Courtesy Photo
Written & directed by George Lucas

Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, David Prowse, Peter Cushing, Anthony Daniels & Kenny Baker.

  "The Phantom Menace"
"Attack of the Clones"
"Revenge of the Sith"
"Star Wars"
"The Empire Strikes Back"
"Return of the Jedi"
"Star Wars"
Special Edition

Opened: January 31, 1997 | Rated: PG

OK, so George Lucas got a little carried away re-tooling "Star Wars" for its 20th anniversary.

He plied every sparse shot with enough new digital effects to drive fans to distraction and restored a couple of scenes for no other reason than he had the footage lying around.

But hey, this is "Star Wars," a cultural sign post for an entire generation, and it has returned on the big screen in a computer-enhanced glory that Lucas couldn't have imagined in 1977, so who am I to pick nits?

For those who, 20 years ago, spent their allowance every week on movie tickets and Storm Trooper action figures, becoming giddy will be a reflex reaction as the theater goes dark and John Williams' theme music ushers in the famous words "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

This special edition re-release really drives home the differences between seeing a movie in the theater and seeing it on video. The spectacular battles, the explosions that rock your seat, the size of the Death Star just don't come across on a 20-inch Trinitron.

This is simple fairy tale of good versus evil, a heroic rebel battle against an oppressive evil empire, set to the tune of laser blasts and a universal power called the Force. With a spirited young hero, a brave rogue pilot, a princess in distress and a heavy-breathing villain, it has every ingredient of a cinema classic. And like "Gone With The Wind," "Lawrence of Arabia" or other legendary movies, this is the way "Star Wars" was intended to be seen and there really is nothing quite like it.

Lucas did go a bit bonkers with the new effects. Luke Skywalker's desert home planet of Tatooine is crowded with new critters, which invites "Star Wars" aficionados to forget the story for a while and play "Spot The CGI Effects." Some shots linger a few seconds simply so some scaly computerized beast can meander through the frame.

But a few scenes are better for this re-tooling. During the battle on the Death Star, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is chased by an enhanced platoon of Storm Troopers instead of just a handful of costumed extras, and the climactic explosion of the Death Star is a completely new shot with a ring of fire leading out just before the enormous blast that replaces the small (in retrospect) bang of the scale model in the original print.

As for the two restored scenes, which together add about 4 minutes to the film, they couldn't be more dissimilar.

One is a confrontation between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt (from "Return of the Jedi"), who is surgically inserted here by computer since the scene left on the cutting room floor was shot with a human playing Jabba. The scene adds little to the story and Lucas has restored it simply because he now has the technology to do so.

The other new scene has no effects shots and actually fills in a blank from the original film. It is a reunion between Luke (Mark Hamill) and his school chum Biggs, as they prepare their X-Wing fighters for the attack on the Death Star. Biggs is killed in the fight and this scene clarifies Luke's reaction.

My best advice is to see this special edition early and with a large crowd, because half the fun of an event like this re-release is the enthusiasm of the audience. When Darth Vader (David Prowse, with the voice of James Earl Jones) appears on the conquered rebel ship at the end of the first scene, a loud hiss from a packed theater makes it all the more enjoyable.

Better yet, the parts of the film that now seem a little laughable -- like Luke whining "But I was going into town to pick up some power converters!" when his uncle assigns him chores -- are funnier this way.

This special edition is in a limited run, through February 21 at the latest. That day the restored print of "The Empire Strikes Back" opens, which has also been re-tooled. It will be followed March 7 by "Return of the Jedi".

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