On January 31, 1997, Star Wars began its return to wide release in cinemas after a 14 year hiatus. The results were a mixed bag, but there’s no doubt that George Lucas changed the way movies are made and marketed once again.
Boasting dozens of tweaks on the visual and audio side, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope Special Edition offered fans new creatures, new moments from their favorite characters, and fixes for several gaffes that had been eating at the plaid-wearing creator since 1977. The most notable of the changes is the infamous cantina sequence where Han Solo shoots first in his confrontation with the nefarious Rodian Greedo. To many, this changed the entire dynamic of the sequence.
Years later, audiences would be treated to the sight of a baby Greedo. That’s a declarative statement, a joke, and the punchline to that joke.
Surely to the chagrin of actor Declan Mulholland, the long-lost Jabba the Hutt sequence shot in 1977 was introduced back into the film, once and for all erasing the actor from Star Wars. The scene had been one of the crown jewels for collectors in a pre-Internet world where blurred VHS tapes of the Jabba sequence were passed back and forth. A younger (and questionably animated) version of The Return of the Jedi‘s Jabba was added over the actor, resulting in a scene that has led to substantial debate. Boba Fett makes an appearance as well, thus creating a trend of the minor character becoming more and more visible in the series. We get to see him as a kid, too.
There are some fantastic additions in which the space battles are more dynamic, the visuals pop, and little errors in presentation are fixed. It was an interesting glimpse at the filmmaking process and how time and success affect a creator’s opinion of their work.
The release was a sensation and the normally quiet January box office was electric, with Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope Special Edition pulling in four times as much as the next competitor. At the time, fans were jubilant over the return of their favorite characters, but there was a disturbance in the force. Over time, Lucas would continue to tinker and experiment with his franchise to the point where it became impossible to view the films in their original form.
1997 was the catalyst for the resurgence of Star Wars in the public eye and though the road has been bumpy, it’s difficult to think this new renaissance of the franchise would have happened without the decision to revisit the Original Trilogy.
Elsewhere in January 1997:
- Final Fantasy VII is released: Final Fantasy VII arrives on the original Sony PlayStation at a time the system really needed an RPG with depth. It was the first in the series to go for a 3-D approach and to say it connected with audiences would be an understatement. It’s still listed on many “Best Games of All Time” countdowns and ranks as the No. 2 seller in the entire library of games for that system.
- Daft Punk debuts: Homework arrived in record stores in 1997, introducing legendary electronic act Daft Punk to the masses. Distributed by Virgin Records, the album was recorded over a period of three years and on the strength of tracks like “Da Funk” and “Around the World” it went on to reach platinum status and cement Daft Punk’s reputation as one of the premier examples of their genre.
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