurbishing, to give the new generation a gander and the older one a chance to exhale a nostalgic sigh. Looking better than ever, Star Wars seems to have survived the test of time.

More than that, it seems to have enhanced itself as well as having been enhanced by its new additions. That is to say, many of the elements which were either applauded or rejected by viewers twenty years ago, have become part and parcel of the contemporary science fiction film viewer's diet (e.g. funny creatures walking and talking like humans, humorous robots, and all the razzmatazz we've grown used to). This is not only fascinating in retrospect, but also a testament to the amazing foresight and abilities of Mr. Lucas, who has proven his propensities in various areas of direction, conception, production, and marketing. Let us not forget, as well, that he was the man who first demanded tie-in merchandising rights.

Everyone at Fox laughed at the time when he gave up his option of an additional five-hundred-thousand-dollar fee for those as well as the sequel rights, but look who's laughing now. (Forbes magazine has estimated that Lucas' companies are presently worth five billion dollars and that Lucas himself is worth two billion). With a rocky road behind him in the early seventies, he rocketed forth into new horizons. Only Coppola realized the creativity of American Graffiti in the early stages of Lucas' career; many of the crew involved with Star Wars had no real grasp of what they were creating during the filming; THX-1138, his first feature length work, was disregarded by many and found to be "too white" (it still remains, IMHO, a masterpiece and will probably be recognized as such someday by a much wider audience). The owners of the rights to Flash Gordon missed an opportunity when they were originally approached by Lucas. It seems they just didn't see his concept turning into anything interesting. Whoops!

On the other hand, even Lucas' close friends and associates, invited for the first screening so many years ago, thought that the film was headed for disaster (including Brian DePalma, who asked why Princess Leia was wearing Danish pastry on her ears),the only exception being Steven Spielberg who thought it would make "a hundred million dollars". On the opening night, the 25th of May in 1977, the world discovered a new phenomenon.

Now, with twenty years gone by and the man himself in a position to bring the films closer to his original vision, he has released the new edition with the help of today's state-of-the-art technology pioneered by Industrial Light & Magic. "There were various thing with which I was never satisfied: special effects shots that were never really finished, and scenes I was unable to include due to lack of money and time." The time was ripe.

Although the original negative was carefully stored in a subterranean vault in Kansas (temperature 50-53 degrees), the colors of a now discontinued stock had badly faded and necessitated extensive restoration. A team of 30 people cleaning the negative with a sponge, frame by frame, over a period of three years before further work could commence. Sections needed for "special edition" work were sent to ILM visual effects producer Tom Kennedy who saw to it that the footage was digitally scanned into a computer and matched to new footage from which, after several other processes, a final negative and print were made.

Other, even more complicated processes, had to be utilized for sections of the film that were beyond this system of restoration due to very extensive color fading. Luckily, Lucas had a three-strip Technicolor copy made of the film for himself which he has safely kept tucked away for the past twenty years and which proved of immense assistance for the "color timing" of the new version. Of course, it would be possible to go on for hours explaining the methods used and the results achieved in the making of the "new edition" which would fascinate those of you with a deeper interest in filmmaking, but believe it wiser, for the general audience, to leave it at this: it looks damn good! Among the many added extras are the scenes with the entrance to the bustling spaceport city of Mos Eisley, and Han Solo's confrontation with Jabba the Hutt.

Star Wars Trilogy
special edition.
LucasFilm ltd. ®TM &
© 1997 Lucasfilm ltd.

The success of the first Star Wars film twenty years ago allowed Lucas "to control the means of production" (as he likes to say) on the second and third films. The Ranch on which he edited these films and began work on the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television series (that he conceived and produced) kept growing and became the full-digital studio it is today, where directors can write, edit, and mix their films. Industrial Light & Magic, the home to so many of those special effects we have come to know and love, also came into being, down in San Rafael. Lucas himself explains his departure from directing as a result of stepping back to see the whole picture. Once he took the first step back, deeper into production, he drifted further and further away. Then his company became big business and when the CD-ROM market and digital filmmaking techniques took off he discovered he had to spend considerable time paying attention to it.

It's already been said that Lucas (Luke S.) has great toys and now he do all sorts of things with them. "The only dangerous side of having this money is that I will make movies that aren't commercial. But, of course, Star Wars was not considered commercial when I did it."

A don't miss. See also under The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett